18 June 2014

Edna St Vincent Millay, Austerlitz, NY

'EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
NOTED AMERICAN POET, RESIDED
IN THIS HAMLET OF AUSTERLITZ
AT HER HOME "STEEPLETOP"
FROM 1920 UNTIL 1950'

Well, this is mostly true, although there's a slight exaggeration: Steepletop (named after a flower growing there) wasn't bought until 1925.

The sign outside the office, in which there's a collection of Millay's first editions, several paintings by Millay's brother-in-law Charles Ellis (her sister Norma's husband), and where you can watch a thirty-minute DVD about Edna St Vincent Millay (1872 to 1950).


Two shots of the west elevation of Steepletop, the home in which 'Vincent' spent most of the time with her husband Eugen Boissevain from shortly after their marriage in 1923 until their respective deaths in 1949 and 1950.

The original house dates from the year of Millay's birth, and this south elevation underwent considerable alteration after the couple bought it. Our guide (or docent) to this property was the exuberant Carol Derfner, although (as is so depressingly common in authors' houses) no photography is allowed within the building itself.

Martha Raftery, Manager of Visitors' Services, took over on the second (garden) leg of the tour (the visitors of which wonderfully consisted of only me and my partner Penny), and this time I was allowed to take any photos I wished. Above is the site of the bar where Vincent and Eugen and any invited guests took advantage of the rather lax prohibition laws.

The pool, where now the only naked and noisy creatures are the frogs.

An Indian Cupid drawing an arrow from his sheath.

The potting shed with original material inside.

Tins of coffee at the bottom – Eugen was an importer of it – and wine bottles above. They made their own wine, although I don't know where as there's apparently no press on the property.

Millay's little writing cabin.

And the desk on which she did her writing.


The heating system.

The society has remained faithful to the original plants on the property, such as these lupins.

And this rhubarb.

The original ice house.

A few hundred yards from the office is the Millay Poetry Trail, which visitors can follow for about a mile. Protection from mosquitoes is recommended, as my head still bears the scars.

'Millay
Poetry Trail

Given by the Friends
of the Millay Society
in honor of
Millay's Literary Executor
Elizabeth Barnett
who saved
Steepletop'.

A series of quotations from Millay's poetry punctuate the trail, which is perhaps a mile long. This is the final one, and is appropriately called 'Steepletop' (c. 1953).

At the end two plaques mark the graves which lie there.

'EUGEN JAN BOISSEVAIN
1880–1949'

'EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
1892–1950'

This is a fascinating tour which I thoroughly recommend: well worth going some distance out of the way for.

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