I find old abandoned houses captivating, and there is one in Salem that is particularly so. The 1807 house off Federal Street has so much going for it: its size, scale, and elegant transitional stature, its generous lot, its location, on a shady traffic-free court bordered by the Ropes Mansion Garden, and its overall sense of (faded) grandeur. But it is abandoned—or is it? This summer, the garden was cropped for the first time I can recall, and a building permit appeared in a dusty downstairs window. Signs of hope for this old house.
I don’t know much about the history of this house, but almost from the moment I came to Salem I heard an interesting anecdote about it. In the late 1970s, while the Merchant-Ivory film The Europeans was being filmed in the adjacent garden over which the house overlooks, its owner placed anachronistic twentieth-century electronic items in each window in a rather overt protest against the disturbances of filming the mid-nineteenth century period piece. This story has become an urban legend and it is just that. Last night, Turner Classic Movies aired The Europeans and I saw it for the first time, including the radio-free and television-free windows of our abandoned house, behind Lee Remick in the garden.