5 Authors' homes you can visit virtually in the time of Covid
Updated: Jan 19
Well, 2020 has come and gone with no real end in sight yet of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. London has just started yet another lockdown, and many other places are still restricting travel, indoor dining, gathering sizes, and more.
So while we stare down the muzzle of yet another period of mostly staying home, I'm here to help you book lovers and travelers find creative ways to have fun during this unprecedented time.
If you've been around my blog for a while, you might have picked up on the fact that I love visiting literary destinations, including authors' homes. On every trip I take, I try to incorporate some literary travel sites (like the Charles Dickens Museum, Hamlet's Castle, or finding Shakespeare in Virginia).
The good news is, you can still visit many of your bucket list literary destinations from your own living room, with many author homes and museums embracing the opportunity to give virtual tours.
While many of these tours are free, keep in mind that sites like author's homes barely survive financially in the best of times. Most are struggling to keep the lights on now more than ever, after having to close for much of the last year and/or seeing drastically fewer visitors paying admission. If you can, please consider either buying tickets to the online tours or if they are free, donating to any of these (and many other) author homes. If we all give a little, it can help ensure that these important parts of history are preserved for many years to come.
So, here's a list of 5 authors' homes you can visit virtually right now in the time of COVID, without even leaving your chair, or bed, or whatever preferred spot in which you become a vegetable at home.
Mark Twain's Hartford House
Cost: free, but donations appreciated
Even if you find yourself currently living in Connecticut, near the Hartford home of the famous American author Mark Twain, visitors unfortunately are not allowed currently due to COVID numbers (as of January 17, 2021. Keep an eye on their website for updates). Still, book lovers from all around the world can visit the author's 11,500 sq. ft custom home virtually.
While not a scheduled, live tour like some of the others on this list, the 3-D, self-guided virtual tour of Mark Twain's home is well-done and worth peeking at. You can get to essentially any room of the enormous estate and click on yellow and blue dots to learn more about items in the home or the lives of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain's real name) and his wife, Olivia Clemens. As with most author homes I visit, the library is really my favorite.
You won't be able to ask questions of a tour guide and receive immediate gratification, but each room of the house does include a link to a google form for submitting a question, which will be answered by email.
Check out the free Mark Twain home virtual tours here, and consider making a donation if you have the means, as author homes are struggling more than ever with the prolonged pandemic.
Edgar Allan Poe's Baltimore home
Edgar Allan Poe lived all over the east coast of the United States during his rather nomadic life, but one can argue that it both started and ended in Baltimore, MD. While in-person tours with COVID restrictions are available to locals, no matter where you are, you can explore the Edgar Allan Poe home and museum and learn more about his fascinating, troubled life.
Sign up for a 1.5-hour live Zoom tour, which begins with a pre-recorded GoPro walk-through of the house while a museum docent talks about the importance of each room in Poe's life. After the virtual walkthrough, the docent hosts a discussion about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe's death not too far from this home.
All in all, it's a great way to escape the mundanity of quarantine life and delve into the strange, creative life of one of America's best known authors.
Jane Austen's Chawton home
This is honestly one of the most delightful virtual tours I've taken. I signed up for a virtual tour of Jane Austen's house a couple of months ago and have been really excited to share my experience of it with you.
Like the Edgar Allan Poe home tour, the tour of Jane Austen's house is a live tour on Zoom led by a museum docent. It also begins with a virtual 3-D walkthrough while the docent explains each room, its renovations over time, and its importance in Jane Austen's life. Most notably, enjoy seeing the breakfast room where more than breakfasting happened: a small, inobtrusive spindle table in the corner is the very table on which Austen penned Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park, hiding away the pages any time she heard someone coming.
The docent for my tour was knowledgeable and clearly excited to share what she knows about Austen and the special items in the house. Throughout the tour, she positively beamed with a joy and love for Austen that was infectious. Her answers to the many participant questions were well-researched, nuanced, and fun.
Even though I've studied Austen and read all of her novels, I learned so much about the regency writer and had a really enjoyable time. The tour was scheduled for 45 minutes, but there were so many questions and great discussions that we ran to 1 hr 15 minutes (and all could have happily kept going).
For any Jane Austen fans, I can't recommend her home tour highly enough. Find upcoming virtual tour times at their website here.
Jack London's Wolf House
60 miles north of San Francisco, Jack London and his wife built their 15,000 sq. ft. dream home over a hundred years ago. In a stroke of terrible luck, a fire broke out just before the home's completion, and their "Wolf House" burned to the ground in only 6 hours.
Although London vowed to rebuild, he died only three years later before he could do so.
Now, visitors are able to take guided tours of the overgrown, haunting ruins of Wolf House as well as the author's final resting place in what is now the Jack London State Park.
For those at home, you can watch a 2 minute pre-recorded tour to learn more about the home and get a peek inside.
Charles Dickens' London home
In case you missed it, I posted a few weeks ago about visiting Charles Dickens' London home in person. It's one of my favorite literary sites in London and one I hope any lover of classic literature will visit.
As London is currently facing another lockdown, there are a couple of ways you can still check out this incredible museum from home.
You can take a free 3-D interactive tour of the home here. Make your own way through the many rooms of the Dickens household, and hover your mouse over blue circles to learn more about items on display and how the Dickens lived in this home.
The Museum has also been regularly hosting themed live virtual tours with museum docents. Keep checking their "what's on" page to find upcoming tours, and book quickly, as they sell out fast.
Tell me, what virtual author's home tours have I missed in my list?
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