- Travel and Places
Recommended Famous Homes to Visit
What is our obsession with famous houses?
As a travel enthusiast, I will admit I have toured several homes over my 34 years and intend to as long as I am able. Living in Arkansas, it would be a shame not to visit Hope and Hot Springs to see Bill Clinton's childhood homes. Also, as an Arkansan, it would be horrible if you hadn't been taken to Graceland as a kid or went yourself as an adult! My mom still has old photos from the early 1980's of me as a baby at Graceland, even though I had no recollection when I went back as an adult.
What is it with touring people's houses and homes that we find so fascinating? In my opinion, it is simply the fact you are in the same atmosphere they were once in at a different time. You are seeing how they lived and the items they kept in their homes. Just as we go visit a new friend's house for the first time, we are curious to see what their decor style is like and how it connects to their personality. If I ever became famous, people would walk through a house full of books, globes, maps, and "treasures" from all my travels along with the usual family keepsakes. I don't see that happening, but it would show people how much I love travel and other things that are important to me.
The next time you tour a famous home, place yourself there with them. Imagine what it was like when they lived there. If you have never toured a famous house, I strongly suggest you find the closest one and go. Trust me, every state and territory has a famous house within a day's drive.
Just a few of the Houses we have visited around the World and USClick thumbnail to view full-size
Why can't you take pictures and why you shouldn't!
So as many of you that travel know, many historical locations will not allow you to take photos. This is to preserve the items and to keep their fragile condition available for as long as possible. As a historian, I always abide by this rule even though sometimes it kills me to see people taking pictures beside me as I respect the rule; the picture lover that I am!
When we visited Washington D.C. for the first time, we did not plan a tour and looking back I really wish we would have while Obama was still in office. With that said, touring presidential homes is a different story. Monticello is on my bucket list and I can't wait to see it as Jefferson is one of my favorite historical figures. Instead, we toured Andrew Jackson's home. No, not one of my favorite presidents by far, but definitely a major influence on American History and the Hermitage is next door so it was a must see. Another location where we were not allowed to take pictures but I was surprised by how small the house was once we got inside. From the outside it looks like there would be more room but when you exit you find yourself asking was that it? While you are there, the house is only one piece of his property. A beautiful garden and acres of land with barns are available for you to tour at your leisure, with or without the magic aid of the virtual tour guide in your hand and ears. You do have to go into the house as a tour because a very nice tour guide will walk you by each closed off room and explain them all in detail. With the crowds and small halls, it was hard to see a lot but as a historian, it was worth the experience.
Overall, I wish we could take pictures of every place but I understand and respect the rules. I want my great great greats to be able to go to historic places and see what I saw many years ago. Preserving our history is of utmost importance when it comes to this traveler. Let me take you on a tour of some homes I have visited, beginning with the one's I was able to take photos while touring!
Graceland: The home of Elvis PresleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Graceland: A Memphis Must
Yes, it will cost you a pretty penny to see the "King's" House. I think for the three of us, two adults and a child, it was close to eighty dollars maybe? That was without the plane tour because I was amazed by the cost of the general entry alone. When you get to the house, you park across from it and then shuttle over to the house with your assigned group. There is a large waiting area with the almighty gift shop for you to kill time while you wait for your shuttle. The Graceland area is more than just the house. There is a restaurant, his plane, and my favorite spot, The Heartbreak Hotel. We spent my daughter's birthday there one year because she is an Elvis fan and even the pool is in the shape of a heart.
But back to the house. I placed so many pictures on here because this is a house where pictures are allowed! While it doesn't look too impressive on the outside, the inside rooms will leave you surprised. The jungle room is always a favorite along with the white room. My favorite was the pool room because of the walls and the ceiling. I also enjoyed the retro TV room with 4-5 old televisions on one wall and a nice couch with a bar in the back of the room.
The house is more than just the house though! His barn contains several, maybe most of his outfits, records, and more! The amount of memorabilia in the barn is incredible and its hard to move along with your group and see each album and outfit. We chose to go on Valentine's Day, which wasn't a wise choice. If you go, choose a slow day so you can enjoy the house! My best tours are the ones with very few people and I'll get to that later when I cover my East Arkansas tours.
After the barn, you see his pool and grave site. It is so peaceful and beautiful that you could sit there for hours if it weren't for the crowds. Overall, a must for any Elvis fan, despite the high price. It is worth every penny for an Elvis fan like me!
The Museum at Dyess Colony: Go here for your tickets to his house!
My everlasting love of Johnny Cash
I can still hear my Papa and I singing "Ring of Fire" and others from my childhood as he drove me everywhere with him as a child along the old country dirtroads. To me, Johnny Cash has always been in my list of favorite musicians and learning he grew up here was so exciting to me as an Arkansan. When Arkansas State University began taking notice of the historical treasures of Eastern Arkansas, this was one of their key finds and displays. This October 2017, a festival will be held in Dyess and yes; we plan to attend!
For those of you from Arkansas, you know there isn't much to this part of the state. I hate to say it but it is what it is. The roads are horrible, there isn't much scenery, and getting to some of these locations is just painful but trust me, there are some amazing treasures in Eastern Arkansas worth the drive and his house is one of them! It is hard to find and Dyess is one of those small communities that has one gas station and that's about it. The center of town is where you will find the museum that focuses on the Great Depression and the way Dyess Colony was set up by the WPA. Don't just tour his home, stay at the museum and study the colony and other artifacts left behind by the Cash family and others. One of my favorite finds there was his high school yearbook. Yes, I took a picture of it, blew up his section, and leave it on my desk when I teach for all my students to see and analyze. When you study the entirety of Johnny Cash's life, and then think of his senior quote, it gives you more insight into the Man in Black.
In order to tour the home, you buy your tickets at the museum and will receive a map showing you where to drive. Now remember, it's Eastern Arkansas and this was a Great Depression WPA colony so you are driving on dirt roads at times through fields. Then in the middle of one of those big fields sits a small white house. It reminded me of my childhood home, a small yellow house built much the same in a large field out in the country. When you arrive, someone is waiting there for you and I wish I could remember our guides name. He was an older gentleman who was very knowledgeable and personable from the area. You must put hospital booties on your shoes to enter but you are allowed to take pictures! Seeing his bedroom, his mom's piano, and even her small kitchen was a trip back in time to another life. Knowing his family history, I could picture his family in the small house together and him with his brother before he lost him. It was a bittersweet experience that all Cash fans should take time to see!
Dyess Colony: The boyhood home of Johnny CashClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Hemingway-Pfeiffer MuseumClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center
This was my most recent house to visit and I am so glad we went! It is such a hidden treasure that only the biggest Hemingway fans probably of its existense. People in Arkansas didn't until Arkansas State University stepped in once again in their efforts to bring more people to East Arkansas. When I went to visit this house, I already had this story in my head. I wanted to write about why people visit historical houses and the mystery behind the act. Going to this house gave me yet another answer to the same question I keep asking. I am now fascinated by the Pfeiffer family and plan to do more research on them all because I wanted to see Hemingway's studio barn. Just like Johnny Cash's home, we were in a small group. Let me rephrase that..... it was us and another lady that was from North Little Rock. Due to the long drive we made it just in time for the last tour of the day. Our tour guide, Lisa, was amazing and so friendly and knowledgeable about the property and the family. She is the one that made me pause and realize I want to learn more about the Pfeiffer family now and their contribution to Arkansas and the world. She spent half an hour over the tour time talking with us and telling us all about the house history and Hemingway's time there and his relationship with each of the family members. Small groups are the best way to go and always ask questions if you have one! Don't be afraid to ask because that is what they are there for and want to provide you with as much knowledge on the location as possible! They want you to be engaged in the tours! This house is beautiful and every ceiling had a different beautiful tiled ceiling. One of my favorite parts was taking a picture of me and my little girl in Hemingway's bedroom with a photo of him on a dresser. My other favorite part of course was his studio, where he wrote A Farewell To Arms. Pauline's role in the writing of this book is very under shadowed I realized and I was unaware of how intelligent and creative she was as well. When you hear their story, you can see how they fell in love and connected to each other so well.
