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

Return To Salem

Storefront Window in Salem During Haunted Happenings
Storefront Window in Salem During Haunted Happenings

Funky Salem getting ready for Halloween on a rainy Tuesday on the day after Columbus Day. I came here on a mild October afternoon to kill some time before an evening educational event that I was suppose to attend in Boston. This storefront caught my attention and I suppose the colorful mood sets the tone for the craziness that this place sees in the weeks that lead up to the unique Celtic holiday of  All Saints’ Eve, more commonly known as Halloween.

However my main objective for the day was to view the Peabody Essex Art Museum. This I accomplished after laying down a hefty $15 fee and wandering through the huge halls and entranceway.

I have to say that I was not disappointed by my visit to the museum, and in fact I was quite enthralled by some of the exhibitions especially the collection of ship’s figureheads that were prominently displayed within the huge exhibition hall that made a good portion of the second floor.

Figureheads
Figureheads

Here is a picture of the figures that once adorned our fine sailing ships that ventured forth from places like Salem to scour the world in search of riches and fame. These particular wooden creations are some of the most intriguing creations that you will come  across and there position here in the grand hall will take your breath away.

Salem, Massachusetts besides being the site of the famous Witch Trials, which the town still prospers on, was also the home of one of the nation’s first noteworthy novelists, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel worked in Salem during the early years of the nineteenth century as a customs clerk. You can still tour the building under the guidance of the National Park Service. At the cost of five dollars this is one of the best deals going for visitors to Salem. The original House of Seven Gables is also situated in town and that place is a good-sized tourist draw in its own rite.

But really makes Hawthorne so interesting is the fact that one of his grandfathers was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials, a dubious honor if there ever was one. The sentences, although somewhat popular at time of the trials , quickly became the subject of much debate, reconsideration and remorse. These last two factors became more important as time went on and may well have played a major role in sending Nathaniel Hawthorne on the road to becoming an important writer and novelist. A carefully chosen walk around town will verify this.

Halloween Masks In a Storefront Window
Halloween Masks In a Storefront Window

Salem, Massachusetts Is Haunted

A Mummy In Salem
A Mummy In Salem

I was in Salem last week just in time for

“haunted happenings” in October. These take place in October and the whole affair is like some sort of strange morf between Halloween and “The Salem Witch Trials”. Whatever the reasoning, the combination works, because people from Boston and all over New England come in droves to celebrate. Reportedly, the place gets very busy on weekends leading up to the “big day” or night actually, which falls on a Friday night. However, I was in town on Tuesday, so things were quiet, but still the town was all decked out for the “Night Before All Saints Day”, better known as Halloween. Still it was fun to wander around and check the place out. I had some business to attend to in Boston, so I left at 5 PM.

Instead of concentrating on the solemn history of the Witch Trials (more about that later) I headed for Derby Wharf and the
Salem Maritime Historic Site, where for five American dollars, I received a grand tour of the Friendship ( a three-masted square rigged ship) the Customs House (where Nathaniel Hawthorne once worked) and the Derby House, where the prosperous merchant lived. This part of Salem’s history is quite extensive, but usually overshadowed by the infamous Witch Trials.

Why we are so attracted to the macabre, I cannot say, but this is certainly the case here in Salem.

Inside the prosperous merchat's house in Salem, Massachusetts
Inside the prosperous merchant's house