Salem is a walking town, with Essex Street acting as the main pedestrian artery. If you’re spending the night in Salem, haunted hotels are the way to go. This walking tour assumes you’re staying at either the Hawthorne Hotel, or the Salem Inn, which lie at opposites ends of this walk. Both are historic, with the Hawthorne Hotel being pretty much what you’d expect from a high end, historic hotel, including a perfectly acceptable lounge and very good restaurant. The Salem Inn is a bevy of historic homes and wins on charm, as how often do you get to spend the night in a 19th century mansion? [Read more…] about A Salem Walking Tour in Three Miles
I’ll admit it, the first time I saw the sign announcing that I had arrived in Salem, I got chills up my spine.
The Salem witch hunt was a real-life horror story, and usually the first one we learn as school children. If you grew up in the sixties, there’s a good chance that mood was further colored by seeing the episodes of Bewitched, where Samantha attends a Witches Convention in Salem.
So Salem is cursed with a haunting reputation, one that they now play up significantly for the tourists. Haunted Halloween which runs the entire month of October draws nearly a quarter of a million people to Salem, with a street scene that’s part new age, part party till you drop.[Read more…] about A Field Guide to visiting Salem, Massachusetts: From Witches to the Maritimes, to literary fame, a history lover’s dream
The Physick Book Of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe is divided into two time periods: Salem and the witch hunts raging through Essex County, Massachusetts in 1692, and the same area in more or less modern times (1991). For me, the magic is in how the author captures the dichotomy of travelling to historic places. You may be looking at a house built in 1690, but aside from the architectural details, you’re still seeing the 21st century. What were once farmhouses are now surrounded by suburbs. Even Marblehead, Massachusetts, where most of the book is set, and boasts over 200 homes built prior to the Revolution, is marred by power lines, criss crossing the view like spider webs. It takes imagination to find the history bubbling beneath the surface and put it to paper. Katherine Howe does this with startling effect.
Howe nails Marblehead, as anyone who has ever visited there knows. Walking the streets of the old town at night is a step back in time. With narrow winding streets and the ocean always nearby, the dark of night hides the power lines and much of the modern era. As H.P. Lovecraft puts it, describing a visit to Marblehead in 1922, “the most powerful single emotional climax experienced during my nearly forty years of existence. In a flash all the past of New England–all the past of Old England”all the past of Anglo-Saxondom and the Western World”swept over me and identified me with the stupendous totality of all things in such a way as it never did before and never did again. That was the high tide of my life.”
In short, Marblehead is a time machine.
Not that the streets of Marblehead are a museum, they’re not. This isn’t Colonial Williamsburg, but a living, breathing village. It just so happens this village is eaten up with history. You can’t view the town from the ramparts of Fort Sewell and see Marblehead in Deliverance Dane’s day, but if you pay close attention, you can take slices of nearly every view in town and see back more than 200 years.
Reading the novel was like a trip back to Marblehead. I’ve gotten hammered at Maddie’s Sail Loft, walked many of the same streets in the novel, been lost in the winding streets of Marblehead and spent time at many of the other Essex county sites she writes about, including Salem. So it occured to me, why not make up a mini-tour of Essex county based on locations from The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane? Or rather a visual tour of the locations in the book, so readers can get the setting in their head the way it deserves?
First stop is old town in Marblehead. There’s nothing I can say about it that hasn’t already been written a thousand times elsewhere. Marblehead’s days as a fishing village are long over, and though you still see a fair bit of business devoted to the sea, it’s mainly tony shops, galleries and antique shops with a handful of good restaurants.
Once you get into the residential sections of old town, its all winding streets heading up hills and down, unexpected ways of passage which climb through what feels like people’s yards up a steep hill into the business district, all dotted with seaman’s cottages and captain’s houses, often in a riotous jumble of colors, and the occasional mansion built by historic figures. I read someplace that the reason houses in Marblehead are built at crazy angles, is so that every house can have a view of the sea. I reckon it’s also to take advantage of every foot of ground in a limited space. It seems everyone ends up on Front street and hoofing it out to the point at Fort Sewall, and it’s worth the walk. Great views of the harbor, beautiful colonial era homes with window boxes overflowing with flowers, and the harbor always right there. You even pass by Screeching Lady Beach at Lovis Cove, site of the ghostly wailing woman, killed by pirates in the 18th century.
