Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on Her New Home and Book

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Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on Her New Home and Book

After Doris Kearns Goodwin's husband died nearly six years ago, the couple's home, a 19th-century farmhouse in Concord, Massachusetts, no longer felt right.

“We were there for 20 years,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin, 81, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose new book, “An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s,” will be published April 16.

“It was a house that we had loved and a house that we had built together in many ways,” she continued, pointing to various improvements including the three-car garage converted into a library and the Adding a tower that was inspired by her husband's fascination with Galileo.

In the backyard there was a gently bubbling fountain, a curved wooden bench, abundant flowering plants and a pond full of koi. Inside were books – about 10,000 of them – organized by category and topic and spread out on shelves in almost every room. “Everything we loved was there,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin said.

However, the house suddenly felt too big. And everywhere she turned she saw her husband of 42 years, Richard N. Goodwin, the brilliant, rumpled Zelig-like figure who was a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy in his 20s and formed a lasting friendship with Jackie Kennedy and others, in his mid-30s, was a speechwriter and adviser to Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy. “Mr. Goodwin called himself a voice of the 1960s, and rightly so,” said his obituary in the New York Times.

“One of my sons lives in Concord, and knowing how hard it was for me, he came here and brought my two granddaughters with him,” said Mrs. Kearns Goodwin. “But I just missed Dick too much, so I decided to put the house on the market.”

Profession: Historian, biographer

Speeches: “I made so many mistakes when choosing books to give away. I have kept many biographies, but there are so many that I have missed. Now I keep saying, 'Where's the book?'”

Moving to nearby Boston was an easy decision. “I actually wanted to move to the city when Dick and I got married,” she said. “I grew up on Long Island and loved New York. Concord was our great compromise.”

The youngest of her three sons, Joe, had settled into a high-rise condo with his family, “so I knew the building and loved it,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin, who bought a two-story, three-bedroom apartment with panoramic views of Beantown under her son in 2019. There she wrote “An Unfinished Love Story,” an interweaving of memoir, biography and history.

Ms. Kearns Goodwin's primary sources were the 300 (and counting) boxes of letters, postcards, documents, diaries, newspaper clippings, photographs and other ephemera that Dick Goodwin collected in the mid-20th century and unceremoniously stuffed into storage units and basements and a barn, and then, more than 50 years later, he pulled out cache after cache and shared them with his very eager wife.

“I was really excited to see them, especially as a historian. They had all the elements you would want in an archive,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin. “And they were from the ’60s, the decade I really wanted to know more about.”

A cancer diagnosis and subsequent debilitating – futile – treatment hampered Mr. Goodwin's plans to chronicle these turbulent times. After his death, Mrs. Kearns Goodwin took up the project.

She had the source material, but also needed the setting: a replica of her Concord study in her new apartment. The staging included a nicely worn blue leather sofa, a low chestnut table with plenty of space for books, a side table, and the rug that Mrs. Kearns Goodwin brought from Morocco when she attended the 40th anniversary of the 1943 Casablanca Conference between President Franklin D .Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“It was the only way I could work,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin said. “It was like my talisman in a way. Having my little corner made me feel like I was still in Concord even though I was in a different room in a different building.”

Your fans will probably be familiar with the bookshelf behind the sofa; it is visible when she is interviewed from home. She always gets a 10 on Room Rater, at least in part because she politely refrains from showing her own publications.

Other pieces from the Concord House are scattered throughout the apartment – including several Persian rugs and an octagonal Indian coffee table. The bookcase that was in her old foyer is in the entryway of the apartment. Today, as then, it includes first editions and a miniature reproduction of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington and Concord at North Bridge. Sometimes her 5-year-old grandson plays with the toy soldiers, Ms. Kearns Goodwin said, while she adjusted the alignment of the tiny bridge.

The table from Mr. Goodwin's study, now used as a display area for family photos, is near the large windows in the living room. Nearby, on a custom-made pedestal, sits a replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' life-size bust of Abraham Lincoln, a sculpture she received when she won the 2006 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for her book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius.” of Abraham Lincoln” won. ”

On a wall in the entryway hang framed photos of Ms. Kearns Goodwin with Presidents Johnson and President Obama and of Mr. Goodwin with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Visitors should take more time to marvel and stutter frequently asked questions. Special thanks to those who can appear convincingly blasé when Ms. Kearns Goodwin hands them the engraved Cartier cufflinks that Jackie gave Mr. Goodwin, or when she points to the baseball signed by Don Larsen that was the first perfect one Game made postseason history in the fall of 1956.

Books are everywhere: on tables, on sculptural vertical stands, and on bookshelves custom-built to resemble the shelves in Concord.

When Mrs. Kearns Goodwin began moving out of her home, sorting through the collection – 5,000 volumes had to go – became a sad obsession. Fortunately, many found a new home at the Concord Free Public Library in a dedicated space: the Goodwin Forum. “That meant the books, my friends, would still be there,” she said.

For two years after moving to Boston, she obsessively—masochistically, one might say—played the video commissioned (complete with meditative piano accompaniment) to sell her house. “I don’t know what I did to myself,” she said remorsefully. “I watched and started sobbing. And every time I went back to Concord, I was sad.”

Since then, she has become friends with several of the building's residents, not to mention the valet, doormen, and concierge. “They're all my buddies,” said Ms. Kearns Goodwin, who, you're pretty sure, makes a new friend or three on an elevator ride from her apartment to the lobby.

When she lived in Concord, it was honestly a challenge to get to Boston to go to the symphony or the theater. “Now I can make a last-minute decision to leave,” she said. “It’s definitely a different phase of my life.”

It's been a while since she saw the video. And she no longer feels disappointed when she visits Concord. This misfortune, as Mrs. Kearns Goodwin herself would say, is history.

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