Nordica Homestead Museum - Atlas Obscura

Nordica Homestead Museum

Farmington, Maine

The birthplace of this Gilded Age celebrity, opera singer, suffragette, and shipwreck survivor has been turned into a museum celebrating her fascinating life. 


Lillian Nordica was a Gilded Age Kardashian. Her beautiful, soprano voice gave her worldwide fame as an opera diva. She was a global celebrity and a spokesperson for companies like Steinway Pianos and Coca-Cola.

The opera star was born Lillian Allen Norton in 1857 in Farmington, Maine. Her musical talent was clear from a young age, and she trained as a singer in Boston. Soon after she traveled to Italy to continue her opera training, and it was there that she took on the stage name “Nordica.”

Nordica toured across Europe as a singer. While in Russia, she caught the attention of Leo Tolstoy, who entertained the singer and her mother at his home. She also performed for Czar Alexander II, just eight days before he was assassinated. Eventually, Nordica made her way back to the United States. For many years, the soprano was a resident singer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Nordica’s personal life was the subject of much attention. She had three high-profile failed marriages to eclectic characters (one of whom died in a hot balloon misadventure). Politically, she was a champion of women’s suffrage and an early and vocal critic of gender wage disparity.  

After retiring from the Metropolitan Opera, Nordica launched a world farewell tour that ended in 1913 when the ship she was on hit a coral reef, grounding it in the Gulf of Papua. The ship remained stranded for three days, during which Nordica suffered from hypothermia. She was rescued from the ship and brought to the Dutch East Indies. But she never fully recovered, and after several months in Indonesia, she died from pneumonia.

Fortunately, friends, family, and fans in her hometown made early and serious preservation efforts on the singer’s behalf. The house has been meticulously preserved, and momentos and artifacts have found their way to the museum over the past 90 years. The museum houses original costumes, jewelry, furniture, books, and many other artifacts from Lillian’s storied career.

Know Before You Go

Call ahead to check hours (this is a good idea when visiting any Maine destination). Tours are seasonal and by appointment only. 

The house sits on a hilltop spanning 110 acres. However, it is set back from downtown Farmington. It’s easy to miss the turn-off if you’re not looking for it.

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