Unlike in the book, most of my time in Marblehead has been spent in late fall or winter, so I’ve never taken advantage of the opportunity to swim. Instead I’ve typically been fighting frost bite from the cold Atlantic winds. But from what I can tell, the swimming platform where the book’s heroine,Connie bumps into Sam – the love interest of the book, and the park where the two of them, along with her friend Liz watch the fireworks would be Crocker Park. Crocker Park is a great place to watch the harbor, any time of the year, and the stone bluffs give an excellent explanation of why the town is called Marblehead. And if you visit in the summer, the swimming platform is available for a dip.
From Marblehead, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane shifts to Salem. Connie goes to the FIrst Church in Salem for research, which in the book can be reached by taking 114 from Marblehead to Salem and then a left on Proctor Street.
Trouble is, there is no First Church in Salem, never was. According to Howe. “the Salem church in the story is completely my imagination, based on a loose amalgamation of Old North in Marblehead and a church with a nice pointy steeple in Beverly (recently being repaired by a steeplejack company, I noticed with some amusement).”
While you won’t find the First Church, Proctor street takes you up on Proctor’s Ledge, thought by many to be the actual site of the hangings in the Salem witch hunts of 1692. Tradition has it that the hangings took place further up on Gallows Hill, now looking down on you from the right. Gallows Hill can be visited, but Proctor’s Ledge is a bit trickier. If you drive slow and peek between the houses on your left, you’ll see a rocky ledge, now covered in trees. That would be it. For a better view, or at least more peaceful view, try the parking lot behind Walgreens at the base of Proctor Street.
In fact, you won’t find a lot of old Salem in Salem town any more. The site of the original meetinghouse is now someplace in the middle of Essex Street. The ground once occupied by the original Salem jail which housed its doomed inmates, is now an ATT building. The field where Giles Corey was pressed to death is now the Howard Street Burying Ground at 29 Howard Street, appropriately enough, a particularly eerie place at night.
If you want to catch a glimpse of what Salem might have looked like in the 17th century, pass on the Witch House, home to Jonathan Corwin, a judge in the witchcraft trials, though it’s believed that some of the examinations of the accused took place here. Beautiful house, but the setting is entirely too congested. Instead have a look at the John Ward House, c. 1684 at 132 Essex Street, which is even open for guided tours.
Or better yet, try the Samuel Pickman house, c. 1681 at the corner of Charter and Liberty Streets, one of Salem’s oldest houses, and with the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and Old Burial Ground essentially in its back yard. With a desire to ramble and a bit of energy, you can cover all these locations on foot, and in the process pass through the heart of Salem as witch city, which is covered in the book as well. Do it in October and find yourself in the midst of a carnival atmosphere even.
Howe does mention another Salem landmark, the Athenaeum, c. 1907, located at 337 Essex Street, and open to the public. Nathaniel Hawthorne related seeing the ghost of a friend of his, the Reverend Harris here.
Head north into Danvers, once known as Salem Village, and you’ll likely to find yourself on Holten street. When you reach the end, where it empties into Collins, you’ll see a house on your right associated with the Salem Witch Hunts. This is the Holten House, once home of Benjamin and Sarah Holten. Sarah testified in the witch trials that Rebecca Nurse, infuriated over an errant pig of the Holten’s that had wandered into her garden, upbraided and bewitched Benjamin.
Rebecca was hung, and her homestead is nearby at 149 Pine Street. I’ve yet to catch any humans there to take a tour, but then again I’ve never found the gates locked either. This is one of the few spots where you can really get a feel for what Salem Village was like at the time. In addition to the Rebecca Nurse house and barn, there’s also a reconstruction of the Salem Village Meetinghouse built for a made-for-tv movie of some renown, Three Sovereigns for Sarah.
Hang a right off Holten onto Collins, which turns into Centre street and you’ll find the First Church of Danvers Congregation church. Make a right and whip into the parking lot. This is the same parish church that was once home to the Reverand Samuel Parris, his daughter Elizabeth and slave TItuba. Along with Abigail Williams and others, this was the parish church which set off the firestorm.
Well, sort of. The new church doesn’t sit on the same spot as the old Meetinghouse. Walk out of the parking lot and make a right for a block or so. You’ll come upon the Salem Village Witchcraft Victim’s Memorial, which is of course modern. Across the street is the Darling Prince house, c. 1681. This house used to sit elsewhere, and it sits now on the footprint of the original Meeting House, where the first examinations were held in the Salem witch hunts. Come back to the place from which you came, and as you reach Centre street, on the right is Ingersoll’s ordinary, c. 1670. Ingersoll’s was originally going to be the place where the accused were interrogated, but the crowds spilled over and the proceedings were moved to the meetinghouse. The examiners ate, drank and lodged at Ingersoll’s, and it’s a safe bet that much of what was happening in Salem Village at the time was argued and debated here. In fact, since it was public opinion which in large part decided the victim’s fate, it’s a safe bet that Ingersoll’s had more of a part in the debacle than has been noted.
