Longfellow’s Ancient Oak Trees
Love Story by Jacqui Hawk, 2008 ©
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the Wayside Inn, Sudbury MA in October of 1862. The inn became the setting and the regulars, the characters for his 1863 book “Tales of a Wayside Inn”. I read this book with great enjoyment and interest, in particular his mention of the “great oaks” :-
One Autumn night, in Sudbury town,
Across the meadows bare and brown,
The windows of the wayside inn
Gleamed red with fire-light through the leaves
Of woodbine, hanging from the eaves
Their crimson curtains rent and thin.
As ancient is this hostelry
As any in the land may be,
Built in the old Colonial day,
When men lived in a grander way,
With ampler hospitality;
A kind of old Hobgoblin Hall,
Now somewhat fallen to decay,
With weather-stains upon the wall,
And stairways worn, and crazy doors,
And creaking and uneven floors,
And chimneys huge, and tiled and tall.
Longfellow’s Ancient Oak Trees, Wayside Inn, Sudbury MA, by Jacqui Hawk (C) 2008
A region of repose it seems,
A place of slumber and of dreams,
Remote among the wooded hills!
For there no noisy railway speeds,
Its torch-race scattering smoke and gleeds;
But noon and night, the panting teams
Stop under the great oaks, that throw
Tangles of light and shade below,
On roofs and doors and window-sills.
Across the road the barns display
Their lines of stalls, their mows of hay,
Through the wide doors the breezes blow,
The wattled cocks strut to and fro,
And, half effaced by rain and shine,
The Red Horse prances on the sign.
Round this old-fashioned, quaint abode
Deep silence reigned, save when a gust
Went rushing down the county road,
And skeletons of leaves, and dust,
A moment quickened by its breath,
Shuddered and danced their dance of death,
And through the ancient oaks o’erhead
Mysterious voices moaned and fled.
(excerpt from Tales of the Wayside Inn, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, Sudbury MA, by Jacqui Hawk (C) 2008
I have visited the inn several times… and searched the surrounding area for sight of these Great Oaks. In February of 2007 I visited the Mary Martha Chapel and spent a wonderful morning browsing through catalog after catalog of unseen photographs of the great ancient oak trees in all their splendor. These trees were REMARKABLE. The White Oak on the left grew to be nearly 800 years old; it’s neighbor the Red Oak, about 600 years old…This in itself is amazing.. and I was especially struck with the fact that they died within 20 years of each other. White died after December 1939 Red died April 15, 1958. I painted the painting at the top of this post and named it ‘Love Story’. To me it is so touching that together they withstood the test of time and mother nature… branches entangled, shoulder to shoulder. It is reported that up to 7 indians once hid inside the hollowed out trunk of the great White Oak; and humorous stories abound of Mr Lemon, one of the innkeepers, getting stuck inside and having to stay for 3 days or more without food so that he could squeeze his portly self out ! The roots of the Red Oak still exist today… right outside the Carriage House – I have in my possession a beautiful ring made from a piece of this 1000 year old tree – truly a most special gift.
Hobgoblin still stands outside the inn today. Once a majestic White oak in his own right, he is now a little old man, held up by wire and his inner trunk is filled with concrete to preserve his frail frame. He really does look like a small goblin with odd angled branches and a hunched over effect. I painted the painting above in honor of this ancient character, I decided to portray him as a strong wielding warrior in a snow storm full of pride and vigor as he once must have been hundreds of years ago.
Longfellow’s Hobgoblin Tree, Wayside Inn Sudbury, MA© by Jacqui Hawk
The Wayside Inn is rumored to be haunted with the ghost of Jerusha Howe. She was born in 1797 and died in 1842. She was the sister of the last Howe Innkeeper and resided in rooms 9 and 10 of the Inn.
Stay tuned for more on this story !