What to see in Salem, Massachusetts: visit The House of the 7 Gables. Literary tour of “The House of the 7 Gables, from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne as far as the real historic site where it is set. Info, plot, curious issues and tips about the guided tour and how to book it.
“Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst.
The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm.
On my occasional visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom fail to turn down Pyncheon-street, for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities — the great elm-tree, and the weather-beaten edifice.”
(Nathaniel Hawthorne – “The House of the 7 Gables” – Incipit)
The authentic House of the 7 Gables is still there, as well the crossroads, the streets, the secret passages, the view of Wharf and the places where Nathaniel Hawthorne – many of you maybe know him as the author of “The Scarlet Letter” – tells with great detail.
You bump into it at sudden, with all its load of stories, legends and familiar sagas, and you end losing the track of time and place and you do not separate the book from the reality anymore.
The House of the 7 Gables is one of the most precious treasure of Salem, together with its historic district where it stands, the curious natural and artificial issues which has been enriching that wonder of the Peabody Essex Museum for over 200 years and the ships loaded of spices, precious jewels and artworks arrived here from the East. Then the historic Pepper sweets – strictly Gibraltar or Black Jack flavors – by the Ye Old Pepper Company, the first dwellings of the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Salem from Plymouth and those really beautiful Federal style houses in Chestnut Street, just outside downtown.
Rediscovering Salem like that, you almost forget about witches, the improbable magic potions, the ghost tours and the occult theme shows invading it all over the year.
The House of the 7 Gables is a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne – one of the greatest authors of the literary movement called American Renaissance – published in 1851.
Starting right from the famous Witches’ Trials of Salem from the middle 1600, Hawthorne tells about a familiar saga 200 years long through captivating dialogues, reflexions and great detail. A complex and intricate history – creepy in traits – involving all the descendants of the Pyncheon family, “blameless” heirs of a curse started by their ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon.
The latter, self-confessed of taking to the rogue for sorcery the poor Matthew Maule – who while dying will curse him together with his whole seed – to take possession of his fertile land and build his own new dwelling on it – Pyncheon house – dies under mysterious circumstances right the day of the sumptuous dwelling’s opening.
From here, a series of vicissitudes start: for over a century and a half they will see Pyncheon House as the absolute protagonist, described almost as a “shabby human being”, marked by the disgraces and the actions of its residents, among them Hephzibah, Phoebe, Clifford and Holgrave.
The village in New England where the entire story takes place is actually Salem, the town where Hawthorne was born and where he lived a great part of his life. And Pyncheon House nothing but The House of the 7 Gables – known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, the house he went around as a teenager and that bewitched him. He was stimulated also by the tales of his cousin Susanna Ingersoll about the real – and creepy as well – story of the mansion, built in 1667 by the sea captain John Turner, tragically dead shortly after, and then inhabited by Susanna’s family.
A perfect set which literally gave “life, body and voice” to one among the greatest classic novels of the American literature.
A journey along a novel.
Today the House of the 7 Gables is a National Historic Landmark District.
It was turned into a museum even 109 years ago – in 1910 – by the philanthropist Caroline Emmerton who – understood the important connection between the novel and the house – bought the mansion and brought it back to the original structure following faithfully Hawthorne’s descriptions.
Once finished the works, she organized a series of guided tours of the mansion, masterly setting the topic scenes of the novel in the several rooms, so that the fans of the book found themselves walking through “the pages of the novel” and recognized the rooms according to the tales made by the author. A revolutionary formula – we could define Caroline Emmerton a precursor of the modern guided tours – which had a great fame and feedback from the public.
The profits of this activity were used to finance the important cause supported by Emmerton: support the immigrants’ communities just arrived in the US giving them a concrete help, starting from teaching the English language, helping them find a job, getting the US citizenship.
A social care revolutionary program still working today.
Today’s guided tours are very similar to those created by Caroline: they allow to follow the story of the novel setting by setting – in an unfolding of secret passages, hidden rooms and views of the wonderful garden as far as reaching the lounge where the original desk where Hawthorne wrote “The House of the 7 Gables” and “The Scarlet Letter” is kept – and at the same time to understand how this mansion and its characters – real and fiction – have contributed to the development and the fame of Salem.
The tour ends in the garden, few meters far from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth home, saved from demolition and transported here right thanks to the foundation wanted by Emmerton.
To have an exciting journey back in time. It will look like to live in Salem of the last centuries, among great sea captains, witches’ trails and mysterious “facts”.
To realize the dream of being physically here, if you are fans of the book and of Hawthorne’s literature in general – or to start finding an interest in his works, if you haven’t known them before.
Take my word for. Once ended the tour – if you haven’t done it, yet – you’ll be taken by the irrepressible desire to read “The House of the 7 Gables” and relive every single moment of your experience in this place with no time.
Here it is the real, unexpected, great “magic” of Salem.
The House of the 7 Gables is located at 115, Derby St in the heart of the historic district developing around the Derby Wharf, little far from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the old harbor of the town. From here – starting from the late 1600 – the ships set sail to the East.
It is opened 7 days a week but Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years’ Day and July 4th from 10am to 5pm.
The tour of the mansion occurs exclusively through guided tours – guides are extremely prepared and passionate – lasting about 35/40 minutes and includes also the garden and the adjoining Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth home. Also brochures in Italian to support the guided tour in English are available if you are not keen on the language.
Check The House of the 7 Gables official website for further info and updates about opening hours and tours during your visit.