Don’t get back in your car yet, but take a right on the corner past Ingersolls, and wander down the street a bit. Centre street can be insanely busy at times and not exactly lined with pristine architectural examples, nonetheless you’ll find a small alley on the right between two houses. Though it looks like a private drive, take it all the same. Paved with ancient rocks, and often slushy after a rain, soldier on and you’ll come across the foundation of the original Salem Village parsonage. This is where Tituba sent the girls into a tailspin which eventually led to the deaths of twenty innocent victims. Situated basically in people’s backyards, it’s surprisingly secluded and quiet, and I never fail to find myself moved being here.
None of the Danvers locations figure prominently into Howe’s book. But you have to go through the area anyway as you head north to Newbury, and one of the most fascinating elements of the story. In the book, Sam takes Connie on a nocturnal tour of Marblehead which culminates in him showing her the Witch Stone, a stone covered with mysterious carvings, part of a stone wall.
In reality it’s in Byfield, along a country lane, though as in the book, built into a stone wall. The Witch Stone dates back to 1723, and true enough, it’s creepy and mysterious, looking more prehistoric than historic. In The Physick Book Of Deliverance Dane, the story involves the possibility that one of the victims of the Salem witch hunts was in fact, a witch. And it was this stone which persuades Connie to consider this premise. In reality it was a walkway stone leading to the mansion of Richard Drummer Jr, commissioned by his son John, and carved by Robert Mullicken of Bradford, known for his gravestone carvings. I’d give you the address but you know, the most amazing thing about the stone is that out here, on a public road for most of the past century, it’s stood unmolested. I’d like to think that has less to do with people knowing it is here, and more to do with the pride that people take in their past. But I’m not taking any chances, and if you want to find it bad enough, you will without my help.
And finally it’s back to Marblehead, and to Milk street where Connie’s house stands, the heart of the novel. Alas, no, you won’t find Milk street, nor the house. This place exists only in the author’s imagination, and now in ours as we read The Physick Book Of Deliverance Dane. And while you can’t peek through the bushes and trees at the house on Milk street, you should be able to imagine it a bit more clearly, and a bit more realistically now. As for exactly which house Katherine Howe had in mind when she wrote the book, she’s not telling. Though she did tell me “Black Joe’s Tavern on the pond on Gingerbread Hill in Marblehead dates from 1670, and when you look at it across the pond late at night, it’s a bit eerie to see.”
There’s probably not a better place to ponder the places you’ve been than over a beer and a shot at Maddie’s Sail Loft, according to Connie’s mother, Grace, “one of the ten best sailing bars in the world.” Indeed, sailors used to tie up at the end of State Street and come ashore and up the street to Maddie’s for libations. Howe perhaps overstates the degree to which Maddie’s is a dive, though I know it’s gone through some changes over the past few years, so maybe they cleaned up the joint. One of the changes is that it now boasts a loud and boisterous college crowd. Which is appropriate enough I suppose, as after all, Connie and Liz are both college students, albeit a bit past the party till you puke attitude which you find in Maddie’s of late.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is after all, a work of fiction. And like any good book, it’s the author’s right to create her world the way she would see it, rather than documenting a particular place with journalistic precision. The book is Marblehead and Salem the way she sees it, which is in some ways more accurate than a verbatim description. She draws in broad strokes and lets your imagination fill in the details. It’s just an added bonus that when you find yourself in the settings of the novel, the landscape does not disappoint.
Bewitching fine art prints from Salem & Essex County
The Puritan of Salem Fine Art Print$52.55 – $333.13
The Witch House of Salem Fine Art Print$52.55 – $333.13
Rebecca Nurse Homestead at Salem Village Fine Art Print$62.00 – $262.79
The House of Seven Gables Fine Art Print$52.55 – $323.13
I love the dead before they’re cold,
Their blueing flesh for me to hold.
Cadaver eyes upon me see nothing.
I love the dead before they rise,
No farewells, no goodbyes.
I never even knew your now-rotting face.
While friends and lovers mourn your silly grave.
I have other uses for you, Darling.
Alice Cooper wrote that, and most people will generally agree that it’s rather twisted. But in truth, Alice turned out to be a pretty normal guy, more or less, and the song is fictional. The mysteries of the dead, the decay of the corpse, has long been a source for gruesome fiction.
The following story, however,Â is quite true.
