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Reflections 2011
Series 22
September 19
New England Thrice-2D: Longfellow's Wayside Inn (Sudbury)


Longfellow's Wayside Inn   This is the last of four postings on the July trip to the Boston area. After Concord, lacking public transportation, I took a taxi I’d arranged in advance for some 20 minutes SW to Sudbury, and then a short distance beyond Sudbury’s western edge into the countryside and to Longfellow’s Wayside Inn (click to enlarge), one of the more enjoyable experiences in an enjoyable trip. This view looks east, back toward Sudbury, and shows the rustic, quiet (but paved!) Wayside Inn Road. It also shows the turn-of-the-20C Gate House, now used as the Innkeeper’s residence and closed to the public. Imagine during my July visit more summer greenery than in this picture, and you will properly picture the setting. Summer’s lushness is pleasant, and that’s how I’ve always seen it. We visited the Inn on 5 July 1969 (travel diaries don’t lie), the day before we went to Walden Pond, and came back a second time a decade later on 21 July 1979, when we dined at the Inn. Now, over three decades later, I finally stayed two nights at the Inn, enjoying fine dining as well.


But the visits always turned out to be in July. Winter around the Inn’s fireplaces must also be cozy, but it’s the shoulder seasons, spring and fall, that to me evoke the Inn best. Spring connects with the then innkeeper’s participation in April 1775 with the Minutemen events in Concord--there’s a reenactment--and autumn connects with Longfellow’s fall setting of his Tales of a Wayside Inn, which to me is even better.


[Having mentioned dining, let’s insert right here a culinary aside. The food at the Inn is outstanding, and if I were a local, I’d eat there frequently, as obviously many do, given the crowds that weekend. (There was also a wedding reception under a tent off to the side.) But I’ll mention that both at that dinner in 1979 (as per diary) and after one meal on this trip, I ended with Indian Pudding, a very traditional New England dessert. To explain it, we need to go back a step.


Since the 16C, Hasty Pudding has been a British dish of wheat flour cooked in milk or water until it reaches the consistency of porridge. In the US, it always refers to a version made of ground corn. “Hasty” refers to the ease of preparation. Hasty Pudding is referred to in Yankee Doodle: “And there we saw the men and boys / As thick as hasty pudding.” It is also the name of a Harvard Social Club, The Hasty Pudding Club, dating from 1770 and named after the first meal the founding members ate there. (Five US presidents were members: J Adams, JQ Adams, T Roosevelt, FD Roosevelt, JF Kennedy.) Harvard also has had since 1795 the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, or The Pudding, known for its musicals.


Indian Pudding is simply a more elaborate form of (corn) Hasty Pudding, made from cornmeal, milk, butter, and molasses, and with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Eggs can also be included. It is baked in a slow oven for several hours, and served warm with vanilla ice cream. Since it’s based on British Hasty Pudding, I assume the “Indian” reference is due to the substitution of cornmeal. It should not be missed when traveling in New England, not only because it has the mystique of long tradition, but because it’s too good to pass by. This link shows a picture of Indian Pudding ready to serve, and for those really interested, a recipe to go with it. Sorry, I don’t have metric (or other) weight equivalents. Like pumpkin pie, Indian Pudding is traditionally an autumn dessert, but no one should let that stop them. Invite me over if you make it; otherwise, I’ll have to go back to Massachusetts.]


It will be much more interesting to leave the best for last, that is, the 18C and 19C history of the Inn, which covers the four generations of family members who owned it, the Longfellow era, and the wealthy antiquarian who brought it back to life and into the 20C. But we’ll start with 1923, when none other than Henry Ford bought the Inn and its property from the antiquarian’s widow, and restored and expanded it--in his own unique way--adding antiques, land, and other buildings. He owned it until 1940. The Inn today is run as a not-for-profit charitable and educational trust, and the local trustees keep it financially successful. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.


Some of what Ford did I applaud, except for the buildings he added. He wanted to make the property a museum of Americana, with the intention of moving other historic buildings to the site, and recreating others still, such as has been done elsewhere in so-called “heritage villages”. Fortunately, he never got too far, since the Inn is really of sufficient significance by itself. Still, let’s start with his three 20C additions, which are all a ten-minute walk west down the Boston Post Road. I’ll mention them in the order of interest.


CHAPEL For a number of years, he ran a boys’ school on the grounds. On a hill on the north side of the road, the same side as the Inn, his boys built in 1940 the Martha-Mary Chapel, a white New-England style building built from trees fallen in the hurricane of 1938. It looks nice enough, but has no history whatsoever, and is used for concerts and community meetings.


REDSTONE SCHOOLHOUSE On the closer side of the Chapel to the Inn is the Redstone Schoolhouse (rear of Chapel visible on right), which dates from 1798 and was brought here in 1925 from Sterling, Massachusetts, some forty minutes NW of the Inn. This is the interior, and I sat behind that first desk behind the stove, listening to a docent explaining the history. It’s a typical American “little red schoolhouse”, but that isn’t the main reason Ford brought it here as the only building he actually had transferred.


In the early 19C, when the school was still relatively new, there was in Sterling a certain Mary Sawyer (later Mrs Mary Tyler) who attended it. She kept a pet lamb, and one day, her brother suggested, as mischievous brothers will do, that she take the lamb with her to school, which resulted, of course, in quite a commotion. Inspired by this actual incident, the author Sarah Josepha Hale included in her 1830 book called Poems for Our Children a poem she called “Mary’s Lamb”, but which is today much better known instead by its first line, “Mary had a little lamb”. In Sterling, I understand there’s a statue representing the nursery rhyme in the town center. However, Mary Sawyer’s house there was destroyed by arson in 2007, although a replica has been built.


As nursery rhymes go, this has to be arguably the most famous one in English. In 1877, Thomas Edison recited its first stanza as a test phrase into the phonograph he’d invented. Just a half-century later, in 1927, Edison respoke those words for Fox Movietone News. The recording is poor, and the first words are clipped off. He says (listen closely): “[These are the first words] I spoke in[to] the original phonograph--a little piece of practical poetry”, followed by the first four lines.


Finally, Sarah Josepha Hale was an influential writer and editor. In addition to this poem, when construction of the Bunker Hill Monument was faltering, she was instrumental in pushing through its completion. She also famously campaigned to create the holiday of Thanksgiving.


WAYSIDE INN GRIST MILL On the south side of the road, across from the Chapel and Schoolhouse, in a bit of pleasant parkland stands a building Ford had constructed in 1929, the Wayside Inn Grist Mill. He’d had the idea at the time that factories should be dispersed from centralized cities to numerous small entrepreneurships around the countryside that were powered by water. He had a sample mill built here, but it never came to anything. I stopped by twice that weekend, coming back the second time at a point the miller was alone right after his lunch break, and he took me up above the mill to the millpond, created by damming an adjacent brook. He showed me the site of the original 1726 water mill associated with the Inn, up next to the millpond, which had been used for the manufacture of shoes. (!!!) We then walked back to the present grist mill (click to enlarge). It’s a pleasant stone building, where most--not all--of the machinery is wooden, the obvious exception being the water wheel itself, made of steel and oddly painted bright red. The millpond is a short way behind the building, and not much higher, as can be seen by the overflow water coming down the trace. The main level of the building, reached by the earthen ramp to the left, is the middle one, with the attic (not visitable) and basement (visitable) full of machinery grinding away. Typical of grist mills (“grinding” mills; “grist” also refers to the raw material), there are quite a few old, disused millstones--all made of granite--lying about outside, two of which can be seen on the left, and one lying in the grass on the right. Sometimes they’re recycled, such as for doorsteps. When the miller was ready to get the wheel started again, he opened the upper window on the right so I could look outside, unlocked inside a mechanism that raised the red gate above the wheel, and down came the water, in what we now know after the Saugus video is an overshot wheel (2011/20). Ford wanted an old New England atmosphere, but also wanted a steel wheel instead of wood for greater reliability and effectiveness. Yet there was another interesting variation. The video at Saugus showed a wheel starting up with a great deal of splashing before the water settled down and entered the buckets properly. Here, though, there were holes in the lower end of each bucket, allowing overflow into the lower bucket internally, with no splashing. As soon as the enough water collected in the first buckets to get the wheel turning, it did so without any disorderly splashing. Quite a sight.


The miller here grinds, on different days, corn into cornmeal, wheat into wheat flour, and rye into rye flour, also supplying the Inn, so that some of the cornmeal ground here ends up in the Inn’s Indian Pudding. The upper millstone turns against the stationary lower one. Click to enlarge to see the corn (maize) dropping out of the hopper into the hole in the upper stone and cornmeal coming out the sides between the two stones. The upper stone is slightly concave and the lower one slightly convex, so that the grain can work its way out the edges. Later sifting through a screen separates the bran from the meal or flour. For some fifteen years starting in the 1950’s Pepperidge Farm, the commercial bakery, leased the mill and ground grain for its products, taking the mill’s entire output.


This is one possible pattern, or “dress”, of the grinding surface. The top stone turns about 120 rpm, and can grind 500 pounds (227 kg) per hour. After two weeks or so, a resharpening or “redressing” of the stone with an adze is necessary, which takes some 14 hours per stone. A stone can last anywhere from ten to a hundred years.


You’ll have noticed on the outdoor picture of the mill that the shaft of the wheel enters the mill downstairs, where horizontal energy from the wheel is converted to vertical energy for the millstones. This schematic shows what happens. The water wheel (1) turns the horizontal shaft (2), which turns the vertical gear (3). This meshes with the horizontal gear (4) to turn the vertical shaft (5) to the millstones. This picture shows a typical working interior (not the one at the Inn), including gears and shafts made of wood. You can see the shaft coming in from the left above the reserve millstone and the one going out the ceiling, however the two gears are reversed from the schematic. The gear ratio is 1:25, which means that one turn of the water wheel gives 25 turns to a millstone.


LONG S We’re getting closer to talking about the Inn, but we have one more subject first. Actually, let’s take a preliminary look at the Wayside Inn (today actually styled as “Longfellow’s Wayside Inn”). Beyond the right-hand side of the picture is the Longfellow Rose Garden, with a bust of the author at the end, and behind it, the pond, with the now disused ice house. In the past, ice would be cut from the pond in the winter and stored in the dark ice house, and it would actually last throughout the summer. Also, across the road from the front of the house is one of the barns from the early years.


It’s possible that some unknowing guests arriving at the Inn wonder why they haven’t spent a few bucks to pave their driveway, as seen in this picture. And they miss the whole point. What appears as the driveway here--and actually does serve as one, off the main paved road seen in the earlier picture with the gate house--is a good-sized section of the original Boston Post Road that the Inn owns, which remains unpaved as it always historically was, ever since the first post riders were sent along this, the Upper Post Road, on 1 January 1673. As for this road, there’s a sign off to the left of the Inn which identifies it, in historically accurate fashion, as the Boſton Poſt Road. And thereby hangs a tale, the tale of the “long s”.


