The 200th birthday party held at the Haverhill Public Library on Dec. 17 culminated the city's yearlong celebration. Staff and students of the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School created a 450-pound birthday cake which was topped by totally edible recreations of the house, barn and cobbler's shop found on the grounds of the John Greenleaf Whittier birthplace.

The party also featured Mayor James Fiorentini presenting a proclamation from the city honoring the poet's birthday and the mayor's reading the poem "Haverhill" by Whittier. Rep. Nikki Tsongas read into the Congressional Record, a proclamation honoring Whittier for his contribution to the nation's literary heritage and noting his work as one of the country's first abolitionists.

Augustine J. Reusch Jr. read Whittier's poem, "My Birthday," and Anna Soria, president of the Greater Haverhill Poets, read one of her own compositions honoring Whittier which she presented to the birthplace.

The party followed a 24-hour poetry vigil held at the hearthside of the birthplace from noon Sunday to noon Monday. Ice and snow prevented readers from arriving before late evening, but from midnight on, a steady stream of readers joined the curator's family in sharing poems in recognition of Whittier's contribution.

A week prior, Barney Gallagher had presented a slide show, "Meet Mr. Whittier," at the 122nd winter meeting of the Haverhill Whittier Club held at the Merrimac Public Library. Many members of the Amesbury Whittier Club joined the festivities. The two groups are linking activities more and more.

Snowbound Weekend, the ever popular re-enactment of Whittier's most famous poem, brought well over 600 people to the birthplace during the first weekend of December. There they enjoyed the presentation by the fireside as well as a horse-drawn wagon ride, cider and cookies or cake, and fiddle music.

The city's first wet-paint auction brought nearly 50 artists to the grounds in October. Painters and photographers created likenesses of the house, barn and surroundings to sell at a fundraiser auction that evening.

The year began with the City Council declaring 2007 as the year of John Greenleaf Whittier. The Calvary Baptist Church focused on Whittier the Abolitionist at its 135th anniversary breakfast meeting at the Citizen's Center. And former congressman Martin T. "Marty" Meehan's St. Patrick's Day luncheon named Whittier the Honorary Irishman of the Year for his efforts at famine relief during the Irish potato famine of 1845 to 1848. Whittier's efforts stocked the first ship to enter Cork Harbor with supplies for the starving people.

Spring brought a bike ride through Rock's Village, also known as Whittierland. In May the trustees sponsored an open trolley ride along the path of the bike ride and on into Amesbury. The Amesbury Home opened to greet the visitors from Haverhill.

The year was full and eventful, but the events are not over. In February Mr. Reusch will bring a group of Bradford Elementary students to the grave of Lydia Ayer in Walnut Cemetery to recite "In School Days," a charming poem of school day love. It is said to be based upon a friendship between Whittier and Lydia Ayer, who died at age 14.

This coming spring, both the bike and trolley ride will be repeated. Next fall will see the renewal of the Harvest Festival at the birthplace, complete with pumpkin painting and scary movies in the barn. The wet-paint auction will also be repeated, this time venturing into all of Whittierland for painting sites.


Elinor Curtin Cameron, president of the Whittier Club, is a Haverhill resident devoted to the John Greenleaf Whittier Birthplace.

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