New England poet James Russell Lowell lived his entire life in Elmwood, a mansion built in 1767 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is now home to the president of Harvard University. The house was described in numerous late-nineteenth-century books devoted to the lives of famous literary figures. One of these, Poets' Homes, 1877, describes Elmwood's interiors as "ancient," with some rooms "furnished in the rich and solid old-fashioned style." SPNEA has recently received some of Lowell's "old-fashioned" furniture as part of a bequest by his great granddaughter, Frances Lowell Burnett.
Two chairs, probably made in Boston around 1760, were owned by the Whipple family, ancestors from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Traces of early, possibly original, gilding on the carved shell of the crest and the balls of the front feet suggest that the chairs may have been more highly ornamented when new.
The dressing table is linked with one of Boston's most famous murders. Family tradition asserts that it was given to the Reverend Charles Lowell, pastor of Boston's Old West Church, in gratitude for the spiritual support he gave to Prof. John W. Webster in prison. Webster was convicted in 1850 of killing Dr. George Parkman during an argument over an unpaid debt. The sensational trial included gruesome details of dismemberment and was the first in which dental work was used as forensic evidence.
-Richard C. Nylander
Director of Collections & Chief Curator