Monday, October 22, 2012

"'Thee did well, child, to come to to the Meadow. There is always a cure here when the heart is troubled.'"*

This past weekend I went on a Witchcraft and Tombstone tour in Old Wethersfield, CT, and, as a part of the tour, we visited the Buttolph-Williams house. Built in 1711, this house is the inspiration for the home of the Wood family in the Newbery award winning book The Witch of Blackbird Pond. ::cue my friend MEM having literary tour envy::

Buttolph-Williams House

I had loved that book as a child, and it was the book that I read the very first night in my new house. (I love to reread old favorites from childhood when I am sick or nervous or blue. I don't know if it is the story or nostalgia or a combination of the two, but it always makes me feel better.) The novel, for those who haven't read it, tells the story of a young woman, Kit Tyler, who, after the death of her parents and beloved grandfather, leaves her privileged life in Barbados to live with her mother's sister and her uptight upright Puritan family in Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1687. Kit has difficulty fitting in with both her family and the community and finds herself becoming friends with other outsiders, including a old Quaker woman named Hannah who lives in a shack by the river and who is a suspected witch, which then throws suspicion on Kit!! SO GOOD!!!

Buttolph-Williams House

I was really excited to visit the house that inspired the novel. I probably read the book for the first time in the fourth grade. We had a hardcover copy that had been discarded by the public library, and I loved the faded cover illustration of a girl in a meadow with the wind blowing her hair and clothes. There was something so free about that girl, which is very indicative of the book. (Who am I kidding? I still love that illustration. Also, I want to go to Barbados for the sole reason that Barbados is where the heroine Kit "grew up".)

Buttolph-Williams House

One of the things I'd liked about the book was that it was set in my home state, in a town not far from mine. As a child, I had been really interested in the Salem Witch Trials and had taken out several books about them and witchcraft in general from the elementary school library. (In retrospect, I wonder if the librarian loved me or thought I was crazy.)  But this book isn't scary; it's about independence and freedom and standing up for yourself, framed in a historical context. (It's kind of a Johnny Tremain for girls.)  Girl power, circa 1690.

Buttolph-Williams House

While the Buttolph-Williams house doesn't date back quite so far (built in only 1711), it is still one of the oldest houses in Old Wethersfield, and the preservation work on the house is impressive. I definitely want to go back and tour some of the other historical houses in Old Wethersfield and spend some more time poking around the old village burying ground. Gershom Bulkeley, who is a historical figure who features in The Witch of Blackbird Pond, is buried in the older part of the cemetery.

Grave of Gershom Bulkeley

Sadly, Blackbird Pond no longer exists in Old Wethersfield (it dried up and they built the overpass for Route 3 where Hannah's house would have been), but it still exists in the pages of a great book and the imaginations of readers of all ages.

*The Witch of Blackbird Pond

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