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  • Maggie Wheeler

Coming Home (#my2019pilgrimage Part Two)


Blair House, Mendocino, better known as the house of Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote

The village of Mendocino sits on the northern coast of California, wrapped by its Headlands and the rugged cliffs that meet the Pacific Ocean. Its nearest neighbours are Caspar and Fort Bragg to the north on an otherwise sparsely populated stretch of the California State Highway 1. This makes the village a destination, its relative isolation in Mendocino County preserving the scenic beauty.


It also preserves the village of Cabot Cove, Maine, from Murder She Wrote. Thirty-five years after the series began, we found the village completely recognizable: the main street, the courthouse (really the old bank building), Loretta’s Beauty Parlour (now an art gallery), the church, and Hill House Inn.


And, most important, Jessica Fletcher’s house.


Blair House sits on a large corner lot. The house, the grounds and the surrounding vista look no different than what they filmed three decades ago. The property is in excellent shape, now owned by an out of town lawyer and managed by Andy the groundskeeper. We met Andy the first night of arrival when we walked down from Hill House Inn to Jessica’s house. He was a wonderful source of information about the house and its history, guided us around the grounds for a close-up look, and let us take 4000 (well, not quite) pictures of the object of our journey.


The house of Jessica Beatrice Fletcher—probably one of the most recognized homes in television history. Can’t begin to describe what it felt like to walk up to it and stand at her gate, where so many major stars including Lansbury stood over the years. Thanks to Andy’s attendance and generosity, I stood on her doorstep and opened the outer front door. It really looked as though Jessica would come out at any moment.


This is major fan geeking to be sure. And the pilgrimage was all about that. That’s what made it fun. But the journey to Cabot Cove was also about closure and emotional homecoming for me. It was about gratitude.


When Murder She Wrote began in September of 1984, my mother was living in Central Ontario. We had weekly phone calls to stay in touch between visits. Once the show started, we were both avid fans and would discuss the latest episode in our calls. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, my mother died in November of that year. The calls stopped. And in my struggle to cope, I stopped watching MSW because it was too painful a reminder of my loss.


Eventually, I started to build a new normal and part of that was returning to MSW. I had lost my primary role model in life and began to look for others to start filling those considerable shoes. The character of Jessica Beatrice Fletcher, developed as it was by Angela Lansbury, became one of them. And she has remained so as I have aged, through the access of syndication and DVDs. JB is timeless, with her values, attitude, intellect, curiosity and positive approach to life. I am grateful to have had that to work with all these years.


Thirty-five years ago this week, my mother passed away. As a mother myself, I know that she would also have been grateful to MSW and Lansbury’s portrayal of Jessica Fletcher for providing one guiding resource to an orphaned daughter.


We never fully know what legacies we create, what lives we touch. Not only true for major stars like Lansbury but also for regular people like me. Something to think about as we move into our second half century.


My mother made that pilgrimage with me in spirit. I came “home” to a touchstone for one of the last things I shared with my mom before she died. Something that shaped a lot of who I am today. I taped a short video at Blair House about this and you can view it here.


Thank you, Miss Lansbury. It’s time for me to pay it forward.


Talk next week,

Maggie

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