New England Trip Day 3: Salem, Massachusetts

Our first full day in New England, we headed to the great little seaside town of Salem, which is, of course, most famous for the Witch Trials that took place there in 1692. And, boy, do they play it up. There are so many museums dedicated to witch history, but we only visited one–supposedly the best and most visited–the Salem Witch Museum. It was fun, for the most part–not as kitschy as I expected. The first part was a dramatic reading, of sorts, of the history of the witch trials, and then we walked through a section of the museum detailing the portrayal of witches throughout history.

After leaving that museum, we wandered through Salem Common, played on the swingset a bit, and then headed to the Engine House Restaurant for what promised to be the best pizza in Salem. We were not disappointed.

derby street booksThe best part of the day came after lunch. First we visited a half-priced bookstore with books stacked to the ceiling! It was surprisingly well-organized for a store with almost no shelves. And it’s certainly an adventure shopping for books when you’re a clutz maneuvering through narrow aisles with the constant threat of books falling on your head. It was here, however, that I found my copy of The Road, and it’s awesome to have such an adventurous story of buying what’s now one of my favorite books.

After leaving the bookstore, we drove to The House of the Seven Gables, which was one of our best visits of the entire week. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin once lived here, and while he was visiting the house (which only had 3 gables at that point) one day, she told him, “This was once a house of seven gables.” With that remark, his story of the curse of the Pyncheon family was born.

seven gables gardenSeven Gables is a beautiful place. The gardens are marvelous, and it sits right on the Salem waterfront, so one may sit in the garden and look out at the boats in the harbor. Ah…I wish I were there right now. Here we are in the Seven Gables garden, before the tour even started.

And, oh, the tour! The house has a lot of stuff original to the families that lived there. But perhaps the coolest part is that, a hundred or so years ago, when the house was first transformed into a museum, the owners added elements of the fictional Seven Gables in order to attract more guests. So, readers of the novel will note the room where Hepzibah Pyncheon would have sold her baked goods. While not original to the house, it’s still been there about a century, which is seriously cool. But the best part about the whole tour was the tiny, narrow, hidden staircase that was added behind a chimney. In the novel, Clifford maneuvers around the house and appears in the dining room from the story above, seemingly like a ghost. The owners added the staircase to show how Clifford could have been so stealthy. And we got to climb that staircase! It’s steep, dark, narrow, and a little scary. All of that equals awesome, though. Because I was standing closest to the chimney, I got to be the first to climb it, and when I arrived at the top, I burst out of the staircase gasping for breath. It’s confining, but the coolest part was just that I got to climb Clifford’s staircase. Yes, I’m a literary dork. 🙂

nathaniel_hawthorneAlso at Seven Gables is the Hawthorne House, the house where little Nathaniel was born in 1804. He only lived there a few years, but it was just the first of several houses that we got to tour that darling Hawthorne had lived in. Also, in the gift shop, I bought a poster-sized print of the Osgood portrait of the angelic, handsome Hawthorne. Soon, he will grace the walls of my room. Indeed.

custom house stepsBecause Seven Gables is so near Derby Wharf, we walked there after touring the house. First, we stopped by the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked and wrote much of The Scarlet Letter. I sat on the steps of the Custom House. Perhaps in the very spot where Hawthorne’s foot once touched as he walked into work one day.

derby wharfIf one sits on the steps of the Custom House, one will look straight down Derby Wharf, to the adorable lighthouse there. It was my first lighthouse outside of South Carolina or Georgia! So exciting! It’s an adorable little 25-foot-tall lighthouse, one of three small ones used to guide ships into Salem Harbor. Off in the distance, we could see one of the other two. Two lighthouses in Massachusetts in one day. Very awesome.

Salem really is a great little town. I thought it would be much more involved in the witch history, and while they definitely embrace it, the tourist aspect of it doesn’t take over the whole time. Salem is worthy of visiting on its own merit, beyond just its history. It really is a great New England, seaside village where people live everyday lives. However, I would definitely love to see it in October. I hear it transforms into a spooky little place then.

Salem also embraces its literary history. They seem quite proud of their most famous literary icon, Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are two roads there that can be confusing if one knows the history of the name–Hathorne St. and Hawthorne Blvd. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name in order to remove himself from the stigma of the Hathorne name–his great-times-something-grandfather was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, and Nathaniel wanted to dissociate himself from the name.

Finally, at least, I’ll show you the massive Hawthorne statue on Hawthorne Blvd. It isn’t representative of the young, angelic, heartbreaker Hawthorne, but older Hawthorne was a distinguished-looking fellow.

(We really love Hawthorne, by the way. I love his work, particularly his short stories, but he seemed to be the author that evoked the most giddiness in all of us, as you’ll see in later posts. We even ran into a mother and daughter in Concord on our second day–we had all toured the Wayside together the day before–and she referred to us as the “Hawthorne girls.” I like that title.)

hawthorne statue salem