By Rachel Morin
On a rain-drenched May morning, I joined the caravan of cars heading to the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire. Led by June Spear, instructor for the Poetry of Robert Frost class at USM’s L/A Senior College, our field trip to the National Historic Landmark was a goal she set for the conclusion of her class. We were in good spirits, however, and were looking forward to learning more about Frost and how he lived.
It was early in the season, and June had made arrangements to have the National Historic Landmark open for us. Currently under the direction and care of the State of New Hampshire, Division of Parks and Recreation, the farm is a New Hampshire Historic Site and listed on the National Registry for historic landmarks of national significance.
Sure enough, Ben Wilson, director, was on hand to extend a warm welcome to us. After a few introductory remarks on the barn and attached home, he turned our group over to Bill Bleed, park manager of the Robert Frost Farm, who started his presentation with a video of Frost’s life and his coming to Derry to become a poultry farmer. We toured the barn filled with enough Frost photos, books and memorabilia to please any Robert Frost fan.
Bill Bleed was well versed on Robert Frost folklore and had many anecdotes to tell us. He had met several family members over his years at the Frost Farm and had much to tell us in his personable story-telling style. It was clear he enjoyed talking about Frost’s time in Derry. Bill knew the home intimately and was eager to share his vast knowledge with all of us. We were interested to hear every tidbit he had to give.
He told us the renovation of the Frost family homestead was recreated years ago with the help and guidance of Frost’s eldest daughter, Lesley Frost Ballantine, to be as close to how it was during the time that the Frost family lived there. Robert and Elinor Frost’s last three children were born in this house.
Even though it has been over 100 years since the state’s most famous resident arrived by horse and wagon to try poultry farming and writing poetry on this patch of land in New Hampshire, the Robert Frost homestead continues to attract visitors from all over the world. It was opened for public visitation in 1975.
Many places are famous because of Robert Frost, but none played a more vital role in the poet’s life than this 30-acre farm with pasture, fields, woodlands, orchard and gentle spring. This jewel of a literary landmark represents a special era in the poet’s life because it was here that he decided to write poetry.
It was here that the poet had always declared his happiest and most productive years were spent. Raising his family, farming and meeting with his neighbors were his treasured memories. He was unsuccessful as a farmer and struggled by day, but it was here in the evening hours that he produced many of his famous works. He received the Pulitzer Prize four times for his poetry.
We learned in June’s class that Robert Frost, a New England legend, was not a true New Englander: he had been born in San Francisco, California. It wasn’t until many years later that he came to New England.
Bill relished telling a tale he heard about Frost learning to talk like a New Englander by listening in on the party-line wall phone in the kitchen. Frost was accomplished in writing poetry in the dialect of native New Englanders.
What with farming and writing poetry, Frost had no time for plumbing and electrical needs of the house. Bill related how Elinor Frost had to haul buckets and buckets of water from a nearby spring for her laundry needs. She was most proud of her glass washboard and felt it was the best aid for getting clothes clean.
Also, Bill proudly showed us the “two holer” in the barn. Some of us remembered the outhouse.
Perhaps one of the most treasured moments in the poet’s life was when he was invited by John F. Kennedy, a fellow New Englander, to recite his poetry at the presidential inauguration in January, 1961. Robert Frost was the first poet ever to read at a presidential inauguration, and it was a thrilling moment for him and the nation.
He recited “The Gift Outright” from memory. The event testified to both his greatness as a serious poet and his popular appeal. It gives me goose bumps just to write this, as I recall vividly watching and hearing his recitation on television.
Frost had many other memorable moments and awards during his lifetime. He died in 1963 at age 88. His image was on the 10-cent U.S. commemorative postage stamp issued on the 100th anniversary of his birth, March 23, 1974.