Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on Her New Home and Book

After Doris Kearns Goodwin’s husband died nearly six years ago, the couple’s home, a 19th-century farmhouse in Concord, Mass., no longer felt right.

“We were there for 20 years,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin, 81, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose new book, “An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s,” will be published April 16.

“It was a house we had loved, and a house that in many ways we had built together,” she continued, referring to assorted refinements, including the three-car garage that became a library and the addition of a tower inspired by her husband’s fascination with Galileo.

There was a gently gurgling fountain in the backyard, a curved wooden bench, abundant flowering plants and a pond populated with koi. Inside were books — some 10,000 of them — arranged by category and subject matter, and dispersed to shelves in almost every room. “All that we loved was there,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin said.

Suddenly, though, the house felt too big. And everywhere she turned she saw her husband of 42 years, Richard N. Goodwin, the brilliant, rumpled Zelig-like figure who, in his 20s, was a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy and forged an enduring friendship with Jackie Kennedy and, in his 30s, was a speechwriter and adviser for President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy. “Mr. Goodwin called himself a voice of the 1960s, and with justification,” noted his obituary in The New York Times.

“One of my sons lives in Concord, and knowing how hard it was for me, came to stay, and brought my two granddaughters,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin said. “But I just missed Dick too much, so I decided to put the house on the market.”

Occupation: Historian, biographer

Speaking volumes: “I made so many mistakes when I was choosing what books to give away. I kept a lot of biographies, but there are so many I missed. Now I keep saying, ‘Where’s that book?’”

Moving to nearby Boston was an easy call. “I had actually wanted to move to the city when Dick and I got married,” she said. “I grew up on Long Island and loved New York. Concord was our great compromise.”

The youngest of her three sons, Joe, had settled with his family in a high-rise condominium, “so I knew the building and loved it,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin, who bought a three-bedroom apartment with panoramic views of Beantown two floors below her son in 2019. There she wrote “An Unfinished Love Story,” a braiding of memoir, biography and history.

Ms. Kearns Goodwin’s primary sources were the 300 (and counting) boxes of letters, postcards, documents, diaries, newspaper clippings, photos and other ephemera that Dick Goodwin amassed during the middle years of the 20th century, unceremoniously shoved into storage units, basements and a barn, and then, more than 50 years later, retrieved cache by cache and shared with his very eager wife.

“I was really excited to see them, just as a historian. They had all the elements of what you want in an archive,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin said. “And they were from the ’60s, the decade I really wanted to know more about.”

A cancer diagnosis and the subsequent debilitating — futile — treatment got in the way of Mr. Goodwin’s plans to chronicle those turbulent times. After his death, Ms. Kearns Goodwin took up the project.

She had the source material, but she also needed the setting: a recreation of her Concord study in her new condo. The mise en scène included a nicely worn blue leather sofa, a low chestnut table with plenty of room for books, a side table and the rug that Ms. Kearns Goodwin brought back from Morocco when she attended the 40th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference, a 1943 meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“It was the only way I could work,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin said. “It was like my talisman, in a certain sense. To have my little nook, I could feel I was still in Concord, though I was in a different room in a different building.”

Her fans will likely be familiar with the bookcase behind the sofa; it’s visible when she is interviewed from home. She consistently scores a 10 on Room Rater, at least in part because she decorously refrains from displaying her own publications.

Other pieces from the Concord house are scattered around the apartment — among them, several Persian rugs and an octagonal Indian coffee table. The bookcase that was in her old foyer sits in the condo’s entryway. Now, as then, it contains first editions and a miniature reproduction of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington and Concord, on the North Bridge. Sometimes her 5-year-old grandson plays with the toy soldiers, Ms. Kearns Goodwin said, as she adjusted the orientation of the tiny bridge.

The table from Mr. Goodwin’s study, now a display space for family photos, sits near the large windows in the living room. Nearby, a specially made plinth holds a replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s life-size bust of Abraham Lincoln, a sculpture she received when she won the 2006 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for her book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”

Framed photos of Ms. Kearns Goodwin with President Johnson and President Obama, and of Mr. Goodwin with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, hang on a wall in the entryway. Visitors should allow themselves extra time to gape and to stutter out frequently asked questions. Extra credit to those who can act convincingly blasé when Ms. Kearns Goodwin hands them the engraved Cartier cuff links that Jackie gave Mr. Goodwin as a gift, or when she points out the baseball autographed by Don Larsen, who pitched the only perfect game in postseason history, in the fall of 1956.

Books are everywhere: on tables, on sculptural vertical stands and in bookcases custom-made to look like the shelves in Concord.

When Ms. Kearns Goodwin began the process of moving out of her house, culling the collection — 5,000 volumes had to go — became a sad obsession. Fortunately, many found a new home at the Concord Free Public Library in a designated room: the Goodwin Forum. “That meant that the books, my buddies, would still be around,” she said.

For two years after she moved to Boston, she compulsively — one might say masochistically — replayed the video that was commissioned (complete with meditative piano accompaniment) to sell her house. “I don’t know what I was doing to myself,” she said ruefully. “I’d watch and start sobbing. And each time I went back to Concord I felt sad.”

Since then, she has befriended several residents of the building, to say nothing of the valet, the doormen and the concierge. “They’re all my buddies,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin, who, you feel pretty certain, makes a new buddy or three on an elevator ride from her apartment to the lobby.

When she lived in Concord, it was, frankly, a schlep to come into Boston to go to the symphony or the theater. “Now I can just decide at the last minute to go,” she said. “It’s definitely a different phase of my life.”

It’s been a while since she has watched the video. And she no longer feels undone when she visits Concord. That unhappiness, as Ms. Kearns Goodwin herself might say, is history.

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *