Few things in this life bring more pure joy to me than my children. The excitement and laughter generated from a child as he or she learns and explores the world around them can be mesmerizing. On our recent road trip, I had just such an opportunity in, of all places, Tuscumbia, Alabama.
My daughter completed a biography report as part of her big second grade project this year. She chose as her subject, Helen Keller. For two months we immersed ourselves in the life and circumstances of this extraordinary woman.
It was during our research for the project that we learned of the obscure little area in the northwest corner of Alabama and the birthplace of Ms. Keller, Ivy Green in the little town of Tuscumbia. The home was built in 1820 by David and Mary Fairfax Moore Keller, the grandparents of Helen Keller and was once part of a 640 acre tract of farmland. Toady the seven room cottage appears much as it did those many years ago containing most of the original furnishings.
It’s not big, especially when compared to the way the home has been portrayed in movies like The Miracle Worker. I suppose I wasn’t prepared for that. The first floor of the main house has but 4 rooms and the upstairs 3 connected by a small hallway. Typical of the times, the kitchen was in a separate building out back.
The little old women who served as our tour guides were about as pleasant as you could ask. They were also the embodiment of what one pictures in a southern belle. They were more than willing to answer Zoë’s endless questions and proved a wealth of information.
The actual birthplace cottage sits just east of the main house and is comprised simply of a large bedroom and a playroom. The cottage also served as living quarters to Helen and her teacher, Annie Sullivan.
The grounds are well manicured with huge old oak trees, magnolias, English box-woods and numerous other trees, bushes and flowers. There are garden areas and dioramas representing many of the countries Helen visited during her lifetime.
The greatest thrill for Zoë (as well as the rest of my children) was to stand at the actual well-pump where Helen first learned the word w-a-t-e-r and what it meant. I beamed when Zoë proclaimed, “My report just came to life!”
The Helen Keller Birthplace at Ivy Green is located at 300 W. North Commons in Tuscumbia, AL and is open daily 8:30 am to 4:00pm (1:00-4:00pm on Sundays). Admission is $6 for adults, $2 for children 5-12. On weekends during June through late July the play “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson is performed on the grounds and has been for over 30 years. From what I’ve heard and read, it is not to be missed. Contact the Helen Keller Birthplace for ticket information and times. (888) 329-2124
There is also a week long festival each summer, The Helen Keller Festival, that commemorates her life and her accomplishments. There are parades, art auctions, stage entertainment, tours of historic sites and more. This year’s festival is scheduled for June 22-28, 2009.