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Helen Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green, is key travel destination for fans of ‘The Miracle Worker’

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Rock ‘n’ roll lovers on a musical mecca throughout the South are likely, during their travels, to make a stop at the famed recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

But just a few miles away in the nearby city of Tuscumbia lies another legendary locale — attracting its own enthusiastic visitors. (See the video at the top of this piece, plus another video within this article.)

Not far from the Tennessee River sits Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller. The American woman overcame her inability to see or hear at an early age and emerged an acclaimed author and advocate for disability rights.

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It’s also the setting of William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” stage play, based on Keller’s 1903 autobiography “The Story of My Life.”

Not only is Ivy Green the central location for Gibson’s Tony Award-winning play, but each summer the grounds become the centerpiece of the tale of Keller’s early home struggles. Teacher Annie Sullivan, as Keller once wrote of their relationship, “gave me love and opened my mind and helped me acquire knowledge and greatness of life.”

Hellen Keller is shown, age 13, with teacher Anne Sullivan in 1893.

Helen Keller, left, in 1893 at age 13, is pictured with Annie Sullivan, who traveled from Boston to teach the young student. (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

Sullivan, partially blinded herself at age 5, had traveled from Boston to Alabama in 1887 to teach Keller.

The performances of “The Miracle Worker” during the last weekend of June coincide with the annual Helen Keller Festival, which Colbert County, Alabama, tourism president Susann Hamlin described to Fox News Digital as a “typical southern festival paying homage to Helen Keller.”

The four-day festival is held each year in June to commemorate Keller’s birthday on June 27, 1880.

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About 50,000 visitors flock to Ivy Green every year, Hamlin said, many of whom take part in the festivities.

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Now in its 63rd year, “The Miracle Worker” at Ivy Green is more than just an acting opportunity for its 13-year-old star. 

Lillie Meyer, in her third season of portraying Keller on the stage, was always interested in Keller’s life story, but Meyer said the experience has been educational.

“I thought, before I started this, that I knew a lot about her, but now I realize that I didn’t,” Meyer told Fox News Digital in a video interview.

“The Miracle Worker” at Ivy Green has been Alabama’s official state outdoor drama since 1991, according to its website. 

The inaugural performance on the property took place on June 29, 1962 – the same year the play was adapted into a film starring Patty Duke as Keller and Anne Bancroft as Sullivan (performances that earned Oscars for both actresses).

Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in a scene from the 1962 movie 'The Miracle Worker.'

Actress Anne Bancroft, playing educator Annie Sullivan, pleads with actress Patty Duke, playing Helen Keller, in the 1962 production of “The Miracle Worker.” Both won Oscars for their performances. (Bettman/Contributor/Getty Images)

Initially, the play was staged behind the house near the well pump where Sullivan taught Keller her first word, Hamlin said.

“They had so many people coming that they built this outdoor theater there, which made it more comfortable and better, I’m sure, from that early time when it first started,” Hamlin explained.

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Even Gibson, the late playwright whom Hamlin said visited Keller’s childhood home for the first time in 1996 before his death, was “so impressed” and “amazed at how they were able to bring the Helen Keller story to life right there at Ivy Green.”

Being a part of “The Miracle Worker” in Keller’s backyard makes it extra special for Meyer.

Lillie Meyer stars as Helen Keller in a scene from "The Miracle Worker" performed on the grounds at Ivy Green, Keller's birthplace, in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Lillie Meyer, age 13, stars as Helen Keller in a scene from “The Miracle Worker,” performed on the grounds of Ivy Green, Keller’s birthplace, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. (Courtesy Mary Carton)

“It is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.

The part is also the “most challenging” for a relative newcomer. “It is a very different character from what you might see in other shows,” Meyer said.

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The young actress described undergoing training that spanned “a couple of weeks” spent with her “Helen coach” (a previous performer), during which time she learned the physical movements necessary for the role.

“The show is very physical throughout,” she said, referring to Keller’s scripted tantrums.

‘Simplistic’ beauty

Magnolia trees — which have been at Ivy Green since the house was built in 1820 — greet visitors, Hamlin said.

“The grounds are immaculately kept,” she said.

Inside the “simplistic” house with green shutters and a wooden shingle roof, tour guides take visitors through each room, sharing tales of Keller’s life.

Helen Keller, pictured here at age 7, was born at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and lived there as a child.

Helen Keller, pictured at left in 1887 at age 7, was born at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She lived in the house as a child. (Bettman/Contributor/Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau)

“It’s not a huge home, but it’s beautiful,” Hamlin said.

Guests can see the mostly authentic furnishings on the inside. Hamlin said 85% of the furnishings at Ivy Green are original, including the beds where Keller and Sullivan slept and the pre-Civil War cutlery on the dining room table.

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Thanks to the Helen Keller Festival, Hamlin said, this weekend’s guests will also be treated to a parade through downtown Tuscumbia. 

There is also live music and a children’s program in which “they learn to, sort of, relive the days of blind and deaf children just as Helen had to do it.”

Visitors take a look inside Ivy Green, Helen Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Visitors inside Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Colbert County’s tourism president Susann Hamlin said 85% of the furnishings at Ivy Green are original.  (Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau)

Ivy Green first opened to the public in 1954. It has also been home to “Camp Courage” since 2013, Hamlin said. 

The free camp is intended for children with visual or hearing impairments.

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“It’s been a very successful program,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had people from several states across the U.S. and one international child who came to ‘Camp Courage.'”

National Register of Historic Places

Ivy Green is in the city of Tuscumbia, Alabama, about 125 miles southwest of Nashville and 140 miles southeast of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis.

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Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ivy Green is open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last tour of the day starts at 3:45 p.m. 

It is closed on Sundays, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Dec. 24-26 and New Year’s Day.

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle

Remaining performances of “The Miracle Worker” at Ivy Green are scheduled for June 28, June 29, July 12, July 13, July 19 and July 20. 

Each show begins at 8 p.m.

The Helen Keller Festival runs through June 30.

Source

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