The final resting place of a certain Pierce family can be found on the slopes of Old Burial Hill in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The tomb is imposing – ornamental but still disciplined, as fitting a respectable New England family. Inside, if the records are correct, you’ll find a drowning victim, a Civil War veteran and his family – three of which died of tuberculosis. Many of us wander graveyards in the day, and during the night as well, and Old Burial Hill is a great one for wandering. There’s nothing strange about that. Well, perhaps a little strange, but a little strange is to be commended.
But who among us would actually make our way inside the tomb at night? Have drinking bouts with the corpses? Don the dead one’s clothing?
The Pierce Crypt has suffered such indignities and more, and on several occasions. In truth, nobody seems to know exactly how many break-ins have occurred, but it’s thought to be five or more.
The first was in 1925, when teenage boys slipped inside, dangling on ropes lowered from above, unwrapped the corpses from their winding sheets, then poked the corpses, now nearly mummified, with sticks. They then propped the bodies so that they appeared to be attending a candle-lit seance. For the finale of the adventure, they put on the clothes of the rotting corpses and paraded around Frog Pond, which lies below Old Burial Hill.
Curiously named Frog Pond, was formed during the last ice age, when a large chunk of ice embedded itself into the Massachusetts earth. As the ice melted, a deep pond was formed. There are rumors of brick tunnels beneath the pond, running to the sea, which were used possibly for the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, and possibly for smuggling. It is also reputed to be haunted.
But I digress.
The oddly attired teens attracted the attention of the local constables, confessed everything, the clothes were returned to their deceased owners, who were then once more neatly packed away, the tomb sealed and everything forgotten. There is no record what was done with the vandals.
Then in 1985, the tomb became a party house for a group of ten teens, part of a loose club. The tomb was broken into, corpses were once more unpacked and made honorary members of the club. Alcohol was poured down the throats of the decomposed corpses. Stories of more, unspeakable acts popped up as well, and the local police turned to the newspaper for assistance. A story was printed, revealing the fact that some of the occupants had died of tuberculosis, and whoever had been in contact with them should be tested immediately.
Which worked of course, as quite often vandals are – well, stupid.
In 2005, it happened again. This time, allegedly a single perp who was already doing community service broke into the tomb, severed the head and part of the collar bone off one skeleton with a rock, plopped the head on his shoulder and went back outside to freak out his coworkers. Which seemed to work, as they all fled with the possible exception of one, who took a snapshot of the fellow with the mummified skull on his shoulder. He then cavorted around the graveyard with the skull and bones. The photo found its way into the hands of the police, the peculiar fellow was arrested, pled guilty and got two and a half years in the big house.
The door to the tomb is now thoroughly bricked up.
The Pierce Tomb is said to be haunted, and it’s certainly conceivable, at least by those who spend a lot of time watching horror films, that the dead called to these seemingly witless young men. But more likely, people just sometimes do bizarre acts for no apparent reason. You’ve got to admit though, it is odd that one tomb would attract so much bizarre attention, over a span of 80 years at that.
Anyway, the Pierce Tomb is quiet. For now.
Gothic Travel Guide: Newburyport is a gorgeous village, great for a stroll in the day or night. Old Burial Hill is an amazing cemetery to wander as well. Of course it’s large enough to sneak in without being spotted, as this article proves. Below the hill lies Frog Pond, also thought to be haunted. There are no big scares here, just a sense of morbid curiosity perhaps, as well as historical interest. Still it’s worth a look and a walk, if nothing else than to study tombstones.
Top: Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, circa 1695, Newbury, Essex county, Massachusetts.Newbury reminds me of the west of Ireland. You come into Newbury via a roundabout. Head one direction and you’re going back in time to Newbury’s early American roots, to Newbury itself. Take off in the other and you end up in Newburyport, a town full of subtle historic attractions in a resort-type atmosphere. Or as I was told by a resident, if you’re looking for the historic attractions, just go up and down Massachusetts 1A – it’s all there.
Like Ireland, Newbury’s history blends in with the landscape. A modern day house, relatively speaking for New England, may sit next to a First Period home. The land is still farmed, small farms with stone walls. There’s enough of the past intact to slip in and out of the 21st century just by driving down the highway.
There’s very little left of the first settlement in Newbury, just a stone marker near the banks of the Parker River, where young Nicholas Noyes leapt ashore in 1634 with about a 100 pilgrims from Wiltshire, England. The original name for the river was Quascacunquen, which was an Native American term for waterfall. The falls are still there, where the river is bridged by Central street. If you head south from the bridge, you’ll find a charming, quintessential New England countryside. Head north and you’re following the path of settlement from the town’s founding
Newbury suffered the same fate of many of the early American colonial settlements. It’s roots were farming, fishing and hunting, and except for spells of industry, those roots have held throughout the centuries. Today, fishing and hunting are done recreationally, and indeed, Newbury has been a popular tourist destination since Victorian times. It’s just that it finds it hard to compete with its more glamorous neighbor, Newburyport.
