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Phillips Exeter Academy: The School of Legend

November 20, 2013 in American History, American literature, New England Travel, New Hampshire Travel

There is a special kind of lore for boarding schools. They are full of century-old traditions, ghost stories, and sneaky romances. This might be why so many famous books have taken place at boarding schools. Jane Eyre escaped from her awful relatives to the sanctuary of Lowood Institution. Nicholas Nickleby tutored at a terrible school run by the odious Mr. Squeers. In A Little Princess, Sarah Crewe bravely suffers at Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls. And, of course, there’s Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s exploration and adoration of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

There is one boarding school in New Hampshire that has been so immortalized by books and lore that it seems almost fictional. The prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy has been the home to many a literary figure, from Dan Brown to John Irving. Robert Langdon of Brown’s hugely popular Da Vinci Code went to Exeter, as did Patrick Bateman of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Irving has immortalized the school in many of his popular novels, including in A Prayer for Owen Meany and The World According to Garp. It is also the setting of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, the coming-of-age story read by high school students throughout New England.

Phillips Exeter Academy, often known simply as Exeter, was founded in 1781 by a Harvard University graduate. It has since been the home to many historical figures, from Daniel Webster to Mark Zuckerberg. At first it was seen as a stepping stone to Harvard, though today its students go on to many different colleges, most in the Ivy League. In 1930 the school received an important gift: a series of round tables meant for classrooms. The learning style associated with these tables was the Harkness method, named after the gift-giver Edward Harkness. Small groups of students today still sit around the Harkness tables and are encouraged to participate in a Socratic discussion, often with little involvement from the teacher. Exeter is now known for this method of teaching, and it’s mimicked in schools throughout the country.

The campus is regal and collegiate, with its stately brick Academy Building and vast green grounds. It’s located in the beautiful town of Exeter, New Hampshire, an historic and quaint New England town. The school’s grounds feature a huge modern library, holding thousands of volumes and lots of space to study. Just entering the library imparts a feeling of studiousness. You can sense that many great literary minds have come and gone through its doors. And Phillips Exeter, with its prestige and literary significance, feels even more magical.

If you find yourself in New Hampshire, take the time to drive by Phillips Exeter. You can stop and wander the beautiful grounds. See the building in which Owen Meany squeaked his way to the head of the class, view the gym where Garp joined the wrestling team, and take in the breathtaking chapel (now called Assembly Hall) where the climactic end to A Separate Peace takes place. Who knows – maybe some of that literary genius will sink in.

Happy Halloween From Literary Traveler!

October 31, 2012 in American Authors, American History, Bookstores, Classic Literature, Dark New England, Edgar Allen Poe, Famous Museums, Halloween, History, Holidays Literary Traveler, Horror, Horror Writers, Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Psychology, Short Stories, Stephen King, Vampires in Literature

Literary Traveler has been very excited about Halloween…and it’s finally here! To celebrate, we’d like to show off all the work we did in advance of the spookiest day of the year. All Treats.

Halloween Reflections – “Halloween is a time when the veil between the dead and the living was at its thinnest.”

Mercy Brown: American Vampire – “Like the vampire, tuberculosis visited ordinary communities seemingly at random – preying upon family members, slowly robbing them of their life and turning them into fevered ghostly individuals with a persistent bloody cough.”

The House of the Seven Gables – “If Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables house was once haunted by the uneasy ghosts of family (his ancestors were involved in the Salem witch trials), the resident ghost today seems to have the philanthropic and busy spirit of Miss Emmerton.”

The Hawthorne Hotel – “Despite general manager Judi Lederhaus’ assertions, hundreds of tourists stream into the stately lodgings ready to embark on a supernatural safari.”

The Psychology of Salem – “The most dangerous element of the teenage mind is the inability to grasp the concept of linear thinking. Some teenagers cannot see beyond immediate gratification.  This makes decision making tricky.”

Master of Creep: Edgar Allen Poe – “Poe created complete universes in which the reader starts to believe the narrator.”

The Salem Witch Trials – “In 1692, fear spread through Salem, Massachusetts like contagion, infecting the minds of the mainstream, and claiming the lives of those among the periphery.”

Literary Traveler Goes to Salem – “I mosey by a zombie playing the saxophone for a couple of onlookers and I am officially sold on the city of Salem.”

