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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.”

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 Salem Witch Trials: A Retelling and Commentary

October 12, 2012 in American History, Massachusetts Travel

Literary Traveler took a trip to Salem, Massachusetts this week, so expect a bunch of interesting posts and photos next week. Before we get rolling, here’s a refresher on the Trials and the profound affect they had on American history, by contributor Wes Newbury.

It was the dead of night and John Louder lay awake, listening to the dead leaves scratch across the cobblestone streets. Moonlight beamed through his frail windowpane, pale and haunting. Upon his chest he felt a suffocating weight and his strength left him altogether. Later he would testify  ‘It was her, the woman from the tavern.’ She sat “upon my stomake and… layd hold of my throat.”[1]

In 1692, fear spread through Salem, Massachusetts like contagion, infecting the minds of the mainstream, and claiming the lives of those among the periphery. In the span of ten months, over 150 people, mainly poor, ill-reputed women, were accused of witchcraft. Of the accused, 19 were hanged, five died in prison, and one was slowly crushed by the weight of piled stones.[2] Fourteen of the nineteen hanged were women.

Bridget made her way up the stairs, patting her sleeve to her lip to check for blood. “The old devil,” she whispered under her breath, “The old rogue.” She heard his footsteps pounding up the stairs, and when she turned to face him she met another blow. “You witch,” he accused her, “Trying to curse me on the Sabbath.”*

Bridget wore her bruises to the court where she was convicted of fighting with her husband, Thomas Oliver.[3]  When he died in 1678, Bridget was accused of bewitching him to death.

Salem of the late seventeenth century was a male dominated society that regarded the souls of women as corruptible vessels for the devil’s work. Sexual repression, Puritan law, and old English folklore were all part of a misogynistic tradition that viewed women as an inferior sex to be dominated and controlled. Bridget was not a woman of her time. She was independent and far from being a submissive Puritan wife. She left her first husband in England, quarreled with the other until his death, and transformed the home of her third and final spouse into a tavern where she served apple cider to late night drinkers.

The boys were rowdy tonight. Bridget wasn’t expecting so many sailors and they had nearly cleaned her out of her last batch of cider. They laughed heartily and rammed their mugs together over the shovelboard, already sticky with sweet cider. It was late and her neighbors had doused their lights long ago. Bridget wasn’t expecting any other visitors when the door burst open. It was the woman from across the street, Christine Trask, and she had a crazed look in her eye. The sailors stopped laughing and Christine charged them. She swiped the shovelboard clean and threw their board pieces into the fire.. “You have no right entertaining this riff-raff at such an unseasonable hour!”* she shouted at Bridget.

Christine began having fits a few days after the strange encounter. When she eventually killed herself in a moment of self-destructive rage, Bridget Bishop was again accused of witchcraft. The year was 1686.

Six years later, the Minister Parris’ girls began behaving freakishly. It started with nine-year-old Elizabeth, but spread quickly to her sisters and friends. The girls had convulsions and became entranced at times. They claimed to be cursed and tormented by evil specters. When they started pointing fingers, Bridget Bishop was accused of witchcraft for the third and final time.

A court of Oyer and Terminer had been created to deal swift justice to the overflowing population of accused witches in the Salem Prison. The court was composed of magistrates and a grand jury ripe with fear. Their objective was to rid Salem of devilry and Bridget was the first to stand trial.

When she walked into the courtroom the girls began to twist and scream in agony. They broke into fits. “What witchcraft are you conversant in,” hissed Judge Hathorne, glancing at the contorted figures of the young girls.

Bridgett looked at them in horror. Then she turned to the grand jury and surveyed the sea of suspicious faces. “I take all this people to witness 
that I am clear,” she demanded.

“Why do you seem to act witchcraft before us?”

“I know nothing of it,” Bridget protested. “I am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is.”

“They say you bewitcht your first husband to death.”

“If it please your worship I know nothing of it.”*

Despite her pleas of innocence, and there being no tangible evidence to prove her guilt, Judge Hathorne sentenced Bridget Bishop to death. Her grave reads, “Hanged June 10, 1692.” Eighteen more people would follow her to the grave, they all claimed to be innocent of witchcraft.

