Walt Whitman Birthplace brings visitors back to 1819

The Walt Whitman Birthplace offers tours. The winter

The Walt Whitman Birthplace offers tours. The winter hours are Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Feb. 23, 2012) (Credit: Alessandra Malito)

WEST HILLS - A box that can be filled with coal to warm up feet on a carriage ride. A cone of sugar wrapped in blue paper and sealed with wax. Lanterns made from a tinsmith. These are just a few of the items that bring visitors of the Walt Whitman Birthplace back to 1819, when the famous poet was born.

The West Hills home, owned and operated by the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think Walt would be in love with it,” said Cynthia Shor, executive director of the association. “Luckily for us, we have this visual history of his image. So I think he would be enamored that we preserved this site where he was born.”

The Whitmans’ 20-acre farm was considered small for the area, but the family had a bigger house than most neighbors. Inside the home, the first floor has differently shaped moldings to show off the work of Whitman’s father, who was a carpenter.

Upstairs, which can be entered from the main staircase or a secret back staircase, are bedrooms for his parents, grandmother, and uncle and aunt visiting from far away. The windows overlook Old Walt Whitman Road, which was once the main road, and the only one in sight.

The tour is an experience for visitors who may not know much about the man behind the name on street signs and a local mall.

“I learned new things about Walt Whitman,” said visitor Alex Penalo, 10, of Copiague. “He was a big fan of Abe Lincoln.”

“And a schoolteacher,” his brother Jose Penalo, 13, added.

And although the acres of farmland have disappeared and been filled in instead with stores and restaurants -- an outhouse that once stood 30 yards away is now a Dunkin Donuts -- the time period of Whitman’s birth is frozen on 246 Old Walt Whitman Rd.

“The whole world has changed around it and it’s still here,” said Cameron Williams, 25, of West Hills, who is a docent at the birthplace. “In your backyard you have this magnificent place.”

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