Mercy Brown: American Vampire

October 24, 2012 in American Authors, American History, American literature, children's literature, Dark New England, European Writers, Gothic Literature, Halloween, Horror Writers, Literary Movies, New England Travel, Vampires in Literature, Women Writers

Halloween is big in the Northeast – a liberating blast of Pagan thrills before the bleak snows and Puritan thrift of winter. As the festival approaches, New England’s colors turn from fresh blues and greens to the long black shadows and pantomime reds of autumn. Many associate this creepy side of New England with Salem and its persecution of ‘witches’. Vampires, it is widely believed, were a European legend that was successfully exported to America, and from there they entered myth, legend and popular culture.

For anyone looking for clues about the origins of the modern American vampire, the papers of a London playwright seem to offer a tantalizing possibility. It is true that Bram Stoker kept a newspaper clipping about the 1892 case of the exhumation of a Rhode Island ‘vampire’ called Mercy Brown, but the date of the source seems to have been too late to have influenced Dracula. These ‘hick’ vampires from a depressed Rhode Island farming community are not like the aristocratic vampire of Stoker’s fiction: for one thing they really existed, and for another they tragically reveal attempts to come to terms with an urgent problem – TB.

Like the vampire, tuberculosis visited ordinary communities seemingly at random – preying upon family members, slowly robbing them of their life and turning them into fevered ghostly individuals with a persistent bloody cough. The disease could manifest soon after it was contracted, dragging on for years – or, as in the case of Mercy Brown – it could lay dormant for a decade before it quickly progressed.

Mercy Brown was the second last member of her family to die from the disease. Several years after her mother and sister were buried, Mercy and her older brother Edwin took ill. When Mercy died, the community immediately began looking for answers. After a doctor reported that Mercy’s heart contained tuberculosis germs, the locals insisted on extreme measures.  They burned Mercy’s heart and fed the ashes to her brother, who died soon thereafter. It seems that Mercy’s father allowed the exhumation because he was under great pressure from his frightened neighbors in Exeter, Rhode Island.

Mercy’s grave is now a destination for tourists, goths, and ‘legend trippers’ – those who visit graves to seek evidence of the occult at supposedly haunted spots in Rhode Island. In Mercy’s time, these myths seemed disturbing eruptions of superstition. New fiction was even blamed by some observers for encouraging this superstitious behavior in a century that considered itself progressive and rational.

One thing that makes supernatural literary tourism so accessible in New England is the way real places and events often influence fiction. The great American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft referred to Mercy Brown’s case in his story, “The Shunned House.” Just as Mercy’s sad quiet grave can be found in a small cemetery in Rhode Island, the real Shunned House still stands – a private residence in Providence Rhode Island.  H.P. Lovecraft based his story on the history of the family who lived there, imagining the dead family members preying on the living, like the Exeter vampires. Even those who did not write about the vampire TB cases were aware of them. Thoreau for example wrote about a TB exhumation in his diary.

62 years’ after Mercy Brown’s exhumation, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend, a story about vampires that had a medical explanation. The story’s protagonist Robert Neville holes up in a house after a vampire apocalypse and studies the vampires that were his former neighbors until he finds the cause of their condition: a bacteria that fades with sunlight. Though the source of Matheson’s imaginings has not been revealed, it’s possible that he heard stories of vampire TB scares growing up in New Jersey.

For Young Adult author Sarah Thomson, history proved juicy enough to build her novel Mercy on. After many years of vampire fiction based on legend and folklore, Thomson’s is a historical vampire novel that tells the story of a real person, Mercy Brown, or the ‘last New England vampire’. As Thomson said in an interview, real life can often be scarier than fiction.

These days, thanks to its history of vampire panics, Rhode Island is the destination for ‘vampire hunters’, just as Salem is the home of witches. This time of year you’ll find a wealth of flamboyant tours, including the Ghosts of Newport and Providence Ghost Tour, of the area’s most haunted spots – but be prepared to find the real history a lot more frightening and tragic than your guides’ costumes.

 

Living Literary History at Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables

October 19, 2012 in American Authors, American History, American literature, Dark New England, Famous Museums, Gothic Literature, Halloween, Holidays Literary Traveler, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Travel

Located on the waterfront in Salem, Massachusetts, The House of the Seven Gables is a higgledy-piggledy pile of secret staircases, parlors and garrets – an eccentric collage architectural styles that has borne the stamp of every owner who lived there. But the strangest thing about the house is that, since the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name in 1851, The House of the Seven Gables has been gradually evolving to look more like the house of Hawthorne’s imagination.  As our fabulous and knowledgeable tour guide, Jeff Horton, explains, “in a sense, the fictional novel saved the real house.”

