My daughter, Talia, says I enjoy “stories of people overcoming incredible obstacles.” She kind of teases me about that, but I have to agree with her. I do like those kind of stories.
So, what better way to enjoy my birthday than to visit “Ivy Green.”
Ivy Green is the birthplace of Helen Keller. It is located in Tuscumbia, Alabama, which was about 50 miles from our campsite in Corinth. We had planned a day trip to visit.
I called “Ivy Green” the day before just to confirm it would be open. I asked what time the tours started, and the friendly lady on the phone said, “The tour starts whenever you get here.” Well, that works with our schedule, but it also sounded like there wouldn’t be a lot of people there.
The tour did start upon our arrival, but, surprisingly, our group had about 20 people in it. As such, we started outside the main home, with our tour guide talking about Helen Keller and “Ivy Green” for a good 20 minutes. Afterwards, we were free to roam the main house, the cottage and the grounds.
This is the place where Helen Keller was born, became blind and deaf, and later, through her dedicated teacher, Anne Sullivan, had the world opened up to her through the power of language and of love.
We saw the dining room where Anne insisted on disciplining Helen and after several exhausting hours, Helen folded her napkin for the very first time.
We looked in at the bedroom shared by Anne and Helen and where Helen locked Anne in on the day she arrived. A ladder was needed to get Anne out of the room.
And I laid my hand on the very same pump handle where Anne Sullivan had placed her hand on that wonderful day when Helen made the connection and began to understand the meaning of words.
Here’s some of what I learned that day:
- Helen Keller became blind and deaf due to an illness she had when she was 19 months old. Today, it is thought she had either scarlet fever or meningitis.
- Helen Keller knew a few words, such as “wa wa” (water) before contracting the illness.
- Helen Keller’s mother was a descendant of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States.
- Alexander Graham Bell worked with deaf people throughout his life. Helen’s parents were referred to Bell. Bell then referred the family to the Perkins Institution in Boston which sent Anne Sullivan to teach Helen.
- Alexander Graham Bell and Helen Keller became life long friends.
- Anne Sullivan was only 20 years old when she came to teach Helen.
- Helen Keller challenged the Lions Club at an international convention to become the “Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” The Lions Club adopted this mission in response, and it is still its mission today.
- Helen Keller is buried in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., along with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and her assistant, Polly Thomson. Helen agreed to be buried in the National Cathedral but only if her teacher and her assistant were buried there as well. Helen died in 1968.
We also learned one other thing about Helen Keller.
Helen Keller played Scrabble! Dan and I love to play Scrabble!
Visiting an historical house is one of my favorite ways to learn the stories of long ago. When I see the actual places, history is not just facts and dates, but rather it is a story about people and the places and the times they lived in.
Imagine the heartbreak of parents whose healthy baby suddenly loses all sight and hearing. I think of how determined they must have been to search for ways to help their child and how fortunate they were to have the means to do so.
Think of Anne Sullivan, just twenty years old, having the confidence to stand up to Helen’s parents, specifically her father, and tell them what needs to be done. What joy Anne must have felt when Helen had her breakthrough moment at the water pump.
I thoroughly enjoyed our day at Ivy Green. I saw the actual places where these events happened. I heard several stories, including those of Anne Sullivan’s patience and persistence and also, of Helen’s mischief.
But, most importantly, I felt in my heart the inspiration of human triumph over adversity, of determination, of dedication, of learning and of service to others.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.Helen Keller