Hi, my name is Sally. (Hi, Sally) And I am a house tour ho. I’ve never met a house tour I didn’t like. Seriously, I have been wracking my brain trying to think of one time I toured a house and gained nothing from the experience.
Can’t think of one.
My house tour habit is so bad that I once made my poor husband visit four houses in one day (Ralph
Waldo Emerson’s house, the Old Manse, the Alcott House, and the Wayside Inn). Um, I might have also dragged him to the replica Thoreau cabin at Walden Pond, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and the Concord Museum. By the time we hit the Old Manse, the poor guy was punch drunk while I was stilling lapping up stories like the one about the time Thoreau made little leather boots for the chickens. He wasn’t intrigued by the fact that leather boots make chickens pass out. He said never again.
Fortunately, I have my mother as an enabler.
To give you an idea about what happens when you turn Jane and Sally loose, let me relate the tale of the accidental house tour. We were driving to Charleston and Savannah, where we would tour MANY houses, when I saw a sign for Alexander Stephens’s house. The following conversation took place:
Me: Hey, that looks cool.
Mom: Who is that?
Me: Not sure. Wanna go–
So we toured the house thinking the tour guide would enlighten us as to the owner. Not so much. We got such scintillating instruction as “That there’s some forks and plates. They et on those.” True story. In the woman’s defense, she was the substitute tour guide, and it looked as though people didn’t stop by that often. Of course, that might be because, after Googling the aforementioned Mr. Stephens, I discovered we’d just toured the house of the former Vice-President of the Confederacy. Oops. I knew his name sounded familiar. If I’d done my Googling first, I might have skipped that one. Although probably not—it’s a sickness, people.
Then there was the time Mom and I went to the Biltmore in August. It was hotter than blue blazes, and, after an extensive tour of the house and gardens, we decided to try out the winery. There was this ugly turtle lamp that was one hundred dollars, and I said, “That is so ugly. Who would want to pay that kind of money for a lamp?” Well, after tasting wines and champagne, I said, “That lamp’s starting to look pretty cute.”
No, you really cannot take my mother and me anywhere.
One of my favorite house tours was the unassuming home of Scott Joplin. Not only have I always been fascinated by his rags, but it was just a great little tour in Saint Louis. Bonus points because Her Majesty called it Scott Gobblin’s House.
Just last summer I got to tour the house where John Wesley grew up as well as Charles Wesley’s home. Learning about the founders of Methodism really meant a lot to me. Same trip? Shakespeare’s boyhood home. After touring his home, I went outside to listen to the players, and they did a scene from Much Ado About Nothing. My eyes leaked a little bit. I tried to soak up all sorts of inspiration there.
In fact, I’ve made it my mission to visit the houses of writers. I’ve been to Faulkner’s House, Hemingway’s, O’Connor’s, and once we even drove by Alex Haley’s house, which I think is now open to the public. (Road trip!)
There was the time I, um, might’ve known more than the tour guide (Belle Meade in Nashville, TN) and the place that inspired my first romance novel (the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, AZ), and there’s another novel idea brewing, one that was inspired by a house tour. I’m not spilling that one until I get that particular book written. Be on the lookout in about three years. Don’t forget, now.
I’ll leave you with one word of warning, though. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts—I know, I know. I
wrote a whole book of ghosts—but I do believe that certain places have a. . . . vibe. Usually the vibe is neutral or even welcoming, but there is one house that I’ve toured that I won’t go back to because it gave me the most serious case of the willies. That house was the Mercer House in Savannah. The room where Jim Williams killed Danny Hansford? It was all I could do to stand there while the guide finished his or her spiel. No, thank you. That house has some bad vibes.
And that, ladies and gents, is one of the things that I like to do other than read and write. Of course, once I’ve toured a house, I really need the book to read later. And I’m probably going to write a story that was inspired in some way from my tour, so….there you go. You can take the girl away from her stories, but you can’t take the stories from the girl.
* Spoiler alert—any time you ask my mom “Do you want to go–?” the answer is yes before you even add in the place.