“Even though it’s a fictional newspaper, the text lines up exactly with the text from the edition of the North Star,” said Jacobson.
When it comes to Dickinson’s own poems and letters, the props painstakingly mimic her handwriting and “look remarkably like the letters [Houghton] has,” Jacobson said.
“Reproductions of poems, letters, newspapers, and writing in all its manifestations in 19th-century America are really important in the show,” she added.
The creators of the show were interested in the idea of Dickinson’s fascicles — hand-sewn booklets of poetry. At the end of season one, Dickinson’s character is shown sewing scraps of poems together. This representation conflates two of the poet’s creations: the fascicles and the scrap poems she wrote toward the end of her life, Jacobson said. The scrap poems were not sewn; they were written on envelopes, chocolate-bar wrappers, and other bits of paper she had on hand. The fascicles were on stationery with an insignia stamped in the top right hand corner.
“I have to assume that was a deliberate creative choice,” said Jacobson.
And then there are the portraits of Dickinson’s father, Edward, and mother, also named Emily. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the paintings in the show more closely resemble actors Toby Huss and Jane Krakowski, who play the elder Dickinsons.
“The production crew reached out to us very early on to secure permission to reproduce the portraits of Emily’s parents,” said Jacobson. “The camera never lingers on the portraits in the show, but it’s fun to see that they look like the actors. I think that’s representative of the show’s ethos. They care a lot about the fidelity and authenticity [of the history]. Without that rigor they wouldn’t be able to play off of it with all the modern touches.”
The Houghton collection is open to the public and is currently minimally processed, so patrons are encouraged to get in touch with staff for guidance. Even more items are to arrive because season three is still airing, so the season’s scripts, title-card collages for each episode, and other material will be added in January.
Because of the fragility of the original materials, Dickinson’s poetry and fascicles cannot be handled in person. The production archive materials are a different story.
“I’m really excited to have a poem recreated in the show on the table with students,” said Jacobson. “This is evidence of Emily Dickinson’s enduring place in popular culture.”
And that interest was clearly juiced by the popularity of the show.
“I’ve given a record number of tours [to the Emily Dickinson Room], especially among fans of the show,” Jacobson said. “I’m really excited to think this collection is sparking interest in special collections and bringing new users to the library.”