A ‘Lit­tle’ trip back in time

Fol­low the foot­steps of Louisa May Al­cott’s March sis­ters in Mas­sachusetts

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - LIFE&TRAVEL - By Su­sanne Fowler

GRO­TON, Mass. — A ru­ral New Eng­land ceme­tery is not where you’d ex­pect to spot four-time Os­car nom­i­nee Saoirse Ro­nan and other Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters on a crisp au­tumn day.

But there the ac­tors were in 2018, and now on screens around the world, in the Old Bury­ing Ground ceme­tery in Gro­ton, Mas­sachusetts, just one of sev­eral real-life lo­ca­tions that direc­tor Greta Ger­wig used in her much-ap­plauded re­make of Louisa May Al­cott’s clas­sic novel “Lit­tle Women.” Ger­wig’s film has been nom­i­nated for six Academy Awards.

In the book as well as in the film, set in the 1800s, when mar­ry­ing a wealthy man was con­sid­ered a woman’s only path to suc­cess, Jo March, one of four sis­ters, rocks the boat by aim­ing first to have a ca­reer. The book’s pop­u­lar­ity en­dures, serv­ing as the ba­sis for nu­mer­ous movies, a PBS minis­eries, a (less suc­cess­ful) Broad­way mu­si­cal star­ring Sut­ton Fos­ter as Jo and even a two-act opera by the Amer­i­can com­poser-li­bret­tist Mark Adamo.

And while Ger­wig gave the plot some con­tem­po­rary twists (no spoil­ers!), she em­braced the 19th cen­tury mood when se­lect­ing shoot­ing lo­ca­tions, film­ing cast mem­bers like Ro­nan, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Emma Wat­son and oth­ers at more than a dozen sites in Mas­sachusetts that have re­tained the pe­riod look.

Now, mod­ern-day read­ers and view­ers can cre­ate their own “Lit­tle Women” itin­er­ary by vis­it­ing a few.

In Bos­ton, the Emer­son Colo­nial Theatre, which opened in 1900, stood in for a New York stage in the film, and runs oc­ca­sional tours of its lushly re­stored in­te­rior. The Gib­son House Mu­seum in the Back Bay neigh­bor­hood served as the New York board­ing house where Ro­nan’s Jo March is strug­gling to be­come a nov­el­ist. An opu­lent dance scene was shot in the Grand Ball­room of the Fair­mont Co­p­ley Plaza ho­tel, which is of­fer­ing a “Lit­tle Women”-themed ex­pe­ri­ence through Fe­bru­ary that in­cludes the book “Lit­tle Women: The Of­fi­cial Movie Com­pan­ion” and a movie poster, among other things.

But it’s in and around the towns of Har­vard and Con­cord

that you can ex­plore a clus­ter of lo­ca­tions and mu­se­ums ded­i­cated to the au­thor and her fam­ily, in­clud­ing the home where she wrote the largely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal story, orig­i­nally pub­lished in two parts in 1868 and 1869.

Al­cott’s fam­ily was not wealthy. When she was 10 years old, her fa­ther, Amos Bron­son Al­cott, was a leader of a short-lived utopian com­mune on a bu­colic Har­vard hill­side that’s now home to the Fruit­lands Mu­seum. The Al­cotts lived in the farm­house on the site, and its slope­d­ceil­ing at­tic still re­sem­bles the one in which the March girls cre­ated and re­hearsed plays, with Jo play­ing the men’s roles. The ex­te­rior of the dark red build­ing ap­pears in the film, but it’s at a dif­fer­ent struc­ture on the grounds — the smaller, yel­low Shaker Mu­seum — where Meg (Emma Wat­son) shares a kiss with her new hus­band John (James Nor­ton) and where they fret over their fi­nances at the kitchen ta­ble.

Vis­i­tors to Fruit­lands can take part in themed events like an Al­cott story hour or a “Lit­tle Women” tea party. In the com­plex’s art mu­seum, the ex­hi­bi­tion “Drawn from Life:

Lit­tle Women at Fruit­lands” (through March 22) fea­tures land­scapes of Con­cord and Italy drawn or painted by Al­cott’s sis­ter May, who in­spired the char­ac­ter of Amy (played by Florence Pugh).

Other film­ing lo­ca­tions in Har­vard, its streets dusted with fake snow, in­clude an al­tered Har­vard Gen­eral Store for Meg’s pur­chase of pricey silk she can’t re­ally af­ford and the Town Hall fill­ing in as the ex­te­rior of a the­ater for a play young Amy isn’t al­lowed to at­tend.

But the most sig­nif­i­cant site in Al­cott’s own his­tory is about 15 miles away in Con­cord: a prop­erty her fa­ther bought in 1857 where Louisa would go on to write “Lit­tle Women” in her bed­room at the desk he built for her. Vis­i­tors want­ing to walk in the au­thor’s foot­steps can stand in that room and see that desk dur­ing a guided tour of what’s now called Louisa May Al­cott’s Or­chard House.

The film has spurred an in­crease in vis­i­tors to the clap­board build­ing, ac­cord­ing to Evanston-born Jan Turn­quist, the mu­seum’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. You’ll need to go on a guided tour to ex­plore the in­te­rior (adult ad­mis­sion $12.50). Tick­ets can’t be re­served on­line, but Turn­quist said those who turn up “will most likely be ac­com­mo­dated,” adding that the lit­tle gift shop is a fun place to wait for the next tour to start.

Once in­side the house where many of the Al­cotts’ be­long­ings re­main, vis­i­tors are taken through the fam­ily’s ground-floor sit­ting and din­ing rooms and her fa­ther’s study — where Ralph Waldo Emer­son, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne would drop by — and to the up­stairs bed­rooms.

As many as 50,000 peo­ple a year take the tour, Turn­quist said, but just as many “visit” with­out do­ing so.

“What I mean, for ex­am­ple, is that some folks come be­fore or af­ter hours and walk the grounds and peek in win­dows,” she said. “There are large bus groups that sit out in front of the house with an on-board guide telling them things be­fore they move on with­out let­ting any­one off the bus. These sorts of ‘vis­its’ don’t seem like real vis­its to us, but they do ac­count for quite a few peo­ple.”

Un­able to film in­side the


“Lit­tle Women” cast mem­bers El­iza Scanlen, clock­wise from left, Saoirse Ro­nan, Laura Dern and Florence Pugh vis­ited Louisa May Al­cott’s Or­chard House in Con­cord, Mas­sachusetts, in De­cem­ber 2019. Al­though film­ing for the movie didn’t take place in the house, the prop­erty — open for guided tours — is worth a visit for Al­cott fans.

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