Hawthorne’s Homes and Haunts

In the later nineteenth century there emerged a particular genre of topical nonfiction writing which focused on literary “shrines”, and Nathaniel Hawthorne received lots of attention from its practitioners. There were several periodical articles and books published with variant titles in the “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” realm, exploring the role of environment on his works with varying degrees of depth. As he was a native son, obviously Salem plays a central role in these analyses, generally as an urban and conversely puritanical place from which he wanted to escape to Concord and pastoral points west. No doubt all these authors were inspired by Hawthorne himself, not just his works but also his (quite self-conscious) words, written in 1840 about a garret room in his uncle’s house on Herbert Street where he spent quite a bit of time: Here I sit in my old accustomed chamber, where I used to sit in days gone by….Here I have written many tales–many that have been burned to ashes, many, doubtless, that deserved the same fate….If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed.  All of the Hawthorne biographers did indeed make their way to the stark Herbert Street house (which Hawthorne later described as “Castle Dismal”) and it is interesting to see its comparative depictions. Winfield S. Nevins calls it a “severely plain”, common, though tidy, tenement house in his 1894 article in The New England Magazine, while Helen Archibald Clarke goes much more negative in her 1926 book, Hawthorne’s Country: It is now a tenement house, into which one does not care to intrude farther than the yard, so untidy that no amount of enthusiasm for shrines can blind one to it. When asking the way to the house, one is apt to be met by the reply: ‘I cannot speak English’. It is a comfort to remember that in Hawthorne’s day the district was not so closely built up [YES IT WAS],and was at least quiet and clean, and that however unlovely the lines of the house, the beach and boundless ocean were not far off.  Well, you can tell that she is going to prefer Concord to Salem!

Hawthorne Collage

Sepia drawings of Hawthorne’s birthplace, then on Union Street, now on the campus of the House of the Seven Gables, and the adjacent rear window of 10 Herbert Street from  W.B. Closson’s Homes and Haunts of the Poets, a series of etchings issued by Prang in 1886, and a photograph of the same buildings from Winfield S. Nevins’ “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” from New England Magazine (15) 1894.

Both authors include lots of illustrations in their works, including drawings, prints and photographs, but Nevins wants to portray a past Salem for the most part, devoid of people, while Clarke lets us see some 1926 inhabitants in the Witch City: children are prominently placed on Gallows Hill, even though it is not exactly clear what this site has to do with Hawthorne. The time span between the two texts affords us to see the restoration (or creation) of the House of the Seven Gables, never the home of Hawthorne but perpetually his most conspicuous Salem “haunt”.

Homes and Haunts Dearborn

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Chestnut

Hawthorne Houses Mall Street

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Custom House Clarke

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Main

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Gables collage

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Gables2

Photographs of Hawthorne’s Dearborn and Chestnut Street residences, along with the Turner-Ingersoll House before its transformation into the House of the Seven Gables (on the left above) from Winfield S. Nevins’ 1894 article, “The Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne”; photographs of the Mall Street house, the Customs House, a view towards Washington Square, the “Sockets” of Gallows Hill, and the House of the Seven Gables from Helen Archibald Clarke’s Hawthorne’s Country (1926).


4 responses to “Hawthorne’s Homes and Haunts

  • grammiepoet

    The “sockets” of Gallows Hill would seem to imply that there was a built structure there, with support posts fitted into them. I’ve always had the impression that hangings in Salem utilized a tree rather than an actual gallows, although the site of a hanging might be called a gallows. So for me this brings up two questions: One, was there a formal gallows structure other than some temporary contrivance? And second, were there hangings other than those convicted of witchcraft, and if so, were they also hanged at Gallows Hill?

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    • daseger

      I just don’t know, but that word perplexes me too! I thought all the evidence pointed to trees, but I’ll leave it to others to sort out–there seem to be hundreds of experts on Gallows Hill around now. I just think this is a a funny picture: the kids look a bit reluctant.

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  • Michelle

    Great post, and really interesting. I’m glad to be reminded of the “literary shrine” aspect that was so important to the preservation movement.

    Like

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