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How Emily Dickinson’s Family Objects Were Almost Lost

How Emily Dickinson’s Family Objects Were Almost Lost

Few American writers are more intimately connected to a single house than Emily Dickinson was. Apart from brief trips to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., the reclusive Dickinson did not stray far from her comfortable two-story residence in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she wrote nearly 2,000 poems. Only a handful were published in her lifetime, and all anonymously. The house, known as the Dickinson Homestead, and its contents—every sherry glass, quilt, and doll’s slipper—were the locus of her imagination. For Dickinson, the domestic and the literary form one seamless line. Last week, a public database cataloging all those family objects—more than 8,000 of them—went live. The unparalleled collection has been assembled by the Amherst-based Emily Dickinson Museum and stored in an undisclosed warehouse in Western Massachusetts. For the past year, museum staffers have unpacked, identified, stabilized, and photographed the items for future researchers. What this major offering won’t reveal is the circuitous, acrimonious story of who guarded the trove, and how it nearly disappeared. The Evergreens in Amherst, Massachusetts (Courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum). Upon …