by L. Schwirian
It was on the 10th of May in 1843 that Henry received the fateful commitment letter from the woman he adored and had been courting off and on for the last seven years; she had finally agreed to his proposal of marriage. His first wife had died of a miscarriage eight years earlier while they traveled in Europe, and a few months later, he met Fanny, his wife to be, and her father in Switzerland.
Henry’s first wife had been embalmed, laid in a lead-lined oak casket, and shipped to Boston for burial. After the funeral ceremony, he took up his new post as a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard and began living as a boarder at Craigie House near Harvard Square. Fanny, whose real name was Frances, also returned from Europe, with her father Nathan Appleton, to their home on Beacon Hill. As one of the original investors in the first integrated textile mill in Waltham, Nathan was quite wealthy.
After receiving Fanny’s letter, Henry was so energized that he pulled on his boots and started the three and one-half mile, 90-minute trek down Broadway Street and across the Boston Bridge to Beacon Hill to make sure that Fanny wouldn’t change her mind. It was a journey he made many times over the past seven years, and he had become something of a legend in Cambridge for his unrequited ardor, perseverance, and refusal to quit.
He and Frances married shortly thereafter and parented six children before Fanny died in 1861; she was sealing letters with wax when her dress caught fire, and she succumbed only a few days later. Henry, in an attempt to save her, suffered wounds to his face and body and was unable to attend her funeral. He retired shortly thereafter and devoted the rest of his life to writing and became one of the best known and popular poets of the 19th Century.
He and both wives are now buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and the “Boston Bridge” that he crossed so many times while courting Fanny was re-christened “The Longfellow Bridge” when it was replaced in 1906. The pedestrian bridge recently built over Storrow Drive near the Hatch Shell has been christened The Fanny Appleton Bridge.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.