Rory and Lorelai Visit Harvard University

After examining the map, Lorelai surprises Rory by driving her to Harvard University, which is in the city of Cambridge in Massachusetts, part of the Boston metropolitan area. Why Rory didn’t think of it herself is really the big surprise in this scene – surely she knows where Harvard is, and wouldn’t she have been begging her mother to take her there? Apparently not, as they get all the way to the front gates before Rory seems to realise where they are.

Rory wants to get a guide to the university – Harvard offers free one-hour guided group tours of its campus, given by students. Lorelai opts for the self-guided tour: you can navigate yourself around the university with the help of a brochure. Rory already knows the foundation date of Harvard (1636) by heart.

Lorelai reads about important scientific discoveries made at Harvard. The idea for the pacemaker was first originated by John Alexander McWilliam from Aberdeen University in 1889, while the first pacemaker was devised by Mark C. Lidwill from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Edgar H. Booth from the University of Sydney in 1926. The brochure is probably talking about Paul Zoll (1911-1999) from Harvard Medical School, one of many who helped develop and refine the pacemaker during the 1940s and ’50s.

The other scientific advances mentioned seem to be referring to Sheldon Glashow (born 1932), a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is a Professor of Physics at Harvard University. In 1964, in colloboration with James Bjorken, he was the first to propose the existence of the charm quark, which helped to solve a number of problems in quantum field theory. In 1973, in colloboration with Howard Georgi, he proposed the first grand unifed theory, a model in which the interactions of electromagnetism, radioactivity, and nuclear forces are merged into one single force.

Lorelai is disturbed to see that out of 18 000 applicants to Harvard in the previous year, only 2000 were accepted. It’s a piece of news she should already know by now, and comes as a stiff reality check. Possibly for the first time, Lorelai gets an inkling that Rory’s dream of going to Harvard may be out of reach. The odds are even worse now – although Harvard still accept around 2000 students per year, nearly 40 000 applied to graduate in the year of 2022.

The scenes of Harvard were filmed at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in Westwood, which doesn’t resemble Harvard University. The front gates that Rory and Lorelai enter were made for the show.

Places on the Map

RORY: Well, I didn’t want to drive around aimlessly again today. [pulls out map]
LORELAI: I got it, I got it. So what’s near?

Concord is a town in Massachusetts, part of the Greater Boston area, with a population of around 17 000. It is important historically as the scene of the first battle in the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. In the 19th century it became a focus for literary life as the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. The Concord grape was developed here, hence Lorelai’s implication that there’s nothing to do there except eat grapes (in fact there are a plethora of interesting activities in Concord, and it’s a popular tourist destination).

Manchester is probably referring to Manchester-by-the-Sea, a small coastal town of around 5000 on Cape Ann in Massachussets. Blessed with scenic beaches, it has been a fashionable summer resort since the 19th century.

Salem is a historic coastal city in Massachusetts with a population of around 40 000. One of the most important seaports in Puritan history, its cultural identity comes from the fact it was the scene of the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692, as featured in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, previously discussed. Witchcraft history and culture is a major tourist drawcard to the city, and Lorelai seems quite interested in visiting it for that reason.

Boston [pictured] is the capital of, and largest city in Massachusetts; with a population of around 685 000, it is the largest city in the whole of New England, and the Greater Boston area contains more than 4.5 million people. It was founded in 1630 on the Shawmut Peninsula by Puritan settlers from England, making it one of the oldest cities in the US. It was the scene of numerous major events during the American Revolutionary War, including the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Historically a major port and manufacturing hub, it is also a centre of education and culture with numerous colleges and universities, and attracts many tourists. Boston has the first and oldest state school in the US (Boston Latin School, founded 1635), the first and oldest public park (Boston Common, established 1634), and the first and oldest subway system (Tremont Street Subway, built 1897).

Newton is a city in Massachussets, one of the suburban districts of Boston, with a population of around 85 000.

Needham is a town in Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, with a population of around 28 000. The mention of Newton and Needham are clues that Lorelai is looking at the suburbs of Boston.

All these locations are around an hour’s drive from Portsmouth, making them easy day trips.

Portsmouth

RORY: Now, to the best of my map reading abilities, we’re headed towards Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth is a city in New Hampshire, a historic seaport with a strong naval tradition and a population of around 20 000. It is a popular tourist destination during the summer months.

Portsmouth is around three hours drive from the area where Stars Hollow seems to be located. As Lorelai has been on the road for at least six hours, quite possibly longer, they must have taken a very roundabout route.

Duluth

MAX: Anyway, he didn’t make it [Max’s brother trying to jump over a parking meter].
LORELAI: Ugh. Ouch. How drunk was he?
MAX: He claims he wasn’t drunk. He’s saying that the parking meters in Hartford are taller than the parking meters in Duluth, so he just miscalculated.

Duluth is a major port city in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior, with a population of over 85 000. Once an industrial city, its economy is now geared towards finance, retail, medicine, and tourism. (There is a Duluth in Georgia too, a suburb of Atlanta, but that seems less likely, as people usually identify the city they live in rather than the suburb).

It is not known whether Duluth is where Max is from originally, or if his brother moved there. Because of the superior way Max says, “Middle child”, it sounds as if Max is the eldest of three siblings. As Max says, “My brother”, instead of, “One of my brothers”, it suggests the youngest sibling is Max’s sister.

Duluth receives a slight mention in A Year in the Life: on one of the many wedding cakes that Sookie makes for Lorelai and Luke, there is a bridge with DULUTH printed on it. That might be a little callback to the preparations for Lorelai’s first planned wedding.

The Berkshires

LORELAI: I gotta tell you Kirk, these are really good for amateur shots.
KIRK: Thanks. That’s me and my parents on vacation in the Berkshires.

The Berkshires are a highland region in the western part of Connecticut and Massachusetts. More specifically, The Berkshires is often used to refer to the part of the Green Mountains that extends into Massachusetts, while the part that goes into Connecticut is called the Northwest Hills or the Litchfield Hills. Because of this, I suspect Kirk and his parents were in Massachusetts.

The Berkshires is a popular tourist area, with picturesque towns, hiking trails (including part of the famous Appalachian Trail), and waterfalls, as well as numerous cultural and artistic activities.

“Wedding dress place on Willow”

LORELAI: Hey Mom. I was in the neighbourhood, ’cause there’s that wedding dress place on Willow.

There are a few streets named Willow in the Hartford area, but none of them are in the sort of upmarket shopping district you’d expect a bridal store to be. I think for now we have to accept it as a fictional place – and it’s not impossible that Lorelai has invented it to explain her presence at her mother’s house.

At the beginning of the episode, Rory took Lorelai wedding dress shopping, but we never saw the results of that expedition. It’s still not clear if Lorelai’s bought her dress yet, or has bought the dress but is still to choose a wedding veil for it. It provides bookends for the episode, with Lorelai’s daughter helping her with her wedding outfit at the beginning, and her mother helping her at the end, so that all three generations of “Gilmore girls” take part in Lorelai’s planned wedding.

Enfield

LORELAI: When is it [the engagement party]?
SOOKIE: Tonight.
LORELAI: Uh, so your yen to hit the bingo parlour in Enfield was …?
SOOKIE: A vicious, vicious lie.

Enfield is a town in the Hartford region of Connecticut near the border with Massachusetts, with a population of around 40 000. Historically it was most famous for its carpet and gunpowder industries, and today is home to the US headquarters of Lego. It’s about an hour’s drive from the apparent location of Stars Hollow, and has three bingo halls.