Before last week I had never been on a walking tour of my hometown of twenty years, and I probably would not have signed up for the Cambridge Historical Society’s recent outing had it not been titled “Misled.” You see, the word “misled” has long been a running joke in my family, ever since I realized that, in my mind, I had been mispronouncing it myz-əld, despite knowing perfectly well how the past participle of the verb “mislead” should be pronounced. For years – well past college – I persisted in this private malapropism, until the time I read it aloud using my invented pronunciation, provoking howls of laughter from my husband. He’s my ex-husband now, but this is one of the enduring catchphrases from the happier years of our marriage. “Myz-əld again!” one of us will say, and the other is guaranteed to laugh.
“History with an asterisk” is how our guide, CHS Executive Director Gavin Kleespies, framed the Misled tour’s organizing principle to the forty-odd folks who turned out for a two-hour stroll in the Brattle Street area on August 14. One of our first stops was the buttercup yellow Georgian-style mansion at 33 Elmwood Street. Built in 1767 as the then-100-acre country estate of the Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, a Tory whose wealth came from a slave plantation in Antigua, Elmwood was later the lifelong home of the poet and abolitionist James Russell Lowell (1819-91). Since 1962 it has served as Harvard’s own White House, but it would be 45 years before a female president took residence. I think Lowell would be pleased that Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust now presides over Elmwood, succeeding economist Larry Summers, whose foot was in his mouth for a good deal of his tenure. Continue reading ‘Misled Again!’