Looking back into history and you can find all kinds of love stories. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I did some research and found one I thought all of you would like.
Who doesn’t know Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, the song of Hiawatha, Evangeline, all those wonderful poems we read in school and maybe even afterward, too.
He was born on Feb. 27, 1807, and was married to Mary Potter, who sadly died in 1835 following a miscarriage. She was 6 months along. At 29 years of age, he found himself a widower and a Harvard professor. Of her death he wrote, “One thought occupies me night and day, She is dead – She is dead! All day I am weary and sad.”
Three years later he was inspired to write the poem “Footsteps of Angels” about her. Several years later, he wrote the poem “Mezzo Cammin,” which expressed his personal struggles in his middle years.
While teaching at Harvard, he rented rooms at the Craigie House in Cambridge. After about 8 months, he began to court a young lady named Frances Appleton. Now the independent-minded Fanny was not interested in marriage, but Longfellow was determined. He wrote to a friend, “The lady says she will not! I say she shall! It is not pride, but the madness of passion.”
During the courtship, Longfellow frequently walked from Cambridge to Appleton home in Beacon Hill in Boston crossing the Boston Bridge. She continued to reject him, causing him to suffer from depression and panic attacks. He took a six-month leave of absence from his job at Harvard to recover at a health spa in Germany.
On May 10, 1843, Fanny Appleton sent a letter agreeing to marry him. He was too excited to wait for a carriage, so he walked for an hour and a half to her house. They were married a month later on July 13, and they had their first of six children the following year. Her father bought the entire Craigie House for them as a wedding gift.
Longfellow published a poem called “The Bridge” in 1845, which made the west Boston bridge famous. It describes his misery at Fanny’s rejection contrasted with his later happiness. The bridge was replaced in 1906 with a new bridge, and they named the bridge The Longfellow Bridge.
Frances was putting locks of her children’s hair into an envelope on July 9, 1861, and while attempting to seal it with hot sealing wax when her dress suddenly caught fire, though it is unclear exactly how it caught fire, with the wax, or maybe the lighted candle. Longfellow, who was taking a nap, rushed to help her, throwing a rug over her to put the flames out. The flames were stifled but she was already badly burned.
Longfellow’s youngest daughter Annie explained the story differently some 50 years later, claiming that there had been no candle or wax, but that the fire had started from a self-lighting match that had fallen on the floor. Both accounts state that Frances was taken to her room to recover and a doctor was called.
She was in and out of consciousness throughout the night and was administered ether for the pain. She died the next day. Longfellow, who had burned himself while trying to save her, was so injured that he was unable to attend her funeral. His facial injuries led him to stop shaving and he wore a beard from then on which became his trademark.
Longfellow was devasted by Frances’ death and never fully recovered, he occasionally resorted to laudanum and ether to deal with his grief. He worried that he would go insane, begging “not to be sent to an asylum” and noting that he was “inwardly bleeding to death.” He expressed his grief in the sonnet “The Cross of Snow,” which he wrote 18 years later to commemorate her death.
“Such is the cross I wear upon my breast, These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes, and seasons, changeless since the day she died.”
In March of 1882, Longfellow went to bed with severe stomach pain. He endured the pain for several days with the help of opium before he died surrounded by family on Friday, March 24. He had been suffering from peritonitis. At the time of his death, his estate was $356,320. He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.
What love story is in your family? We would really love to hear about them. Write them down or come in and tells us. We are opened on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on the second and fourth Sundays from 2-4 p.m. You can always send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the weather is bad, give us a call to make sure we are open at (716) 592-0094.