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Touring the Bad Boy House


Opened in 1908, the Thomas Bailey Aldrich Memorial is New Hampshire’s longest-surviving museum. It is a literary  shrine to a single novel – The Story of a Bad Boy. This walking tour is presented by Aldrich’s widow Lilian who created the museum. A century after it opened, the tour is literally unchanged, at Strawbery Banke.



READ much more about TB Aldrich 

By Mrs. (Lilian) Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1911)
with liberal borrowing from "Story of a Bad Boy" (1869)

tour5.jpgEDITOR’S NOTE: Portsmouth poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich died in 1907 and a year later his family home became one of the country's first house museums scrupulously restored to an earlier time in history. Mrs. Aldrich (as she preferred to be called) was introduced to her husband by actor Edwin Booth, brother of the actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth and was an ardent socialite from New York. The following tour of the Aldrich Museum, the author's boyhood home in Portsmouth, NH was published in 1911. This verbal tour is designed to accompany the postcard tour, also published on this web site. Mr.s. Aldrich published her own chatty social history of life with the famous author of "Story of a Bad Boy" in 1920. Her stories include comments on Mark Twain, Edwin Booth, Bret Harte, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Browing, William Dean Howells, James McNeal Whistler and others. Although Aldrich's fame has dimmed considerably 1869 novel is still seen as a turning point in juvenile fiction. The enclosed image of Lilian Aldrich, taken from a 1908 newspaper, is the only one we have yet been able to locate. -- JDR

SEE PICTURES of rooms in postcard Tour   tour1.jpg
VISIT the house TODAY  

THIS HOUSE is now the Aldrich Memorial Museum. Money for its purchase was raised by popular subscription, and through the piety and devotion of the poet's family its interior has been restored with the utmost fidelity. There today the visitor may gaze in the very mirror that reflected Tom Bailey's blithe features, or turn the pages of the books that entranced him on rainy afternoons. In the quaint Colonial garden may be found every flower mentioned in his poetry, while in the fireproof room that has been erected may be seen his priceless collection of autograph manuscripts, first editions, and literary relics. A visit here will better acquaint the reader with the background of the poet's youth than many pages of biographical rhetoric.

It is more than forty-three years ago [Editor's Note: Written in 1911] that Thomas Bailey Aldrich laid down his pen after writing the final words, "So ends the Story of a Bad Boy." There are few purely story books that have had quite the unique experience of this one. Mr. Ferris Greenslet, in his Life of Mr. Aldrich, says: "In the forty years that have gone by since then, it has had a constant yearly sale that would be regarded as excellent for a new book. It has become, in short, judged by the most tangible and valid of possible tests, a classic. " Happily for the writer, the book possesses a dual quality -- a book for children, a story for grown-ups. I remember Mr. W. W. Story saying to Mr. Aldrich that "the book was always on a table at the head of his bed, and he had beguiled many hours with that inimitable story on the nights when he could not sleep." Many other men whose hair was gray have also said that in the charm of those pages their own lost youth returned to gladden them.

It was in the summer of 1869 that Mr. Aldrich wrote the story that was told to him -- told to him, by the Nutter House itself. The happy days of his boyhood spoke to him from every timber of that old home. There was not an inch in the house or a spot in the garden that did not have its story to tell. "It all came to me out of the past, the light and life of the Nutter House when I was a boy at Rivermouth."

Mr. Aldrich died in the spring of 1907. In the early summer of that year there was published in the Portsmouth II Chronicle a suggestion that the town of Portsmouth should buy the old Nutter House, and keep it as a memorial to her distinguished son whose eyes had first opened there on sea and sky. The response to that suggestion was quick and earnest. An association was at once formed and incorporated under the name of the "Thomas Bailey Aldrich Memorial" -- a fund of ten thousand dollars raised by popular subscription, in sums from one dollar to one thousand dollars.

The house, which many years ago had passed into alien hands, was bought and work at once begun to restore the house and garden to their former condition, which fortunately could be done, as the heirs gladly gave back all that was taken from it at the death of Grandfather Nutter: the old silver in the sideboard, the china in the closets, even the little dresses that were made by loving hands for the first-born. Not only are the material things restored, but that which is much more difficult, the atmosphere of the past, which is so tangible there that the stranger feels impelled -- to hasten his visit ere the family return and find him. The house stands on a narrow street at the foot of which is the Piscataqua River. But the Nutter House and its surroundings are described so delightfully in "The Story of a Bad Boy " that the next few paragraphs shall be given to the reader by Tom Bailey himself:

"Few ships come to Rivermouth now. Commerce drifted into other ports. The phantom fleet sailed off one day and never came back again. The crazy old warehouses are empty; and barnacles and eel-grass cling to the piles of the crumbling wharves, where the sunshine lies lovingly, bringing out the faint spicy odor that haunts the place-- the ghost of the old dead West India trade. "

The house abutted directly on the street, the granite doorstep was almost flush with the sidewalk, and the huge old- fashioned brass knocker extended itself in a kind of grim appeal to everybody. It seemed to possess strange fascinations for all seafaring folk; and when there was a man-of-war in port, the rat-tat-tat of that knocker would frequently startle the quiet neighborhood long after midnight."

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