Here we showcase the house where Jerry used to live. Jerry? Well, that’s what the reclusive author J. D. Salinger (1919-2010) wanted his most-trusted friends to call him–people like the current owner of the house in Cornish, New Hampshire, in which he once lived. During the later years of his life, Jerry lived just up […]
By The Yankee Moseyer
Oct 31 2014
Beneath the lawn between the house and the garage is a tunnel that J. D. Salinger had built so that he could go back and forth without being seen by photographers hiding in the bushes.
Here we showcase the house where Jerry used to live. Jerry? Well, that’s what the reclusive author J. D. Salinger (1919-2010) wanted his most-trusted friends to call him–people like the current owner of the house in Cornish, New Hampshire, in which he once lived.
During the later years of his life, Jerry lived just up the road from here, and he’d often stop by to visit with us,” said Joan Littlefield during our recent visit, as we sat in her living room in front of a huge brick fireplace (one of four). She told us that the house had been built about 1910, “probably” by the granddaughter, Carlotta, of the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whose studio, now a museum and National Historic Site, is nearby. “They say Jerry used the proceeds from The Catcher in the Rye [published in 1951] to purchase all the land he once owned around here,” added Mrs. Littlefield. “I still have 12 of those beautiful acres.” She went on to explain that since her husband passed away in 2013 and their two sons (each with two children) can’t move to Cornish, she has decided to sell. Price: $679,000. She plans to move to a retirement community in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.
“Jerry called us the day we moved in here in 1984 and gave us his unlisted number,” Mrs. Littlefield said. “Contrary to his national reputation as a recluse, he was very friendly. I think that because my husband was a doctor and I was a nurse, he felt that we both were used to respecting a person’s privacy.”
“So,” we said with a smile, “it’s safe to assume that you never took a photograph of him when he was here.”
“That,” she answered, “would have been the end of our friendship. Instantly.” She went on to explain that most residents of Cornish “liked Jerry” and totally respected his privacy. “When media people came around–and they were constantly coming around asking us where he lived–many people around here simply sent them off in the wrong direction.”
To be sure, Jerry’s need for privacy was a bit extreme. For instance, during his years in what’s now the Littlefield house, he had a huge, solid fence extending along the house side of the road. (It’s no longer there.) But even that didn’t satisfy him, so he eventually built a new house, hidden away in the woods, on property adjoining the Littlefield property. (In fact, the last of his several wives still lives there.) “And,” Mrs. Littlefield added, “in both of his Cornish houses he had secret tunnels built between the outbuildings and the main house. They allowed him to go from building to building without being seen by people hiding in the bushes waiting to take a photo of him.”
Of course, we had to see Jerry’s secret tunnel. “Very, very few people have ever seen it,” Mrs. Littlefield noted as she led the way over to the nearby garage, with its small guest apartment with bath on the second floor, and down to the full cellar and shelf-lined tunnel, of walking height, leading back to the main house.
Once back there again, we meandered through all the rather small rooms (three bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus various sitting and storage rooms) on both floors and then outside. The natural-looking landscaping around the gardens (some were once Jerry’s), next to a lovely stream across the seldom-traveled dirt road in front, is truly quite exquisite–as is the spectacular view of Mount Acsutney from the spacious lawn area behind the house.
While we strolled about, we continued our conversation about the man who once wrote a book known and loved throughout the world and then spent the rest of his life hiding. But not from Cornish friends like Joan Littlefield. “One time,” she recalled, “he came down here to escape all the people dealing with a small fire in his house. ‘Jerry,’ I said to him, ‘where are your teeth?’ He was usually meticulous about his appearance–even often wearing an ascot–so it was unusual for him to show up without his teeth. He told me that he’d left them on a shelf in the bathroom. So a few minutes later, I spoke to a fireman and asked if he might be able to retrieve Jerry’s teeth. And he did. Jerry was grateful, but he never knew I’d helped.”
Another of Mrs. Littlefield’s reflections had to do with losing her cat. “I went up to Jerry’s place to ask if he’d seen it,” she remembered. Apparently he searched everywhere with her–even in his tunnel and a little hideaway cabin absolutely no one but him had ever been in: “We didn’t find my cat, but I had a lovely time with Jerry.”
And we had a lovely time with Mrs. Littlefield that late-summer day a couple of months ago. For us, it was a day full of surprises. But now, before we sign off, we have one more. Not a biggie, but maybe a little ironic. It’s that Mrs. Littlefield confided to us that she really didn’t enjoy reading The Catcher in the Rye. “So much harsh language,” she said, and then she grimaced.
Jerry would have been amused.
For more information, contact James Allen Littlefield, 34 Myrtle St., Newton, MA 02465. 617-332-4473; firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Jane Darrach, Martha Diebold Real Estate, P.O. Box 30, Hanover, NH 03755. 603-643-4200; marthadiebold.com