Unfortunately, when they divorced Hemingway took his possessions with him, so I'm still waiting to see some original Hemingway items. His Key West home is on my list so I know I will see them and the 6 toed cat one day. Being in the studio where he would sit and think, drink, write.... realizing I'm standing where Hemingway wrote one of the American Classics is enchanting for any book lover, especially one such as myself who is obsessed with his entire early 20th Century group of friends and fellow authors.
Even though it is a long drive, I guarantee you it is worth the time. Walking up to the house and down to the barn makes you think of how many times he made that same walk and touched some of the same doors or staircase railings you are as you tour the house and barn. A must see for every Hemingway lover and ask for Lisa as your tour guide! She was absolutely amazing and so friendly! Anyone willing to stay at work 30 minutes past their shift on a Saturday just to talk with strangers about their love of Hemingway is a person who knows and loves what they do and are good at it! Make it a day trip and see his house and Johnny Cash's boyhood home in the same day! They are both in the upper section of East Arkansas so when you go out in the middle of nowhere, you can see two amazing locations!
My Personal Favorite: The Anne Frank Huis
I'll admit I'm like most girls that visit this house. When I left Anne Frank's bedroom, I was in tears. Seeing her magazine clippings still stuck to the wall and just being in that small space knowing what she went through while she was in there is indescribable. The feeling will leave you drained but it is an experience of a lifetime. You can see the churchbells she would hear. You can still smell the smells of spices from when it was a spice factory. The size of the attic with the kitchen and living areas amazed me considering how many people stayed in the room for so long. Pictures are not allowed inside but you can purchase postcards with pictures of the room, which I did of course. Seeing the Anne Frank House has to be my favorite "famous" house of all I've visited. It would be impossible to write an article such as this without describing the space. We stood in line on a cold, rainy afternoon for almost two hours to get in. Totally Worth It! You do move fast through the museum because you are in a constant moving crowd of people that all are ready to get to the attic. When you reach that bookshelf and it is opened up with those small stairs for you to climb, that is when it hits you and you begin placing yourself in her shoes and imagining what she must have felt. I know it is impossible but a history lover tries. Walking and hunching down in some areas made you really think about how many people were living in that small space together for so long having to be as quiet as possible. The rooms are so small and together that no one was given much privacy and you feel that being crowded in there with people from around the world. As you tour her room, you walk around the edges so you are able to see every wall. Again, her magazine clippings that I read about as a child in her diary were still there and I just stared in amazement. I left the room in tears, trying to imagine a girl that young in a situation such as hers.
When you get into other areas of the museum there are several sections of her diary for you to view with her original writing. Again, experience of a lifetime that I would recommend to everyone and can't wait to take my daughter when she is old enough for the "Amsterdam Experience."
So why do we visit famous houses?
After reading this, what do you feel is the obsession with touring famous homes. I've never done the hollywood find the stars homes or anything of the sort, but I love finding homes of artists and politicians. I still kick myself for not going into the Rembrandt house in Amsterdam. We did find it and stood outside but with Amsterdam offering so much we didn't have the time. I know I won't pass that one up next time though! To me, it takes me back in time to their era. It makes me imagine what their lives in that home must have been like. I think of our day to day lives in our own houses and wonder how they carried on with their days during the time period. I like to see their possessions and how they chose to decorate or hear the stories the guides tell about their lives. I like to know they walked on the same floor and touched the same doors and other parts of the house. It makes you feel like you know these people a little better, on a deeper level maybe. I know I will continue to search for homes to visit and tour and hope I have encouraged others to do the same around their hometowns!