Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son, Edward Waldo Emerson, opens his account of the Saturday Club with the following:
“These brave illuminators,—poets, scholars, statesmen, workers in science, art, law, medicine, large business, and good citizenship,—by the fortune of the small area of New England and its few centers of ripening culture, were more easily drawn together. In the summer of 1855, eleven of these agreed to meet for monthly dinners in Boston. They soon drew friends with genius or wit into their circle…”
The club, as he suggests, was begun in the mid 1800s as an informal gathering of intellectuals at the Albion House. In 1855, the meetings were formalized and moved to the Omni Parker House. Notable members included transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Henry David Thoreau and Henry James were known to occasionally attend. In 1857 Saturday Club members founded The Atlantic Monthly at the Parker House as an outlet for members’ writings. In addition, Charles Dickens lived in the hotel for five months in 1867 and 1868, giving his first reading of “A Christmas Carol” for the members of the Saturday Club; Mark Twain was a guest in 1877. Further, the hotel itself features in the works of Edith Wharton.
The Parker House was established by a Maine farm boy, Harvey D. Parker, who in 1832 bought his favorite café for $432, renaming it after himself. Though he had come to Boston with less than a dollar to his name, by the early 1850s, he had earned enough money to buy the nearby Mico Mansion, a boarding house, and have it demolished. The hotel was built in its place, and today is the oldest in the country. Aside from its long literary history, it has also hosted famous performers—including Sarah Bernhardt, Joan Crawford, James Dean, Judy Garland, Yo-Yo Ma, and Stevie Nicks—politicians—such as Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt—and baseball players, including Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Activist Malcolm X and Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh worked in the restaurant and bake shop, respectively.
Today, the hotel’s long history has given rise to rumors of hauntings. Even Oliver Wendell Holmes appeared to comment in his poem, “At the Saturday Club”:
Such guests! What famous names its record boasts,
Whose owners wander in the mob of ghosts!