For most of her career, Emilie Loring lived on Boston’s Beacon Hill and wrote at the Boston Athenaeum, a private library with a long history. This year, her great-granddaughter Kate and I visited.
In Emilie Loring’s Footsteps
We take the elevator together to the storied fifth floor.
The doors open, and we read the sign. “Silence.” I am glad to be wearing soft-soled shoes; tap-tap-tapping in heels would not be welcome here. We step forward into the truly beautiful room.
The ivory walls, arched ceiling, palladian windows, and alcoves are as they have been for over one hundred years. The room is beautiful but impersonal. Models of perfect silence, the fifth floor’s marble busts look serenely into the distance.
This feels like that scene in “The Santa Clause” when Charlie tosses the snow globe to his dad and pleads, “Remember!”
They were all here–not once, but every day–for years.
In the tranquility of the Athenaeum, distinguished Boston authors seated in tiny cubicles daily build their stories and then sit down to tea.
Alice Brown, outstanding novelist, is one of the regulars who has found the tranquil retreat ideal for literary inspiration.
John P. Marquand of Wickford Point fame has turned out much of his work in the sedate Beacon Hill institution.
Miss Clara Endicott Sears, who wrote Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands and several other works is now doing a non-fictional piece at the Athenaeum.
Judge Robert Grant, truly a “senior partner” among those who share the Athenaeum’s quietude. He wrote The Chippendales and several other successful novels.
Sara Ware Bassett, famous authoress of Cape Cod stories, writes in longhand at the Athenaeum from 9 in the morning until 1.
Hardly a day passes but Emilie Loring takes her regular place among the alcoves, and, with two dozen pencils before her, fashions the plot of her latest novel.Boston Herald, March 26, 1939
On a daily basis, these six Boston authors wrote busily in their alcoves, supplied with just a desk, chair, and waste basket.
The only noises are the rustle of paper and the scratch of pen or pencil…
So they sit for hours in a world made especially for them.
They wrote from late morning to early afternoon, then stopped work and gathered on the third floor for tea and crackers, still half-thinking about the last bits they had written.
I imagine that the fifth floor felt more personal to them. They worked apart, but they came and left together, a fellowship of writers committed to their common craft.
I walk from alcove to alcove on the side of the Granary Burying Ground, because Emilie spoke of looking over that as she wrote. Through a window, I see the same church spire as in the illustration and feel the tingle of discovery. Did she always write in this same alcove? I don’t know, but this is an “Emilie Loring wrote here” moment, and I’m going to enjoy it.
I sit down with my paper and pen and wish that I’d thought to bring two dozen sharpened pencils to recreate the scene. Close enough. I am here.
The setting is instructive. Writing implements and her imagination were Emilie Loring’s only tools. Once started, she read her story-in-progress up to where she had left off. Then silence, time, and thought wrought their magic, and another Emilie Loring novel took shape.
Emilie Loring wrote portions of twenty-seven novels here, from The Solitary Horseman through To Love and to Honor. Each story represents days, weeks, and months that Emilie Loring walked to the Boston Athenaeum, wrote, had tea with colleagues, and then walked home again. I wonder if she remembered distinctive writing days, or if they blurred into the background as she created the vivid stories we read today.
Emilie Loring’s books are shelved on the second floor, and I am happy to see that two are checked out. Well done, Emilie!
One day soon, Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom will take its place on library shelves. The story of the Boston Athenaeum’s fifth floor authors will gain another chance at remembrance.
We gather our parcels from the lockers and bid the library farewell until next time. The moment begs for a cup of tea.
Happy Landings, everyone!