The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Mass is a genuine 17th century sea captain’s mansion and by some streak of good fortune cannot considered to be one of the many Mardi Gras-Halloween tourist traps that have come to dominate this once-notorious American city. Every October this seaside Boston suburb goes all out to celebrate All Hallows Eve. In fact, a sure sign that Halloween season is quickly approaching are the numerous brightly-colored outhouses plastic outhouses that line the street to accommodate the large street crowds that find Salen a nice place to spend the last day of October.
Meanwhile over on the north shoreline quietly stands the House of Seven Gables with an intriguing silhouette that mildly suggests some of the mysteries that Nathanial Hawthorne penned to the building. This famous house has been a non-profit venture, since 1910 when Caroline Emmerton took over the place and started the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, which has restored the unusual house to somewhat resemble its original condition with a few amusing exceptions that were put in place to match the storyline of Hawthorne’s popular novel.
For all you architectural purists, a one-cent shop was added on the first floor, as was a secret staircase. Visitors today can climb the secret staircase (it is quite believable, but alas not part of the original design) from its hidden entrance in the wood closet in the living room and arrive in the second floor hallway of the very interesting colonial domicile. In fact the entire house is an architecture treasure and worth viewing for that reason alone.
Nearby at the harbor, is the Friendship, a realistic replica of the actual ship that plied the four seas until it was seized during the war of 1812. Today it spends much of its time in the Salem port, but in the golden years of sail, these watercraft ventured around the world, trading as they went. These ships made small fortunes for sea captains like John Turner, who built the house in 1668 (OK, that’s a little bit early for such a big ship, but you get the idea).
Nathanial Hawthorne was born just around the corner from the House of Seven gables in 1804. His father was a sea captain, who died at sea when Nathaniel was 4 years old, and his grandfather was Judge Hathorne (Nathanial changed the family name slightly supposedly to avoid direct association with the infamous ancestor)who presided at the Salem Witch Trials and reportedly was one of the few involved who never regretted his participation or showed any remorse. So you it is easy to see that when Nathanial graduated from Bowdoin college in Maine and returned to his native Salem as a young man aged in his early twenties, he most likely had a lot on his mind.
The House of Seven Gables was Hawthorne’s second popular novel, following close on the heels of The Scarlet Letter, a literary effort that is probably more popular today. The Seven Gables is a story about family shame and redemption, a topic that Nathanial understood very well because of his grandfather the judge. Readers should realize that the story that Hawthorne placed on the seven-gabled house does not parallel the real-life events that its actual residents experienced. Instead it is a colorful look at the inner world of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the early 19th century.