A New England Odyssey

Tuesday, August 15, 1995

     Another excellent (and long) day! We started by eating muffins and bagels sitting on our balcony overlooking the Atlantic.
     Our first stop was the Cape Ann Historical Museum, which is just across the street from the Gloucester City Hall that we visited the night before. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photographs or videotape, so none of you will be seeing any shots of it. A couple of rooms in the museum were dedicated to paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, a painter from Gloucester who is considered one of the most important American artists of the nineteenth-century. His paintings are mostly of nautical scenes, and we purchased a poster of one of them titled, “Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck.”
     The maritime exhibits showed a number of nautical instruments (including what amounted to a ship’s odometer); the Centennial, a dory that Alfred Johnson sailed across the Atlantic in 1876 (the first solo crossing); and a scale model of the sort of buildings you’d see on a waterfront. While looking over some of the exhibits I noticed a reference to “Mother Ann,” which Lovecraft had mentioned in a letter, but I had yet to locate:
As for that rocky promontory – the coast north of Boston is composed of high rocky cliffs, which in several places rise to considerable altitudes as bold headlands. Of course, though, there is nothing as dizzy as the fabled seat of the Strange High House. If I had any promontory specifically in mind when writing that tale, it was the headland near Gloucester called “Mother Ann” – though that has no such relation to the city as my mysterious cliff has to “Kingsport.”
     Further investigation found that Mother Ann (or Old Mother Ann) is a rocky cliff at the far south end of Eastern Point, near the lighthouse, which has the outline of a buxom woman. We’re hoping to get there tomorrow or the next day.
     Also, while leaving the museum, I noticed a book in the museum shop that had a photograph of the Legion Memorial Building on its’ cover (that was the building that may have been Lovecraft’s model for the Esoteric Order of Dagon church in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”). The booklet is titled, “The First Town House of Gloucester Belonging to the ‘Inhabitants’ of Gloucester (Its History and its Future),” by Priscilla O. Kippen Smith. It details the history of the Town House, its dedication, and eventual fall into ruin. However, it isn’t so new a book as to mention the recent restoration.
     Our next stop was Newburyport, so we headed out of town on Route 133 through Essex, Ipswich, and Rowley. Arriving in Newburyport, our first stop was the Cushing House Museum, also known as The Historical Society of Old Newbury, and Lovecraft refers to as the Newburyport Historical Society. We took a guided tour through the Caleb Cushing house, a three-story tall red-brick building with three separate staircases. Our main interest here was the “Landlocked Lady” – a figurehead carved by Thomas Wilson that was never used on a ship. According to Philip A. Shreffler (author of “The H. P. Lovecraft Companion”), the jewelry “worn” by this statue was Lovecraft’s inspiration for the jewelry mentioned in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”:
There were two armlets, a tiara, and a kind of pectoral; the latter having in high relief certain figures of almost unbearable extravagance.
     The Landlocked Lady is kept in the basement of the museum and is not shown as part of the normal tour. Had it not been for the fact that I wrote ahead asking about her, we may not have had an opportunity to view her, although a booklet detailing her history was on sale there.
     Next, we headed down the street to the stone Custom House Maritime Museum, which had a special exhibit called “Pirates or Patriots.” Despite its imposing size, the Custom House has few exhibits, and it took us just over half an hour to see everything. Nonetheless, what exhibits were there were quite attractive. Among them were a few ship models, some paintings of sea captains, and artifacts brought back from overseas on trading vessels. In the “Pirates or Patriots” exhibit was a skull that was claimed to be that of Edward Teach, better known as the pirate, Blackbeard.
     By now we were quite hungry, so we stopped at Grog, a local restaurant that’s quite popular. Pam tried the clam chowder, which the menu stated has been their best-selling dish for the last twenty-some-odd years. The restaurant was quite attractive, with big, cushiony chairs, and plenty of wood. After our late lunch, we headed up the street to purchase some film at a small photo shop, which sold disposable 3D cameras. I found this somewhat interesting, but became much more interested when I discovered that the printed photographs are a single image, rather than two images that require a viewer! The pictures are reminiscent of the diffraction grating toys you’d get in Cracker Jacks whose images bounced back and forth on a card. The camera cost $16 and included 16 exposures, while printing of the images was another $14. I passed for now.
     We also stopped at the Newburyport Public Library, where the narrator “spent part of that evening...looking up data about Innsmouth.” Well, I couldn’t find any information on Innsmouth or Lovecraft in this small town library, but I was impressed with it architecturally. From the outside, the building is quite simple and unimpressive. But the inside is filled with wooden paneling, wooden floors, and wooden bookcases, making it very attractive. Most of the bookstacks are in the balconies that overlook the reference area, and the interior of the building is very lovely. The sign out front states that many famous persons visited (or stayed in) the building, among them George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
     Then, we headed over towards the Masonic Hall, which Philip Shreffler thought was Lovecraft’s inspiration for the Esoteric Order of Dagon church (rather than the Town House in Gloucester). The Masonic Hall doesn’t have the “open concourse” and “circular green” that Lovecraft describes, and it was built in 1928, only 3 years before Lovecraft wrote “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” so the hall would have been quite new. Near the hall is the Newburyport City Hall and several very tall-steepled churches.