The long s is not the joke that some would have it be, but an item of cultural heritage, one that has almost--but not quite--disappeared. After lower-case forms of letters developed generally in medieval times from upper-case forms, the S developed uniquely from Latin script. The upper-case version had only one form, S, but the lower-case form developed two, both s and ſ. The former, s, was used almost exclusively at the end of words, and is referred to in English, when making this distinction, as final s or round s. The latter was used everywhere else in the word, initially, and medially, and because of its height, is called, in English, long s (GE: langes s; DU: lange s; SW: långt s; FR: s long; IT: s lunga; SP: s larga; PO: s longo). I give these examples only to point out that long s, in its heyday, appeared in most European languages that use the Latin or Roman alphabet. Just like the unit of measurement, the rod, that we discussed in 2011/20, long s died out generally two centuries ago, but both the rod and long s remain part of our cultural heritage.


It takes a little getting uſed to, but appeared in English in words like “conſtitution” and “poſſeſs”. Like any letter, it had variations according to font, script form, or Italic form, as shown here. I’m using the simplest version, the first sans-serif form shown, but you’ll notice the first serif version, which not only has a foot, but also a nub at shoulder level. It was this type of form that might have led to its extinction, since the nubbed form looks so much like a lower-case f, although the f has a full cross-bar. The second serif form is in script, something that can be seen in US documents from the revolutionary period, such as this excerpt from the 1787 US Constitution, where “Blessings” and Congress” still appear as “Bleſsings” and “Congreſs”. However, there seems to be some variation here, since I would have expected “Bleſſings”. Note also the capitalization of nouns, mostly dropped in English today, but still the norm in German. Remember that long s exists just in lower case, so that Congreſs written in capitals would be CONGRESS.


Here’s a title page from Milton’s Paradise Lost dated 1668, and here’s a wall plaque from Exeter Cathedral from 1788. Read it, and you’ll see it really isn’t that hard to distinguish between ſ and f.


Take a look at this paragraph: while final s (twelve times) is not a problem, as long as you are careful to diſtinguisſh between f (five times) and ſ (ten times) in the words of this ſentence, although this writing ſtyle may not be in uſe anymore in Engliſh, I gueſs it’s ſtill fine hiſtorical fun to toſs it about a bit.


Also keep in mind that throughout the centuries we’re talking about, many educated people also were familiar with Greek, whose alphabet to this day makes the same distinction. The Greek S is sigma, whose capital form is Σ. If you spelled ODYSSEUS in caps, you’d see that symbol three times: ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ. But in lower case, within a word sigma appears as sort of a number 6 that’s fallen forward: σ, while at the end it looks more like a squiggly Latin s with a big head and small body: ς. Odysseus in lower case would then be: Οδυσσευς.


I’ve seen examples of long s used historically in Italian, Spanish, and Polish. Here you’ll see several examples on the front page of a Dutch Bible from 1618-9 (click to enlarge), and here are some in a French text from Voltaire from 1778.


But Spanish moved away from the long s in the 1760’s and French in the 1780’s. English texts stopped using it at the turn of the 19C, as illustrated by this graph, which shows over two centuries the frequency of the spelling “laſt” in documents as it declined (in blue) and of “last” as it increased (in red). Thus the spelling as Boſton Poſt Road at the Inn is accurate to represent the colonial era.


But long s is not dead. It still has limited modern use in German, and to some extent, the Scandinavian languages. In German, it has descended into forming a double-S ligature (one letter combining two) in the form ß. This illustration shows how double long s evolved in regular and Italic forms into a single letter, or ligature. Actually, there are examples of this ligature very rarely being use in French, in the 16C (profeßion; poußé), but it today is quite regularly used in German, in those few situations where a double-s needs to show a previous long vowel, as in the word Straße (Street), which one might see in addresses, as opposed to dass, where the double-s indicates a previous short vowel. However, when ß is not available, it’s perfectly all right to spell it Strasse. Since it has no capital form, STRASSE is the only possible spelling in caps. The name of the German symbol ß is ess-tsett, which literally means ess-zee (ess-zed), but the name is misleading, since it in reality represents ess-ess.


So long s remains hidden within ß, whose use is usual in German, but not vital. But long s by itself CAN still be used in German, and also the Scandinavian languages. The only point is, in this case, it’s never used in regular writing, but only as a purely decorative throwback in signs and logos. For a good example, many are familiar with the liqueur Jägermeister, which on the label appears stylized as Jägermeiſter, just to give it a more traditional look. This happens frequently in hotel, restaurant, and other business names, where a (fictitious) establishment might be spelled Reſtaurant Poſthaus. Nothing could be more contemporary than this bike shop in Berlin, called Cycle Design, but spelled with a long s for the decorative effect.


This purely decorative long s occurs in Scandinavia as well. Norway’s largest newspaper is Aftenposten (The Evening Post, constructed as aften+post+en, or evening+post+the), but its masthead is written with a long s (compare it to the f). Finally, for a bit of an extreme, let’s look at another newspaper masthead. In Germany, the Oberhessische Presse (Upper Hessian Press) alters the spelling in its masthead to include long s five times (!!!) as the Oberheſſiſche Preſſe.


