Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Mickle Street House [Camden, New Jersey]
Author:
Sill, Geoffrey M.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

On his sixth-fifth birthday, 26 March 1884, Walt Whitman moved into the only home he ever owned. His brother George had recently retired and moved his family to a farm 12 miles outside of Camden, but Walt had come to like the city and refused to leave. With a savings fund of $1,250, earned through royalties from the 1882 edition of Leaves of Grass, and a loan of $500 from George W. Childs, he purchased a humble two-story frame house that was for sale on nearby Mickle Street. The house had many deficiencies—it had no furnace, needed repairs, was close to the railroad yards and the ferry terminals, and seemed overpriced to his brother George. But Walt liked it, and on 20 April 1884 he wrote to Anne Gilchrist, "I have moved into a little old shanty of my own . . . am much more contented" (Whitman 368). 

The house that Whitman bought had probably been constructed around 1847 by Adam Hare on a lot that was laid out by Edward Sharp in 1820. The house passed to Rebecca Jane Hare in 1873, who sold it to Whitman in 1884. When Whitman died in 1892, he left the house to his brother Edward, and gave his housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Oakes Davis, the right to live there as a tenant for the rest of her life. Edward's death in that same year, however, left the house in the hands of George, who evicted Mrs. Davis because of a claim she had made against the estate. The house passed to Walt's niece Jessie Whitman of St. Louis on George's death, and Jessie sold it to the city of Camden for restoration as a memorial to the poet in 1921. 

The efforts to preserve Whitman's house had begun almost immediately after his death. Though the house number had recently been changed from 328 to 330 Mickle Street, the address was still spoken with reverence by Whitman's admirers around the world. A campaign organized by Horace Traubel in 1892 was not successful, but a second effort led by J. David and Juliet Lit Stern in 1920 led to its purchase. The Walt Whitman Foundation was established to administer the house, with Whitman's physician, Dr. Alexander McAlister, as its first chairman. The foundation furnished the house with artifacts collected from the neighborhood, including Whitman's rocking chairs, his deathbed, and other furniture that had belonged to Mrs. Davis. The house was acquired by the State of New Jersey in 1946, and the foundation was re-incorporated as the Walt Whitman Association in 1965. The association led efforts to restore the neighboring buildings at 326 and 328 Mickle Boulevard for use as library and exhibit space. The Walt Whitman Library, comprising chiefly rare editions of Whitman's works and based on collections by Mr. Charles Feinberg and Colonel Richard Gimbel, was dedicated in October 1984 and is open for supervised use by visitors and scholars. 

Bibliography 

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 

Carpenter, George Rice. Walt Whitman. New York: Macmillan, 1909. 

Sill, Geoffrey M. "A Thumbnail History of the Walt Whitman Library." The Mickle Street Review 9 Part 1 (1987): iii-v. 

Stern, J. David. Memoirs of a Maverick Publisher. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962. 

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 3. New York: New York UP, 1964. 

Winterich, Douglas, Curator of the Walt Whitman House. Personal Interview. 17 Feb. 1995. 


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