Hawthorne's Salem

I had the pleasure of driving down to Salem twice in one week during October.  Salem is a place that wears many faces, as I've said before.  Part kitschy, witch theme park, part colonial time machine, part Halloween capitol, part old-time, port city. Whatever kind of mood I'm in, Salem has something for me.

This trip into Salem, however, had special significance as I was going to meet with a friend I'd become acquainted with through blogging many years ago. Emily and I have lived parallel lives, both having lived in Pleasanton, California, but not quite at the same time. Also, both having lived in England, but not quite at the same time. We always felt a real connection, we both shared the same passions and interests, and meeting her after all of these years was extraordinary and long-overdue! We walked around Salem, on a lovely October day, and talked non-stop. We just "got" each other, and it was incredibly refreshing to find that in another person. It's like finding a long-lost twin or kindred spirit.

One area that we walked around was Pickering Wharf, Derby Wharf, and Salem Harbor. That part of Salem, for me, always brings Nathaniel Hawthorne to the surface of my mind. I love places that bring literary history to life! Both Salem and Concord, Massachusetts always do this for me (incidentally, Hawthorne lived in both places, and is buried in the latter).

Nathaniel Hawthorne worked in the Custom House in Salem, as he was the overseer of the port from 1846-1849. In the Introductory of The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne goes into the great detail describing this building and wharf across the street from it. I love that I'm so familiar with the Custom House and the area surrounding it so that I can vividly imagine all that he is writing about.

Of the eagle sitting atop the Custom House, Hawthorne wrote in The Scarlet Letter, "Over the entrance hovers an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive community; and especially to warn all citizens, careful of their safety, against intruding on the premises which she overshadows with her wings."

The Friendship of Salem, docked in Derby Wharf

I love the way Hawthorne works the English language. He is truly like an artist with clay, as he molds his sentences and paragraphs.  The Scarlet Letter ranks in the top ten of my favorite books, but I must admit that I cannot be in a wandering mind sort of way when I read him. I must keenly concentrate and devour every word, otherwise I lose all meaning of what I just read. You can easily get lost in a single beautifully-worded, but very long, Hawthorne sentence. He is one of those kinds of writers, and I am always glad of when I take the time to read him the right way because I take so much away from it, but it can be exhausting. You are rewarded greatly, however, if you are willing to put in the effort.  Some quotes from our man, Hawthorne:

"No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."

"Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally.  Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained.  Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it."

Outside the house of seven gables.

Doorway of a home in the neighborhood of the house of seven gables. That doorbell is to die for!

"Our Creator would never have made such lovely days, and have given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above and beyond all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal."

"What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self!"

Another shot of the house of seven gables.

Brick sidewalk in Salem in fall.

"In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it."

"We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so at the moment after death."

"Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world."

And here is Emily and I on Derby Wharf.  It was a beautiful day, spent exploring a beautiful city, with a beautiful friend. She and I are currently scheming to get her moved to New England, because, of course, she loves it as much as I do, and life would be sweet with this lovely lady living nearby. Meeting her was like being with someone whom I felt I've always known, and I hope she and I will walk the streets of Hawthorne's Salem together again soon!

Of course I couldn't leave Salem, especially in October of all times, without a little of reminder of that kitschy Salem side that I love so dear, as well. I wore this shirt, proudly, with my witch hat on Halloween.

And I will leave you with some not-so-widely known trivia about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He added the "w" to his last name in his early-20's in order to disassociate himself with his ancestor, John Hathorne. John Hathorne is famous for his role as a leading judge in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. He was the only judge who remained publicly unrepentant for his role in the trials. He was known as the Hanging Judge. I think I'd want to disassociate myself too!

And, P.S., I have seen John Hathorne's signature on my own three ancestors' (Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Pease, and Elizabeth Hart) arrest warrants for witchcraft, and therein lies my distant tie to Nathaniel Hawthorne.


  1. Delurking to say that your posts always put a smile on my face. I live on the other side of the world, in Israel, but my sister lives in Salem and my parents are in New Hampshire, so your blog is a lovely reminder of all the wonderful times we have each summer in New England. Especially needed in the dark days facing Israel right now, and a very welcome distraction.

  2. Robin - Thanks for taking the time to comment and thank you for the kind compliment! I hope you are ok! What dark days, indeed.

  3. Alyson, this post was so beautiful for so many reasons. Your ability to write and use words like a paintbrush to create your art, always amazes me. You took me right back to that day, all the joy and wonder of Salem. It is such a precious day to me because of our friendship and the bond we created that day. I adore New England, I adore Salem and I adore you. I will live there one day even if it's when we are old and pushing walkers together through the streets of Salem and wrinkling our skin even more on the beaches of Cape Cod :) <3 you!!

