Tag Archives: Boston

Dreams in the Witch House: Five Things I Learned in Salem’s Oldest Home

Salem Witch House, Salem, Massachusetts

When Judge Jonathan Corwin moved into the big black house at the corner of North and Summer in Salem’s Chestnut Street District, I doubt he had any inkling of its future place in history.

“Now here’s a place that’ll never be associated with anything unsavory,” he probably said to himself.

“Especially not witch trials,” he likely added.

Three-hundred-fifty years later, we know just how wrong he was. The Witch House is the only extant building with a direct link to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a tragic bout of mass hysteria during which 19 people were killed and dozens more imprisoned. I visited the Witch House for the second time last weekend. Here are some of the things I learned. Continue reading

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Memento Calvaria: Boston Burial Grounds and Puritan Death Obsession

The Granary Burying GroundTwo gravestones stand on a quiet hill.

Judy Brown, the first stone reads. Wife, mother, teacher, friend. Went home to the Lord September 13, 2010. ‘He maketh me lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters; He restoreth my soul.’ Above the epitaph sits a cherub, bright-eyed and gentle, reminding all passersby that the next life is a place of peaceful repose.

The stone next to it, by contrast, is a crooked slab bearing a grimacing skull. Its inscription is only two words: YOU’RE NEXT.

Here we see encapsulated the difference between modern and colonial attitudes toward death.

I won’t delve too deeply into the psychology of the colonial American death obsession. For a scholarly take on things, Jeffrey A. Hammond’s The Puritan Elegy and David E. Stannard’s The Puritan Way of Death are available on Google Books. Look there for analysis. I’m just here to show you some nifty pictures.

Continue reading

Ghosts and Gravestones: The Macabre Side of Boston

Paul Revere was a busy man, and not just in professional terms. In addition to his work as a silversmith, iron caster, bell maker, naval ship sheather, and part-time dentist, he had two wives, sixteen kids, and a swarm of admirers to attend to. The man must have been surrounded by people every second of every day of his life. But there was one who stood out amid the throng: Dr Joseph Warren.

Dr Joseph Warren

Bromance incoming.

Warren was, by all accounts, Paul Revere’s BFF. The last and greatest testament to this fact was set down after Warren’s death at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Dr Warren was buried in a mass grave. It wasn’t a slight against his character: The American rebels who lost their lives in the sortie were simply too numerous to permit beleaguered Boston to bury them properly. Most of the newly bereaved accepted this and moved on. Most of them–but not Paul Revere.

Chaffing at the ignominious treatment of his bestie, Revere grabbed a shovel, marched out to Bunker Hill, and started digging. Hours slipped by as he sank deeper and deeper into a heap of muck and rotting corpses. Finally, he spotted a shirt that resembled one Warren had owned and pulled that body from the tangle, only to find that it was missing the top half of its head, rendering it impossible to identify.

But all was not lost! It transpired that, a few weeks prior to the battle, Revere had outfitted his friend with a porcelain tooth. In what Wikipedia calls “[maybe] the first recorded instance of post-mortem identification by forensic odontology,” Revere was able to make a positive identification based on said tooth. Lovingly, he carted Warren home and laid him to rest in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground.

So, yeah. What have you done for your friends lately?

Ghosts and Gravestones
The tale of Revere and Warren was just one of many macabre offerings from Ghosts and Gravestones, a horror-themed trolley tour of Boston. Some people think ghost tours are dorky. I am an absolute sucker for them. And this one was particularly entertaining.

Here are just a few of the unsettling things Ghosts and Gravestones taught me about my new hometown.

Continue reading

Boston Underground

My apartment building was erected in 1890, which means it has some architectural idiosyncrasies. For one thing, there are no closets. Either Victorian Bostonians kept everything in wardrobes, or they just threw shit on the floor like animals. Also, there’s a bricked-up fireplace in my bedroom. I have nothing funny to say about that–it’s just really cool.

The most important feature, for the purposes of this post, is the basement. It’s creepy.

Actually, the whole back half of the building is a little off-putting. It’s completely cut off from the front half and hasn’t been updated in god knows how long. It consists of little more than a steep, curving staircase, a few dead cockroaches, and a miasmic cloud of unease. When you get to the bottom of the stairs, there’s a basement “storage area” that I swear must be haunted. The worst part of it is a massive hole in the drywall through which you can see decaying wooden framework–and beyond that, darkness. Part of me wants to look inside the hole, but I just know I’d see a ghost or a man-faced rat or something. I don’t have time for that noise. I’m a graduate student.

I’ll do a more detailed post on my spooky basement in the future. For now, let’s look at some of the graffiti I found down there.

Canadian nuts

“CANADIANS ARE IMMUNE to shots in the nuts!!!”

