Hawthorne’s Salem

[T]hough invariably happiest elsewhere, there is within me a feeling for old Salem, which . . . I must be content to call affection. The sentiment is probably assignable to the deep and aged roots which my family has struck into the soil. It is now nearly two centuries and a quarter since the original Briton, the earliest emigrant of my name, made his appearance in the wild and forest-bordered settlement, which has since become a city. And here his descendants have been born and died, and have mingled their earthy substance with the soil; until no small portion of it must necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewith, for a little while, I walk the streets. In part, therefore, the attachment which I speak of is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust for dust. . . . This long connection of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human being and the locality, quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him. It is not love, but instinct. . . . It is no matter that the place is joyless for him; that he is weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and dust, the dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind, and the chillest of social atmospheres;–all these, and whatever faults besides he may see or imagine, are nothing to the purpose. The spell survives, and just as powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly paradise. So has it been in my case. I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem my home. . . .

                                                                     ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom-House”

Left: Statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem, Massachusetts (photo by Lizzie Lowe).

As Mr. and Mrs. Traveler got off the ship at Salem Harbor, their bags stashed with a map of Salem, a biography of the great Nathaniel Hawthorne, and articles on all of Hawthorne’s works, they breathed deeply the gray, misty air and looked around the harbor in a sense of wonder and tried to take themselves back to the past . . . back to the time of Hawthorne. 

The two travelers had read a carefully hyperlinked version of Hawthorne’s famous “Custom-House” essay – the preface to his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. They knew he had struggled with his family’s legacy to the old Puritan settlement. They’d looked at his family history, and they’d thought about Hawthorne and his relationship to Salem

The couple stood for a moment or two collecting themselves, closing their eyes and simply taking in their surroundings when, all of a sudden, the couple heard faint whispers of hysterical mobs shouting the words, “Witch! Witch!”

This startled the couple, but no sooner had the whispers of shouted words left their ears than other more pleasant sounds came by way of a southern breeze . . . the sounds of nature and the great speeches of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. 

Above: Hawthorne’s view from his desk at the Custom House (photo by Cat Hall).


Two so very different parts of history were enough to intrigue the couple. Therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Traveler took out their map, hoping to come to terms with the ambiguities of Salem’s life as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s.


Have you been intrigued as well? Well then, follow Mr. and Mrs. Traveler through Salem. . . .

Wanting to experience Hawthorne’s neighborhood, the travelers first ask Jim McAllister, veteran Salem historian and tour guide, to join them for the day. 

Left: Salem tour guide talks with Shepherd College student Lizzie Lowe (photo by Cat Hall).


Jim and the travelers begin by visiting the House of the Seven Gables on Turner Street (and they make sure to take the secret staircase to the second floor!).

This house was the setting of Hawthorne’s novel, The House of the Seven Gables.

Left: The House of the Seven Gables (photo by Lizzie Lowe).

After leaving Turner Street, the travelers move on to Derby Street. There, they make sure to stop at the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked as a surveyor from 1847 to 1849 and where he claimed to have found the “scarlet letter” that inspired his masterpiece.

Cyber travelers can see Hawthorne's office and desk and take a “virtual tour” of the Custom House. 


Left: Salem Custom House (photo by Cat Hall). Above Left: Office in Custom House (photo by Cat Hall). Above Right: Hawthorne's Desk in the Custom House (photo by Cat Hall).

The travelers then move on to Union Street where Hawthorne’s birthplace is located. To see a video clip about Hawthorne’s birthplace, cyber tourists can visit C-SPAN's American Writers program on Hawthorne. The 2.5-hour program features a good overview of this home and Hawthorne's early years there (minutes 54:35.6-56:11.4).

Nearby the travelers find the home at 14 Mall Street where Hawthorne wrote his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter.

Left: 14 Mall Street, house where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter (photo by Linda Tate).

Leaving Mall Street, Mr. and Mrs. Traveler move to Charter Street, which is the location of the Old Burying Point and the Peabodys’ Grimshawe House. Here, Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia Peabody, grew up with her sisters Mary Peabody and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. Mary married education reformer Horace Mann. Elizabeth was a key figure in the Transcendentalist movement. She owned a bookstore and publishing company, both of which proved to be very influential in the development of the movement.

Just behind the Grimshawe House lies the Salem Cemetery. Here, the travelers find a unique monument to the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Each of the 17 victims who were executed during the trials is commemorated with an engraved stone bench in the graveyard.

Left: Grimshawe House (photo by Anna Hughes). Near Right: Back of Grimshawe House, with Salem Cemetery (photo by Linda Tate). Far right: Monument to Witchcraft Trial Victims, Salem Cemetery (photo by Anna Hughes).

The couple next walks to Church St., which is home to Lyceum Hall.

Mr. and Mrs. Traveler’s last journey is across Essex St., which is the home of the Salem Athenaeum and Witch House.

Left: Salem Lyceum (photo by Cat Hall)

As the tired couple leaves Essex Street, they are still filled with an overwhelming sense of ambiguity that stems from the conflicted ideals of Salem’s Puritanical past and the Transcendentalism of Hawthorne’s day. Indeed, only Hawthorne would be able to tell whether or not he was able to bring the two to a resolution. 

This page was created by Anna Hughes, an English major at Shepherd College.

“American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide” was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd College (now Shepherd University), Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit “About This Site.” © 2003 Linda Tate.