Over the summer while on a trip with my mom to Alabama to visit her family, we made the trek westward across Alabama to Tuscumbia to visit the Helen Keller Birthplace House Museum or Ivy Green.
As a Teacher of the Blind, I considered a visit here a kind of Mecca. Although Louis Braille invented the braille code, Helen Keller broke down barriers and she and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, paved the way for people who are blind to a world with less discrimination.
She was a misunderstood genius, who was essentially trapped inside her brain, unable to communicate with the people around her, unable to express herself. She acted out in frustration and appeared “wild”. Until one day, a Teacher of the Deaf and Blind and former student of Perkins School of the Blind, Anne Sullivan, ventured forth into unknown terrain to try and connect with Helen. It took great patience, endurance and passion to break through to Helen.
Helen lost her sight at the age of 19 months. Helen explained her “break through” when Anne Sullivan had her hand at the pump feeling the water and Anne was signing the letters for water in her other hand, that she recalled a memory of “water” from when she was baby and was able to make the connection finally that Anne was teaching her the word for water. Once she learned that first word, she learned many more words that day and in the coming months would learn thousands more words and how to read and write the braille code.
Anne Sullivan stayed with Helen as her companion and interpreter for 49 years until her death. They called what happened at the pump a “miracle”, but it wasn’t supernatural in nature. That commitment mirrors the passion all teachers have with regard to “breaking through” with their students and giving them access to knowledge.
Helen was the first deaf-blind individual to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. We were told that Radcliff did not want to admit her at first and in the end admitted her on the stipulation that Anne Sullivan would attend with her as her interpreter. Helen broke down barriers and blasted through the misconceptions people had about those who are deaf and/or blind. She proved that those with disabilities are just as capable to achieve their dreams. She is part of the reason my students are able to attend regular public schools, colleges/universities and procure jobs in fields typically thought not to be attainable by those with disabilities.
I tell my students to dream big. As long as they have the will, we’ll make the way.
You are able to tour the grounds on your own including the famous pump and the cottage where Helen was born and where Helen and Anne lived separate from the family. They are open Monday through Saturday 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.
You can also visit between June and July to watch a performance of the “The Miracle Worker” on the grounds.
We had a chance to eat at the 360 Grille that spins slowly while you eat providing 360 degree views of the Tennessee River, area and damn.
I highly recommend a visit to Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace not only for those affiliated with the deaf and blind, but for anyone wanting to see into the “miracle” that took place there and the history that was made!
Have you had a chance to visit Ivy Green? What are your reflections?