In which I travel to Salem but do nothing witch-related

I woke up this morning to an extremely loud thunderclap, and thought, "there's no way I'm going to Gloucester today."

My plan had been to take commuter rail to Salem, then on to Gloucester, and then back to Boston. But my main plan for Gloucester had been to wander around by the waterfront and take lots of pictures, and when the weather forecast confirmed thunderstorms for the afternoon, I decided it would be best to pass on Gloucester and just go to Salem.

I'm glad I did, because as things turned out, I might end up going back to Salem tomorrow. But more on that in a bit.

Taking the commuter rail was even easier than I'd expected. At North Station, the same kiosks that sell T tickets and passes also sell commuter rail tickets. All you have to do is know what zone the city you want to go to is (and if you don't, they've got them listed above the kiosk), and buy round-trip tickets.

I rolled in with perfect timing for the 8:30 train, and so, after leaving my hotel at 8:00, I was in Salem by about 9:00.

My main interest in Salem is as a former maritime power, and I don't have a lot of interest in the witchcraft trials or any hokey touristy witch things. So I stuck to the waterfront, and the National Park Services two tours of Derby House, Narbonne House, Custom House, and the replica East Indiaman (merchant ship) Friendship.

Friendship of Salem.

So it was fortuitious that I: 1. went today and 2. skipped Gloucester. Because today is the last day they were doing tours on the Friendship. Tomorrow she sets sail to be hauled out (pulled out of the water to have her hull checked and given the Coast Guard's stamp of approval). And the guide for the second tour mentioned that they'd be setting sail at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

Watching a square-rigged ship sail out seemed like a pretty awesome thing. But I had been planning on going to see the Adams houses tomorrow, and definitely wanted to get a chance to see them during this trip. I checked the train schedule and decided I could make the 12:38 train back if I pushed it, and try to get in to see the Adams houses today. I ended up running a bit when I saw the headlights of the train approaching, which will no doubt make my calves feel even worse tomorrow, but I made it.

The Adams houses consist of the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and then the family house at Peace field in Quincy. You can reach the visitor's center by subway train, and, with a stop off at my hotel, I was still able to make it down to Quincy in time for the 2:45 tour. As a side bonus, most of the time I was on the subway, another thunderstorm was raging, but it cleared up mid-tour.

I talked about the Paul Revere House as being an important piece of context on the Freedom Trail. But visiting the historic houses in Salem, and the Adams houses, was a much bigger piece of context.

Non-flash photography was allowed in the Salem houses, so I'll have pictures up of those eventually. There was no photography of any kind allowed in the Adams houses, though. These are some of the details you see:

  • The transition from earthenware and pewter plates to fine china. The china included pieces John had sent back to Abigail from Europe, and also the first presidential china, faded and featuring an eagle design.
  • A similar transition in the kitchens, from hearths, to stoves of different eras (several generations after John and Abigail, including John Quincy, lived there).
  • Abigail's addition on the ground floor, in which she wanted high ceilings — fashionable in Europe. When the builder said it would be too odd to have ceilings of different heights, she had them dig down. As a result, you step down into a parlor with high ceilings.
  • The lush mahogany paneling put in by a previous owner.
  • The writing desk where Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson in later years.
  • One of the early copies of the Declaration of Independence, made by pressing some of the ink off of the original. A plate was produced from the pressing, and these copies, which are actually clearer than the original, were made. The signatures, in particular, were distinctly clearer.
  • A separate library, added much later, filled with John Quincy's books in numerous languages. It included a narrow balcony to reach the higher books, and a somewhat rickety-looking ladder to get up to the balcony. Still, I seriously want a library like that.
I could go on and on. Members of the Adams family (much like John Adams himself) recognized how important the house and the items inside were for posterity. As a result, the Peace field house is filled with artifacts. When one of the people on the tour asked whose glasses were sitting on a desk, the guide replied "John Adams," matter-of-factly, as if of course those would be John Adams' original glasses and not a replica.

Me in front of the old house at Peace field.

I made it back in time to just (barely) beat the dinner rush at Durgin Park in Faneuil Hall Market. I went for the Boston/Durgin Park classics — Yankee pot roast, a side of baked beans, and Indian pudding for dessert. The pot roast was super tender, and the Indian pudding was also really delicious — a custard involving cornmeal and molasses, and topped with ice cream. The serving was gigantic, though, and I barely finished half of it. I am still in a bit of a food coma, but it was worth it.

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