Suzi (k00kaburra) wrote,

Salem: Saturday, May 16th

Kendrick's manager was out of town this weekend, so he found himself having to work for a couple hours on Saturday.  I had a choice; I could wait ofr his shift to end at 2:30 and head out to Salem then, or I could go out there by myself in the morning.  After he lost/forgot his cellphone at the rehearsal of a play he's in (a production of And Then There Were None, an Agatha Christie novel) on Thursday evening, and determined he had to retrieve it after work, I figured there was no point waiting for him or I'd never see anything in Salem.  Off I went.

Salem was a short ride from Boston; maybe twenty minutes?  It was my first time riding a train completely on my own and I was disproportionally excited about it.   When I left Boston it was sunny, and it was only slightly overcast when I got to Salem, so I was feeling pretty happy.  I think my excitement blew through the roof when I walked up a flight of stairs to the top of Salem's train platform and realized Salem's train station is RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE of their downtown.  HUZZAH! NO KAJILLION-MILE WALKS!!!

Salem Town Hall 

It was still pretty early - maybe just before 10? - when I got there, so I just wandered the streets for a bit watching all the shops open up.  I had heard that Salem was pretty darn touristy, but I was still a bit surprised at the vast surplus of Wicca, magic, and new-age shops.  Oh, and the Witch Museums.  One or two or even three I could understand, but there must have been a half-dozen quasi-historical museums as well as countless haunts and witchy walking tours.    I didn't know where to begin, so when I happened to find the town's Visitor Center I wandered in and was quickly shuffled into an auditorium to watch a film about Essex County's history.  It was surprisingly educational - I had no idea that Salem, at one time, was one of the East Coast's most prosperous ports - and reduced the Witch Trials to two or three sentences in the glorious history of the harbor. 

I was surprised to learn that the wealth this maritime marvel had brought to Essex County had indirectly led to the founding of a major art museum.  Apparently many of Salem's prominent citizens collected art and furniture from the Orient, and many of their treasures are now housed in the Peabody Essex Museum.  (I'd heard of the musuem last quarter in my Asian Art History class, but I didn't realize I'd be right next to it!)  It was right across the street from the Visitor's Center, and it was a perfect destination.  My brother had said he would try to join me in Salem when he got off work, so I was hesitant to do anything I thought he'd also be interested in.  But I can easily spend several hours staring at Chinese paintings and Japanese lacquer, so I spent the rest of the morning browsing the PEM's extensive collections.   
We do have an Asian Art Museum up in San Francisco, but the PEM has a huge selection of Asian-influenced works from Europe and America as well as a greater selection of Asian art created for export - that is, for the foreign market.  So a lot of the works focus more on foreigners and their interests and tastes rather than the indigenous people.  (Makes sense, seeing as the buyers were East Coast sea captains and import merchants.) 
So the morning flew by.  Suddenly it was 2 pm and I was STARVING.  I'd seen most of the main galleries, but there was a Qing dynasty house imported from China that I was debating whether I wanted to stick around to see.  Yin Yu Tang cost an extra $5 and I'd have to wait until the house was opened to the next group (you can't just wander in because of the house's size) but I let my stomach prevail and wandered out into the streets to get food.
While I'd been in the art museum the fog had come rolling in and it was bloody cold.  I started walking out toward The House of Seven Gables, stomping my feet to keep warm and wondering if my desire for warmth could overcome the humiliation of wearing a "WITCHY WISHES FROM SALEM" sweatshirt.  (Seriously, the tourist rags were hideous. What gives, Salem?)   I just couldn't justify spending the money on an ugly hoodie, so I just kept shivering and wishing my cup of toasted marshamallow mocha would warm more than my fingers.

All fogged up!  I never did wander out to see that ship, but does every town in New England have their own reproduction old-timey boat? 


The House of Seven Gables - it inspired the Hawthorne novel by that name
The House of Seven Gables was like a minature Winchester Mystery House (local San Jose tourist trap) and my tour guide the most entertaining person in Salem.  Originally built in the 17th century, the house is one of the oldest wooden homes remaining in America, and in the very early 20th century a woman named Caroline Emmerton bought the house, set it up for tourists to visit, and used the proceeds to found a Settlement House to assist immigrants making the transition to America.  She restored the house an "authentic" Colonial appearance, but added several references to Hawthorne's famous novel to draw more interest from tourists.  Thus, there's a cent shop in the kitchen, even though the actual residents of the home were too wealthy to ever resort to such an enterprise, and a secret staircase curls upward behind the fireplace.  (It's tiny and cramped; so cool!  They used to tell people it was used by slaves fleeing via the Underground Railroad until historians figured out the staircase was added when studying the house a few years ago.)

