A New England Odyssey

Friday, August 18, 1995

     Today we had planned to get up early and see a few sights before our house tour at the Peabody-Essex Institute. Since I stayed up until 2 a.m. that just didn’t happen. Before we left the hotel, we checked to see if anyone from the convention was here yet, but didn’t find anyone. I was hoping to figure out when my first panel was today, but blew it off for now (big, big mistake).
     Our house tour began at 11 a.m. and it was getting quite close to that time. We raced through Danvers and into Salem, pulling up in front of the Institute at 2 minutes until 11. I dropped Pam off with the tickets and drove off in search of a parking lot. Right around the corner was one of those “honor” lots where you drop your money in a box at the exit. After pulling in to the lot, getting out of my car, and walking to the electronic box, I found that it only took change–I only had bills. I stormed back to the car, and drove to the lot we parked in last night which was a bit farther away.
     Grabbing the camera bag, I ran two blocks to the Institute and arrived for the tour 5 minutes late. However, Pam had told the guide that I’d be late, so the group had waited for me, which I apologized for. The first house we toured was the Crowninshield-Bentley house, which was built in 1729 and expanded upon in 1793. The house was originally across the street and just down the block, but had been moved to the Institute grounds in 1959. Four generations of Crowninshields lived in this house, mariners all. From 1791 to 1819, Reverened William Bentley boarded in this home, which is why it also bears his name.
     The house is a fairly typical 18th-century home, with plenty of wood paneling and 12-over-12 windows. It was furnished simply, but attractively, and our guide was very knowledgable. Again, this home was probably Lovecraft’s inspiration for the Crowninshield house in “The Thing on the Doorstep,” although there must have been other Crowninshield houses in Salem since it was a large family. He does mention the location of the house, but of course, it doesn’t appear on any Salem map:
Asenath had bought the old Crowninshield place in the country at the end of High Street, and they proposed to settle there after a short trip to Innsmouth, whence three servants and some books and household goods were to be brought.
     The next house we toured was the Gardner-Pingree House, which is a 3-story Federal mansion. Although the exterior of the house is unassuming, the interior was gorgeous. It had tall ceilings, huge staircases, curved walls, and beautiful draperies. Everywhere you look indicated wealth, from the shucks of wheat on the fireplace to the painted floors to the newels on the staircase. It was a pretty stark contrast to the very conservative Crowninshield house.
     Also on the grounds are the Doric-columned Andrew-Safford House (1819), which is not open to the public, and the John Ward House, which is reminiscent of the Witch House in Salem and the Whipple house in Ipswich. After we had toured the houses, we went back inside Plummer Hall, which serves as the entrance to the Institute. They had a brief yet interesting exhibit on the Salem Witch Trials, as well as some exhibits upstairs. However, the holdings at Plummer Hall couldn’t compare to what we had seen last night at the East India Hall, so we didn’t stay long. The highlight for me was probably some antique games, including “Mansion of Happiness,” considered to be the first commercially available board game in the US.
     Next, we walked down the street to the National Park Service Visitor Center, which is housed in the old Armory. There I bought a couple of things I’d been looking for: colonial playing cards (which do not have the indices at the upper left that show the suit or the rank of the card), and an audio CD called “Blow, Ye Winds, In The Morning,” which is a collection of “Traditional Sea Songs, Dances and Chanteys.” I’m looking forward to listening to that when we get back.
     Back down the street towards the Institute but on the other side of the block was the Salem Witch Museum, just across from the Salem Common. In the midst of the intersection there is Henry H. Kitson’s statue of Roger Conant, who founded Salem in 1626. Before I first came to Salem two years ago, I had seen photographs of this statue and thought it was that of a witch, since Conant is shown wearing a tall, wide-brimmed hat and flowing robes. The Witch Museum itself is housed in a Gothick stone building that was once a church.
     The Witch Museum’s presentation is primarily audio, with life-size dioramas depicting scenes from the witch hysteria of 1692. Although the figures are of a poor quality, they’re lit dramatically, and the audio narration is very well done. We consider it to be the best witch-related attraction in Salem. The Witch Dungeon museum (which we didn’t visit this time), has a well-done, but very brief, re-enactment at its start, but then you’re led through their basement which is also filled with dioramas. However, their dioramas seem like something out of a haunted house at a cheap carnival, and are laughable. The Witch House, which we hope to visit again this time, is interesting because it is a 17-century building, and was the home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges at the witch trials. Lovecraft used it as the basis for “Dreams in the Witch House,” and also visited the house himself, as he recounts in a letter:
I visited the Old Witch House, said to have been inhabited by Rev. Roger Williams before his coming to Providence-Plantations.
