A New England Odyssey

Thursday, August 17, 1995

     When we arose this morning in Gloucester it was really bright out. I mean, really bright. The sun beaming down and its reflection on the waves was really bright. But, since we were leaving the coast it really didn’t matter much.
     We packed up our bags and bid adieu to the Atlantis Motor Inn. On the way out of Gloucester we stopped at a number of places to take some quick photographs. Our first stop was Gorton’s of Gloucester – yes, the fish company which happens to be the city’s largest employer. They have a large sign in front of their offices showing their logo, the Gloucester fisherman, so we stopped briefly to snap off a photo. After that, we stopped at the Harbor Loop, a U-shaped roadway that juts out into the harbor. In the middle of this “U” is the Fitz Hugh Lane house; Lane was the gentleman whose paintings we had seen two days before in the Cape Ann Historical Museum.
     Another building we hadn’t yet stopped by was (get this) the Sargent-Murray-Gilman-Hough House. This home was built in 1782 for the essayist and poet Judith Sargent Murray. It was probably Lovecraft’s model for the Gilman House in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” particularly since it’s just down the street from the Legion Memorial Building, his basis for the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Although the house seemed very nice from the exterior, it isn’t as nice in Lovecraft’s story:
“Yes, there’s a hotel in Innsmouth – called the Gilman House – but I don’t believe it can amount to much. I wouldn’t advise you to try it.”
     A brief trip down Middle Street took us once again to the Legion Memorial Building and the statue of Joan of Arc. We took a few more photographs since we’d previously only visited it in the night. Up the road about a mile we stopped at Yankee Fleet, which is a pier with slips for boats, a hotel, a restaurant, and a gift shop. On our last trip to the area two years ago, we had eaten at The Gull restaurant and enjoyed it quite a bit. We didn’t have the time (nor the appetite just yet) to eat there this time, so we just took some more pictures and moved on.
     Before we left town, we took one last visit to the Fisherman’s Memorial Statue, referred to locally as “The Man At The Wheel.” We hadn’ t realized until today that the inscription on the monument (“They that go down to the sea in ships”) was borrowed from the Bible:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. – Psalms 107:23-30 –
     Leaving Gloucester, we headed towards Salem via the highway. Our first stop in Salem was the House of the Seven Gables, although we didn’t go there first. I must admit that we found a parking space right at the entrance of the H7G (that’s their logo), but went down the street to the Salem Maritime Historical Site first. At the Orientation Building, which is in the last of the shipping warehouses in Salem, we saw a 15-minute film that outlined the history of shipping in Salem. It was a very entertaining presentation and an excellent introduction to Salem’s history.
     Next, we walked down the street to the Custom House, which once served as the entry point for goods brought in through shipping. At one point, the customs tax in Salem was bringing in so much revenue that it paid 90% of the town’s expenses. Nathaniel Hawthorne worked here as a collector when he was a young man – the accoutrements of his office are on display in the Custom House.
     By now it was time for our guided tour of the Derby House, which is the only way it may be viewed. Our main interest in the Derby House is that it was probably the basis for the Derby House in “The Thing on the Doorstep.” We walked back to the Orientation Building and met our guide, a strapping guy who was very good-humored. He led our group on a very informative and amusing tour of the house. His tour was also pleasantly brief, only lasting just over half an hour. Many of the house tours we’ve been on have been needlessly long and filled with boring facts about, say, needlepoint samplers. Thankfully, this was not the case, and we both agreed this was the best house tour we’d been on yet.
     Although I already knew that Elias Haskett Derby was America’s first millionaire (and he managed to accomplish it three times over), I learned on the tour that he had differently coloured eyes – one blue and one brown. I also learned that, despite making his millions in the shipping industry, he never served on a ship or acted as its captain. In fact, he never made a sea voyage, preferring, for example, to ride to Boston in a carriage.
     Also, I had known that there was another Derby House, but not where or what it looked like. I found that the Derbys decided to move from the house which we had visited into a newly-built mansion which was much larger. Within months of moving in, both Mr. and Mrs. Derby had died, of what causes history doesn’t recall. Their sons, who didn’t handle their money as wisely as Mr. Derby, were unable to keep up the maintenance on such a large estate, and the house was eventually sold off and then torn down in 1815. This house was referred to as the “Derby Mansion,” the same term that Lovecraft uses to describe the house in “The Thing on the Doorstep.”
     Next, we traipsed down the street to a couple of gift shops, one of which was Ye Olde Pepper Companie, which claims to be “America’s Oldest Candy Company.” They’re known for making Gibraltars and Black Jacks, which are, respectively, melt-in-your-mouth mints (although they come in lemon and peppermint) and molasses stick candy. We bought an assortment of Gibraltars, some excellent salt water taffy, and some pecan pralines (I love pralines!).
     Across the street was the House of the Seven Gables, so we dropped our candy off in the car and went on the tour there. We had a very friendly tour guide (she claimed that her title was an “interpretive something-or- other”) who made this our second-favorite house tour. The house itself lent a lot to this because of its unusual architecture. It does, indeed, have seven gables, and was the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, not Nathaniel himself. Part of the tour is a trip up the secret staircase, which is cleverly hidden behind a wooden door which has bricks mounted on it. Also on the grounds is Hawthorne’s birthplace, moved from its original location down the street to nearer the H7G. Lovecraft visited both sites back in late 1931 or early 1932:
I...investigated the several scenes pertaining to the late ingenious Mr. Hawthorne, including his birthplace, and the house of Seven Gables, where I was shewn a secret staircase and permitted to ascend it...
