A New England Odyssey

Wednesday, August 16, 1995

     What a peculiar day of coincidences! (More on those as I get to each of them.) We got up briefly at 6 a.m. in the hopes of seeing the sunrise. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see half a mile out to sea. The sky had some light to it, but we couldn’t tell if the sun was up or not. We collapsed back to bed to get up several hours later.
     When we finally got back up again, we noticed that the fog still hadn’t burned off and a bank of it could be seen to the north over the headlands. We left towards Ipswich where we had just been the evening before. After driving through Essex and arriving in Ipswich, we parked the car outisde the Town Hall, which was once a Unitarian Church. From there, we walked towards the John Whipple House (c. 1655) which Lovecraft mentions in his letters:
My principal non-Narragansett maternal strains are from the Providence area – Whipple-Field, Clemence, and Mathewson. The Whipples are a Norfolk line who first came to Ipswich, in the Massachusetts-Bay, where one of their branches settled whilst Capt. John Whipple came to Providence and founded the Rhode Island line. The antient Whipple homestead in Ipswich still stands and is used as a museum – a seventeenth century building with an overhang like that of Salem’s Seven Gables.
     At the front door of the house was a sign that indicated that the cost of admission was $5 per person, and that the tours began on the hour – it was just a few minutes past. When we rang the bell, a recorded message played on the small speaker near the doorbell, but no one came to the door. So, we passed on viewing the house and walked up towards Meetinghouse Green.
     We had visited the Green last night to locate the Devil’s Footprint, and spotted it easily today. The Green is dominated by the First Church in Ipswich, although the current church is the sixth (!) on this site. Also on the Green is the Ipswich Library, where we asked for some information on the legend of the Devil’s Footprint. The librarian pulled the “Legends” file from a filing cabinet, and allowed us to photocopy some articles. Here’s an excerpt:
   According to the legend, the Rev. Mr. Whitefield had reached new heights in his passionate appeal to the people to forsake the devil and all his treacherous paths when there appeared in the midst of them he of the cloven hoof and pointed horns.
   The two, the devil and the preacher, wrestled on the floor of the church and the minister, taken unaware for the moment, was forced little by little up to the very pinnacle of the church where in the sight of the horrified congregation they continued to try to push each other to destruction.
   Finally, with one mighty push, Whitefield flung the Devil from him. The fiery visitor leaped from the steeple’s top, hit the mass of rock in front of the church and was off down the hill in great leaps and bounds, never to be seen there again. In a history of the town it is written, “Imbedded deep in the solid rock by the church can be seen the indelible print of Satan’s cloven hoof.”
     Another legend says that the Devil was angered by Whitefield’s sermon and simply stormed off. However, Whitefield’s journal for the date simply says, “Tuesday, Sept. 30 (1740) Preached at Ipswich about 10 in the Morning, to some Thousands; The Lord gave me Freedom, and there was great Melting in the Congregation.”
     I had thought that Meetinghouse Green might be part of Lovecraft’s inspiration for New Church Green in Innsmouth, but have now decided against it, despite the appealing history. After this, we walked down the hill to the Choate Bridge (1764), which is the oldest stone-arch bridge in continuous use in Massachusetts. We then struck out through Rowley and Groveland toward Haverhill. Along the way we passed Ipswich’s Old Burying Ground (1634), which was a particularly attractive cemetery against a hill.
     As we crossed over the Merrimack into Haverhill, I drove down the wrong street for about half a mile, and then turned back to get on the right road (foreshadowing...). On Water Street we found the Haverhill Historical Society, which Lovecraft visited in 1921:
The greatest event was the visit to the Historical Society, which is housed in a museum attached to the ancestral mansion of the director. The latter place is itself a museum – all the more interesting because it is the natural collection of a family rather than the artificial collection of an institution. The director – a Mr. Leonard Smith – is an elderly man of vast refinement & scholarship. Yesterday was not a visiting day, but since the Littles are personally acquainted with important personages of the Society, we were allowed to go through the collection. Mr. Smith – as delightful in a patrician way as C. W. Smith is in a plebeian way – personally guided the tour, sharing his house & landscape gardens as well as the museum. On the grounds is another small house – the oldest in Haverhill – built in 1640. It is the oldest house I have ever seen or entered.
     We were the only patrons of the museum when we arrived, and on the guest register we noted that a previous patron the same day had come from Chandler, Arizona – less than 40 miles from our home (Coincidence 1). The admission price was a surprising $5 per person, and the tour was fairly brief. The “ancestral mansion” is now part of the museum, which we toured as well. The regent of the museum informed us that the small white house that was “built in 1640” and occupied by John Ward, has been discovered to have been built in the early 1700s and occupied by servants.
     Near the Historical Society is the Old Burying Point, which I had heard contained the grave of Nathaniel Peaslee who died in 1730 and whose name Lovecraft borrowed for that of the narrator of “The Shadow Out of Time.” We trapsed around the cemetery for quite a while and finally discovered the Peaslee family gravestones – very near the Water Street entrance. Here’s the text of Nathanael Peaselee’s tombstone:
     As I was filming the graves of Nathanael and his relatives, I noticed that the rubber eyepiece of the camera was missing. I assumed that it had come off in the car, yet on the way back to the car I just happened to look down and spot it on the sidewalk (Kinda Coincidence 2). Don’t worry, Dan, I’m taking good care of the camera! Yeah, same to you!
     We had more of our now infamous two-for-one coupons, and decided to eat at The Tap. The only problem was, The Tap was closed – for good. It’s too bad, because it looked like a neat place. Instead, we used a different coupon at Pedro Diego’s (“authentic” Mexican food). Since we haven’t had Mexican food in a week (we eat it a lot back in Phoenix), we decided to give it a shot. As flavorful and filling as the food was, I didn’t exactly consider it “authentic.” It was really more a matter of presentation and style than anything else. For example, my cheese enchilada came in one of those long, oval-shaped dishes you’d see an Italian entree in. If we had Mexican food like that in Phoenix, we’d laugh, never come back, and the place would be out of business in a week. In New England, I suspect it’s pretty good Mexican fare.
     The last thing we had to do in Haverhill was to visit 408 Groveland which was once the home of C. W. Smith, friend of Lovecraft and publisher of the amateur publication The Tryout. Lovecraft stayed there on at least one occasion and described it as “a dilapidated old cottage,” although it’s now been restored and looks like a pleasant home. As luck would have it, it was directly across the street from the point where I had made my U-turn earlier when entering Haverhill (Coincidence 3).
     With at least an hour of sunlight remaining, we took the highway back towards Gloucester in the hopes of seeing some surf before nightfall. Last night we had visited a point on the beach where the waves flooded over some large rocks, and we managed to find the same point and view some really large waves and plenty of spray.
     After a few minutes there, we headed south towards the Eastern Point of Gloucester to visit the lighthouse. The roads on this peninsula twisted and turned, and wound through tunnels of overhanging trees. At one point a sign indicated that “Only Residents” were allowed further, but we went on anyway. At length we came to the Point, and spotted the lighthouse there. Beyond the lighthouse was a breakwater, at the end of which was the light at the entrance to the harbour. We hiked up to the start of the breakwater which was right below the lighthouse and enjoyed the approaching night.
     The insects were pretty thick around the lighthouse, so we headed back to our hotel room early and are now preparing to leave Gloucester tomorrow morning. Over the next day-and-a-half we’ll be visiting Salem and Danvers and staying at the Tara Ferncroft Inn where the NecronomiCon Convention is being held. I hope to see some of you from the newsgroup there!