THE WAYSIDE INN And so we stroll back down the Boſton Poſt Road from the grist mill and come to the Wayside Inn itself, face to face. At this point we should clarify the three roads we have here. As we said, right at the door is the unpaved historic Boſton Poſt Road. Apparently an early straightening of the main road left this section serving as a driveway, while what then became the (paved) main road is right behind the point the picture was taken. But that in turn was superseded. It is now the quiet byway called Wayside Inn Road, running the length of the millpond, and to its north. The reason for that is the principal good deed Henry Ford did. He arranged to have US Route 20 rerouted to along the south side of the millpond, and up the hillside a distance from the Inn, so standing turning around from where the picture was taken, we face Wayside Inn Road, across which is the last remaining original barn, and up on the hillside can be seen the traffic of the present US 20, leaving the Inn in relative peace.


The historic part of the Inn is this façade consisting of four rooms, two on either side of the entry and two upstairs on either side of the upstairs hall window. The four rooms correspond to the four pairs of windows. All the rooms behind this front section are add-ons, all historic ones added by the successive owners, but still not the original, most historic section. One had been a woodshed, which was attached in 1899 to a storage shed which was in turn attached to the charming Old Kitchen, with its huge fireplace. The Old Kitchen had been a separate building attached after 1796. Other rooms had extended the original section, including the West Kitchen, added about 1775, which is where I chose to dine. As with other rooms, it’s all old beams and woodwork, and also has a large fireplace. Almost all those rooms serve today as dining rooms. A large dining room was added in the back by Henry Ford in 1929.


Upstairs are two 18C halls, used for receptions and entertainments. Above the Old Kitchen are two historic guest rooms, which were already taken by the time I registered, so I took one of the nine comfortable rooms above the Ford addition. Although wandering the rooms of the Inn during the busy day was enjoyable, the best was leaving one’s room in the late evening when the building was almost empty (they do far more restaurant business than hotel business) and wandering the Inn at that time, including the four historic rooms up front, is a memorable experience. I also remember rather clearly the scent of wood throughout the Inn.


Now let’s take another look at the historic façade of the Inn, this time in a late afternoon glow, and also with a pair of costumed greeters that appear regularly. You may have noticed in the previous picture the British flag was flying; well here, we have the American flag. I speculate that’s meant to cover the two governments the Inn has operated under. Now just remember those four pairs of windows, and we’ll talk about the four of the oldest rooms behind them.


We said there were four generations of family members the Inn was operated by, plus an antiquarian later on, covering the 18C and 19C. Let’s review that now. The name of the family was spelled either How or Howe. There is a sign hanging outside the Wayside Inn which is in much dispute as to who put it up and when. This current version acts as a summary, showing there was a DH in 1716 (David), an EH in 1746 (Ezekiel), an AH[ow] (Adam) in 1796, and a LH (Lyman) in 1830, and indicating a passing down from father to son. It also shows that at one point it was called The Red Horse.


But before it was an Inn, it was a private house. In 1702 David How was given a piece of land by his father right here on the relatively new Boston Post Road, which had only been in existence for the 29 years since 1673. By 1707 David had built a two-room, two-story house. This is today the part of the façade to the right of the entry. The downstairs room was the family room, and there was a tiny enclosed stairway within it leading up to their bedroom. In 1716 David expanded the building to double size, adding the hallway with its own stairway, plus the two rooms on the right. The four rooms now became How’s Tavern (or Howe’s Tavern). The Inn thrived on all the coach traffic coming along the road. The Inn’s archive has documents pertaining to the land and building from 1686 onward, including the official inn license granted to the first innkeeper, David How, in 1716. On this basis, the Inn is now considered the oldest operating inn in the US. In five years, 2016, the Inn will celebrate its tricentennial. On the other hand, something to give pause and perspective: archeological research has unearthed evidence that Native American habitation on this spot goes back 3,000 years.


It is David How’s 1716 inn that is this most historic, original portion up front. The additions made by the others are the kitchens, dining rooms and halls in the back. The lower right-hand room, which had been their family room, became the bar room, and it still serves as such today. It has exposed wooden beams, and a bar. The tiny staircase is still visible in the corner. It’s a handsome, atmospheric room. Across the hall, past the entry, is the parlor, which served as the lounge. If the tap room is the historic heart of the building, the parlor is the literary heart, because here is where Longfellow had his Tales of a Wayside Inn take place. It’s maintained as a museum (you can only enter into the plexiglass barrier in the entryway), and includes a history of the poem and items mentioned in it, such as a spinet piano, a clock, and a coat of arms. The rooms above the bar and the parlor are also maintained as museum rooms, illustrating typical inn bedrooms of the day.


In 1746, David’s son Colonel Ezekiel Howe took over the inn, and made his own additions. He was the one who called it The Red Horse. The Colonel was also a military man. On 19 April 1775, when Abel Prescott Jr rode southwest from Concord as part of the Middlesex Alarm, reaching Sudbury at 3 AM and Framingham at 4, it was precisely Colonel Ezekiel Howe who rallied and led Sudbury farmers to Concord as Sudbury’s contribution to the militia. The event is reenacted each year by groups who meet regularly at the Inn, the Sudbury Companies of Minute and Militia and the Sudbury Ancient Fyfe and Drum Corps. Starting at 6 AM they reenact the 12 mi (19 km) trek to Concord’s Old North Bridge.


Other groups of reenactors who meet on the property are the Fourth Middlesex Regiment, since that’s the regiment that Ezekiel served as commander from 1776 to 1779. Also meeting are The King’s Own Light Infantry Company of His Majesty’s 4th Regiment of Foot (as they were in April 1775) to provide perspective and the necessary “enemy”.


