Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Literary Pilgrimage

Earlier this month I flew to the East Coast of the U.S. where my daughter now lives to spend some days with her. She lives in Philadelphia, and when I booked my flights we both started planning two trips to places connected with favorite books/writers of ours when we were children.

For me the most important place was Sunnybank, the former estate (now a park) of my favorite writer from my childhood, Albert Payson Terhune. He wrote many, many stories and is best known for the stories about his collies, mainly Lad. I got to know him and Lad long after their deaths, when Santa my parents put a book in my Christmas stocking called Lad of Sunnybank. I still have it, and I picked up several others on visits to used book stores over the years. I read all three Lad books when I was a child, followed by the brilliant biography of Terhune written by Irving Litvag. Ever since then there has been no other dog breed for me except rough collies.

Some kids have superheroes and some kids have real-life heroes. I had Lad. Lassie was a silly TV character to me (though of course I watched the old episodes because she he was a collie), and I didn't read that book until much later. If time travel is ever discovered, the place I'd like to go to is Sunnybank in the early 1900s (near Pompton Lakes, New Jersey) to meet Bert Terhune and Lad and see that beautiful house, which was torn down in 1969 despite a passionate effort by Terhune fans to save it.

looking from about where the house stood down to the gazebo
and Pompton Lake
Lad's grave, with the bench dedicated to biographer Irving Litvag beyond
Lad's headstone (1902 - 1918)

Our next trip, after a day in the Philly area and a visit to Valley Forge, was to Chincoteague Island, Virginia. My daughter and I have both enjoyed Marguerite Henry's horse books since we were children, and I even had lunch with her once in Milwaukee. She's best known for her children's book, Misty of Chincoteague, and the islanders have capitalized (in a good way!) on that book's fame among horse lovers. We toured the island on our own and found various attractions that draw in tourists during the high season, which May is not (good for us!).

I'm standing next to the actual (stuffed) Misty.
Questionable decision here - taxidermying a horse...

Misty's hoofprint and signature (written by Marguerite Henry)
in front of the Chincoteague theater

my daughter with the Misty statue on Main Street

We also booked a "guaranteed pony-sighting tour" with island native Captain Dan, and we both recommend that (or one of the many other boat tours, though we were impressed with Dan and his knowledge of the ponies and their behavior). While I would have loved to sit quietly among or near any of the groups of ponies for hours photographing them, this was at least a delicious taste of pony life. We saw four or five bands of ponies, two of them close enough to get some decent photos, and two lone stallions.

Chincoteague ponies, who actually live on the neighboring island of Assateague
I will probably write in more detail about these two trips in the days to come while I fight off jet lag, but I wanted to at least give a brief indication of where I've been in the last ten days.

Bis bald!

my shelf of Terhune and Henry books


  1. I have never heard of either of those authors, although I read a lot of horse books when I was younger. I think most girls go through a horsey stage :-) I begged for riding lessons for about 2 years but never got them.

    1. They were both American authors with a somewhat limited readership, so I'm not terribly surprised you hadn't heard of them. I entered the horsey stage and never left it - took riding lessons for years (and am taking them again now). Daughter took lessons, too, and we leased a horse for her for several years. Which horse books do you remember reading (surely Black Beauty!?)?

    2. I definitely read Black Beauty! It was the first book that ever made me cry.

      I inherited a book called "A Pony for Two" from my step mum but I can't for the life of me remember what it was about! Was that the one where the children's pony is kidnapped and they have to rescue her or was that a different one?!

    3. I think Black Beauty was the first book to start giving me the general impression of humans I have. :-/ I don't know "A Pony for Two", but there have to be a _few_ horse books I didn't read as a child... :-)

  2. Oh I'd never heard of that author - will have to check it out!! I do love a good literary pilgrimage as well!

    1. There's something about them for us readers. I once dragged my poor husband through Concord, MA to see Hawthorne's Old Manse, Emerson's house/museum, and Thoreau's (replica) cabin. He was...thrilled. ;-)