Roland Wells Robbins,
Discovery at Walden
(1947; Thoreau Society, 1999)

I've made several private pilgrimmages to Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau lived for two years and derived the inspiration for his most enduring writings. On each visit, I've hiked halfway around the lake to the site where Thoreau's tiny house once stood, a site marked now by only four granite posts and chains, with an adjacent cairn of stones left by devotees.

It never occurred to me to wonder how that small monument came to be. The exact location of Thoreau's home was lost for many years, and for part of that time the wrong site was widely believed to be the correct one.

It took Roland Wells Robbins to learn the truth. Robbins, a house painter, window washer and amateur archeologist, was intrigued by the subject after joining a discussion about it on July 4, 1945, at the centennial anniversary of Thoreau's occupancy. Robbins accepted a challenge from a Concord historian and set to work, using clues from various sources, including descriptions lifted from Thoreau's Walden diaries. It took him five months to find positive proof: the stone foundation of the chimney.

OK, so finding the site of Thoreau's wilderness home might not rank up there with finding the Titanic, but it's an interesting story nonetheless, one that anyone interested in history, philosophy or archeology should enjoy. Robbins narrates the process with a casual style and a wry sense of humor. I'm pretty sure Thoreau would have approved.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 19 January 2002

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