October 6, 2015
By Rachel Rogol
Plans for restoring the home of Amherst-born poet Emily Dickinson have been underway since 2003, when Amherst College acquired the house next door (owned by Emily’s brother Austin) and merged the two historic homes to create the Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and The Evergreens.
Now the renovation of Emily’s bedroom—where she composed nearly all 1,789 of her poems—is not only complete, but historically accurate, from the books on her mantel to the reproduction wallpaper created from pieces discovered above her ceiling.
Jane Wald, executive director of the museum, says the long-term goal is to restore every surface inside the house as it was or would have looked like during the time Emily and her family lived there, a goal that hasn’t been easy, considering there isn’t a single historical photo of the home’s interior. “Most of our research has been forensic,” says Wald.
The wallpaper scraps are a perfect example. In 2010, a structural issue required the ceilings in the house (which weren’t original) to be replaced. In the process, workers discovered four wallpaper fragments in Emily’s room, including a large horizontal piece (pictured above). Wald worked with MaryLou Davis, an art conservator and consultant in historic interior design based in Woodstock, Conn., to find a trellis and vine style popular in Emily’s era and similar enough to Emily’s to serve as a template for the wallpaper’s recreation.
In addition, removing a 20th century floor revealed original 19th century floorboards. “When the floorboards were exposed,” Wald says, “we found traffic patterns around the room.”
On either side of the space where Emily’s bed would have been were small oval spots where the wood looked worn. “Seeing this gave me goose bumps,” Wald says. “That’s where she pulled her feet up at night and put them down in the morning.” Worn out spots where Emily would have walked led from her writing stand in the corner to the bureau beside her bed.
Now that the bedroom renovation is complete, traditional straw matting covers the floor. The bed is Emily's original, and the writing stand and bureau are reproductions based on the real pieces that reside at Harvard. Wald says the writing stand is “remarkable to people because of its diminutive size.” With a square writing surface that’s barely 18 inches across, it looks more like a nightstand than a writing desk. The bureau is also remarkable, says Wald. “It’s one of the places hundreds and hundreds of poems were found after her death.”
The Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and The Evergreens is located in downtown Amherst, and open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
More photos of Emily's bedroom: