The Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts
A Handful of Under-Rated LGBT New England Destinations
Including Bette Davis’ birthplace, Emily Dickinson’s home, Walden Pond, and a Cher filming location
Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from a feature that ran in Boston Spirit magazine, March/April 2010.
By Sam Baltrusis
Provincetown? Ogunquit? Been there, done that.
Why not head out to a handful of hidden gay-fave gems scattered throughout New England, like Emily Dickinson’s home, Bette Davis’ childhood home in Lowell, or Walden Pond?
What’s so gay about them? Fasten your seat belts ...
BETTE DAVIS HOUSE
22 Chester Street, Lowell, Massachusetts.
If the vibrant pink color of this old-school Victorian isn’t enough to tip off tourists, the historical plaque displayed on the front of this Lowell home dating back to the 1890s should set the record straight. The birthplace of movie legend icon Bette Davis is still standing amid a row of triple-deckers in the heart of the Highlands neighborhood near the UMass Lowell campus. In fact, most of the home’s original woodwork dating back to when Ruth Elizabeth was born in 1908 is still in tact. While the LGBT landmark is currently occupied by tenants and is off limits to Davis fans, locals seem to embrace out-of-towners wanting to sneak a peek of where the saucy Jezebel icon was reared.
Gay Factor: Birthplace of the woman who uttered some of the cattiest lines in film, like “But you are Blanche, you are in that chair!” from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? If these walls could talk.
290 Argilla Road, Ipswich, Massachusetts. www.thetrustees.org/crane-estate
While this ornate North Shore estate is known as the go-to place for lavish New England weddings and an alternative for same-sex couples looking to tie the knot, the Crane Estate in Ipswich had also been a hot spot for many made-in-Massachusetts films hitting the Commonwealth. In the 1987 flick The Witches of Eastwick, with Cher, Susan Surandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer, the Olmsted Brothers-designed grounds and castle was homebase for Jack Nicholson’s devilish main character. Matthew McConaughey filmed the 2009 flick Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and crews shot Kevin James in a romantic dream sequence on Castle Hill’s formerly private Crane Beach for Zookeeper. Tourists can take public tours of the castle and its stunning grounds through the summer months.
Gay Factor: Cher filmed there. Enough said.
EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM
280 Main Street, Amherst, Massachusetts. www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org
History portrays the pre-eminent 19th-century American poet as a shy, shut-in spinster. However, Emily Dickinson may have had a fiery, same-sex crush on her brother Austin’s wife. Fans of the “Belle of Amherst” know that she crafted many hot-and-heavy letters from the second floor of her yellow house on Main Street to her sister-in-law Sue Gilbert. Dickinson writes, “Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday, and be my own again, and kiss me as you used to?” Was Dickinson a closeted lesbian? We may never know. However, her passionate poetry exploring fear and isolation continues to strike a chord with the LGBT community. Tours of Dickinson’s yellow clapboard house-turned-museum continue until December.
Gay Factor: Dickinson’s relationship with her sister-in-law and neighbor Sue Gilbert, a woman she would send letters via a clothesline almost daily, has sparked discussion that the famous poet may have had a secret.
KATHARINE HEPBURN CULTURAL ARTS CENTER
300 Main Street, Old Saybrook, Connecticut. www.katharinehepburntheater.org
It’s a little-known fact that actress Katharine Hepburn felt more comfortable thinking of herself as “Jimmy,” her childhood alter ego. Even as an adult, she often used the male pronoun when she described herself. When it comes to gender identity, there’s no denying that the late, great film icon pushed the envelope. Hepburn’s legacy is preserved at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a historical landmark known as “The Kate,” and includes a museum chock full of memorabilia and reminiscences about the actress, including costumes and hard-to-find stills from her movies. The center also boasts a 250-seat theatre hosting a range of live performances from opera to comedy.
Gay Factor: After digging up the skeletons in Hepburn’s closet, it doesn’t make sense trying to pigeonhole the Hollywood star with modern labels of sexual and gender identity. Hepburn’s alter ego “Jimmy” probably would’ve scoffed at the idea.
915 Walden Street, Concord, Massachusetts. www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/walden
What was going on in Henry David Thoreau’s mind during his time secluded in the cabin he immortalized in the book Walden? The notorious bachelor decried heterosexual sex and marriage while obsessing over a crew of nude male swimmers and phallic-shaped plants surrounding his pad in Concord. In fact, Thoreau historian Jonathan Katz claims the author’s “actions and words … indicate a specific sexual interest in members of his own sex.” Some additional evidence: Thoreau’s extensive collection of classical man-on-man literature and his blatant affection for a certain Walden Pond visitor and Canadian woodchopper, Alek Therian.
Gay Factor: Evidence of Thoreau’s homosexuality is not conclusive, but his ambiguous musings on sex are well-established and may be summed up well in a quote from his journals: "I love man with the same distinction that I love woman—as if my friend were of some third sex—some other or some stranger and still my friend."
(photos (top to bottom): James Lopata, Sam Baltrusis, James Lopata, Emily Dickinson Museum, Katherine Hepburn Cultural Center, and James Lopata)
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