For me, the MOST life-changing, and inspiring vacation of my life, was a journey to the childhood home of Miss Helen Keller, located in Tuscumbia, Alabama. As you may know, Helen was stricken with a form of meningitis, or scarlet fever, at the tender age of 19 months, leaving her deaf and blind for the rest of her life. A few years later, her parents contacted the Perkins School for the Blind to inquire about hiring a teacher for young Helen.
A woman by the name of Anne Sullivan was selected. Little did Anne know that her life was about to change the lives of millions of others through the life of her small student. Anne played a crucial role in Helen’s education, linking ideas and concepts to words. Eventually, Helen would become one of the first deaf-blind individuals to graduate from Radcliffe University, with a bachelor of arts degree, in 1904.
Upon my arrival at the estate of Miss Keller’s father, named Ivy Green, I was welcomed by two ladies who were employees of the National Park Service. They informed me that 75% of the artifacts in the home were original. The dining room table was set with all of the home’s remaining plates and utensils, but some plates were missing. If you watched the movie, “The Miracle Worker”, you will surely understand what happened to those plates and utensils.
In a room adjacent to the dining room is a guest room with several show cases filled with Helen’s personal items. While looking into one of the glass cases, I smiled away the tears when my eyes caught the view of that infamous key used by mischievous Little Helen to lock her teacher, Anne Sullivan, in her upstairs room. Helen refused to tell her parents where she hid that key, so the only recourse the young teacher had was to ungraciously exit the home by climbing out of the upstairs window, and then being carried down a ladder. (A note in the display case explained that some time later, the key was found right where Helen hid it very quickly; under the wood china cabinet located in the hallway near the bottom of the staircase. Helen must of descended the stairs very quickly before attention would be drawn to Anne’s room because of some very frantic pounding on the inside of the door.) Can you imagine if that key was in your own personal collection today? What a piece of American history you’d have.
The entire home was filled with memorabilia from Helen’s life, including pictures of dignitaries she met throughout a lifetime of public speaking. Also, there sat old Braille machines Helen used to complete her degree in college, and for writing letters and books. Other artifacts included several sculptures of Helen, a rocking chair, and Helen’s doll that she clung to as a child. Hundreds of precious items were on display everywhere.
As I walked out the back door of the home, I actually froze in my steps, for there to my right was THE original pump causing the liquid to flow over little Helen’s hands. Perhaps it was the shock from the cold water that triggered her mind, awakening the messages so often pressed into her palm, hands, and fingers by a very determined teacher. Whatever the cause, the tireless efforts of Anne Sullivan slowly began to materialize into an expression of confusion on Helen’s face, followed by a long pause, and then the world would never be the same. Right here where I was standing, on this historical and sacred ground, the lips of this deaf and blind girl began to tremble. Her heart raced, and her confused, yet inquisitive mind began to generate a word – yea a thought! The paralyzing, dark veil of night was being lifted. No! It was being torn away by a force so powerful that the moment would forever change the world!! Ever so slowly, Helen uttered a partial word, almost as if asking a question…!! “Wa. Wa!! Wa…” Realizing the metamorphosing taking place, the teacher instinctively rushed to Helen’s side and with dedicated determination, pressed into the girl’s palm the hammer that would now destroy the wall of isolation once and for all!!
“Y-E-S!!”, Anne spelled into Helen’s hand. Right here where I was standing. Ivy Green. Tuscumbia, Alabama. As Helen tried speaking the word, Anne Sullivan opened the windows. She broke down the door! She made it happen. “W-A-T-E-R”, Ann spelled, and Helen muttered, “Wa-ter.!” What a marvelous moment in the life of this child, and of her teacher. The lights came on, never to be dimmed again! And I stood right there, where the Fountain of Hope burst forth.
Now, more words flowed!! “Grass.. ground…,” and finally, “TEACHER!!” Standing there for perhaps 20 minutes, numerous images of Helen uttering those first words lifted my heart to the height of Heaven! Right here, some 120 years ago, lives all around the globe would soon begin to change because of one student, and one teacher known today as the Miracle Worker. Helen’s eyes were blind, but now her heart could see!!
Every minute and every second of my visit to Ivy Green will remain with me for the rest of my life. It was a life-changing experience, one filled with complete inspiration. Every room in that home and every inch of the grounds surrounding the home, remain vividly fresh; a romantic moment of history in my life that will never be forgotten. Perhaps one day, you too can visit the Ivy Green estate of Helen Keller. I am certain that you will come away deeply moved, as I was, and your life will also be forever changed.
Miss Keller died in 1968, but her life continues to bring hope and inspiration even to this very day. I wish I could have met her. Without a doubt, she was one remarkable lady. And, the key once used to lock the door to her teacher’s bedroom, is now used to unlock the doors for millions of people around the world. The fingerprints of her life shall never be wiped away.
During her lifetime, Miss Keller received a tremendous number of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1965. She passed away in 1968, just a few weeks short of her 88th birthday. In his eulogy, Senator Lister Hill of Alabama expressed the feelings of the whole world when he said of Helen Keller, “She will live on, one of the few, the immortal names not born to die. Her spirit will endure as long as man can read and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith.”
For additional information about visiting the home of Helen Keller, go to http://www.helenkellerbirthplace.org/