One day late in 1881, the young wife of a recently hired instructor at Amherst College wrote to her parents in Washington about her impressions of her new hometown. Among other things, she told them about a mysterious woman who was “the character of Amherst”:

It is a lady [she explained] whom the people call the Myth. She is a sister of Mr. [Austin] Dickinson [the college treasurer], and seems to be the climax of all the family oddity. She has not been outside of her own house in fifteen years, except once to see a new church, when she crept out at night, & viewed it by the moonlight .... Her sister, who was at Mrs. Dickinson’s party, invited me to come & sing to her mother sometime .... People tell me that the myth will hear every note—she will be near, but unseen .... Isn’t that like a book? So interesting. No one knows the cause of her isolation, but of...

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