Inquirer spotlights John Updike Childhood Home

When John Updike was still alive, writer William Ecenbarger convinced the famed novelist to drive with him through Berks County to visit childhood haunts. That account first appeared in The Inquirer Sunday Magazine on June 12, 1983, and was reprinted in part in the first chapter of Adam Begley’s biography (Updike, HarperCollins 2014) and in full in John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews (Lehigh University Press, 2016).

Recently Ecenbarger returned to Shillington to write about Updike again—this time to see for himself how Updike’s beloved childhood home looks now that it has been turned into a museum.

In “Step inside Pulitzer Prize-winner John Updike’s childhood home in Shillington, Pa.,” which appeared in the Sunday, April 2 Inquirer, Ecenbarger wrote, “The house in Berks County, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been professionally restored to look as it did during Updike’s days here but the ‘John Updike Childhood Home’ museum is still a work-in-progress. They just received an Olivetti manual typewriter that was used by Updike.”

Ecenbarger added, “There are 10 rooms of exhibits, many with explanatory storyboards: Items owned by the Updikes and original to the house. His high school transcript shows nearly all A’s except physical education. Copies of The Chatterbox, the high school newspaper to which Updike contributed many articles. . . . Smiling down from the living room wall is a portrait of Updike done by Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, Edward.”

Ecenbarger wrote, “Updike was inconsolable when, at his mother’s insistence, the Updikes moved from 117 Philadelphia Avenue to a farm owned by her family. He wrote in a poem, ‘We have one home, the first.'” This home, once a source of pride for Updike, is now a source of pride for the community. Thanks to the efforts of director Maria Lester, close to 800 Berks County students toured the house last year to learn about one of Berks County’s most famous and accomplished residents. But Ecenbarger was right: the museum still is a work in progress. Seven new exhibit cases of unique items will be added within the next several months—reason enough to visit and revisit the place where Updike said his “artistic eggs were hatched.”

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