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Boston's Alcott Trail: Little Women Slept Here

Upstairs in the parents' room, a chart labeled "Order of Indoor Duties for Children" is posted:

5 a.m. -- Rise, bath, dress.

Louisa May Alcott's final home was in Boston's elegant Beacon Hill area. (K.C. Summers -- The Washington Post)

9 a.m. -- Studies

2 p.m. -- Sewing

4 p.m. -- Errands

Yet these were the same parents who allowed May, the budding artist, to burn etchings on breadboards and draw on the walls. Pretty much every surface in her bedroom is covered with drawings and sketches -- madonnas, goddesses, angels. The kid wasn't bad.

Bronson Alcott also built the distinctive half-circle desk in Louisa's room, overlooking Lexington Road, so that his daughter would have a private place to write. She penned "Little Women" there in 1868; a page of the manuscript is on display, in her distinctive backward-slanting handwriting. Wooden shelves are lined with her books -- lots of Dickens, George Eliot, Hawthorne, Goethe. Those vivid calla lilies on the wall? They were painted by May so that Louisa could see them from her bed when she was sick with typhoid pneumonia. She became ill while serving as a nurse in the Civil War, and the treatment was worse than the disease, leaving her a semi-invalid for the rest of her life.

In 1877, Louisa took her parents and Anna (by this time, widowed with two boys) to live in a spacious house on Main Street, formerly Thoreau's home. The Thoreau-Alcott House is a private residence now, but you can admire the lines of the elegant yellow mansion from the street and marvel at how far the family had come.

Then, if you walk through Concord's leafy streets, past the kids playing street hockey, past the small-town insurance agents and law offices, you'll come to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a picturesque burial ground straight out of Central Casting. Up winding paths carpeted with pine needles is Author's Ridge, where the graves of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and the Alcotts are set amid ash trees, pines and oaks.

The Alcott sisters' simple headstones are here, next to their parents'. "L.M.A.," Louisa's inscription reads. Visitors have left piles of stones, twigs and leaves in her honor, and someone's planted lilies of the valley in front of the little stones. They seem a fitting tribute.

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