     At this point, we were pretty much done with our scheduled activities for the day, and it was only 6 p.m. During our trip, we plan to be in 5 of the 6 New England states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the longest state name belongs to the smallest state). So, we decided to drive up to Maine and see the sixth state as well. Although New Hampshire is a long state, its coastline is very brief, so the distance from the border of Massachusetts (which Newburyport is very near) to the border of Maine is only about 25 miles.
     Heading north on highway 1 we passed over the Merrimack River (perhaps Lovecraft’s inspiration for the Miskatonic), through the town of Salisbury, and across the New Hampshire border into Seabrook. The main industry in Seabrook appears to be fireworks since we saw 5 separate fireworks stores as we passed through this tiny town. I suspect they aren’t legal in Massachusetts, so the folks in New Hampshire draw business across the state line. Further north we passed through Hampton and finally into Portsmouth.
     Portsmouth appears to be a very attractive town (at least by night), and we were drawn into the center of town by the large steeple. The North Church sits at the head of a square with small shops and plenty of people. Across the street from the church was the Athenaeum, and as we headed back to the car, the bell in the church tower struck 8. Down towards the waterfront we found Strawbery Banke, which is a combination Colonial neighborhood and museum, closed at this hour, of course.
     It then occurred to us that when we crossed over the Piscatagua river into Kittery, Maine, that we should have a lobster dinner. Checking our Entertainment Club book, we found a two-for-one coupon for Warren’s. Wondering if we’d be able to find it or not, we headed across the bridge into Maine. There, on the right side of the road was a billboard lit with flashing lights and an enormous painting of a lobster which said WARREN’S, complete with a lit arrow pointing to the building below it. So much for not finding the place...
     Since we weren’t yet famished, we decided to drive out to Kittery Point to see the ocean. We passed the entrance to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Fort McClary Park. Eventually, we got to Chauncy Creek Road and the turnoff to Gerrish Island (which, according to the map, appears to be a peninsula). Heading out on Pocahontas Road, we found that the entrance to Fort Foster and the pier there was closed, so we had to double back and go to Crescent Beach instead. In spite of the late hour, there were quite a few people out on the dark beach, sitting around campfires. There was a thin fog here, and you could barely make out the waves rolling in, although their sound was quite clear.
     After spending a few moments on the beach, we headed back the way we came and stopped at the Kittery Point Town Wharf, next to which is Cap’n Simeon’s Restaurant. I walked out on the Wharf and took some pictures and happened to notice a young man and his girlfriend heading out into the dark harbor in a motorized dinghy. When we returned to Kittery, we found that Warren’s was closed (just our luck!). But rather than giving up on the idea of eating lobster in Maine, I went inside and asked if they knew any other restaurants that were open later. They called The Weathervane for us, and found that they were seating for another 20 minutes.
     Up the highway we raced to The Weathervane, only to find the doors already locked. As a patron left, I snuck inside the door and asked their hours. They claimed that they were closed a half-hour before, so either someone was wrong or someone was lying. Either way, we left and drove up the road to The Quarterdeck, which was still open and far more atmospheric. Pam just had some Lobster Bisque, but I ordered the Turf and Tail: a sirloin steak wraped in bacon with a lobster tail, a baked potato, and pea pods. It was pretty tasty, and was technically my first lobster meal ever (although I’ve tasted it previously). The flavor of the lobster was fine, but my only reservation is its texture, which is part of my complaint about seafood. I prefer steak, which I can chew on. Most seafood is either too soft (most fish and particularly lobster) or too chewy (clams – blech!). All the same, I enjoyed the meal and can now say that I ate Maine lobster in the state of Maine. Also, despite the late hour, our waitress was very pleasant and attentive.
     We now had the task of driving all the way back to Gloucester. Even though Kittery is only about 25 miles north of Newburyport, Newburyport is another 20 miles from Gloucester, and by now it was past 11. We headed south on Interstate 95 and turned off on 133 to cut through Ipswich. In Ipswich, I stopped to check out a local legend that I’d read about. Sometime back before the Revolution, the pastor of a church was preaching a particularly fiery sermon and the Devil decided to make an appearance. The two argued and came to blows, at which point they fought with each other to the top of the steeple. There, the pastor summoned up all his strength and threw the Devil down from the steepletop. When the Devil hit the ground below, one of his hooves struck a stone and he vanished. I found the stone on which was painted a white circle. In the center of the circle is a shallow indentation in the shape of a cloven hoof.
     After leaving Ipswich, I made the wrong turn and instead of going east on 133 I ended up going south on 1A. I didn’t notice my mistake until we were several miles south at the junction with 128. So, we took 128 into Gloucester (a very quick trip), and then I made another wrong turn at the turnoff to our hotel – I was pretty tired. Rather than double back, we followed the road we were on around the Eastern Point and stopped just south of our hotel to watch the ocean. The fog was thickening, and the moon’s reflection could just be seen on the water, which seemed to make it glow. Huge waves were crashing on the beach, and flooding over enormous rocks that lay below us.
     Finally, we returned to our hotel room and are ready to sack out. Tomorrow, we’ll be going back to Ipswich briefly and from there out to Haverhill, where Nathanial Peaslee, narrator of “The Shadow Out of Time,” is buried. Later!