Tuesday, June 27, 2006

They Call Me The Wanderer, Part III: Salem

My parents decided to drive me up to Boston for my internship this summer. They then used this trip as an excuse for a vacation, since we have never spent time in New England. So, I spent a quick weekend in Salem Massachusetts with my parents, arriving on a Saturday night and leaving Monday morning. I was a bit worried that the entire weekend would be filled with Witch Hysteria Tourist Traps, but luckily my parents and I were almost equally uninterested in that hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo.

We started Sunday with breakfast at Red's Sandwich Shop, known for its cheap prices and tasty food. The restaurant occupies the location of the former Old London Tea House, which dates back to the 1700's. From the giant crowd clamoring for tables, they lived up to their reputation of "where the locals meet to eat in Salem". The reputation of good food was also well deserved--we came back on Monday too. I heartily approve of pancakes the size of my head.

Very full, we took a trolley tour around the rather small town. I was surprised that the trolley managed to fit through all the narrow brick-lined streets of the city. The tour went past the major landmarks as the tour guides spilled information on the city's history and attractions. After once around the city, I was ready to declare my disdain for the New England accent. My mom actually asked me at one point during our tour "You don't think you'll pick up this accent over the summer, do you?" seeming very concerned that I might. When considering accents, I think I'm glad I grew up in the Midwest.

The tour made a stop at the Winter Island Marine Park, which provided an attractive view of the coast. The weather--clouds and rain all day--made it a bit less picturesque, though.

We also wandered around Salem's harbor a bit, specifically the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Above is The Friendship, a full-sized replica of a 1797 merchant ship.

I enjoyed seeing the coast; it's something I'm not very familiar with. I also found the history interesting. I was never really aware of how important Salem's harbor had once been, or how much the sea trade influenced the city structure and lifestyle. Neighborhoods were established based on their proximity to the sea. Shipyard workers and sailors lived in small, tight-packed neighborhoods on the shore, while wealthy ship captains and merchants lived further inland in more posh areas.

There were, of course, several other things along Salem's shores in addition to the neighborhoods with houses only a few inches apart. The Customs House, which once housed officials in charge of regulating goods traveling in and out of the harbor, appropriately overlooks the shores. Nathaniel Hawthorne was once employed there. The West India Goods Store is also situated right along the harbor. Deemed a Salem Maritime Historic Site, it has sadly been renovated into, essentially, a fancy gift shop. Though they did have some delightful smelling teas, it's a bit disappointing that more effort wasn't taken to preserve the history of the 18th century store.

A short walk from the harbor ports is The House of Seven Gables. The house, whose history inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's book of the same name, is over 300 years old. The estate has changed hands several times, but the most recent owners have turned it into a museum. Our tour included extensive explanations of the house's history, it's decor, and renovation efforts.

Though I've never read The House of Seven Gables, I found the tour very interesting. The house has taken a pretty extensive beating over the years. Several additions were made to the house as the original family's wealth grew. A later owner, however, found the style too traditional and removed many of the gables to achieve a trendier Federal-style exterior. They also remodeled the interior in a Georgian style, adding very lavish, impressive wood paneling throughout the house. [Sadly, no pictures were allowed inside.] Finally, the gables were added back on during restoration. Ridiculous additions, such as a secret staircase--that may be the smallest staircase intended for people I have ever seen--were also made to better fit the house to Hawthorne's book. I suppose you do what's necessary to attract tourists. It definitely works--the estate is the second most visited home in America (the first being Graceland). It's a marvel that the house is still standing, let alone looking as well as it does.

My favorite area of Salem was Chestnut Street. Billed as "the most architecturally beautiful streets in America," the street was one of the first established communities in America. It was home to many of Salem's most successful merchants and sea captains during the harbor's golden era. Now the majority of the homes are still used for residences. Only a few have been reserved for tours and so on. We weren't able to tour any of the homes, but I really wish we had. I am very curious about what these are like on the inside. I just can't imagine having a house that old.

Chestnut Street is dominated by Federal architecture. The symmetry held so dear in this style is echoed throughout the street, which is part of why it is so visually appealing.

One indicator of the neighborhood's age is the appearance of "funeral doors" on many of the houses. Wakes were traditionally held in the home of the deceased. This naturally requires fitting the coffin inside the front door. Since coffins are wide and standard doors were not, homes had these "funeral doors". The smaller panel (left) can be opened when necessary to fit wide objects. Convenient for moving furniture and dead bodies in and out.

The other unique door found on the street is the "gossip door". The two front doorways of this condo-like home have a small door between them. When closed, it provides a bit of privacy from your very close neighbors. But when feeling the need to gossip, the door can be opened to let the neighbors converse. Perhaps evidence of women architects?

Though I loved wandering Chestnut Street, I think this is my favorite picture from Salem. Pamplemousse [pronounced something like pomp-le-mousse], which means grapefruit, is my favorite French word. [You can probably guess my favorite French phrase.] I didn't even go in this store, but I love its name and sign. It did seem like a rather neat shop, too.

The architecture and interesting history of Salem made for a very pleasant visit. We did end up going to one Witch museum. I suppose a trip there wouldn't be complete without seeing something on witches. But one was all I needed. The hysteria itself is an interesting historical phenomenon, but the museum played up the stereotypical conceptions of witches with talk of The Devil and Evil too much for my tastes. Needless to say, I'm glad our trip was no where near Halloween.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds cool, and also nice use of the phrase "hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo"

3:28 PM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Lis said...

Man I love your pictures and your wandering travels.. v. cool

6:39 PM, June 28, 2006  

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