The Walt Whitman Birthplace on Friday went from being a de facto literary landmark to an official one.
The state-owned remnant of the West Hills farm where the famed poet was born in 1819 became the 140th National Literary Landmark designated by United for Libraries, a national nonprofit.
A plaque unveiled before more than 100 dignitaries and other guests states that Whitman was a poet and journalist who began his career as an apprentice to a printer and later founded the Long Islander weekly newspaper in Huntington. "Memories of this house and Long Island strongly influenced his writing," it says.
"It's a great day for Walt," remarked William T. Walter, president of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, which operates the state historic site previously listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
State parks Commissioner Rose Harvey called Whitman "a literary giant."
And S. Chris Shirley, board president of the Lambda Literary Foundation, which has promoted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature since 1987 and was one of three groups to nominate the birthplace of the gay poet for the honor by United for Libraries, described Whitman as "America's Shakespeare. Walt Whitman gave us our voice."
According to Cynthia Shor, executive director of the birthplace association, the literary designation "gives us national significance as a literary site" and will help the association in applying for grants.
Whitman first published his most famous work, the poetry collection, "Leaves of Grass," in 1855 with his own money. Walter noted that Whitman sent a copy to eminent poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who replied that "I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed." Walter added that "many succeeding poets have praised Whitman . . . for starting them in a new way of doing poetry."
United for Libraries is a division of the American Library Association. The Philadelphia-based organization had never designated any Whitman site as a literary landmark before. It said the West Hills site was deserving of the honor because the area played such a significant role in Whitman's writing.
The birthplace is Suffolk County's second landmark to be recognized by United for Libraries. Last year it designated the windmill on the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University. Tennessee Williams lived there in 1957 and wrote an experimental play, "The Day on Which a Man Dies," about the death of his friend, abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. No literary sites have been designated in Nassau County.
The Langston Hughes Community Library in Corona, Queens, was designated last year. Manhattan has eight designated sites and New York State has one more, Washington Irving's Tarrytown home on the Hudson.