     After visiting the Witch Museum, we decided it would be a good time to wash some clothes (remember our laundromat excursion last night)? So, we went to the same laundromat we had visited the night before. The woman at the dry cleaners next door knew nothing about what happened the night before. After we starting our clothes washing, we walked around the corner to the pizza parlour where we went looking for help last night. The people there recognized us as the “Good Samaritans,” but they hadn’t heard any news either. Pam had a slice of pizza and I had a meatball sandwich, and then we went back to the laundry to watch over our clothes.
     By now it was about 3:30 p.m., so I figured that I should call the hotel and see if I could find out when my first panel was. After 15 minutes, I finally got hold of someone with a schedule who told me that my panel was at 4:00–just ten minutes away! The clothes weren’t dry yet, so I left Pam there at the laundromat (understanding wife that she is), hopped in the car and headed towards Danvers, about 7 miles away. Keep in mind that rush hour was just starting and the roads between Salem and Danvers are usually single-lane (each way).
     Twenty five frustrating minutes later, I arrived at the hotel for the panel, which was about one-quarter over. The panel was titled “HPL Bytes: Publishing Lovecraft Electronically.” Besides myself, S.T. Joshi (perhaps the best-known Lovecraft scholar), Dave Schultz (another scholar and buddy of S.T.’s), and Perry Grayson (publisher of a small press magazine) were on the panel. We discussed the Lovecraft Transcription Project at length and brought up the associated problems of copyright and the enormity of the documents. Despite being late, the panel went pretty well and our audience of about 30 people seemed to enjoy themselves.
     Less than 5 minutes after I joined the panel, our traveling companion, George Gifford, finally showed up and appeared to sleep through the panel. I found out later that he’d been working on a project the last couple of days and hadn’t had much sleep. After arriving in Boston at 9 this morning, he bummed around the North End a bit, eventually taking the bus out to Salem and then a shuttle to the hotel. He was exhausted, and after the panel he got a key from me, went up to the room, and collapsed.
     I then raced back into Danvers (the traffic was lighter, but not by much). When I met up with Pam at the laundromat we walked up the street to the Charter Street Burial Ground, where Caleb Pickman is buried (“(being struk with lightning) aged 22 years”), as well as Nathaniel Mather (“an aged person who had seen but 19 winters in the world”). Also buried here are several Crowninshields, and Samuel McIntire, well-known Salem architect. On the way back to the hotel, we also stopped at the Broad Street Cemetery where there is a large tomb of Pickmans. The inscription on it confused us because it listed Caleb Pickman here as well. I guess we’ll have to dig up the place to see where he’s really buried.
     Arriving back at the hotel, Pam and I went up to the room briefly to freshen up for the opening reception. At the reception, I caught up with Dave Schultz and S.T. Joshi again and we talked at length about the Transcription Project and putting all this data into some databases. Dave and S.T. aren’t as familiar with the capabilities of databases (as I am), so I’ll probably have to demonstrate some things for them before we can continue on the project.
     Eventually, Marc Michaud (co-chair of the convention and founder of Necronomicon Press) got up to the microphone, welcomed everybody and introduced all of us. L. Sprague de Camp and his wife, as well as Ramsey Campbell are guests of honor. I was amused at the fact that de Camp and Joshi were sitting on opposite ends of the couch (with me in the middle), since S.T. doesn’t think highly of de Camp’s biography of Lovecraft. It was like having matter and one end of the couch and anti-matter at the other, and you’re sitting between them. Lucky, both are very mature adults (de Camp is, I believe, in his 80s) and both were very civil and polite to each other.
     As the reception wrapped up, I was greeted by several people who are regulars on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup. After chatting with several of them, Pam, George, and I went out for dinner. The only logical choice: The Outback. The Outback is an Australian steak house that I’ve eaten at over a dozen times since they came to Phoenix less than a year ago. I really enjoy their food, even the salad (which is always very cold and very fresh) and the bread (I normally don’t like bread, much less dark bread, but theirs is great). I ordered the Rockhampton Rib-Eye, which is a 14-ounce slab of awesome tasting beef, while George and Pam got the more conservative sirloins. We also tried their Bloomin’ Onion appetizer, which was good, but by the time I had finished my salad I was full. I couldn’t exactly take the steak back to the hotel room (where would I keep it?), so I loudly told the waiter to, “Waste it!”
     We stopped at a grocery store to get some breakfast munchies, and then headed back to the hotel. We stayed up for a couple of hours, chatting and telling George about all the cool things we did. I’m hoping that George will get to see our videotape soon, but we were still unable to hook it up to the television (I suspect we need an RF modulator). Tomorrow’s more of the convention and my Internet panel. Later!