Monday, 6 August 2012

Salem in the Summer.

Our final day in the States. We set off early from Laconia and hit the Interstate back South out of New Hampshire, back towards Massachusetts and into Salem for a last excursion.

The town itself has long since become a convenient, grab a Starbucks, commuter town for nearby Boston and it's historic past seems now to be squashed into a couple of streets running alongside the rather gorgeous natural harbour. From here the first American merchant ships to explore Canton and Macau set out and, like so many of the towns on the New England coast, the huge houses of the sea captains stand as testament to the lucrative nature of these early enterprises to the other side of the world.

One of these houses found literary fame when local boy Nataniel Hawthorne imagined a gothic adventure set in The House of the Seven Gables and so, with a couple of hours to kill, we headed there for a whistle stop tour.

The house itself is one of the oldest in the town, pre-dating the witchcraft trials of 1692, and as such carries a layered history. Hawthorne himself was, to his eternal shame, a distant relative of one of the prosecuting judges and the novel is on one level an act of atonement for his families involvement in the lynchings. At the end of the novel the remaining characters all escape the house, and the past, to live freer and happier lives. I couldn't help but think back to the light and space of the Old Manse and Wayside House in Concord, in contrast to the ramshackle secret rooms here. Hawthorne, although aware of his ancestry, clearly refused to be trapped by his Puritan background. Compared to his writing, his own life seems remarkably uncluttered.

Back in town the temperature began to soar. We headed off past the kitsch ghoul themed tourist shops to see the witch trial memorial. Each victim given a rough stone on which their name, date of sentence and manner of death is engraved. Out the back of from yet another attraction, two young men, white paint sweating off their faces, removed their black capes, prosthetic skull masks and tried to cool down before heading back to scare more willing tourists. On a blazing August afternoon Salem's dark past seemed particularly hard to conjure.

But it was time to go so, full of new stories, we made the short drive back to Logan in time for the early evening flight back to London.

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