Rachel Carson author helps mark special day

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Saturday was not Robert K. Musil’s first visit to the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, but it was the first time he walked inside.

A former Army officer who became a pacifist and refused service in Vietnam, he later became the CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that fought against nuclear weapons and for environmental causes.

For the last seven years he has been reading about Rachel Carson, studying her work and its effects on so many of her successors in the environmental movement. He has also been named CEO of the Rachel Carson Council in Bethesda, Md., where he lives.

On Saturday Mr. Musil, 70, was the featured speaker of the Rachel Carson Birthday Celebration at the Carson Homestead, where he spoke about his new book, “Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment,” published by Rutgers University Press.

Carson’s 107th birthday will be Tuesday.

It wasn’t until after he spoke that Mr. Musil was able to walk into the house in which Carson was raised.

“This is the room where Rachel Carson was born,” Danelle Ardell, vice president of the board of directors of the Rachel Carson Homestead, said as she turned left at the top of the stairs and walked into the bedroom with a fireplace.

“Ooooh,” Mr. Musil said, and pulled out his video camera. “Wow, where was the bed?”

In the small bedroom where Carson spent her teenage years, reading and staring out the window, Mr. Musil also made sure he took a long look at the view, imagining woods where houses now stand and looking across the Allegheny River Valley to the tree-covered hills beyond.

From that window, Ms. Ardell said, “she could also see the pollution: the smoke and the polluted river. But she read books up here.”

“I just wanted to look out her window,” he said, “because my life and work are so close to what Rachel started, I was inspired... I started to think about what it was like to be Rachel Carson as a little girl.”

In Silver Spring, Md., where Carson lived as an adult, he had already looked out the window of where she was when she died.

“I knew she wrote ‘Silent Spring’ while she was dying of breast cancer and caring for her aged mother who died before she did.”

While in the house Mr. Musil talked with Ms. Ardell and Rob Pfaffmann, Rachel Carson Homestead president, about ideas for increasing the visibility of the Homestead, such as linking it to a tour of the homes of other famous Pittsburghers, such as Andy Warhol and August Wilson. And he talked about running a house museum and the difficulties that face historic homes across the country.

They all agreed that caring for the Rachel Carson Homestead is an important task.

“This is a place of pilgrimage for a lot of people from around the world,” Mr. Pfaffmann said.

It is the place where people can come to see the earliest impressions that were set in the mind of a girl who went on to inspire the environmental movement.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

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