In 1775, George Washington passed the tavern (but without stopping) on his way to take command of the army in Cambridge. He passed again in 1789. A tablet in front of the Inn commemorates this (note French’s Minuteman). There is another tablet that describes the Marquis de Lafayette’s passing by, once in 1784, and then again in the period 1824-6.


In 1796 Adam Howe took over as the third generation, and in 1830, Lyman Howe took over, the fourth and final generation of Howes to run the Inn. On 22 May 1853, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal “Left our horse at the Howe Tavern. The oldest date on the sign is ‘D.H. 1716’ ”.


In 1861 Lyman Howe died, childless. The relatives that inherited the Inn weren’t interested in running the aging and declining building as an Inn catering to daily guests and it gradually became a longer-term residence for semi-permanent guests, sort of a boarding house. At this point, friends of Longfellow urged him to visit the Inn. He came in October 1862 seeking calm after his wife’s death and experienced the Inn as a gathering place for friends. On this basis, Longfellow made the defunct Sudbury tavern the locale for the characters of his epic poem. Even though he had died the year before, the last innkeeper, Lyman Howe (unnamed in the poem like the other characters) becomes the central character in the poem, simply referred to as the Innkeeper. In this way, Lyman lives on.


The book was published in 1863 with an initial printing of 15,000 copies and, because of the poet’s immense popularity, was a phenomenon, that first printing selling out in one day. A second series was published in 1870, and a third in 1872-3. Its popularity had a corresponding affect on the Inn, since he had painted such a vivid picture of it and its innkeeper. From that point on, people started flocking to the Inn to see where the story had taken place, and they continued to do so for the next three decades, even as the building remained a boarding house. Disregarding whatever the Inn’s earlier names had been, people started referring to it as the Wayside Inn, or even Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, which is what the Inn de facto became, by popular acceptance. Dining in the West Kitchen I noticed a poster on the wall from somewhere around the turn of the 20C. It announced a periodic stagecoach service that would pick up Wayside Inn devotees at various Boston hotels and bring them to the Wayside Inn and back for a day excursion, such was the passion.


Finally, wealthy antiquarian Edward Rivers Lemon purchased the Inn in 1892, officially renamed it in 1896 “Longfellow’s Wayside Inn”, and operated it, as Boston headlines said, as “a mecca for literary pilgrims.” It began refunctioning as an actual inn in 1897. It was Lemon’s widow who sold the Inn in 1923 to Henry Ford, bringing our story full circle.


TALES OF A WAYSIDE INN We now come to epic poem that changed the direction of the declining Inn and made it world famous for the last century and a half. When Longfellow visited the faded Inn in October 1862, he found its mix of history, worn elegance, and autumnal coziness, which, when added to the conviviality of the snug parlor, suggested a viable framework to present a series of seven of his poems. The most famous of these, on Paul Revere, had already--significantly (see below)--been published, but the Inn provided a way to structure fitting these poems together into one larger work (there are also seven additional poems at the end of the book).


His idea was not original. This was the device Geoffrey Chaucer had famously used in 1386-7 for his Canterbury Tales (2007/11), where 29 travelers meet at the Tabard Inn on Talbot Yard off Borough High Street in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, the night before they all depart for Canterbury, and each has a tale to tell. Similarly, Longfellow used the Howe Tavern/Red Horse Tavern on the Boston Post Road near Sudbury as the gathering place for his characters, where they spend a cozy autumnal evening in the historic, but aging Inn, around the fire in the parlor, listening to violin music and telling tales, each from his own experience. However, while Longfellow at first was tempted to name the poem Sudbury Tales--a rather nice name, really--he felt that was encroaching far too much on Chaucer, and changed it from that to another splendid name, Tales of a Wayside Inn. Mind you, he was not renaming the inn, or even naming it at all, since the inn remains anonymous throughout and is just identified as being on the wayside. It was the success of the poem that renamed the Inn, first in the public mind, and later officially, to take advantage of its fame.


We can analyze why that title is so splendid, and has to have added much to the success of the poem and the Inn. The word “way”, which originally had a literal meaning similar to “road” or “path”--and these two still do maintain their literal meaning--has become in English much more abstract. In “Come this way”, while you can spot why it means what it does, “way” really means “direction”. “Way” rarely can be used in its original meaning. It sounds odd to say “I was walking along the way”. The word needs the crutch of a more literal word, so you actually combine it with one of its synonyms and end up with “roadway’ or “pathway”. Look how non-literal the word “anyway” is. Keeping this in mind, would you be more tempted by a rest stop if were called a “roadside” or a “wayside” picnic table? I think “wayside”, being less literal, takes on a bucolic, more attractive charm.


Longfellow’s choice of the words in his title shows his poetic skill. What if he’d called it “Stories from a Roadside Hotel”? Look at the charming imagery instead engendered by the words “tales”, “wayside”, and “inn”. Even “of” works more to his advantage than “from”.


If anyone would rather read the complete extended poem, either now or later on, it’s available in its entirety here on Project Gutenberg. At least do take notice of the frontispiece showing the gathering at the Inn around the fire, with violin music, and the Table of Contents, for orientation. The principal sections pertaining to the Inn occur in the Prelude and in the Finale, although there are also six Interludes between the seven narrators. Our purpose here is to compare the Inn to its description in the poem, so an abbreviated discussion of just the Prelude and Finale will achieve that. In addition, since the Paul Revere connection is so seminal, we’ll do a bit of a discussion of that as well, but mostly to show anomalies.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, seen here in 1868, five years after Tales was published, was an American poet and educator from Portland, Maine (when it was still Massachusetts), who later taught at Harvard and lived the remainder of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he’s buried. He was the most popular poet of his day, and is generally regarded as the most distinguished of American poets. In 1884 he became the first non-British writer for whom a bust was placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, and remains the only American there represented by a bust.


