A New England Odyssey

Monday, August 14, 1995

     What a great day! Right this moment, I’m typing this as the sounds of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash upon the rocks outside our window. I hope the rest of our trip goes as wonderfully as today did. For those of you expecting plenty of Lovecraftian stuff, I’ll warn you now that all we did were a few things in Marblehead and Gloucester.
     We started by finishing up at Wayne and Darryl’s and heading further towards Harvard to Games People Play. Although it was a fairly small store, I was overwhelmed at their selection. They had many of the same games that you’d see in any game store, but also plenty of European, particularly German, games. After almost two hours of perusing the games and going over them with Pam, we picked out 5 (and spent $150 doing so!). Rather than getting anything that’s typical here in the states, I got all European games, only one of which is British, the rest, German.
     The British game is “Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game,” and is a mystery card game that appears to combine “Clue” elements with more traditional card play. The card art consists of the Sidney Paget illustrations that graced The Strand magazine when the stories were originally published. “6 nimmt!” is an unusual card game in which you avoid taking cards that have cattle heads on them – I’ve read excellent reviews of it. “Hare and Tortoise” (actually, it appears to be “Hare and Hedgehog” in German), is ostensibly a children’s game, but combines racing elements in such an unusual way as to provide a challenge for adults as well.
     Lastly, I bought two games by Germany’s premier spielmacher (gamemaker), Reiner Knizia. The first, “Tutanchamun,” is a game loaded with Egyptian atmosphere in which players compete to gain artifacts. The last, “Modern Art,” is considered by many to be one of the best games in decades. It’s a bidding game where players collect and sell artwork in an attempt to become the richest player. Yes, it sounds typical, but I’ve read nothing but glowing reviews for this game. Reviews so convincing that I paid $53 for it. Another Egyptian-themed game that I passed on was “Tal der Konige,” which I’ve heard good reviews of. But not $102 worth of good.
     I passed on some really neat games that I hope I won’t regret having done. Knizia’s “High Society” and “New Games in Old Rome,” as well as Alan Moon’s “Mush,” “Freight Train,” and “Santa Fe” were among those I overlooked. “Doctor Faust,” a two-player game in which devils fight for the Soul Points of Goethe’s character was another I passed on, primarily because of the $55 price tag. I even got to look over some used, long out-of-print games such as “Alfred Hitchcock’s Why,” “Cargoes,” and “Pirate and Traveler.” It was really quite a store.
     After this, we headed out of the Boston area towards the North Shore. Navigating through Somerville and Everett, we finally spotted the Atlantic Ocean at Revere Beach, where many people were relaxing and playing. Further up the coast at Kings Beach, many people were being amused by getting drenched in the spray of the waves which crashed at the bottom of the ocean wall 20 feet below. Continuing on, we passed into Swampscott, which, despite its name, is a very beautiful town with some gorgeous buildings. The Town Hall and surrounding commons are very striking, and right on the coast.
     Next came Marblehead, the town which Lovecraft (remember Lovecraft?) said he’d choose to live in if it weren’t for Providence. I now see why. We enjoyed our first trip to Marblehead two years ago, but in our rush saw too little and, although impressed, weren’t as enchanted with it as we are now. We began in Washington Square at Abbot Hall, which serves as the center for the town’s government. It’s a tall, red brick building with a clock tower and stained glass windows – it almost looks like a church. The town deed from the Nanapashemet Indians is kept there (dated 1684), as is The Spirit of ’76, painted by A.M. Willard in 1876. The painting is much larger than I’d imagined, and measures about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide!
     We then continued down Washington Street to the Colonel Jeremiah Lee Mansion, built in 1768. Unfortunately, it was just at closing time, but the woman at the door invited us in, allowed us to purchase some postcards, and told us some of the history of the house. We hope to be able to return later. Likewise, the King Hooper Mansion, built in 1728, was just closing up, but we managed to sneak in unawares and take a look around before they hinted that we should leave.
     A bit further down Washington Street was St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, mentioned by Lovecraft as “St. Toad’s” in “Fungi from Yuggoth,” and described in “The Festival”:
There was an open space around the church; partly a churchyard with spectral shafts, and partly a half-paved square swept nearly bare of snow by the wind, and lined with unwholesomely archaic houses having peaked roofs and overhanging gables.
     Next we came to the 1727 Town House, which is at the center of something like a roundabout, where Washington and Mugford Streets come to a “T.” Here we also found the Bowen House, built in 1695, and also described in “The Festival”:
...I hastened through Back Street to Circle Court, and across the fresh snow on the one full flagstone pavement in the town, to where Green Lane leads off behind the Market House....the seventh house on the left in Green Lane, with an ancient peaked roof and jutting second story...
     Another block down we came to the Old North Church, with its incredibly tall tower, and then to a steep set of alley steps which Lovecraft mentions in his letters. After ascending them, we decided to walk back to the car and drive out to Marblehead Neck via the causeway, even though the Old Burial Hill was quite near. We’d visit the Neck first, since it was nearing sundown and we’d covered the Old Burial Hill well the last time we were in Marblehead.
