Monday, March 2, 2009



I thought of sitting down and slogging my way through instruction manuals, or trial and error starts at the computer. But wasn't there a more fun way to get started with my idea of writing a blog about my visits to house museums? One that echoed the theme of my new email address: playing at life.

That's where my auto accident came into the picture. Last year a 94 year old man while "thinking of his wife" drove threw a stop sign and hit my car. Luckily after a little physical therapy and some acupuncture I was fine. His insurance company acknowledged their client's error and offered a modest settlement. I negotiated (quite well I think) and accepted a revised and still modest offer.

What to do with the money??? A couple of friends liked the idea of a 3-day girls trip to the Berkshires and thought exploring house museums might be an interesting activity.

A little web research turned up 4 house museums within 15 minutes of one another. A little more research and I found a two bedroom, two bath time share right in the middle of things. So with the auto accident settlement in my pocket, my friends and I headed up to Stockbridge and Lenox, Massachusetts.

After stopping in Stockbridge for lunch, (something I'd think twice about - there aren't many restaurants to choose from in the little town) we sped off to a 2 P.M. tour of Naumkeag. Strange name, isn't it? Learned that it means haven of peace in the Essex Indian language.

Assured by the attendant that the beginning of the tour would be heralded by a strike on the oriental gong, we walked off to tour the garden. The grounds were stunning. A self-guided landscape tour points out 17 stops and an accompanying audio briefly and interestingly provides details on the landscape architect and his collaboration with Miss Mabel Choate, the daughter of the original owner.

As I stood at the top of the Blue Steps that gave Miss Choate easy access to the cutting garden at the base of the hill, I thankfully threw off my first impulse to head back up to the house. I later learned the Blue Steps are the "signature garden" of the estate and are quite ready for 1940 art deco movie set. But to be appreciated the steps have to be descended.

However we did spend a few too many minutes there. As we approached the veranda I could hear the tour guide talking about the family who had built the house. Houses and their families, not landscaping, is my real passion. What interesting crumbs of information had he already dropped?

Not to worry. He'd only just begun. From the tour and guide book I learned that the family had money, some degree of fame, luxury and tragedy. The father, Joseph Choate was a New York attorney who prosecuted Boss Tweed, won the case against the graduated income tax , and worked both for and against Standard Oil.

Side note here. Nothing to do with house museums. You might be wondering why we're about to pay income tax on April 15th since Attny Choate won the case against it way back when. Google "history of graduated income tax". There are over 1 million results. In less than a page Infoplease satisfied my curiosity.

Back to the topic.

Our tour guide was informed and engaging. And the gilded age shingle style summer home was memorable, a comfortable luxurious home in an early 1900's sense. But I wanted a little more, something just for me. What if I divulged my yet unwritten blog to the tour guide? Would I be granted VIP status or given access as a credentialed reporter might be?

As I approached the guide my friends wondered off toward the main entrance. I related my blog idea and then took a step back to explain what a blog is. He beckoned me with" come here I want to show you something". OK that's easy.

What awaits me? Maybe a painting we hadn't stopped at, maybe some kids initials carved into the handsome woodwork, maybe an opportunity to touch something old and incredibly valuable that is always off limits on the tours. He lead me down a long hall, and we then descended stairs with a railing made of ordinary inexpensive rope. Down into the darkness of ........the basement.

Bells started going off in my head. How far away were my friends? Had I read this guy wrong? We walked further into the the dark musty rooms. This didn't seem like a good idea. I offered a slight objection- "where are we going?" No response. And then just two rooms further into the maze..."This is the original kitchen. It's not rehabilitated at the moment but if you come back next summer it will be completed and part of the tour."

The kitchen! That's sometimes my favorite room. My blog, as of then unwritten, had opened up another view of the home and an entry to further discussion with the guide.

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