I read a great book called Geography of Genius that focuses on the tendency of communities of like-minded people to form and thrive, often changing the course of history. Essentially people feed off each other, and are inspired by the geniuses around them to do more in their own lives. Rome, Athens, Vienna, Edinburgh and other places are covered in the book.
It got me thinking about the clusters of geniuses in the northeast. Maybe we didn’t have Beethoven, Mozart and Freud running around Boston as Vienna had, but we sure had Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and Nathanial Hawthorne roaming around Concord, Massachusetts at roughly the same time, and all are buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
Down in New York in another Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, you have the titans of industry Carnegie, Rockefeller, Chrysler all clustered in their final resting place after building empires just down the river from Tarrytown. The New York Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is where Washington Irving, writer of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is buried.
In Boston, you can visit the graves of Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and other notable figures from the Revolutionary War at the Granary Burying Grounds. They fed off each other in life, building on each other’s ideas, one-upping each other. In death, they’re still neighbors.
Down in Hartford, Connecticut you had Mark Twain living right next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Talk about a literary one-two punch. While the neighborhood has changed significantly, becoming grittier, the homes of these two literary giants remain much as they were when they lived there. I’ve toured the Twain house, and will carve out time for Stowe another time.
As the weather gets warmer, I’m going to spend a little more time visiting the homes of notable people. Walking around the homes of Robert Frost and Mark Twain reinforce that they were just regular people with extraordinary talent and the grit necessary to produce. Visiting their graves reminds you that their time was brief, and so too is ours.