     In one sense, Marblehead Neck is of little interest. There don’t seem to be any historical sites and it’s almost purely residential. However, some of the homes are stunning, and their architectural styles are quite varied. We saw half-timbered Tudor homes, stone castle-like homes, and simple clapboard houses. At the end of the Neck is Chandler Hovey Park where a metal frame lighthouse stands above the rocky shoreline.
     Returning to the mainland, we drove past all the Marblehead sights we’d seen to the Old Burial Hill. This burial ground was established in 1638 (that’s 357 years ago!) and contains the remains of “six hundred revolutionary heroes and several early pastors.” Five tombstones belonging to members of the Knight family were described by Lovecraft as “black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse.” While we were in the cemetery, we made friends with a pleasant tomcat who had seven toes on each of his front paws.
     We now left Marblehead via the West Shore Drive, a route which was less populated and very scenic. I was surprised to find such thickly wooded areas out on the Marblehead peninsula. Turning north, we passed into “witch-cursed legend-haunted” Salem. On the east side of the town is an unmarked street known as Saltonstall Parkway which I now believe has no relation to the Saltonstall Street in either “The Thing on the Doorstep” or “The Whisperer in Darkness.”
     After passing several noteworthy points in Salem, which we’ll visit later this week, we headed up the coast through Beverly and towards Manchester. At Prides Crossing, we stopped briefly so Pam could take a photo of me. In front of a store there were two benches labeled “Democrats” and “Republicans.” I sat on the latter bench at the far right side of the picture.
     Soon the foliage began to get very thick as we drove through Manchester and into Magnolia. Some of the homes were very beautiful, and we saw many that would easily classify as “estates.” Two years ago we had driven into Gloucester by way of Route 133, but from now on we’ll be taking 127! After Magnolia we tried to find a turnoff to Norman’s Woe, a rock just off shore mentioned in Longfellow’s “The Wreck Of The Hesperus.” Unable to find it, we consulted my United States Geological Survey map for the area (I highly recommend these!) and found a park that probably led to the shore. Sure enough, the tiny pulloff we had passed twice turned out to be the entrance to a tiny park and a path did indeed lead to the shore. Unfortunately, it was dark by now, so we didn’t bother hiking up the coast to the “Woe.”
     Next we drove into Gloucester, which claims to be the nation’s first seaport, established in 1623. We passed the Fisherman’s Memorial Statue, and up to the Legion Memorial Building in Washington Square (there’s plenty of those, huh?). This building was probably Lovecraft’s inspiration for the “Esoteric Order of Dagon” in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”:
The bus had come to a sort of open concourse or radial point with churches on two sides and the bedraggled remains of a circular green in the centre, and I was looking at a large pillared hall on the right-hand junction ahead. The structure’s once white paint was now grey and peeling, and the black and gold sign on the pediment was so faded that I could only with difficulty make out the words “Esoteric Order of Dagon”. This, then, was the former Masonic Hall now given over to a degraded cult.
     Instead of a “circular green,” there is instead a tiny roundabout with a statue of Joan of Arc. Other than this, Lovecraft’s description of this building was right on the money – up until two years ago. The once “grey and peeling” paint and general shabby condition of the building is now gone, due to a beautiful restoration. What I saw two years ago as a badly run down (but atmospheric) shell of a building is now a showpiece!
     We passed through the rest of the town, and out on the east side to where the land finally comes to an end. Turning south along Atlantic Road (with the ocean on our left), we arrived at our hotel, the Atlantis Motor Inn. Despite the cheap-sounding name, it’s a lovely (but simple) hotel where every room has a view of the ocean. Out in the darkness I can see the turning red lights of the twin lighthouses on Thacher Island.
     After freshening up, we headed out for dinner (at 10:00!). We happened to have a half-off coupon for Valentino’s, a pizza place which was “Voted Best Pizza - Northshore Magazine 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994.” Sounds like the place to go, huh? Well, the service was miserable, but the pizza was pretty good. It’s pan-baked, which means that it sits in its own juices and gets a little soggy, but the flavor was good and the toppings generous. On my scale of 1 to 7, I’d give it a 5. We’re looking forward to going back to Checker’s Pizza in Providence, which we considered to be a 7!
     On the way back the hotel, we drove past the City Hall, which is an imposing Gothic building with a central clock tower and four smaller corner towers. The icy, gibbous moon glowed menacingly in the sky behind the monstrous clock tower whose hands neared midnight. Really. We’ll be there again tomorrow or the next day to see some exhibits and to visit the nearby Cape Ann Historical Museum.
     Now it’s 2:30 in the morning and I’m pleasantly exhausted from the day’s excursions. My eyes ache and I look forward to a long night’s sleep, although I’m very tempted to get up early, if only briefly, to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. Before I go, here’s Pam’s addition to the travelogue, taken from today’s Gloucester Daily Times:
   Fish Arrivals
         Gloucester landings
      Three  boats  landed   42,000
   pounds  of  fish  in  Gloucester
   today, according to the National
   Marine Fisheries Service.
     It seems she’s really taken with the nautical aspects of New England. I’ll have to agree with her. More on the morrow!