Tour these seven homes to get to know the famous person who lived there.
By Beth D’Addono
What makes a house a home is personal. It’s stuff — the flotsam and jetsam of a life well lived, creating a layered experience that a museum setting can’t conjure. Each of these seven house museums deliver that insight, painting a picture of who lived there in minute detail.
Ivy Green | Tuscumbia, AL
Who lived here: Helen Keller
Why it’s special: Helen Keller was born and reared in Ivy Green, her family’s home in Tuscumbia. Visit where real life scenes from The Miracle Worker played out with her teacher Anne Sullivan, a relationship that would span 49 years. You’ll find lots of mementos and reminders of Keller’s inspiring story, including her complete library of Braille books and her original Braille typewriter.
Notice: The famous pump where Keller first connected language to her dark and soundless world.
Abiquiu | Abiquiu, NM
Who lived here: Georgia O’Keeffe
Why it’s special: The artist’s home, located 48 miles northwest of Sante Fe, is the perfect way to introduce the museum dedicated to her work in Santa Fe. She lived here from 1945 until 1984 and the views from the windows mirror so many of her paintings.
Notice: Small things — her collection of cookbooks, hats perched on a dresser, details which bring O’Keefe into stark relief.
Sunnylands | Rancho Mirage, CA
Who lived here: Walter Annenberg, publishing magnate and former U.S. ambassador to the UK and chief of diplomatic protocol respectively, during the Reagan administration.
Why it’s special: The winter desert retreat for the Annenbergs for over 40 years, Sunnylands is now designated a place where world leaders convene. Take a 90-minute house tour to see a collection of Christmas cards from queen Elizabeth, pieces from their personal art collection and the fireplace that was the backdrop for Frank Sinatra’s wedding to Barbara in 1976.
Notice: The twin beds in the Yellow Room – that’s where frequent visitors Ronald and Nancy Reagan laid their heads.
Will Rogers State Historic Park | Pacific Palisades, CA
Who lived here: Will Rogers, at the 31-room Western ranch house until he died in a plane crash in 1935.
Why it’s special: An American folk hero, writer, actor, cowboy and entertainer, Rogers’ fireside wisdom can be channeled at his Palisades Park ranch, with its polo field, stable, hiking paths and rustic lodge interior punctuated by large windows inviting in the ocean views.
Notice: Rogers wrote his syndicated weekly Will Rogers Remarks column from his upstairs study on the old manual typewriter that still sits there.
The Lewis Ranch | Nesbit, MS
Who lived here: “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis
Why it’s special: Just 25 minutes southeast of Graceland, home to that other famous rock and roll singer, this oh so personal space showcases Lewis’ gold records, stage outfits and his first piano, along with a closet full of his outrageous boots and costumes. Usually his son JLL III gives the tour.
Notice: His bedroom door — it’s scarred by his knife throwing obsession.
Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives | Corona, Queens, NY
Who lived here: Louis and Lucille Armstrong
Why it’s special: Step into the home that Louis shared with his wife Lucille and take in a space frozen in 1970s design — cue the mirrored walls and shiny wallpaper. This modest abode was where Satchmo felt most at home and stayed connected with his neighbors. He paid off many a car loan and was very generous to his neighbors during his time on 107th Street. From his trumpets to his collection of homemade recordings, photos and books — what a wonderful world.
Notice: The gift shop is in what used to be the garage.
Ready to go “house hunting?” Call your local AAA Travel Agent for the best deals on accommodations and transportation.
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(Traveler Fall 2020)