Since he resided in Cambridge, it isn’t unusual that he should have sought out the Wayside Inn for his locale, not only because of its advantages mentioned above, but since it was a favorite destination for groups from Harvard, only 20 mi (32 km) away. Still, the name of the inn remains anonymous within the poetry describing it, as do the names of the seven narrators, who are listed simply by descriptions: the Landlord, the Student, the Spanish Jew, the Sicilian, the Musician, the Theologian, and the Poet. While he used the late Innkeeper, Lyman Howe, as the Landlord, all the other six were friends of Longfellow that he knew from Cambridge, and they were so plainly characterized as to be easily recognizable. The student was Henry Ware Wales, the Spanish Jew Isaac Edrahi, the Sicilian Luigi Monti, the Musician (the violinist) Ole Bull, the Theologian Daniel Treadwell, and the Poet Thomas William Parsons, names that are all posted today in the parlor of the Inn. You will also note that each person tells a tale connected to his background, such as Norwegian violinist Ole Bull telling about King Olaf. Of course, the Landlord’s basis for telling about Paul Revere was Lyman’s grandfather Ezekiel going to the Battle of Concord.


Other than Lyman Howe, the real-life character that stands out to me is violinist Ole Bull (Ole is a form of Olaf), not only because the violin music accompanied the telling of the tales, but because I now discover that Ole Bull was really rather well-known Norwegian violinist and composer. He was from Bergen, and became a high-level virtuoso, giving thousands of concerts, becoming very famous and making a huge fortune. He visited the US several times, and founded a Norwegian colony in Pennsylvania. There is a statue of him in Bergen, and also in Loring Park in Minneapolis. Of his few surviving compositions, the best known is Sæterjentens søndag (The Dairy Maid’s Sunday). It was written in 1872, later then the setting in the Wayside Inn, but gives an idea of his work, and of the music the characters were listening to.


Prelude We’ll review below selected passages about the Inn and the gathering in its parlor. While later on, the seven poems vary considerably in stress pattern and meter (2008/17), those passages in the framework describing the Inn, the parlor, and the company are uniformly alike, using the iamb (da.DA), four to the line, making it iambic tetrameter. Read it aloud, and you’ll hear the hooves of the stagecoach horses on the Boston Post Road. The Prelude begins:

 One Autumn night, in Sudbury town,
Across the meadows bare and brown,
The windows of the wayside inn
Gleamed red with fire-light through the leaves
Of woodbine, hanging from the eaves
Their crimson curtains rent and thin.

As ancient is this hostelry
As any in this land may be,
Built in the old Colonial day,
When men lived in a grander way
With ampler hospitality . . .
Remote among the wooded hills!
For there no noisy railway speeds,
Its torch-race scattering smoke and gleeds;
But noon and night, the panting teams
Stop under the great oaks, that throw
Tangles of light and shade below . . .
Across the road the barns display
Their lines of stalls, their mows of hay . . .
And, half effaced by sun and shine
The Red Horse prances on the sign. . . .

First, Longfellow sets the outdoor autumnal scene with the cozy light from the parlor windows drawing one’s interest. Despite the shabby curtains, traditional hospitality reigns within. We are out in the country, with no railways to disturb, just the stagecoaches on the road in front of the inn. Opposite are the barns; at the Inn is the Red Horse sign. The railroad comment is interesting, since railroads were expanding in the mid-19C, but hadn’t come near the Inn. Keep in mind that the LIRR ran to Boston in 1844-7 and Tales appeared in 1863, just two decades later. A torch race was a sacred relay race with torches in Ancient Greece (something classically-minded readers in the 19C would recognize), and “gleeds” is an archaic word for glowing coals, or embers, so picture properly the kind of train we’re talking about here, with a tall smokestack resembling a torch, and emitting embers. This is the kind of train the Inn is distant from.

 But from the parlor of the inn
A pleasant murmur smote the ear,
Like water rushing through a weir;
Oft interrupted by the din
Of laughter and of loud applause,
And, in each intervening pause,
The music of a violin.
The fire-light, shedding over all
The splendor of its ruddy glow,
Filled the whole parlor large and low;
It gleamed on wainscot and on wall . . .
It bronzed the rafters overhead,
On the old spinet’s ivory keys
It played inaudible melodies,
It crowned the sombre [sic] clock with flame,
The hands, the hours, the maker’s name,
And painted with a livelier red
The Landlord’s coat-of-arms again . . .

Before the blazing fire of wood
Erect the rapt musician stood;
And ever and anon he bent
His head upon his instrument . . .

Second, Longfellow moves us indoors, into the parlor. It is filled with Gemütlichkeit, as evidenced by the auditory imagery of laughter, applause, and violin music, and the visual imagery of the light from the fire reflecting on everything in the room, from the rafters above to the wainscoting on the wall and all the objects therein. The violinist plays a dual role here. On the one hand, he and his music are part of the atmosphere in these lines, but on the other hand, he’s also one of the narrators, below.


While we allow ourselves to join the jovial company in the parlor, which is what visitors have done in the century and a half since 1863, something should be kept in mind. The bar across the hall is genuine, and represents the actual history of the Inn, but while the parlor is also genuine, everything we’re reading about that “took place there” is fictional, which is the historic-literary dichotomy that’s present in the Inn. There is in the room today a spinet piano, a clock, and a coat-of-arms, and they were probably all there at the time, but it’s a matter of life following art when we visit the Inn and actually “see” the jovial group there relating tales among these objects and in this cozy atmosphere.

