The clipping of a New York Times article about the homes of literary exiles from Europe who settled in Los Angeles in the thirthies and forties fell into my hands, recently, and brought back own memories of a meeting with literary history on a discovery tour of Carl Zuckmayer in Vermont.
Ever since I read the chapter about his life as an exile playwright-turned-farmer in the Vermont Mountains in his autobiography “A Part of Myself”, I felt the urge to find the scene of his activities during the war years.
Together with Bertolt Brecht, Zuckmayer was one of the most popular and significant German-speaking dramatists of the twentieth century. Anti-fascist with part-Jewish background, he was forced to flee Germany. This decisive moment in Zuckmayer’s life brought his highly successful writing career to a halt.
His settling in Barnard, a Vermont picture-book village and summer playground for wealthy New Yorkers, was no accident. Zuckmayer’s friend Dorothy Thomson and her Nobel-price author husband Sinclair Lewis were part-time residents of Barnard.
My online research to find the address of the former Zuckmayer farm brought no results. So, when I arrived in Barnard on a breezy summer day a few years ago, I headed straight to the only shop in town - a typical New England general store where the locals chat over a cup of coffee and get their Sunday paper and other essentials. The sporty, sun-tanned youth at the bar knowingly smiled when he gave me directions to the farm. To my surprise, the Barnard residents were used to the question posed by pilgrimaging Swiss, Germans and Austrians.
Aware of trespassing, my family and I cautiously approached the well-maintained Shaker-red homestead outside of town. A young man stepped out of the house. You could tell from his reaction that he too, was used to strangers walking up to the propriety and he knew why they were coming. My husband and I couldn’t believe our luck when he introduced himself as the son of the present owner, willing to tell us everything he knew about the Zuckmayer era of Backwoods Farm. At the end of what must have been a 20 minutes conversation, he invited us inside for a house tour. The new owners had gently restored the original interior architecture. Beside ourselves with this development, we passed through the rooms, getting a sense of what the house might have been like in Zuckmayer’s times. The tour ended in the kitchen, a dark room with low ceiling, typical of old farmhouses in New England. As a farewell, the host offered us a refreshing drink of spring water. It was of the same sweet taste Zuckmayer had raved about in his memoir…
The Backwoods Farm is not available for Home Exchange, but here are some other marvelous JewettStreet swap offers from Vermont: