Joan Spinazola was a displaced Concordian, making a living offering "Mob Tours" in between stand-up comedy gigs in Las Vegas. Alida Bailey was a transplant from New Zealand who toured the Old Manse so many times she was eventually offered a job. Together, they're Gatepost Tours - a new business that allows visitors to explore Concord's literary history.
"We just started in February and already have tours booked through the summer," said Bailey in an interview Wednesday. "Now we ask each other why we didn't decide to try this sooner."
Gatepost Tours joins many other groups offering tours through Concord with different hooks - after all, it is one of the most historically important towns in America, and has a rich cultural heritage. And many companies offer travelers the world over a glimpse into the writing life - Spinazola mentions Dickens tours through London and the home of Leo Tolstoy in Russia.
But Gatepost is special in that it has such a wide and significant stock of literary giants to explore - from Emerson and Thoreau to Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, along with all the other leading lights of their day who visited or briefly lived and worked in Concord.
"We have such a treasure trove here," Spinazola said. "But all of these houses and historical sites are owned by different groups and have different hours, and travel between them can be difficult. You'd get people who only have a few hours in Concord and try to travel to the Orchard House (home of Louisa May Alcott), and if it's closed they don't know what else to do."
Spinazola's and Bailey's business attempts to address that problem. For $139 visitors get their choice of three guided coach tours lasting up to three hours, a voucher for lunch in an historic Concord restaurant, and a free tote bag. The fee also includes parking and admissions to all destinations.
"Since it's a literary tour, a lot of people who go on it love books, but don't want to buy them because they might trigger weight restrictions on a flight," Bailey said. "We give them the tote bag, which they can filll with as many of the books they buy as they wish, and then we'll ship it for free to anywhere in the United States."
The two friends met after both moved to Concord a few years ago and were working as tour guides for the Trustees of Reservations at the Old Manse. Spinazola said even then, the two were united in their desire to make literary history seem alive and relevant.
"I'd get high school students in my tour group and I'd ask them if they thought Nathaniel Hawthorne was boring, and they'd all say they did," Spinazola said. "I'd tell them, well, I'm going to change that. I'd tell them stories about the Hawthornes - their sense of humor, the three-year honeymoon they took at their friends house. The sorts of things their teachers would never teach. They didn't think it was boring then!"
One of the tours offered by Gatepost is a "Romance Tour" that focuses on the loves won and lost of Concord's literary giants.
"Is there anything better than a great love story? Especially if it doesn't end well," said Bailey. Other tours are a general author tour and a Transcendentalism tour, focusing on Thoreau's fascination with the movement. The friends also do custom tours for groups with up to 24 people, and also maintain a blog on historical happenings in town.
Future plans include a walking tour and a "Tavern Tour" that encompasses locations in Lexington and ends with a dinner show at Concord's Colonial Inn, where both Bailey and Spinazola are part of a 'Geek Night,' where history scholars gather to argue - sometimes passionately - about the past.
"There are a lot of really respected professors and researchers in the group, and they can get pretty intense," Spinazola said. "Last week two of them nearly came to blows over whether Margaret Fuller was smarter than Elizabeth Peabody."
Nonetheless, both Bailey and Spinazola agree the group has been an invaluable resource as they develop the tours - which are still a work in progress.
"We always have our noses in books, and we've gotten so much great information from the Concord Public Library," Spinazola said. "That's the great thing about this, you learn something new every day."
Sarah Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.