Monday, August 20, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Three

Greetings, Fellow Adventurers!

Before I regale you with more tales from beautiful and historic Salem, Massachusetts, I really have to mention a place where we had lunch on Day Two.

In addition to their charmingly mongoloidian mascot, the Gulu-Gulu Cafe on 247 Essex Street had some truly delectable eats (like their fresh n' crunchy Garden Wrap) as well as fine selection of tasty beverages.  I had a chance to sample the Brooklyn Brown, Peak Pale Ale, Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout and the Pretty Things ¡Magnifico!, which is an adjective I'd prescribe to any of these fine refreshments.

If you only associate American beer with swill like Coors / Bud / Miller Light then you obviously haven't tried some of the amazing microbreweries out there.  Honestly, go off the beaten path a little bit and you'll be duly rewarded with a host of tasty concoctions.

The first thing we did on Day Three was pop into Jaho Coffee and Tea on 197 Derby Street for a light breakfast.  In addition to featuring a pretty decent ba-egg-el (bacon/egg/bagel) sammich, the place has some pretty awesome dark roasts and iced coffees.

En route to our first stop, we paused to admire some of the beautiful houses within the Salem Maritime National Historic grounds including the West India Goods Store built in 1804:

The stately Derby House constructed in 1762:

And the unique-looking Narbonne House which dates all the way back to 1675!

But our ultimate goal that morning was The House of the Seven Gables, which is considered to be the oldest surviving mansion house in North America.  Constructed by seafarer extraordinaire John Turner in 1668, the imposing-looking structure inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his book of the same name in 1851.

Hawthorne himself was a pretty interesting cat.  The product of Puritan ancestry, Nathaniel's great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was a ruthless and unrepentant judge during the infamous Salem Witch Trials.  Rumor has it that Nathaniel was so repulsed by his family's dark legacy that he added a "W" to his last name in order to distance himself from them.

Hawthorne's work often reflected on hysterical thought, self-righteousness, ethical persecution and mob rule.  His romantic classic The Scarlet Letter tells the tale of a 17'th century adulteress who goes through untold miseries in order to make peace with herself and reclaim her life.  In a day and age when people aren't merely content to have their own moral ethos without cramming it down someone else's throat, I really believe that this book is more relevant now then ever.

And then there's The House of the Seven Gables; a clam-chowder-flavored Wuthering Heights filtered through Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher.  It's a crackerjack yarn filled with revenge, murder, death, madness, retribution and whispers of witchcraft and all manner of shady dealings.  And, oh yes, there's a l'il dash of implied snoggery thrown in there for good measure.            

As soon as you set eyes on the imposing black manse that inspired Hawthorne, you're brain automatically starts to conjure up shades of well, shades.

A forward thinking lady by the name of Caroline Emmerton purchased the heavily-modified house in 1908.  Using Hawthorne's classic novel as a blueprint, she had all seven gables restored to the home and even added Hepzibah Pyncheon's fictional "cent shop" to the first floor.

But there were even cooler revelations to come.  At one point during the tour, our guide popped the back panel out of an innocuous-looking wood closet and led us into a bone-fide secret friggin' passage which spiraled up through the house's massive central chimney, eventually depositing us in a creaky, schizophrenic-looking attic.  I mean, c'mon, how awesome is that?!?!  

Despite the house's creepy countenance and oddball design, neither of us felt particularly ill-at-ease during our visit.  The same could be said for Hawthorne's birth-home, which was originally constructed in 1750 on Union Street but moved to the properly in 1958.  Both historic sites are well-appointed with
thousands of rare items of antiquity like furniture, dishware, bedding, art, books and photographs.  The Hawhorne House even features a perfectly preserved 18'th Century kitchen presided over by a friendly matron who was quite keen to field questions in return for a few answers of our own.

Also adding to charm of the site were the immaculate splendors of the Seaside Gardens:

And then there was this playground supposedly for "kids" (*Pffffttt!*...labels) which had a cool little wooden boat to play around in.  Naturally I couldn't resist the opportunity to bust out my world-famous Captain Ahab impersonation:

"Thank ye!  Thank ye!  Thou art an audience both noble and true.  I shall be here anon.  Pilot thine carriage with care and prithee try the kidney pie!"

Hey, man, why should they get to do all the 18'th century gags?

By the time we left The House of the Seven Gables the temperature in Salem had risen to about 38 degrees Celsius, which, if my calculations are correct, is about 70,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  By noon both of us were shuffling through the streets like vampiric sloths, seeking shade at every turn and sticking our heads underneath air conditioner units to catch the sweet, sweet run-off.

Motivated by self-preservation, we crawled into just about every shop that boasted air conditioning.  But a completely different motivation led us into Ye Olde Pepper Companie.  After all, it's not everyday that you get to visit "America's oldest candy company".

As is seemingly the case with every free-standing structure in Salem, the shop's origins are truly amaze-balls.  In 1806 an Englishwoman by the name of Mrs. Spencer was shipwrecked near Salem.  She and her son became hopelessly destitute until a rumor started to circulate around town that she was an accomplished candy-maker.  I imagine the following conversation too place not long after:

"Hey, I gots me a hardcore cravin' fo' some candy, right now.  How 'bout you, dawg?"
"Hells to the yeah!"
"A'ight!  Where we gonna score it?  Can you make that shit?"
"Um, well, naw, G..."
" it, y'know that shorty wif the funny accent that's always be bangin' on about spare change down on Buffum Street?  Doctor J (the "J" is for Jeremiah, BTW) say she make candy like a mother-f#@%er!!!"
"That MILF be a candy-maker too?  She's like...the perfect woman...except fo', y'know the kid."
(awkward pause)
"Ummmm, yeah, so I be thinkin'....since I can't make no candy, and you can't make no candy, and we all got a sweet toof, why don't we all jus' get a coupla Lincolns together, procure a few keys o' that fine white granulated pure cane shit, give it to her and see what she can do?"

And so the town collectively raised enough cheddar to set her up in her trade.  Little did they know that Mrs. Spencer would parley this act of charity into the now-famous "Salem Gibraltar", the very first commercially produced candy in America as well as a staple treat on many a naval vessel at the time.

I walked away with several nummy confections, including some vanilla and orange cremes and chocolate caramels.  Naturally I had to jam every single one of them in my food-hole just as soon as I crossed over the threshold 'lest the poor, delectable, compulsively-edible artisan sweeties melt away into the best-tasting bag of hot chocolate EVAR.

We slowly oozed our way down Derby Street and up Washington Square West, popping into antique stores and witch shops as we went.  Then, in the distance, we spied the stately visage of Nathaniel Hawthone himself and slithered up to it for a photo op before back-tracking down to Charter Street.  

While trundling down the refreshingly shady Charter, we passed by the Witch Trials Memorial, which was regrettable being refurbished.  But right next door was The Burying Point, the oldest cemetery in Salem.  Interred within its gates are several original Mayflower passengers as well as John Hathorne, the aforementioned ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne who was a fervent and unrelenting lead judge in the notorious Witchcraft Trials.

Even in broad daylight this place was kinda creepy...      


The really weird thing is: I shot all of these in color!  Kidding!  

As if this wasn't unnerving enough, several gun-metal grey clouds began to form overhead and the air adopted a heavy ozone smell which usually heralds rain.  While beetling out in and out of the stores along Essex Street we began to hear the shop-keeps talking in hushed tones about some sort of warning.  It was the threat of something dreadful, something dark, mindless and viciously destructive.  Something I've mercifully never encountered and certainly don't ever care to.  Something I have a stark, irrational fear of.  


Check back on the 'ol ECD soon for the super-spooky continuation!!!  



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