Gosh. You learn something new everyday. If I had to guess, I’d say that Canada’s intemperate clime causes her people’s testicles to withdraw into their abdomens. You can’t hit what you can’t see–thus, immunity. I’m submitting that theory to all the scientific journals, by the way, so please don’t snipe it.

IMPEACH HUSSEIN OBAMA

“I bet you vote for Donald Trump,” a commentator remarks, but I think that’s off base. This person won’t vote for Donald Trump–this person is Donald Trump.

fuck politics

This person, meanwhile, won’t be voting for Donald Trump or any other candidate. They’ll be far too busy fucking politics and/or burning shit down. Hopefully they start by burning my creepy basement.

I wanna be on you

Cheeky.

I assure you, anonymous vandal, you do not wanna be on me. It’s ninety-seven degrees outside, and I don’t have air conditioning. I stink worse than a charnel house right now. Hit me up in February, though, and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

There’s a Lot of That in Boston

First off, a heartfelt apology for the extended hiatus. I was in Japan in June, nannying in August, and in July I was…well, mostly sitting around and watching anime with my husband. In my defense, it was my last opportunity to spend time with him before I moved to Boston. Which I’ve done now. This will be my first post from my apartment near Boston University, where I’m pursuing my master’s in communication.

And what better way to kick off this chapter of my life than with a post about some of the things I’ve seen in my new hometown? Here goes nothing!

angrymom

Pissed Off Moms
Every mom in Boston is extremely pissed off and isn’t ashamed to show it. Here are three of the conversations I’ve overheard between mothers and their offspring. For maximum effect, read each of them in a thick Boston accent.

MOTHER 1 TO HER CHEERFUL 10-YEAR-OLD SON
“The sun’s bright as shit out here.”

MOTHER 2 TO HER SNIFFLING  CHILD
“Toughen up!”

MOTHER 3 TO HER CRYING TODDLER
“Are you deaf?”
TEARFUL TODDLER
“No…”
MOTHER 3 TO HER CRYING TODDLER
Then get in the freakin’ car!”

Having recently made my exodus from the heart of helicopter-parent, upper-middle-class yuppie-dom, I find a certain amount of firmness exhilarating. That said, such displays do make me worry–chiefly about the mothers’ blood pressure.

salad

Mesclun
I’ll be straight with you: I don’t know what the hell mesclun is. I do know that it goes in salads. I also know that, no matter how I choose to pronounce it, it comes out sounding like “mescaline.” There is literally no way to say the word “mesclun” in a Northern Midwestern accent without sounding like there’s a Fear and Loathing situation unfolding at the salad bar. And yet everyone at Four Burger seems completely sober? It’s puzzling.

Traffic
According to some poll, the source of which I jettisoned during an epic bout of source amnesia, Boston drivers are ranked worst in the country. I can’t really blame them, though. The roads here are a maddeningly Byzantine network of old cow paths overlaid with half a dozen freeways and the occasional set of trolley tracks. There are places in Boston where one-way streets abruptly become two-way at busy intersections, which means you halt at the light and are suddenly faced with three lanes of oncoming traffic. If you had to contend with something like that on your way to work, you’d probably drive like an asshole too.

People with Mental Illnesses
What do you think of when you hear the words “Cambridge, Massachusetts?” Harvard? M.I.T.? The guys from Car Talk? Unless you live in Cambridge, you probably wouldn’t say “mentally ill people.” And yet Central Square is awash with them. I don’t know to what we can attribute this unfortunate circumstance–unfortunate because it leads to some dicey situations, but also because these people obviously aren’t receiving the care they need–but it’s hard not to notice. Especially when a very erratic man stumbles up to you and your cousin, shouts “WHAT’S HAPPENING!!,” requests a one-night stand, and then wind-sprints toward the horizon, never to be seen again.

Oh well. We probably got off easy.

cemetery-at-night-light

A Cemetery Next to a Grocery Store
There’s a cemetery next to a grocery store near my cousin’s place in Somerville. It’s a historic cemetery, too, which is why it looks extra weird nestled up against a Market Basket. I assume Market Basket bought that lot fair and square, without any legal tricks or old-eyed crones screaming at them to “leave this place.” But, man, it’s kind of creepy. I don’t need to be buying toilet paper while the ghost of Augustus Weevil III looms over my shoulder, criticizing my use of one-ply instead of two.

Stop calling me “poop fingers,” Augustus. We all have our own preferences, okay?

yellow-squash-clip-art-229339

Haunted Squash
Because the Market Basket in Somerville sits next to a historic graveyard, many of the products there are haunted, especially the squash. Last time I was there, a two-pound butternut speaking with the voice of my deceased grandmother asked why I’d never finished medical school. The time before that, an acorn squash told me that there was Nazi gold hidden under my neighbor’s azaleas. Three shovels and a restraining order later, I’m still empty-handed.

Thanks a lot, Market Basket.