Yours, Not Sitting on a Pumpkin

What can you offer the man who has it all? Trump finds out when he tries to buy Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond.

Thoreau's Cabin

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.

Photo by Flickr/MiguelViera

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January 6, 1846

Dear Mr. Trump:

Thank you for your recent letter in which you express interest in purchasing my house for the purpose of tearing it down and building a 36-story hotel and gambling casino tentatively called THE WALDEN TRUMP CARD.

May I just point out that since we last conversed on the subject I shingled the sides of my house, which were already impervious to rain, with shingles made of the first slice of the log, whose edges I was obliged to straighten.

I hope you will keep such improvements in mind when making your bid.
Cordially,        Henry David Thoreau


January 11

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

Indeed my corporation will take into consideration anything you wish. However, what does impervious mean?
Yours in haste,            Donald Trump


January 14

Dear Mr. Trump:

Impervious adj: Not to be pervious. Or to be pervious at one’s whim. Forgive me for resorting to the dictionary. It is as we both know a last resort. Last Resort— would that not be a good name for one of your pleasure palaces?

The other morning I received three dispatches (brought to me by a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove) from your lawyers. Your agents have inquired about the exact cost of my house. I give details because very few are able to tell exactly what their houses cost, and fewer still, if any, the separate cost of the various materials that compose it:

Boards $8.03-1/2: (mostly shanty boards)
Refuse shingles for roof and sides: 4.00
Laths: 1.25
Two secondhand windows with glass: 2.43
One thousand old bricks: 4.00
Two casks of lime: 2.40 (that was high)
Hair: 0.31 (more than I needed)
Mantle-tree iron: 0.15
Nails: 3.90
Hinges and screws: 0.14
Latch: 0.10
Chalk: 0.01
Transportation 1.40 (I carried a good part on my back)

In all: $28.12-1/2

Yours in leisure,          Henry Thoreau


February 3

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

Happy Groundhog’s Day or thereabouts. My representatives and I wish to thank you for your candor. You are correct in pointing out that the cost for the lime was high. In future, I hope you will allow me to buy it for you wholesale.

Frankly, the mention of hair left us a bit perplexed. It strikes us as unsanitary and we believe it will cause problems with
local health authorities.

While I think of it, please do not carry boards upon your back. A strong back is necessary to an essayist. I will put you in touch with the Fugazy service, whose stretch limousines provide you a television set and private bar. Once the neighbors see you in a stretch limousine, your work will earn a new respect.

My lawyers will contact you in a few days about a preliminary bid. In the meantime I remain, financially secure,
            Donald Trump


February 12

Dear Mr. Trump:

Thank you for yours of February 3d.
Your representatives have been in touch with me. I must say that your offer of $14,789,000 is quite tempting. It does represent a substantial increase over my original investment.

I should like to point out that last year I made $23.44 by selling farm produce. I also earned by day labor $13.34. I hope you will take these figures into consideration when revising your offer.
Sincerely,        Henry


February 20

Dear Henry Thoreau:

You are a Yankee. $17,500,000 is as high as I’m prepared to go. After all, even you must admit that Walden is no Monte
Carlo. 

Sincerely,        Donald


March 1

Dear Donald:

I am not an extravagant man, and I am certain that $17,500,000 would make it possible for me to survive two or three years as a Concord gentleman. I could also publish another edition of my book, since so-called commercial publishers want no part of it.

However, we have not discussed the furnishings to my dwelling. They consist of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet and a frying pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil and a japanned lamp.
Yours, not sitting on a pumpkin,

            Henry


March 8

Dear Hank:

Is there anything else we should know?
Yours (I don’t sit on pumpkins either),

            Donald


March 15

Dear Don:

My nearest neighbor is a mile distant, and no house is visible from any place but the hill-tops within a half mile of my own. That should be worth something.
Take your time,           Hank


March 26

Dear Hank:

We’ll throw in $340,000 for the furnishings and $500,000 for the view. For God’s sake, man, stop being so stubborn. We would like you out by June 15 at the latest.
Yours, D.T.


May 2

Dear D.T.

Your offer is most tempting, especially since last year I turned a pecuniary profit of $8.71½

However, a lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.
Yours, HDT


June 1

Dear HDT:

You have delayed the construction of my proposed casino for far too long. Just what game are you playing? It is obvious to everyone you cannot make a decent living from your writing or your farming. Just what trade are you in?
Yours, Donald Trump


June 13

Dear Donald Trump:

I have as many trades as fingers.
Yours, Henry Thoreau


June 21

I believe it.

Sincerely,        Donald Trump

P.S. By any chance are you a friend of Ed Koch or Mort Zuckerman?


July 1

Dear Mr. Trump:

No, I have no acquaintance of the gentlemen you mentioned. I never knew, and shall never know, a worse man than myself.

Sincerely,        Henry David Thoreau


January 3, 1847

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

I can imagine that winters at Walden must be no picnic. My new partners and I are prepared to offer you $21,000,000 for that shanty of yours, but we must have a response within three days of your receipt of this certified letter.
Yours, Donald Trump


January 6

Dear Mr. Trump:

After a winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep.

I hereby decline your offer of $21,000,000 for my cottage and acreage. You have not taken into account that I have all of Walden Pond for a well. This is valuable as it keeps butter cool.
Yours, Henry David Thoreau


January 12

Dear Mr. Thoreau:

Please do not lecture me about the value of things. Make the new offer $22,000,000. You have three more days.
Yours,             Donald Trump and Co.


February 3

Dear Sir:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.
Yours, [This letter was unsigned]


February 7

What does that mean?

            Trump Corporation


February 27

Dear Mr. Corporation:

I have no idea. But thank you for your letters. To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage. Your postage bills must be enormous.
Yours, Henry D. Thoreau

[The following letter was undated and unsigned]

$35,000,000. Is that worth the postage?


March 13

Dear Sirs:

[Alas, Thoreau’s reply, written in ink, was obliterated by rain that leaked through the ceiling of his cottage. The best we can make out is that it made some mention of a japanned lamp.]


Louis Phillips is a widely published poet, playwright, and short story writer. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. This piece was originally published by Smithsonian Magazine in the 1990s.