Thursday, December 4, 2008

“I Lived Among the Ghosts of Novels”

The grand old house, sitting on about 113 acres outside the town of Lenox, stands stark white against a sea of green trees of all types. She was, at one time, one of the grand Victorian ladies of the Berkshires. Who was she?

She is called The Mount and was the home of the American authoress, Edith Wharton, who had her built in 1902, as reflection of herself. It was here, in the library that looked out passed the wide veranda and over the sweeping gardens and lawns to Laurel Lake, where many of Wharton’s books were written: Ethan Frome, Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth. Mrs. Wharton claimed that The Mount was her “first real home” and The Mount remained so for ten years until the ill health of her husband, Teddy, forced them to leave the idyllic setting.

The Mount saw several owners after Mrs. Wharton sold her in 1912 and before I first saw her in the fall of 1962, when I had become a freshman at The Foxhollow School, a private girls’ boarding school.
Miss Aileen M. Farrell, founder and head of Foxhollow, had purchased the property in 1942 in order to expand the growing school and installed the juniors and seniors in what had been the servants’ sleeping quarters in the attic and the bedrooms on the 2nd floor. Miss Farrell utilized the stables that were further down the road and part of the estate; filling the stalls with riding horses.

I spent 2 years up in the attic, where the call box reminded us daily of the history of our dormitory by reflecting labels such as “Mrs. Wharton’s Room,” “Library,” “Dining Room,” and so forth. Fond memories remain of ice cream binges on the week-end in the kitchen. We were forbidden to use the main staircase and were relegated to the back door and back stairs to gain access to our rooms; the only exception to the rule was for the junior/senior prom in June, when the front door would be unlocked and opened with our escorts meeting us downstairs taking us up the grand staircase to the ballroom and terrace for the night’s festivities.

Foxhollow closed its doors in the late 1970s – but, not before Miss Farrell had had the foresight to have the estate placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1980s, Edith Wharton Restorations took over the building and, with grants, started the massive and extensive restoration of The Mount. Quite a bit had to be done, as the building was literally falling apart. After spending almost $15 million dollars, The Mount re-opened her doors to the public for lectures and tours of the grounds. Today, however, the estate faces foreclosure, a catastrophe which would result in closing the house and grounds to the public, perhaps forever. Just over one hundred years have past – one hundred years that saw the passing of time through the books and novellas of Mrs. Wharton and 30 or so teen-aged girls playing their records and radios. There are many voices and ghosts of different eras that roam the halls and rooms – my ghost and voice is still there, as is my heart. The time I spent there went by all too quickly; but, my memories will remain forever.

Pamela Taylor