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Helen Keller Home and Festival, Alabama

“Helen Keller was famous – she was like Angelina Jolie.” The comment makes me do a double take – is she serious? But one look at the guide’s face and I realise she is trying to make a valid point.

The guides here at Helen Keller’s house in Tuscumbia, Alabama, are passionate about the woman who has inspired so many over the years. And they do a very good job of taking us through the incredible story, and putting it into perspective in today’s terms.

By comparing her to Angelina Jolie, the guide is trying to break it down for us and explain how the world used to follow Helen Keller’s every move. Something I’ll admit I didn’t realise. I mean, I know she has gone down in history, but I didn’t understand that people followed her so closely in her own day.

In fact, I have to confess that before I arrived at the home she grew up in I didn’t know that much about Helen Keller.

Of course I knew that despite being totally deaf and blind she somehow managed to communicate with the outside world. And I appreciated that she was extraordinary for being able to break through such barriers.

But thanks to my visit to Ivy Green, I have an entirely new understanding of what she went through, and what she accomplished.

Since 1954 Helen Keller’s birthplace and home, Ivy Green, has been a museum dedicated to the “miracle” that took place at the water pump.

It was here that teacher Anne Sullivan pumped water into seven year old Helen’s hand while tapping out a code that spelt w-a-t-e-r in her other hand. And it was here that young Helen made that mental leap that allowed her to understand the letters. By that night, she had learned 30 words.

Standing on the spot where Helen made that breakthrough that took her from being a wild child, cut off from the world, to a young girl communicating with another human being is inspiring and unforgettable. As is following the rest of her journey through Ivy Green.

Apart from the fact that they were both famous in their time, it’s unfair to compare Helen Keller to Angelina Jolie. In fact, it’s unfair to compare her to anyone.

I won’t go through her long, long list of achievements here, except to note that she was more than a celebrity.

She campaigned for social and political issues from women’s suffrage to international relations; she lectured in more than 35 countries and inspired millions; and when she was 75 she made a 40,000 mile trek through Asia.

Her autobiography “The Story of My Life” formed the basis of the television drama and Broadway play, “The Miracle Worker”. And Ivy Green has a permanent theatre on the grounds set up for the play.

The Miracle Worker is one of the highlights of the Helen Keller Festival, which takes place every year in the last week of June. The play only costs $10 for reserved seats, or $8 for general admission, and that includes a free tour of the home and grounds.

The festival also features street parties, art shows, parades, and special tours and most of the events are free. The Helen Keller festival takes place on the last week of June.

For dates or to book tickets to the Miracle Worker play visit the Helen Keller Festival website or call (256) 383-4066.

But even if you can’t make it to the festival, Helen Keller’s Birthplace deserves a place on an Alabama itinerary.

Ivy Green is found at 300 North Commons Street, West Tuscumbia, Alabama.

It is open Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 4.00pm and tours cost $6 for adults, $3 for students, $5 for seniors and AAA members. For more information visit the Helen Keller Birthplace website.

Amanda Woods travelled as a guests of Alabama Tourism, but as usual all thoughts and opinions remain her own

Speaking of Alabama, you may also like to check out my piece on doing a road trip to some of the deep south’s best music spots.

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  1. When I was growing up I saw a movie on Helen Keller and it was amazing what she could do. It really imprinted a lot in my mind, that we can really do more than we think or more than what people think we can do 🙂

    I had to chuckle at the Angelina Jolie comparison though. 😉

    • You’d love a visit to her home… it really is inspiring and humbling. As for that Angelina Jolie line – yep, that was one that was hard to forget! The ladies there are so lovely and great to chat to about what an incredible woman she was. Put it on that Deep South hit list!

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