  4. Emily - Haha, loved that visual you left me with at the end of your comment!! That would be awesome! I pray we can live near each other one of these days soon, and that we won't always just "miss" living in the place at the same time! In the meantime, trips together are mandatory!

  5. Indeed!! Mandatory indeed!! Actually, I was thinking we should let Prince Edward Island be an option. Or a stop on our way over to England :) and Ireland and Scotland then Paris and.... Haha we'll go a lot of places :)

  6. Emily - Hey, I'm down for all of that! I was just watching the special features on my Brave blu ray and just thinking that I would really love to go to Scotland soon! Can't wait to see you again! And thanks so much for your compliments on my writing. You are such a sweet friend! xx

    Oh, and in between all of these big trips, you are welcome, eagerly welcomed, to come stay with me! We have barely scratched the surface of New England. I will always think of us as the two witches that flew around Salem on a beautiful day in October.

  7. Lovely! Hey, when did you live in Pleasanton? My sister lived there for many years.

  8. Heidi - I was born there and lived there until grade school. I was actually born in Castro Valley because there was no hospital in Pleasanton, but my family was living in Pleasanton when I was born. When I gave birth to my oldest son in 1999, there was a hospital in Pleasanton and that's where he was born!

  9. This is SO beautifully written ... and your connection to Hawthorne is amazing!! In reading these comments I found it interesting that you and Emily mention going to PEI, Ireland, Scotland, England and Paris ... all the places I've visited in the past few years. I hope your friendship takes you there!

  10. Paigenicholl - Thank you so much! You're so kind! I'm hoping to travel all around too. Now that my kids are getting older, I don't see why not! :)

  11. How wonderful it must have been to connect with Emily! I haven't been to Salem in about 10 years, but your words and photos make me want to return. Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

  12. You know how much I love reading about your trips to Salem! It's such a fascinating place! And how wonderful that you got to meet up with a fellow blogger!

  13. I am loving these posts you've been doing! The Custom House is beautiful. I remember so vividly when I first read "The Scarlet Letter." Something about that story and the way Hawthorne wrote it really resonated with me. It's a great book.

  14. You and Emily look like you are having too much fun!!

    Happy Thanksgiving! Stop by for a beach inspired pillow giveaway!

  15. I don't know New England well, but I love visiting the corners of it with you :) I'm getting to meet my first blogging friend in person this week - I've met other bloggers, but we've been down this blogging path together since the beginning. Can't wait!

  16. GORGEOUS! I'm so glad you are back. And I am so happy you got to meet Emily. I always feel that way around her too. She is da bombdiggity. What a great break for her to escape her confines for a quick trip to New England.

    I just finished reading The Scarlett Letter with my class so this post gave me major chicken skin.

    Happy Thanksgiving, New England Aly!

  17. Oops. That was meant to publish as Crash, but was signed in under me real name. (Yes, I meant to sound like a pirate there.)

  18. That's crazy that the two of you have so many similarities. Really proves it is a small world!

    Sounds/looks like the perfect day. That's a great pic of the two of you. And your top is too cute!!

  19. Erica - Happy Thanksgiving to you! Hope you can return to Salem someday soon!

  20. Meghan - Thank you! I love Salem beyond words.

    Donna - Thank you! I agree with you about the book. There is just something about it.

    Nantucket D - Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

    Owen - Oh, good! :)

  21. HH UK - Thank you! Hope you have a fantastic time with your blogging friend!

    Debbie - How I've missed you!! I haven't seen a new post from you lately. What's up with that?! Your cousin is incredibly awesome! And so are you, when are you coming to New England?

  22. Leeann - Thanks! It was an amazing day, finally meeting her! I love that shirt too. Wish I could wear it everyday! ;)

  23. Ah - the House of Seven Gables! We were fascinated to go round this - such tiny, tiny staircases! Salem was so different to how I expected - in a pleasant way! The Salem Witch Museum was also very interesting - and not just about the trial - there was much food for thought regarding the way even today people who are different are often demonised - even today!

    We lived the wharf, although the weather turned inclement during our visit so we didn't have much time there - but I have pictures of the Custom House, with it's 'widows walks' up on the roof!

    Happy memories!

  24. Awesome images of Salem Alyson. A good friend a treasure for life.
    The Scarlet Letter I liked the movie too, the book probably better as always. The shirt looks really good on you!