As you come up Route 1, a keen eye will catch the First Burying Ground of the Settlers on the left hand side of the road. Founded in 1635, you’ll come across the names of the earliest settlers of Newbury. Graveyard travelers will find much to like about this one – some great carvings, winged effigies and other symbols, even stones to mark graves when no head stones were available. The Burying Ground was restored in 1929, and you’ll notice several stones with extremely old dates that look rather, well new actually. It’s not great conservation, they’re restorations.
Next up on the right is the Dole Little House, circa 1750, one of a handful of historical attractions administered by Historic New England. Just past that is the road the leads to the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, which has been a working farm since 1635, with the house dating from about 1690. The house is built of local stones, with a porch and gables of bricks, and is the only 17th century stone house to survive in New England with the outer walls intact.
Further down Massachusetts 1 is the Upper Green, where the colonial militia trained starting in 1646, and scattered around it are a number of early American homes. The John Atkinson House, a first period house circa 1664-1665, has a connection to the Salem Witch hunts of 1690. According to the testimony of Sarah Atkinson, Susannah Martin visited the house during a storm some years previously, and having had to walk so far in such bad weather, she was surprised to see her bone dry and her feet mud free. The unfortunate Susannah was hung based on Sarah’s and others’ testimony.
A short distance later finds the First Parish Church of Newbury, dating from 1869, which is the third structure to bear the name, and is one of the oldest congregations in America. Then-president Gerald Ford wrote in 1984, “The values and traditions brought to Newbury by its first settlers and handed down through the decades have withstood the test of time. They are the same qualities that have made our nation great and hopefully, with the help of the citizens of today, these gifts will be treasured and protected by the generations of tomorrow.”
Life was tough for the earliest churchgoers in Newbury. The Reverend Glen Tilley Morse wrote in his Events of the Early History, “There was no heat in the first Meeting House which was probably a rude structure built of logs with cracks and crevices filled with clay to keep out the cold…. The congregation had to sit during sermons that were two hours long. They could not doze, for they would be rudely awakened by having a fox’s tail on a long rod brushed against their faces. They would be punished if they disturbed the meeting by moving about or causing any commotion and fined if they missed a meeting or service. Parishioners attended the meetings at the perils of their lives. They were in danger of attacks from Indians and wild beasts on their way to and from worship.’
In addition, armed guards were posted at the doors during services to protect against Indian attacks.
Across the road is the First Parish Burying Ground, another venerable old cemetery. Further up the road is the Coffin House, dating from 1678.
And then it’s into Newburyport. One thing you’ll notice as you travel High street from the spot where the original settlers landed, up to Newburyport, things get tidier. By the time you reach the Upper Green, houses are restored a bit better, a bit more often. But in comparison to that even, Newburyport sparkles.
As the name implies, Newburyport is on the Atlantic Ocean, and I didn’t have a chance to get down to the water, or even more than a cursory walk around the historic area. So I can’t tell you other than what I’ve seen and heard about the town’s reputation as a beautiful resort. But based on what I saw of the rest of the town, I think that’s a fair assumption.
You ever set aside a few hours for a day trip, and just before you have to leave, you find yourself in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been? Newburyport is like that. I got out of the car to take a photo, and found myself drawn down the street, then around the corner and I had the distinct feeling I could have gone on and on for another day or so.
Instead I found myself parked next to Bartlet Mall, the site of the Superior Courthouse (pronounced Mal, as in rhyming with pal for you newcomers), and the curiously named Frog Pond. According to legends, which according to the newspaper isn’t legend but fact, there are tunnels which run beneath the pond down to the ocean, used either by the Underground Railroad in the Civil War, or were used by bootleggers. Or both. Both the Gaol and Frog Pond are reportedly haunted. And hovering over Frog Pond is the Old Burying Ground, which in addition to holding countless curious headstones, is also home to the Pierce Mausoleum, site of some of the strangest graveyard desecrations to take place in this country.
By then the sun was hanging low and I still had Concord to go, and then home to New York later that night, and it was with a heavy heart I left Newbury and Newburytown. It was there I came to the realization which is probably apparent to anyone who lives in New England, but was quite unexpected to me. If you’re looking for early American history, historical attractions, or just like to feel the past wash over you, you could spend a lifetime in New England and never see it all.