It’s clear that, for Horton, associate to the group tour coordinator of The Gables, this is not just a job, but a personal passion.  Upon learning that we are literature enthusiasts, he insists on running to his car to procure his own 1922 edition of Hawthorne’s book, animatedly pointing out that it was edited by a high school teacher from Somerville, Massachusetts,  Literary Traveler’s home-base.

Horton is extremely well-versed in all aspects of the Turner-Ingersoll House (the official name of The Gables), as well as the Nathaniel Hawthorne House, where the author was born.  The latter was located across town until 1958, when, to the delight of certain Hawthorne enthusiasts, it was transported on a flat bed truck to its present location next door to The Gables.

Originally built in 1668, the Turner-Ingersoll House is the oldest wooden mansion still standing in New England.  Upon the start of the tour we are struck by the low ceilings, built to conserve heat.  Horton segues into an overview of the hardships of seventeenth century living, which far exceed ducking through doorways, and than swiftly recovers our spirits with a little historian humor: “we love history – it’s like The Hunger Games everyday of your life.”

One of the most surprising things that we learn on our tour is that Nathaniel Hawthorne never knew the seven gabled house that he wrote about. Its first owner was the wealthy merchant family Turner, which accumulated a fortune through its involvement with the ‘Triangle Trade’ in China.  In what was to become a tradition of great wealth lost and gained, the house passed from the Turner family to the Ingersoll family, after the third generation Turner squandered the family fortune. The Ingersoll family, in an attempt to adapt the house to a Federalist style, removed four of the seven gables. It was only through his Ingersoll cousin Susanna’s descriptions of the house that Hawthorne conceived of the uncanny seven gabled house of his novel.

And it’s Hawthorne’s book that is the reason the house is preserved today. A fan of the author’s work, Caroline O. Emmerton, who acquired the house in 1908, founded The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association to commemorate the literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne and educate the community. If Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables house was once haunted by the uneasy ghosts of family (his ancestors were involved in the Salem witch trials), the resident ghost today seems to have the philanthropic and busy spirit of Miss Emmerton. Emmerton replaced the remaining gables, turned the back room of the house into a sweet-shop like the one in Hawthorne’s novel, and used the profits from tours to educate local Polish immigrant children. The Settlement Association still works within the Dominican community to help immigrants today.

With the assistance of the architect Joseph Everett Chandler, who was known for his controversial restorations, Miss Emmerton hammed up the house’s Gothic credentials by restoring the staircase embedded in the house’s chimney as a ‘secret’ one, complete with false paneling and a concealed lever to open the secret door. This staircase was designed as a literal representation of how the novel’s character, Clifford Pyncheon, moved from room to room without being seen. Thus the house’s Gothic elements were, within less than a century of Hawthorne’s death, no longer fearful evidence of the house’s bad karma, but of great literary worth.

As we finish up the tour, I wonder whether this strange house – like so many other mansions before it – has been fixed in this perfected, seemingly final state, nevermore to evolve. As a national tourist site, it would seem so.

However, Horton gives us a more nuanced impression.  In the famous accounting room, typically closed in October due to the heavy flow of tourists, he shows us a map – a battered, old looking artifact that seems to fit perfectly into the room’s furnishings next to an authentic wooden chair.  But we soon learn that the map was created by a museum employee, who baked it in his oven to create its time-worn, weathered look. Horton’s advice says a lot about both the house and our view of history: “You have to be careful when you come to museums”, he warns, “things aren’t always what they seem.”

The “Psychology” of Salem

October 18, 2012 in American Authors, American History, Dark New England, Halloween, New England Travel, Psychology

And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!

– Act I:  The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

Returning as an adult to historic Salem, Massachusetts, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I also didn’t know what I was looking for. As a child, Salem was terrifying. Make-believe witches were scary–carrying off children in the night to eat them–but now what’s frightening is that innocent women were accused of being witches simply because they didn’t fit in, and then hanged for it. My father claims that one of our people, a ‘Morse’ in Newburyport, Mass., was at one point convicted of witchcraft and consequently hanged. There is something so utterly inhuman about it. The idea of a swinging body in a tree (a “strange fruit”) is completely disarming. It’s eerie and odd and tragic. But what of the girls who had the women accused in the first place?  Without them, would the hysteria have occurred?