     By now we were quite famished, so with our infamous two-for-one coupons in hand, we struck out in search of food. We drove past several different restaurants trying to determine just what we wanted to eat. While driving around, we stumbled upon some of the offices of Parker Brothers, the equivalent of Mecca for me. We both jumped out of the car and took some more pictures – pretty silly considering it was a ratty old building that was probably only used for shipping. We also came across a liquor store called “The Bunghole.” Huh, huh, huh... He said, “bunghole.”
     We settled on Roosevelt’s, which we were very happy with. I had the Blackened Chicken Linguini Alfredo (yum!) and Pam had some salmon (also yum!). The salad bar was also excellent, and we had no real complaints at all about the food. The service was a bit slow even though we were almost alone in the restaurant, but we’re finding out that’s pretty much the norm in New England. The restaurant had a lovely Victorian atmosphere, and the lamp bulbs mounted on the walls were held by iron gargoyles. Very nice!
     After dinner we went over to the Peabody Essex Museum’s East India Hall, which serves as their gallery. Along with our entrance to the galleries, we signed up for a tour of the Crowninshield-Bentley house tomorrow morning which was Lovecraft’s basis for the Crowninshield house in “The Thing on the Doorstep.” We had just over an hour until the gallery closed, and it was by no means enough time to see it all. In that time we saw what I would guess was one-tenth of the entire square footage of the museum. With so litle time available, we stuck with the shipping and whaling rooms and also ventured into some of the natural history rooms.
     The whaling areas were of particular interest and had all manner of fascinating artifacts. The most stunning of them was probably the lower jaw of a sperm whale, which must have been about 15 feet long. There were also many cases filled with scrimshaw, harpoons, ship models, and other beautiful antiquities. In the natural history exhibits we were able to see many stuffed animals from a bald eagle to a buffalo. One case held several animals that were beautifully stuffed, yet the placards next to them indicated that they were “Roadkills.” The placard next to a mouse in the same case indicated that it had been killed in Ipswich when it jumped out of someone’s pocket! Also in the natural history area was a beast called a monkfish, which is a flat, toothy monstrosity that gave both of us the willies. The 100-year old turtle carapace that still oozed oil was pretty creepy as well!
     Before too long, we had to leave, but we’re hoping to return again tomorrow. The tour of the Crowninshield-Bentley house takes place just down the street, and we found that we can return again to the gallery any time tomorrow. I must say that everything in the galleries was presented in a very lovely way and I was really impressed with the look of the museum. Just the layout of the exhibits and the plush environment would be enough to impress most – and the artifacts within it are genuinely fascinating. The typically boring placards that are usually placed aside museum pieces are filled with entertaining information, mostly because these museum artifacts are actually interesting! I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Salem.
     On Thursday, the gallery closes much later than most other attractions (8 p.m.), so there was little left to do in Salem. So, we drove out to the Tara Ferncroft Resort and checked in. When we got up to our room, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to hook the video camera to the television in the hopes of watching the videotape I’d taken thus far. No luck. But, while working on this, I got to catch most of tonight’s episode of “Friends,” so that more than made up for it.
     Since we’ve been here in New England for 6 days now, it was time to do some laundry. We pulled out the phone book and looked up laundromats. There was one in Danvers not too far away. To get there, we had to take route 62 to route 35 and the laundry was at 97 High Street. 62 + 35 = 97. Coincidence? I think not. Well, the laundry was closed, so we drove on hoping to spot another. We ended up driving through Peabody, into Beverly, then down into Salem. Each laundromat we found was closed.
     I recalled that there was one in Salem, and by dumb luck we stumbled onto it, just west of the Charter Street Burial Ground. It was lit, the door was standing wide open, but no one was inside. At first, we just figured that we had finally found a 24-hour laundry and that it didn’t need to be attended. Pam wanted to just start some clothes washing, but something about it didn’t feel right to me. I felt that either the laundry should have been closed or there should have been an attendant present – don’t ask me why.
     I checked the door that led into the back and surprisingly found it open. Other rooms and closets led off from it, and a stairway led down into the basement. One closet was filled with small boxes of laundry detergent for the dispensing machine. Something was definitely wrong; no one would have left all this unlocked so that vandals could come in and steal all the... soap (clean vandals, you understand). We walked around the corner to the pizza place and asked there if they knew what might be up. The guy behind the counter mentioned that the laundromat was run by an elderly lady, and at our news became concerned about her.
     Back at the laundry, we searched the place again, fearing the worst. But no one ever turned up. The guy from the pizza house called the police, and when they showed up we explained what we had found so odd. The woman never showed up and couldn’t be reached, so the police turned off the lights, locked up the place, and we all left. I came to the conclusion that the woman had probably finished up business for the evening and left by the side door, absent-mindedly leaving the front door open. Perhaps we’ll never know.
     On the way back to the hotel, we drove around looking for some more laundries, but to no avail. I guess we’ll just do it tomorrow. Which should be difficult since we’re visiting the Peabody Essex Museum again tomorrow, as well as the Salem Witch Museum, the Charter Street Burial Ground, the Witch House, and the Rebecca Nurse Homestead. Also, the convention begins tomorrow, and I’m supposed to be on a panel about electronic publishing, but I don’t know exactly when. Should be an interesting day – see you when it’s over!