What object inspired the name Jacob’s Pillow?
Jacob’s Pillow is known throughout the world as a superb dance festival in the Berkshires, but the name’s origin is more Biblical than artistic. When festival founder Ted Shawn bought the George Carter Farm in Becket in 1930, he learned that a large boulder behind one of the houses was known as Jacob’s Pillow. The name precedes the festival by about 140 years.
The Carters had come to West Becket in 1790, traveling along an old, steep stagecoach road known as Jacob’s Ladder. The road’s many switchbacks and turns gave it the look of rungs on a ladder, and travelers likened it to the Biblical tale of Jacob dreaming of climbing steps to heaven. It was an easy leap to imagine that the boulder on the hilltop farm might be the pillow where Jacob would rest his head.
When public performances of dancing began in 1933, the festival featured the Denishawn Company, formed by Shawn and his wife, Ruth St. Denis. In 1940, Shawn christened the annual dance event the Berkshire Hills Dance Festival. While the marriage and the partnership both soon dissolved, the festival lived on. Visitors liked the playful name given the boulder, and it became the official festival title.
Last year, Jacob’s Pillow attracted more than 100,000 dance lovers to performances by leading troupes from around the world. By tradition, every performing group poses for photographs on the boulder that inspired the festival’s name.