Were these girls just bored? Like drugs or petty theft, did they decided to get there hands dirty. Is that why they cried ‘witch’, to slyly watch the horror unfold?  Was it for the attention? Were these girls so incredibly starved for attention and excitement that they took to writhing around on the ground foaming at the mouth? One account states that one of the girls took to crawling around on the ground like a dog, barking. Having been a teenage girl myself not so very long ago, I can recall the strange psychology of a girl’s mind at this pivotal age. The mind of a teenage girl is a slippery and amorphous thing. It is unpredictable, wily, and damage that may occur during this time period can have long-lasting affects on both the teen, and those around her. Perhaps the most dangerous element of the teenage mind is the inability to grasp the concept of linear thinking. Some teenagers cannot see beyond immediate gratification.  This makes decision making tricky.

Having said all this, can I understand letting something that started out as a prank get so out of hand that innocent people would be put to their deaths? I think I can. I can remember that out of control feeling that comes with being a teenager, that feeling that the world was slipping out my control and I was  powerless to stop it. These girls must have felt the same.

As mentioned in the presentation at the Salem Witch Museum, life would have been incredibly dull and stifling for the daughters of Puritan households. The day would have been long and tiresome, and imagination, creativity and individuality were certainly not acknowledged or encouraged in a typical home. Where would these girls have channeled their pent up energy? Where would they have looked to for entertainment? Living in the 21st century, there are endless distractions: Facebook, Twitter–the virtual world is practically designed for bored teenagers. But in 1692, all young girls would have had was each other. It seems only natural that as Abigail Williams and her cousin Betty Parris became “afflicted”, each girl simply followed suit…and then tried to out-perform.

Another aspect of teenage mentality is pack-like thinking, in which groups are formed and leaders are chosen, and followers fill in the gaps. Clearly some girls were more invested then others, but all the girls were bonded together by what must have been the greatest play-acting of all time. Once a single lie is told, the subsequent lies becomes easier and easier. Perhaps these girls took on the role of the bewitched so intensely that they began to believe it themselves. Not to mention how important these girls must have suddenly felt! How powerful! Physicians, priests, parents and townspeople, looking to them for answers. They went from being virtually powerless to dictating the fate of members of their community. It must have been addicting.

In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, he creates a complicated network of relationships, suggesting that Abigail Williams and John Proctor were engaged in an affair, and that Williams was acting out of jealousy. Miller paints the girls as conniving and selfish; power hungry and intoxicated by the affect their accusations have. Abigail Williams is charismatic and ruthless and will stop at nothing to have John Proctor back. Reading The Crucible, it becomes possible to blame the trials on Abigail alone. But what about the townspeople and juries who fell for it?

Sitting in the darkened room at the Salem Witch Museum, watching the representations of the trials light up, and seeing these young girl’s faces illuminated, I realize there are no easy answers. Because wrapping up the details in a neat little story is exactly the kind of thing we can learn from.

As an adult in Salem, I found myself still amazed by the power this particular group of young girls managed to grasp. Should we fear witches, I thought? Or should we fear the dangerous nature of a bored mind?

Master of Creep: Edgar Allan Poe

October 16, 2012 in American Authors, Edgar Allen Poe, Fiction, Horror, New England Travel, Stephen King

As Halloween draws near, and ghostly decorations and leering jack-o-lanterns begin to appear, I find myself thinking about the Master of Gloom, Doom, and Murder: New England’s very own, Edgar Allan Poe.

I didn’t start to read Poe’s short stories seriously until college. (Before that, I only dabbled, like many, with The Raven sometime around the seventh grade.) The delicious darkness of his stories was a welcome change from Melville’s Benito Cereno or Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass.

But I was never a fan of horror stories. I could never get through a Stephen King novel, and the infamous Chuck Palahniuk’s fiction goes somewhere over my head. I read six or seven chapters of Brett Easton’s Ellis’ American Psycho before giving up in horror and sheer repulsion. Poe, on the other hand, doesn’t repel me–he delights me.  And, there are few stories in which he doesn’t even mention murder, insanity, ghosts, haunted houses or, god forbid, being buried alive.

What he does manage to do with his collection of stories–the element  that makes each one ‘a Poe’–is take a snapshot of the mind of a deeply disturbed individual who does something equally disturbing. Without being gory, Poe’s stories make your skin crawl. Without being graphic, Poe’s stories make your hair stand up on end. Poe created complete universes in which the reader starts to believe the narrator.

One of Poe’s most genius skills is his artful handling of the narrator’s voice. He convinces us for a while that the mad man is a sane man. At some point in the story, we may even find ourselves empathizing with the narrator’s actions–even as he removes a cat’s eyeball, or hacks his wife into pieces with an ax in The Black Cat. How does Poe get us there?!

In Poe’s The Telltale Heart, the narrator has a clear and rational way of telling his tale. In the beginning he even speaks to the reader’s assumption of his madness, saying, “How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” Herein is Poe’s genius: he allows the narrator to tell us why he does what he does, and as we read, we too begin to lose our grip on reality. In The Tell-Tale Heart, when the narrator hears the dead old man’s heartbeat from beneath the floorboards, we can hear it thumping too!

Poe didn’t write with a singular task of frightening his readers, like many writers of the “detective fiction” genre, which he’s credited for creating–instead, he writes with the intention of making us understand his world.

Poe lived a hard, often reclusive life, riddled with drug and alcohol abuse. In photographs of Poe, it’s seems  as if he was haunted–those sad dark eyes and somber expression lead readers to wonder how much of what he wrote was autobiographical. Was his mind as dark as his characters’? Poe’s stories linger, and remain somewhere in the back of your mind, where you turn them over and over, looking for an answer.

This sense of ambiguity runs through almost every one of Poe’s stories. As soon as you have concluded something is an indisputable fact, Poe manages to upset your opinion. In The Fall of The House of Usher, the reader cannot make out whether or not Madeline is dead. The narrator sees her dead body, but is thrown off by her rosy and lifelike complexion. What the narrator sees, we see. Has there been a mistake? Is she being entombed alive? Poe builds in our imaginations the “what ifs?”, and constantly addresses the shared human emotion of fear, and our desire to snuff it.

As Roderick Usher says, “I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect – in terror. In this unnerved – in this pitiable condition – I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.” You cannot reason with fear.

Unlike the unflinchingly descriptive gore of Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk, Poe hovers somewhere above the proverbial dead bodies, inviting the reader to fear what will come next at every turn.

So dust off the Master Of Creep’s stories, and take each heavy step into the darkening days of October with him.

A Traveler through the Seasons

October 3, 2012 in New England Travel, Uncategorized

When fall comes to New England, as it does every year, there is a certain melancholy that comes with the change of season. It’s a subtle change, but one day you wake up and your feet are cold on the floor. You take out your down comforter from the closet, fold up your shorts and put away your sandals. The nights become darker quicker and you find yourself inside, craving hot stews and quilts.

Summer, those brief but glorious months of scorching heat and green, green trees, feels like a distant dream. And you mourn the hot evenings you spent sitting outside on the lawn all night, when you could dive into an ice-cold pool and come out still sweating. You miss that free-ness, that spontaneity that summer so boldly facilitates. You grieve.

The cold comes and you shut down, hunker down, walk faster and laugh less.  Part of you knows that this is who you really are: the cold defines us as New Englanders. Our summer identities are induced by an intoxicating elixir that eventually runs out. Ahead there is a long cruel winter of blowing winds and falling snow, followed by the ugly, muddy fever of spring.  We are but travelers through the seasons: spectators, observers. Nature holds the power to change, but we hold the power to note the change. We document it and we revel in it if we can. And we become fretful as the leaves fall faster from the trees, as everything turns  a breathtaking brilliant gold.

When you note these changes, try to enjoy each second, each small but significant movement that propels us from summer, into fall, and then, into winter. At this kind of turning point, I read the poet Mary Oliver–who, according to Maxine Kumin, “is an indefatigable guide to the natural world,” a literary representative of our relationship to it. I find solace in her poem “Wild Geese,” which addresses the specific loneliness that threatens to overwhelm us. She writes:

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes

Oliver reminds us to look to nature, not as an enemy but as a grander entity than ourselves. She suggests that we take the time to recognize the strength of Nature’s consistency, the power in its reliability. Through Nature’s constant motion, we spectators become a part of it.

The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Here, Oliver gently encourages us–even when we’re lost and lonely, the world continues to turn. We are reflected in nature and Oliver asks us to remember how we fit, “in the family of things.”  So this fall, in place of grief, carry Mary Oliver’s pack of wild geese home with you. As the leaves turn brown and then disappear, remember: we are a travelers through the seasons, each an essential piece in the turning cogs of Nature.

Fall Rituals: Apple Picking In Stow, Massachusetts

October 12, 2010 in Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Uncategorized, Weekend Getaways

Image via canong2fan's Flickr streamFor as long as I can remember, autumn has always been my favorite season. I love Halloween, the lengthening evenings, and the way dead leaves crunch underfoot. I love the colors of New England fall, all blazing reds and oranges and the clear blue of the October sky. I love back-to-school shopping and donning wool scarves. But what I love most is the smell.

Fall air smells like nothing else in the world. Somehow, the fallen and decaying leaves and the growing cold conspire to turn the atmosphere into something wonderful. Something that smells not of death, but of rebirth.

In my opinion, the best place to experience the scents of fall is in an apple orchard. Apple picking has become something of a fall tradition for me. Every year as September draws to a close, I throw on my jacket and head to Shelburne Farm in Stow, Massachusetts.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of introducing my boyfriend to Shelburne Farm. The orchard seemed seeped in the spirit of Autumn as we wandered among the manicured rows, stopping occasionally to pluck some imperfect specimen from the branches (several of which we ate immediately, in a violation of orchard rules). We climbed into the trees on the spindly ladders, pulling down fruit that ranged from under-ripe and sour to sweet and crisp. For $17, we went home with a giant bag of Macintoshs, Cortlands, and Royals, which Garrett promptly baked into pies and crumbles. We also picked up some cider donuts at the Farm Stand, where they doled them out in half-dozens, piping hot out of the fryer. Before we left, we even made a quick pit stop to visit the sheep at the small but smelly petting zoo.

We went home happy and full. It was one of those perfect New England days–and a wonderful way to ring in the new season. It never truly feels like fall until I’ve bagged that first batch of local apples.

So that’s my fall ritual, but I’d love to hear: What’s yours?

Third-hand captivity narratives

September 22, 2010 in American literature, Dark New England, involuntary travel, New England Travel, Weekend Getaways

When I read Katy’s post about LT’s Dark New England theme, I thought of centuries-old stories set in a wilderness that no longer exists, Hawthorne’s characters tempted by the devil in the woods.

Then, last weekend, on the drive to his late godfather’s place in Maine, my boyfriend me told a story that hit a little closer to home.  His mother had recently stumbled across an old family Bible in the attic.  Inscribed in it was the name of a distant great aunt who was accused of committing withcraft in Marlborough, Massachusetts in the early 1700s.

More interesting, though, was a letter folded in the Bible, recounting the experience of another Marlborough aunt.  She started in an idyllic domestic setting, singing in the kitchen as a pie baked in the oven and her sister’s children made God’s Eyes on the floor.

Then the tomahawks came out, the arrows flew through the air, and, in a few minutes time, everyone but the singing aunt was slain where they stood.  Enraptured by the beauty of her song, the invading tribe decided to take her as a captive instead.  They brought her back to Marlborough four years later.

I haven’t heard many more details — I do know that she married her fiance when she came back to town — but until I get them, I like to hope that the letter is a concise, Quaker variation on Mary Rowlandson’s The Soverignty and Goodness of God, with sheet music of the melodies she dreamt up on the frontier.

I scoured the internet, just in case, but I couldn’t find any such music, or even an operatic captivity narrative.  (His mother’s a writer and his grandmother was an opera singer; I thought they might appreciate the connection.)  No such luck, but I did find a blogger/musician who wrote a song inspired by Rowlandson’s experiences.  Listen at your own risk.

Announcement: Literary Traveler Goes Dark For October

September 16, 2010 in American literature, announcements, Dark New England, New England Travel

In the rich literary tradition of Photo via Matt Trostle's Flickr StreamAmerica, tales of the supernatural have always occupied a special place. Stories of the fantastic and the unreal have not only entered our imaginations, tainting the way we think about the very ground below us, but also the cannon of great literature. From Washington Irving to Edgar Allan Poe, we have always celebrated the authors that have the power to make our skin crawl and our nights restless.

This fall, Literary Traveler will feature a new theme for our feature articles: Dark New England. As the days lengthen, and All Hallows Eve approaches, we will be publishing several articles that center around some of America’s best horror writers, including Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. We will also highlight one of our favorite underrated writers: Shirley Jackson, author of The Lottery fame.

Join us as we journey to Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts in search of what makes New England so uniquely suited to images of ghosts and specters, stories of hauntings and awakenings.

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