There Really Is a House of the Seven Gables

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Surprises at the Salem, Mass. Building that Hawthorne Made Famous

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne's cousin owned a house in Salem, Mass. that once had seven gables.

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin owned a house in Salem, Mass. that once had seven gables.

It has been a long time since I have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, but I am still excited to learn that he based his book on his cousin’s gabled house in Salem, Mass., and that the house today is open to visitors. Unfortunately, those guests are not allowed to photograph the interior, but here are some high points that I remember:

  1. The interior of the house is dark, as is much of the plot of the House of the Seven Gables. The house itself went through troubles of its own: more than one owner lost all his money and had to let the house change hands.

    The Turner-Ingersoll house, also known as the house of the seven gables, is open to the public. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

    The Turner-Ingersoll house, also known as the house of the seven gables, is open to the public. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

  2. The house was owned by Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Hathorne Ingersoll. Situated on Salem Harbor, it was built by John Turner, a sea captain, in 1668. The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692, and 20 people were put to death as a result. Hawthorne’s Seven Gables was published in 1851.
  3. A cent shop true to Hawthorne’s novel has been set up in the house. These shops allowed women—who even then were not able to earn as much as their male counterparts—to make a bit of money. In some ways, these little stores—where things you’d need at the time, like thread, were sold—were the original home offices for ladies who had other obligations around the house, too.

    A statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The House of the Seven Gables, in Salem, Mass. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

    A statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The House of the Seven Gables, in Salem, Mass. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

  4. A very narrow staircase in the house leads to an attic, where slaves and servants slept, often sitting up. In Salem, we can neither escape that bad episode involving accusations against alleged witches nor our slaveholding history. Both seem to add to the darkness of this place.
  5. Hawthorne’s house of seven gables as depicted in his book seems to mirror the trajectory of Salem itself, from a thriving locality to a struggling one after, again, the decision to pursue alleged witches was made.

    Some say they have experienced the presence of spirits in the House of the Seven Gables. Do you see one? Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

    Some say they have experienced the presence of spirits in the House of the Seven Gables. Do you see one? Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

  6. Hawthorne was originally named Hathorne, like the judge in the witch trials to whom the author was related. Wishing to dissociate himself from that whole mess, he changed the spelling of his name. Of the 26 letters from which he could have chosen, he opted for a witchy w.
  7. Hawthorne as an adult lived in Concord, Mass. and bought Bronson Alcott’s house (Bronson was the father of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and other works).

The House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street, Salem, MA 01970

—Lori Tripoli

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