The House Of Seven Gables

House of Seven Gables
The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts

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.

Four out of seven gables
Four of the gables rendered in a somewhat ominous light

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).

The Friendship, a real ship,
a modern-day replica of the original Friendship

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.

Birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne
The birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne, which has been moved a few blocks and now sits next to the House of 7 Gables
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A Few Worrds About Charles Bukowski

a self portrait of Charles Bukowski at work

Not too long ago, I discovered a stack of about 50 copies of Ham and Rye, by Charles Bukowski, sitting in one of the local bookstores that is located in our downtown area in Portland, Maine. No, this great American writer did not all of a sudden find a surge of hidden popularity, here along the rocky coastline of Maine, but rather his classic novel was required reading at one of the local universities and so this bookstore had found it necessary to stockpile one of “Hank’s” more important works of fiction.

Still, since that great day of discovery, I have found a new fascination with the big boozer, which has been spurred on by two DVD’s of his movies (Barfly and Factotem), along with a lengthy biography (Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life by Howard Sounes) and several readings of his poetry, which have come my way courtesy of “You Tube”.

All in all, it is a fascinating record and literary achievement by one of America’s most loved and eccentric authors. I suppose now the late Mr. Bukowski is reaching that stage in his literary career, where he will be become more of a standard fare among college students and scholars.

From what little I have sampled of his poetry, I have found it to be quite humorous and profound all at the same time. In fact there are some great links on You Tube to various people reading his poems. There are even some video clips of Bukowski reading his own poetry. Here’s one of him reading, “Bluebird”, (audio only). And here’s another link to the poem, “The Tragedy of the Leaves”. Both of these come from You Tube.

Charles Bukowski at work

But unfortunately there was a very dark side to “Henry” or  “Hank” as he was often called. The two films barely scratched the surface, but Howard Sounes, travels far into the alcoholic and sometimes violent world of  Bukowski, for it seems that not only did the poet have a problem with alcohol, he also had a problem of violent fights and feuds with some of his female acquaintances, especially when he was in an inebriated state. Some of these altercations  left Bukowski in the slammer for a few days

His life story is something else. Born in Germany, Charles immigrated to America with his parents, eventually finding a home in the L.A. area. As a teenager he had an extreme case of acne that is hard to fathom and so his main solace became the public library in Los Angeles. From a childhood spent coming of age during the height of the depression Charles developed a wit, an attitude and a style that would eventually make him a much read poet and novelist, known the world over. From what I have read and that is not very much his literary efforts are well worth the time invested.