Saturday, February 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Longfellow - Portland, Maine

What is wrong with me? I keep procrastinating and don't get the news of these special deals to you in time. Darn, this one was half-off admission too! Maybe if you're really nice they'll give you the discount anyway? Oops, maybe not; the house isn't there anymore. What you will find in its place is a Marriott Residence Inn. Don't blame Marriott though; before they built the hotel it was a parking lot.
Longfellow was born here on February 27, 1807. Later, his family moved to another house nearby (the Wadsworth-Longfellow House), which you can still visit.  You can also visit the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1914, Longfellow's birthplace was dedicated as a permanent memorial. The International Longfellow Society, with Woodrow Wilson as its honorary president, took charge of the house and solicited donations to cover the $20,000 needed to pay the first and second mortgages and pay off outstanding bills for restoration work. An article in the New York Times on February 27, 1916 discussed the importance of the house and urged people to make donations to maintain it. Supporters sent donations from all over Europe and from as far away as Japan.

The effort was successful and the house operated as a museum for several decades before it fell into disrepair. In the early 1950s, a man from Alaska mounted an aggressive fund-raising campaign for the museum through The International Longfellow Society. Unfortunately, it seems that he was using the collected money for personal use instead. To make matters worse, his fund-raising efforts were in direct competition with the legitimate efforts of the other Longfellow House.

After the house was demolished in 1955, the lot remained vacant for a long time. In the 1990s workers preparing the site for reconstruction unearthed the plaque for the stone marker that had been erected at the site in 1956. The plaque had been missing for several years and presumed stolen. Instead, it was just buried in the dirt. I came upon this photo taken by photojournalist, John Alphonse, on his website Reality Times. He took the picture shortly after the plaque was unearthed and set back in its stone marker. John graciously allowed me to use the photo for this post.

To celebrate Longfellow's birthday today, here is one of his poems:

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.


  1. What a great post! I almost blogged about Longfellow today, but am glad I didn't as your post is the perfect one to commemorate his b-day. The poem you selected was a favorite of my grandmother (and, I'm sure, of many grandmothers as Longfellow seemed to be especially popular with them!). How lovely to find the plaque during construction.
    Have a great weekend,

  2. Such a shame that lovely old house is gone.

    Very interesting post.

  3. This post sent me in search of some background. Longfellow was a rock star in his prime, extolled and admired by many leading literary figures as well as the public, and extremely well paid. But in time, his arrow fell to earth - his work regarded as second-rate and his reputation reduced. It's a classic American story. The plaque lost among rubble is a poignant illustration.



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