Behind the house there's a garden, complete with a wishing well.  It was getting foggier so the pictures weren't as clear, but I tried my best.

Across the yard (right behind where I was standing when I took a photo of the well) there's Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace.  The house wasn't actually located there; it was moved to be next to the Gables House in the 1950s when demoliton was threatened.  It's funny, the house looks quite barn-like from the exterior.

A Scarlet House for the author of The Scarlet Letter

This house was self-toured, with docents manning almost every room.  That's always sorta awkward, because you have to think up some questions to ask them because you can kinda tell that's what they want, because they're bored standing around a dead man's house all day.  I learned some interesting things about Nathaniel Hawthorne's childhood; the loss of his father and his mother's dependency on others to survive resurfaces again and again in his novels.

When I finished the Seven Gables House tour, I called my brother to see if he'd picked up his phone yet and to find out if I should expect to meet up with him.  No response.  I figured if he had not yet retrieved his phone, it was highly unlikely he would make it out to Salem before everything started closing up.

Across the street from Seven Gables is Ye Olde Pepper Companie, which claims to be America's Oldest Candy Company.  Why not? I bought some Blackjacks (molasses stick candy) and Gibralters (white candy that comes in mint or lemon) to take home to Mom and snapped a photo of the exterior.

It's so cute.  Candylicious.
The houses in Salem are often brightly colored, not at all the drab browns and whites that I imagined Puritan housing to be. 

It makes me think of home in San Francisco.
Another cute shop was the West India Goods Store, a shop originally right next door to Salem's Customs House by their main harbor.  It has been preserved by the NPS to sell the same sorts of things it would have sold back in the 18th and 19th century, during Salem's golden years as a major port. 

I bought a bag of tea so I wouldn't feel guilty about taking pictures of the interior. 
It smelled really strong of apricot.  I still haven't tasted it, so I hope it's good.
flameelf , you'd hate it.

More neat houses on my walk back into Salem Tourist Central:

Derby House. Apparently you can take tours of this place, but I wasn't there at the right time.

Looks like successive generations just kept adding and adding to the original building.

The "Witch House."  I think one of the judges at the trials lived here?  It was locked up so I couldn't wander around to find out.
I knew before I left Salem I'd have to visit one of the many Witch-themed museums, so I chose the 'Salem Witch Museum' based on the fact that the outside facade was pretty awesome.
It was the hokey rip-off tourist clap-trap you'd expect.  You are led into a into a large room (former church sanctuary I'd guess?) and invited to sit on the floor.  All is dark.  Then, as you sit there, dioramas on the sides of the room light up, and a narrator begins telling the story of the Salem Witch Trials in his scariest pre-recorded voice.  The figures aren't animatronic or anything; just wax figures sitting still, lit with spotlights at an angle that hopes to provide the illusion of terror.  Sound effects like creaking chairs, pounding gavels, and screams try to add to the drama.  It lasts half an hour, after which an employee leads you to a second set of dioramas that discusses how the perception of witches has evolved over the years, from Celtic Midwife to Green Terror to Wicca Blessed-Bes.  It was a little painful, to  be honest, staring at this mannequins dressed like "witches" and trying not to snicker. 

By now it was past five and things were starting to close down, so I headed back to the train station.  The fog had retreated back over the ocean, so it was much warmer, finally.
At the train station I met a nice woman named Michelle, who was also traveling by herself.  She was from Minneapolis and had come to Boston for a medical conference; she'd stayed an extra day to do some sight-seeing.  Since the next train didn't come for another half hour, we took another walk around Salem's central area to make sure we hadn't missed anything and then chatted all the way back to Boston on the train.  Kendrick was making dinner back at the house, or else I probably would have gone out for food with her.  It was really nice to have someone to talk with after spending most of the day by myself, going on tours at the periphery of other, larger groups.  Too bad I didn't run into her on the way in!

Kendrick made a pasta with a lot of ginger, chili powder, and other ingredients that I don't eat if I have a choice.  I was pretty ravenous by the time it was ready (nearly 9 pm!) and gobbled it down anyway.  The rest of the evening was pretty quiet; I think we watched another episode of Iron Chef (it's what was on his computer; they don't have a TV in the house) and read for a while.
Tags: asian art, boston, nathaniel hawthorne, peabody essex museum, salem, salem witch trials, vacation, witches

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