By Danny Schrafel
The boyhood home of iconic Long Island poet and journalism trailblazer Walt Whitman will be, by week’s end, designated as a literary landmark – and to the advocates seeking to preserve and enhance the birthplace, those words have great value.
The birthplace of the founding publisher of The Long-Islander is set to be dedicated by the American Library Association’s United for Libraries division as a literary landmark during a special ceremony starting at 2 p.m. Sept. 5.
“We’re very excited – we’re thrilled,” said Cynthia Shor, executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.
A wide-reaching group of elected officials, led by U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) are expected to attend.
“As a prolific writer and Long Islander, Walt Whitman has always been one of my favorites, and this designation will help ensure that his legacy is preserved for generations to come,” Israel said.
This is the second time Whitman has been honored in recent months for his contributions to American culture. In June, he was inducted into the Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame as one of the first 25 honorees.
Shor reached out to Rocco Staino, of the Empire State Center for the Book, after hearing about the program, and he promptly nominated the birthplace for designation and began reaching out for organizations to sponsor Whitman.
Whitman’s birthplace, located on Old Walt Whitman Road, would be the third such dedication on geographical Long Island – the 300-year-old Southampton windmill, where Tennessee Williams wrote a play, is designated, as is the Langston Hughes Community Library in Queens.
The honor is more than just kind words – Shor said the designation opens up a whole world of new opportunities for the foundation, which was launched in 1949.
“[This] enables us to apply for grants on a larger scale, and it creates a public awareness of what we’re offering to the public with our literary services,” Shor said.
The new designation will complement the Walt Whitman Birthplace and Interpretive Center’s status as a state historic site, Shor said.
The Literary Landmarks Association was founded in 1986 by former Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA) president Frederick G. Ruffner to encourage the dedication of historic literary sites. The first dedication was at Slip F18 in Bahia Mar, Fla., the anchorage of the Busted Flush, the houseboat home of novelist John D. MacDonald's protagonist Travis McGee.
In 1989, the Literary Landmark project became an official FOLUSA committee. Literary Landmarks continues with United for Libraries, the division of ALA created by the joining of FOLUSA and ALTA.
Dedications have included homes of famous writers (Tennessee Williams, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, William Faulkner), libraries and museum collections, literary scenes (such as John’s Grill in San Francisco, immortalized by Dashiell Hammett, and Willa Cather's Prairie near Red Cloud, Nebraska), and even “Grip” the Raven, formerly the pet of Charles Dickens and inspiration to Edgar Allan Poe and now presiding (stuffed) at the Rare Books Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
For more information about the ceremony, call the Walt Whitman Birthplace at 631-427-5240.