 Around the fireside at their ease
There sat a group of friends, entranced
With the delicious melodies;
Who from the far-off noisy town
Had to the wayside inn come down,
To rest beneath its old oak-trees.
The fire-light on their faces glanced,
Their shadows on the wainscot danced,
And, though of different lands and speech,
Each had his tale to tell, and each
Was anxious to be pleased and please.
And while the sweet musician plays,
Let me in outline sketch them all . . .

But first the Landlord will I trace,
Grave in his aspect and attire;
A man of ancient pedigree,
A Justice of the Peace was he,
Known in all Sudbury as “The Squire”. . . .
A youth was there, of quiet ways,
A Student of old books and days . . .
A young Sicilian, too, was there;--
In sight of Etna born and bred . . .
A Spanish Jew from Alicant
With aspect grand and grave was there . . .
A Theologian, from the school
Of Cambridge on the Charles, was there . . .
A Poet, too, was there, whose verse
Was tender, musical, and terse . . .
Last the Musician, as he stood
Illumined by that fire of wood . . .
And every feature of his face
Revealing his Norwegian race . . .

Thirdly he reveals his cast of characters, six of whom had come to join the Landlord at the Inn from the “noisy town” we know to be Cambridge. He’s even more specific with the Theologian, saying he’s from the school of Cambridge on the Charles, which is, of course, Harvard. And Longfellow injects himself into the poem for the first time, with the phrases “Let me” and “will I trace”.

 The music ceased; the applause was loud,
The pleased musician smiled and bowed . . .
Then silence followed; then began
A clamor for the Landlord’s tale . . .
Finding excuse of no avail,
[He] Yielded, and thus the story ran.

Paul Revere’s Ride And so the seven tales begin with the Landlord’s Tale, called “Paul Revere’s Ride”, about which we’ve said much recently already. It stands apart from the rest of the Tales inasmuch as it had been published before, more than two years earlier, so its use within the Tales is in actuality a recycling. Because of its subject matter and because it had gotten a considerable head start, it’s the most famous poem in the collection, even more famous than the story of the Inn that forms the framework (and both are head-and-shoulders above the other poems).


We’ve also said that its inaccuracies are legion, yet are unfortunately accepted by most as a precise description of the events of the night in question. But we know better. So why did he do it? Longfellow wrote the Revere poem with a particular agenda in mind, a political one overlaying the obvious historical one. While the patriotic military theme of the poem deals with the American Revolutionary War, the audience he was writing for was about to face the realities of the American Civil War, and, counterintuitive as it may seem, the Revere poem has to be looked upon as a Civil War phenomenon.


This becomes clearer with the knowledge that Longfellow first published it in The Atlantic Monthly (today called just The Atlantic and appearing just ten times a year). The magazine had just been founded in Boston in 1857 (here is the cover of the first issue) as a literary and cultural magazine that soon achieved a national reputation. It published new writers and poets, as well as political commentary on abolition, education, and other major issues of the day. As an indication of its mission that included the marriage of art and politics at the start of the Civil War, it was first to publish Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic, written in November 1861 and published in February 1862. Notice on this page how it styles itself “A magazine of literature, art, and politics.”


Longfellow was inspired to write the Revere poem after visiting Old North Church and climbing its tower on 5 April 1860, and started the poem the next day, in a period when the US was on the verge of civil war. Later that year, on 20 December 1860, he published the poem in The Atlantic Monthly, and it appeared in the January 1861 edition. But after it had become clear after the Presidential election of 6 November 1860 that Abraham Lincoln was to be the new president, South Carolina was the first state that declared it was seceding from the United States, and made that declaration coincidentally on 20 December 1860, the same day the Revere poem was being published. By 12 April 1861, Confederates were shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and the Civil War began. This was the atmosphere into which the Revere poem appeared.


But why exaggerate? Longfellow’s style was frequently to write larger-than-life characters, as icons. Look again at Evangeline (1847), as described in 2008/4. The reality of the characters he based it on is very different from the iconic woman he makes her out to be. We also have a bit of The Song of Hiawatha (1855) quoted in 2008/17 and elsewhere, where his figures make Native American life seem a lot more idyllic than it surely was. In this vein, he makes Paul Revere out to be a composite figure that is larger-than-life. He wanted to continue to create American legends, but in Revere’s case, to appeal specifically to the urgent need to remember the American past in the face of the country about to fall apart. He actually makes reference (see below) at the end of the poem to the contemporary crisis of the impending Civil War.


He did succeed in making a national legend out of a previously little-known silversmith, whose role was not particularly noted during his life until overstated by Longfellow. Unfortunately, while the real and fictional Evangeline to not clash in history books to any meaningful extent, the real and fictional Revere do, with many people believing the fictional version.


If the reader wishes to read Paul Revere’s Ride in its entirety first--there are only fourteen verses--use this direct link to that page. Otherwise, we’ll for the most part just discuss the historical disparities. Read of the events as a fanciful, romanticized version of events seen in a fun-house mirror.


The poem, either in the earlier published version or as the Landlord speaks it, begins with two lines that are among the most famous in English. Quote the first line to most educated speakers of English, and they will either quote the second line back, or at least recognize the couplet.

 Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Lines of such renown are heady stuff. As to the phrase “my children”, in the original version, Longfellow himself would have been playing a father figure trying to orient the contemporary general public to the past, but in Tales, the Landlord serves conveniently as an older gentlemen, one whose family had been involved at Concord, addressing the six others in the assembled company. As to the 1775 date, when Longfellow first wrote the poem in 1860, it would have been 85 years in the past.

 He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

It’s fine poetry, but discounts Warren setting up the mission and some forty other riders giving the Middlesex Alarm, including Dawes and the Prescott brothers. It doesn’t say that the signal was for other riders should Revere and Dawes not make it out of Boston, but clearly says the signal was meant for Revere himself. Then Revere would personally ride to “every Middlesex village and farm”. That’s superhuman, and shows he serves here as a composite figure for many riders. Discounting how tired Revere would be after such a night, how about that poor horse?


It then says Revere “Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore”, which didn’t happen--he was ferried across. Revere did leave at 11:00 PM and reached Lexington before 1:00 AM, so the lines are accurate that say “It was one by the village clock, / When he galloped into Lexington.” But a little beyond, it also says “It was two by the village clock, / When he came to the bridge in Concord town.” Not only didn’t he reach Concord by 2:00, he didn’t reach Concord at all, but had been captured (something that shouldn’t happen to an icon, I suppose). And if he had reached Concord, he would have been in the town center, and would have had no reason to ride north to the North Bridge, since nothing happened there until the next morning. Finally, the last stanza starts with “So through the night rode Paul Revere”, an overstatement of his two-hour ride from 11:00 to 2:00. But the full and true message comes in the last six lines of the poem:

 For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

This is where Longfellow pulls the stirring events of 1775 up next to the looming events of 1860. The historic “hour of darkness and peril and need” now implies the impending breakup of the Union, and he suggests that the “people will waken and listen to hear” the rallying message once again. Longfellow uses his fictional composite, the larger-than-life icon of Revere, to waken the populace this second time.


Finale There then follow the other poems, with the Interludes in between, but for our purposes, we move to the short Finale to conclude our image of the convivial atmosphere at the Inn:

 The hour was late; the fire burned low . . .
Then all arose, and said “Good Night.”
Alone remained the drowsy Squire
To rake the embers of the fire,
And quench the waning parlor light;
While from the windows, here and there,
The scattered lamps a moment gleamed . . .
Far off the village clock struck one.

When visiting the Wayside Inn, as I mentioned earlier, it’s worthwhile to go downstairs in the late evening once the dinner guests are gone and few of the staff are still around and, in addition to revisiting the other sights, to visualize the end of the fictional literary gathering in the parlor. From outside, you can see the lights in the cozy parlor (although the exterior floodlight illumination of the Inn’s façade is an unfortunate distraction), then you can go back inside, imagine the six guests leaving for their rooms, the Landlord closing up, and then retiring himself. You can then disregard that all that is fiction and nevertheless join them to retire upstairs yourself.


Picture Links The masters of illustrating Americana were always Currier & Ives, whose prints we discussed in 2011/10. Given the explosive popularity of Tales and the Inn after publication in 1863, by the next year, 1864, Currier & Ives had its print for sale. You can pick up a Currier & Ives print of the Wayside Inn from this Gallery in New York for a mere $6600. (!!!) Take a close look, including the three detailed views repeated below. It shows the autumnal atmosphere of the poem, where a stagecoach is arriving at the Inn. Two stableboys are attending to horses in the barn, and the Red Horse sign is visible. There are irregularities, in that the barn isn’t really that close, and the façade of the Inn doesn’t really look that way, but the most unfortunate is that the parlor is on the other side; this picture has the parlor guests sitting in the tavern. But most importantly, the conviviality of the room comes through.


I would also suggest you look at this site, which shows many historical views of the Wayside Inn, and you’ll see how popular a subject it’s been over the years. I would also suggest clicking, on the menu to the right of these pictures, on some of the topics that strike your fancy, but particularly recommend you try “Parlor”.


GOING HOME The weekend at the Wayside Inn concluded a pleasant--and eventful--week that also included Salem, Saugus, 1775 Boston, and Concord & Lexington. Monday morning I took another taxi, but this time from the Inn some 20 minutes SE to Framingham, coincidentally the last stop of Abel Prescott Jr on his ride from Concord via Sudbury. Since I was talking history with the taxi driver, in Framingham he pulled to the side on a main road so I could see the marker for the Knox Trail in Framingham, so that now I’ve seen that as well as the final one in Dorchester Heights. The train from Framingham is on a route going not to North Station, but to South Station, so I didn’t have to make any connections in Boston on the T.


While my original plans were to take a circuitous route via Amtrak, from Boston, west through the length of Massachusetts, to Albany, then using another rail connection down the Hudson Valley to New York, I’d been informed by email a few days earlier that, due to construction, that westbound route was out of service just when I needed it, so I switched to the direct Boston-New York route on the Acela. This time, I just used Business Class, which was also very enjoyable. When we passed through New London along the Shore Route in Connecticut, it struck me that, by going this way, I was not only encircling Long Island Sound, I was doing it entirely by rail ‘n’ sail: the LIRR from Brooklyn to the North Fork, the ferry to New London, and, (discounting Boston as a “side trip”), along the north shore of the Sound in Connecticut, via the Bronx, back to New York. In the evening hours we crossed over the Hell Gate Bridge from the Bronx to Queens, with a skyline view, and it occurred to me that now I was also crossing overhead the catamaran route I’d taken from the islands in June. Everything comes together in the end.

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