Saturday, April 2, 2011

"The Elms": Author Bess Streeter Aldrich's home in Elmwood, Nebraska

The day after I wrote my last entry about filling the rest of March with posts from my literary trip to Nebraska, my desktop crashed.  I wasn't able to repair/recover it myself, so off to the repair shop it went.  I'm happy to have it home and in tip-top shape.  So here we go--

One of my favorite stops in Nebraska was FINALLY being able to tour the inside of Bess Streeter Aldrich's home in Elmwood.  The home was given to the Bess Steeter Aldrich Foundation in the early 1990s and although they opened the house to tours while I lived in Lincoln, for some reason I was never able to make it there when they were open.  I regularly drove through Elmwood on Highway 1 on my way from Lincoln to visit family in Plattsmouth and could see her house from the road.  It sat there all locked up like a big tease. This time I made it there forty-five minutes before closing time. 

Not many people outside of Nebraska seem to have heard about Bess Steeter Aldrich these days.  My aunt from Plattsmouth told me about her shortly after I fell in love with Willa Cather.  My aunt and I went to the Cass County Museum in Plattsmouth on May 11, 1991 where she bought me a copy of A Lantern in Her Hand.  I still have the book (hence knowing the date and location of the purchase) and it's a wonderful memento to have from my aunt who is no longer with us.

Aldrich was a popular writer in her day.  For example, the top three best-sellers of 1931 were, in descending order, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, and A White Bird Flying by Bess Streeter Aldrich.  In 1933 her novel Miss Bishop came in at #8 for the year.  That novel was also made into a movie, Cheers for Miss Bishop, in 1941. Aldrich was also one of the highest paid magazine writers at the height of her career and was published in outlets such as "Saturday Evening Post," "Ladies Home Journal," "Collier's," "Cosmopolitan," "McCall's," and "The Writer."  Aldrich published over a hundred short stories & articles, nine novels, and other works.  Her novels are listed at the end of this post. So far I've only read A Lantern in Her Hand and The Lieutenant's Lady, but I read Lantern at least four times.  I'll have more to say about them in a subsequent post.

Aldrich was born in 1881 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  She attended college in Iowa and then taught for some years in Iowa & Utah before heading to Elmwood, Nebraska in 1909 where she lived until 1945 when she moved to Lincoln to be closer to her daughter.  The Bess Streeter Aldrich Foundation has more biographical information that you can read here and there's also a good book-length biography written by Carol Miles Petersen: Bess Streeter Aldrich: The Dreams Are All Real.

Before I post pictures of her house, here is a sequence of pictures showing how her cool typewriter desk works:
Just a regular old desk
and then . . .
you just lift this handle . . .
and viola! it's morphed into an ergonomically correct typewriter desk!
Driving north into Elmwood on Hwy 1
The Elms, where Aldrich lived from 1922-1945
A side view, click here for copy of historic marker text
The sun room was Aldrich's favorite room
My guide in the sun room
The living room
The dining room
Table & chairs from the drugstore cafe (?) that Aldrich frequented
The kitchen (remodeled after Aldrich moved out)

Me in the hallway leading upstairs to the bedrooms
Each bedroom is themed after one of Aldrich's novels and features a themed quilt.  The following pictures are from The Lantern in Her Hand bedroom...which was my favorite bedroom





Now we're back downstairs in a room just off the sun room.  Aldrich's desk is in this room, but is obviously not pictured--it's off  to the right
A picture of a picture of Aldrich


On the way out of town I stopped and visited Aldrich's grave, which some friends had helped me locate years ago
Novels in chronological order:
Mother Mason* 1924
The Rim of the Prairie 1925
The Cutters 1926
A Lantern in Her Hand* 1928
A White Bird Flying* 1931
Miss Bishop* 1933
Spring Came on Forever* 1935
The Man Who Caught the Weather 1936
Song of Years 1939
The Drum Goes Dead 1941
The Lieutenant's Lady 1942
Journey Into Christmas 1949
The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader 1950
A Bess Streeter Aldrich Treasury 1959

The * symbol indicates the book is available (as of 4/1/2011) for free download through Project Gutenberg Australia, not the US site -- click here to go there.

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