As such, research required consulting the Houghton Library’s 1,023-piece Dickinson archive, where Smith struck up a friendship with Christine Jacobson, assistant curator of modern books and manuscripts. When the series wrapped, as a thank-you, Smith asked if Jacobson would like anything from the set, leading to the Houghton acquiring numerous items, including exquisite reproductions of Dickinson’s delicate fascicles—those bundled poems Dickinson stitched together with needle and thread. (Each smudge and ink blot on the reproductions came courtesy of graphic designer Derrick Kardos, who worked on the film Black Swan and helped restore some of Frederick Douglass’s North Star newspapers for the Smithsonian.) Jacobson said the new acquisitions will likely serve as teaching aids. “The reproductions are a treasure. Students can handle them, and we don’t have to worry about them like the originals,” she said.
Smith was equally excited that the Dickinson Museum received “truly, millions of dollars’ worth of physical items from the show—carpets, curtains, dishes, an entire kitchen—which, otherwise would’ve been thrown in the dumpster.” That’s show business, but Smith was pleased to find a happier ending. “It’s so fleeting. You don’t usually get to hold on to that much once you’ve made the show,” she said.
Jane Wald, executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, praised the acquisition. “We have a good deal of Dickinson family furnishings but not everything we need. We selected pieces that would help fill our needs.” Fans of Dickinson who trek to the museum after it reopens will no doubt relish recognizing pieces from the show, including Death’s carriage.
Though Emily Dickinson has been a cultural touchstone for academics and afficionados alike, it seems the current fascination can be traced to 2017, when a retrospective at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York sought to reassess the life and works of a poet once branded “the Myth” and “the Belle of Amherst;” a recluse who never left home, who whispered to visitors through doorways, and whose sole companion was a faithful Newfoundland named Carlo. Dickinson led a far more nuanced life than she was given credit for, and Dickinson is the latest contemporary reassessment.