Five years after the executions, people tried to come to terms with what they knew had been a gross miscarriage of justice. The nine girls confessed to their trickery and lies. Salem was ashamed.

A century later, Nathaniel Hathorne, the great grandson of the infamous judge, changed his name to Hawthorne to distance himself from his family’s despicable legacy. It became clear that the only evil spirit the town had encountered was fear.

In 1952, Arthur Miller used the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory of McCarthyism in his play The Crucible. By suggesting the same phenomenon that occurred in Salem 1692 could reoccur on a national scale in the 1940’s, Miller illustrates how history has always had its witches. They are the enemy, the source of our woes, and the antagonist of our endless hunt.

Bridget Bishop wasn’t a communist, but she challenged societal norms. She was killed by a society possessed by fear and in need of a scapegoat. Her story is one of innocent defiance, not sorcery. Literature that indulges in the satanic and mystical nature of the Trials skewers the real reasons they are so horrifying. Ghosts, ghouls, and witches are inventions of our imagination used to justify the irrational fear we have of each other. The fear that pervaded Salem in the seventeenth century is the same fear that fuels witch hunts today. Our history is scarier than our imagination; for when fear takes hold of us, we can become the monsters we were hunting.

Salem is the capital of Halloween.  If you visit, enjoy the festivities, zany costumes, haunted houses, and ghost tours. But, please remember what really happened in 1692. To better understand the history of the Salem Witch Trials stop by the Salem Witch Museum or sign up for a show with History Alive. Come find out why Salem truly is one of the spookiest places on earth.


*All quotations are taken from the Verbatim Transcripts

[1] Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692.

[2] The Witches Curse. Secrets of the Dead.

[3] Cry Innocent: The People Vs. Bridgett Bishop. History Alive!


Independence Day, Then and Now: How to Party like it’s 1776

July 3, 2012 in American History, History, Independence Day, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Travel, New Orleans, Philadelphia Travel

On the eve of the first Independence Day, John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

The following day, July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and, while it did not become a federal holiday until 1941, the 4th of July has been celebrated consistently for over two hundred years with “pomp and parade” that would do our second president proud.  Looking to partake in the festivities?  If you are not afraid of enthusiastic crowds and a little holiday traffic, there are quite a few large scale celebrations happening “from sea to shining sea.”

In 1776, the earliest celebrations took the form of public readings of the Declaration of Independence.  The first took place on July 8th 1776 in Philadelphia and copies of the document were also sent on horseback to the remaining states, where public readings occurred in each as they were received.  Many cities, including Philadelphia, will present reenactments of these public readings in homage.  If you are in the Philadelphia area on July 8th, commemorate the anniversary and lend an ear alongside park rangers in period costumes who will be handing out free copies of the illustrious document.

History buffs will especially enjoy celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, where America’s forefathers originally put their John Hancock to the document, birthing the nation and the idiom.  Philadelphia is also where the spirited celebration of the 4th of July began to resemble the festivities we know today.  In 1777,  the one year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was marked with the first organized and extensively planned celebrations of the day, which included the first authorized fireworks display, setting the stage for future generations.  236 years later, fireworks will once again illuminate the sky during Philadelphia’s annual Wawa Welcome America Festival, which also includes concerts and a parade, as well as many other family friendly activities.

Also a popular choice for 4th of July revelry and, not-so-coincidentally, another hotbed of Revolutionary history, is Boston. The first town to designate the 4th of July a holiday in 1783, it remains one of the premier destinations for Independence Day celebration, so well known in fact that the website for the festivities is  The annual fireworks display over the Charles River features a performance from the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra.  Coinciding with the 4th of July events is OpSail, which will bring the Tall Ships back to Boston in celebration of the USS Constitution, which is berthed in Charlestown.  Take a tour of the vessels and watch as the USS Constitution makes its annual turnaround from the Charlestown Navy Yard through Boston Harbor. While a much loved Boston institution, this is done for more than show.  In order for the ship to maintain active in the US Navy, law requires the ship to travel one nautical mile per year.  This annual tradition maintains Old Ironsides’ title as the oldest active warship in the Navy.

Those on the west coast, fear not, celebrations will be happening across the country.  If you are in the vicinity, head to San Diego for a pyrotechnic display proclaimed “the greatest fireworks show in the west.”  With five barge locations, the 12th annual “Big Bay Boom” will be bigger than ever. With 500,000 revelers in attendance last year, that is saying something.

Looking to celebrate down south? New Orleans has always known how to throw a party, and with 2012 commemorating the bicentennial of Louisiana’s statehood, the celebration will be doubly enthusiastic.  NOLA’s festive “Go 4th on the River” celebration will feature a fireworks display from dueling barges over the Mississippi River.  For the whole experience, watch from a riverboat such as the Creole Queen, which offers evening cruises that boast prime viewing locations for the fireworks show.

So next week, before you light the BBQ and crane your neck upwards at a beautiful pyrotechnic display, crack open a Sam Adams lager and toast to its namesake and the rest of our founding fathers.  Happy 236th Birthday America!

Upcoming Exhibitions: Andy Goldsworthy at the DeCordova Sculpture Park

July 7, 2011 in American Art, Andy Goldsworthy, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Massachusetts Travel, Uncategorized

Image courtesy of Andy Goldsworthy

I was introduced to the art of Andy Goldsworthy when I was eight years old. I was staying at a friend’s house overnight for a giggly, girly sleepover that we expected to last all night. After my friend fell asleep earlier than anticipated, I began looking through the books on her parent’s coffee table. I was a little bit restless and slightly homesick, but quickly forgot such pressing issues and focused on the pages in front of me, which were covered with familiar items arranged in entirely unfamiliar ways. I may not have remembered the artist’s name, but I can recall those images vividly. The book was unlike the science books my parents owned, unlike the big encyclopedias we had lying around. Even as a kid, I could tell the photos in it were something special.

I find it unsurprising that my first foray into contemporary art came by way of coffee table, especially considering Goldsworthy’s massive popularity. The Boston Globe’s Sebastian Smee recently called him “one of the most popular artists alive,” and wrote about the very same glossy pages I once poured over in the quiet hours of the night. “Goldsworthy’s works are known to art lovers — and millions who would never willingly go by that description — largely through his handsome books, which reproduce sumptuous photographs of his installations in picturesque natural settings. You find these books on the coffee tables of bankers, lawyers, journalists, farmers, and teachers all over the world. They are ridiculously seductive, disarmingly emotional.”

Seductive is the right word for Goldsworthy’s work. While beautiful, it also carries a touch of the uncanny. According to Freud, the uncanny is that which we can recognize, yet still feel is slightly off. Many translators have given a literal interpretation of the German word as “unhomely,” and though they don’t carry the connotations of Freud’s recognition, Goldsworthy’s installations are often un-homey. They exist in situations we can easily recognize—beach, woods, lake—but reveal patterns and a sense of artistry that does not truly belong in nature. While the artist’s interference is visible in every piece, it always feels slightly disguised by the natural materials and simple shapes. Undeniably lovely, Goldsworthy’s works also contain elements that are at once eerie and dramatic.

While I’ve admired his pieces for years, I have never had the chance to see them in person until this spring, when the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, opened their new exhibit Snow. Featuring a small cross-section of Goldsworthy’s work, including a collection of the aforementioned photographs, two large snowball drawings, and the video, the collection serves as an introduction to the upcoming large-scale Sculpture Park installation. The massive granite structure, aptly-titled Snow House, is still in its beginning stages, but the deCordova Museum hopes to have it on view by winter 2013.

Though we have some time before we can see the permanent structure, it sounds as though Snow House will be worth the wait for Goldsworthy’s fans. The piece will be interactive and continually changing, much like the natural phenomena that inspire his work. “Andy’s going to create in our sculpture park — sort of dug into the hillside — a granite-lined chamber, big enough to walk into,” Capasso described in an interview with WBUR, “and every winter when it snows our staff and various community groups will create a nine-foot diameter snowball inside this piece of architecture.”

The deCordova is still seeking help funding the project. Interested parties can donate to the artistic cause online or by calling Catalina Rojo, the museum’s Development Coordinator.

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?

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