The Questionable Fates of Famous Authors’ Birthplaces


This week, we were surprised by the news that George Orwell’s Indian birthplace will be developed into a memorial. Why should that be so surprising, you ask? Well, because it’s not being turned into a memorial for George Orwell, but for the entirely deserving but somewhat more random Mahatma Gandhi. Though many authors’ birthplaces have been turned into museums or monuments to their lives, several have met with rather more questionable (and sometimes downright upsetting) fates. We investigate after the jump.

George Orwell

As indicated above, Orwell, née Eric Blair, was born in Motihari in Bihar, India, where he lived for a year before moving with his mother to England. The family’s bungalow has languished in the intervening years, marked by a sign and a statue, but was left damaged after a 1934 earthquake and since then has been largely a ruin overrun by strays. Now, the local municipal council has announced that the house will be turned into a memorial for Gandhi. We have to ask: of all the places in India where one could build such a monument, why here?

Edith Wharton

A native New Yorker, Edith Wharton was born in a brownstone at 14 West 23rd Street. Though in the intervening years, it has been a linen store, a linen store with a lingerie department, and a wholesale china firm, it is now a Starbucks. Of course it is. [Photo via]

Eugene O’Neill

Hey, do you know what else is a Starbucks? The house where Eugene O’Neill was born, once the Barrett Hotel at 1500 Broadway in Times Square. [Photo via]

Herman Melville

Herman Melville was also born in New York City, in a building at 6 Pearl Street that no longer exists. Where it once stood, there is a plaque and a bust in the plaza of 17 State Street, an enormous office building whose bottom floors are home to New York Unearthed, an urban archaeology museum. Don’t worry, though! There’s a Starbucks right across the street. [Photo via]

Dorothy Parker

You might not have expected it from all her witty banter (or maybe you did), but Dorothy Parker was born at the Jersey Shore, in a cottage at 732 Ocean Avenue in Long Branch’s West End. The house is gone, replaced by apartments, but a free-standing memorial remains on the corner. [Photo via]

Jack London

Jack London’s generally agreed-upon birthplace, at 615 Third Street in San Francisco, was destroyed by a fire after the famous 1906 earthquake. Today, a Wells Fargo bank stands in its place at Third Street and Brannan, marked by a little plaque. You know what else is in the building? Oh yes. It is a Starbucks. [Photo via]

J.R.R. Tolkien

You may not realize (we didn’t) that J.R.R. Tolkien, he of wooded glens and streams to tarry by, was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where he lived until he was three. His original home was destroyed in a flood in the 1920s, but pieces of the building were salvaged and eventually incorporated into the four-star Hobbit Boutique Hotel, which sits on President Steyn Avenue, a few streets away from the writer’s actual birthplace. [Photo via]

Edgar Allan Poe

Poor Poe’s birthplace, once on 62 Carver Street in Boston, has been more or less lost to time — that is, the house was razed and the area totally reconfigured, to the point where people are still arguing over where his house once stood, and claiming that the plaque is actually in the wrong place. Assuming Poe did in fact live where his commemorative plaque is tacked, the site of his birth is now a Mexican restaurant called Boloco, referred to by some cleverly corny locals as — you guessed it — Poe-loco.