Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Salem's Samantha Statue

Above is the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha the nice suburban housewife witch of the 1960s television show, “Bewitched.” Located in Salem, Massachusetts, it is meant to reflect the tongue-in-cheek bemused attitude of the kitschy aspect of Salem’s present-day witch-inspired commerce.

There was a bit of controversy when the TV Land executives chose Salem, where many felt the idea was tactless. But in a town where the police wear a witch on a broomstick patch on their uniform sleeves, and the emblem is seen from the city hall to the high school, and Halloween-inspired souvenirs can be bought in stores here all year round, it is hard to complain about one statue devoted to a fictional witch.

Fictional being the operative word here, as we know Salem is most noted for the witch trials of 1692, which 19 men and women were hung, another was crushed to death, and others died in prisons. Samantha wasn’t a real person, and none of those murdered people were really witches. And Halloween to the modern American trick-or-treater is nothing like what the Samhein meant to the ancient Celts.

The historical sites and museums dedicated to telling the story of the infamous witch trials will be covered at another time. For now, it is Halloween, and that belongs to the present more than the past. Some of Salem’s history is tragic, some of it is triumphant. Some, like the statue of Samantha, is just silly and a bit cute.

For more on Salem as a tourist destination, visit this official website.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Halloween Candy - NECCO

With Halloween just around the corner, let’s have a look at one of New England’s premiere candy companies.

NECCO (New England Confectionery Company) has its roots as far back as 1847. It is the oldest multi-line candy company in the United States. NECCO’s current headquarters is located in Revere, Massachusetts. This company makes the classic NECCO® Wafers, Sweethearts® Conversation Hearts, Mary Jane®, Clark®, Mighty Malts®, Haviland® Thin Mints, and Candy House® Candy Buttons.

According to information found on the company website, Mr. Oliver R. Chase of Boston invented the first candy machine, a lozenge cutter in 1847. He and his brother founded the company which would become NECCO. In 1850, Mr. Chase invented a machine for pulverizing sugar. Eventually, confectioners Daniel Fobes, and William Wright, and Charles Bird would all enter what would become NECCO, which took the name New England Confectionary Company in 1901.

Their success has been far reaching. Reportedly in 1913, explorer Donald MacMillan took Necco Wafers on his Arctic expedition and introduced them to the children of the native people there. We don’t know if he introduced brushing and flossing to them as well. The following year the Charles N. Miller Company began producing Mary Janes, named for Miller’s aunt, and D. L. Clark began in 1917 to make candy bars named after himself. The 20th century was underway with a huge desire for candy.

Some of NECCO’s products are shown in the photograph above. If you buy them for the trick-or-treaters or buy them for yourself, you’re carrying on a long tradition of New England’s confectionary industry. Look at it that way. It might take some of guilt off.

Want to know more? Have a look at NECCO’s website.

Been there? Done that? Ate the whole bag yourself? Let us know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lubec, the far east

Lubec is located, as the big sign says, at the easternmost point of the United States. Here’s where you go the beat everybody else in the US to the sunrise.

Situated on Maine’s Passamaquoddy Bay, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge connects Lubec to Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, Canada, a fascinating and very worthwhile place to visit, as much for us as it was for FDR. Lubec is a beautiful and rugged, and quiet place to be, a far different coastal experience than one might have in the more croweded and more commerical spots farther south in Maine. This is Maine as it used to be.

Settled in the 1780s, the town separated from Eastport, Maine in 1811, and was the site of a smuggling trade in gypsum after the War of 1812. There are four lighthouses in the area, and many opportunites for whale, seal, and puffin watches, cruises, and hiking. And a great sign to have your picture taken by.

Want to go? Have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Norman's Woe

Small and uninhabited and unlikely Norman’s Woe unaccountably looms large in New England maritime history, and also in literature. Often literature crosses paths, or crosses swords, with history. For Norman’s Woe, the story is of its many shipwrecks.

One shipwreck was of the “Rebecca Ann” in March, 1823 in a snowstorm. All ten crewmembers were swept out to sea, and one survived by holding on to a rock in the water. The Blizzard of 1839 wrecked many ships. Possibly the most famous shipwreck at Norman’s Woe was of the schooner “Favorite” out of Wiscasset, Maine, in December 1839. Twenty bodies washed ashore, among them that of an older woman tied to a piece of the ship. This was the event that poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow turned into his legend of “The Wreck of the Hesperus.”

Today Norman's Woe is a spot popular for deep sea diving, with great variety of marine life. It’s supposed to be a good place for lobstering. It is only a clump of granite jutting from the sea just offshore of Gloucester, and looks quite innocuous. But Longfellow has left us with a tragic story of sea captain’s foolish arrogance and his doomed daughter. It is foreboding and macabre.

There was a time when poetry was entertainment, and a poem with a regional flavor was like a guidebook, its descriptions substituting for photos, and ironically making us think we know the place better than a photo would. Below is the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. If you never read it in high school, here’s your chance, go wild.


It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintery sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

The Skipper he stood beside the helm,
His pipe was in his mouth,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now West, now South.

Then up and spake an old Sailor,
Had sailed the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
for I fear a hurricane.

"Last night the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!"
The skipper, he blew whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Colder and louder blew the wind,
A gale from the Northeast,
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable's length.

"Come hither! come hither! my little daughter,
And do not tremble so;
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever wind did blow."

He wrapped her warm in his seaman's coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

"O father! I hear the church bells ring,
Oh, say, what may it be?"
"Tis a fog-bell on a rock bound coast!" --
And he steered for the open sea.

"O father! I hear the sound of guns;
Oh, say, what may it be?"
Some ship in distress, that cannot live
In such an angry sea!"

"O father! I see a gleaming light.
Oh say, what may it be?"
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
That saved she might be;
And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave,
On the Lake of Galilee.

And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe.

And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf,
On the rocks and hard sea-sand.

The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman's Woe!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Breakers

The Breakers still stands as the stone and mortar embodiment of the Gilded Age. One of the Newport, Rhode Island mansions, a National Historic Landmark, the Breakers was built as the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, president of the New York Central Railroad. His most prominent family of industrialists led the social scene of the last years of America in the Victorian era. Vanderbilt’s 70-room summer home was built between 1893 and 1895, part of a 13-acre estate that faces east overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The interior boasts marble imported from Italy and Africa, alabaster, and wood and mosaics from various countries. The Great Hall is two and a half stories high. In the year it was completed The Breakers was the most opulent and largest house in Newport, once the social capital of America.

When Vanderbilt died in 1899, he left the property to his wife, Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She died in 1934 and the Breakers was left to her youngest daughter, Countess Gladys Széchenyi, who leased the property to the non-profit Preservation Society of Newport County. The Society bought the Breakers outright in 1972, though the agreement with the Society allows the family to continue to live on the third floor, not open to the public.

It is now the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island with approximately 300,000 visitors each year, open year-round for tours, one of several grand mansions open to the public in Newport.

Want to go? Contact The Preservation Society of Newport website.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mt. Washington

Another mountain we’re looking at this week brings us to New Hampshire. Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast at over 6,000 ft. It holds the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth's surface, at 231 mph recorded on April 12, 1934. The Indians called the mountain, Agiocochook, or “The Home of the Great Spirit.”

Mt. Washington was first climbed in the 1640s, but not much else happened here until the middle of the 19th century, when tourism was lured here with the construction of bridle paths and different summit hotels. The Tip Top House still stands, recently renovated. A stagecoach road was built, now called the Mount Washington Auto Road, and it is a breathtaking journey. It first opened in 1861, and is the oldest man-made tourist attraction in the US. If you receive the badge of honor, that bumper sticker that says “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” your car, its 2nd gear, and its brakes, have earned it.

For those less inclined to brave the winding vertical journey to the clouds, there is the less taxing Mount Washington Cog Railway, first constructed in 1869, which gives an enjoyable ride to the top. It is the oldest mountain climbing cog railway in the world. (It’s first proposal was ridiculed by the New Hamphsire State Legislature as a “railway to the moon.” Half-way to the moon, maybe.)

The top is something to behold, where the bald rock is exposed, the winds are fierce, and trees do not grow. On a clear day you can see Europe. Well, no, I’m kidding. On a clear day you can see the Atlantic Ocean, but clear days are not something one should count on. The mountain mist rolls in so suddenly, that if walking about the grounds around the summit observatory, it is best to stand still in your tracks until the cloud passes.

Snowstorms can occur at the summit in any month of the year. If you visit even in July, be prepared for a temperature drop of at least 30 degrees by the time you reach the top.

The summit building was designed to withstand 300 mph winds, and other buildings here are chained to the mountain. The mountain is the site of a non-profit scientific observatory reporting the weather and other elements of the sub-arctic climate.

Hiking is a favorite activity, but several avalances occur each year and many hikers have died for a variety of reasons. It is best to tackle the mountain only if you are prepared for its unique challenges. Above the tree line, it is a different and treacherous world, but a place of stunning beauty.

Auto races and bicycle races also take place up the mountain. However you choose to get to the top, take a good, long, look. It’s worth the effort.

Want to go? Have a look at this website. Also check out information on the Auto Road and on the Cog Railway .

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-Shirt? Let us know.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mt. Holyoke Summit House

Many of New England’s historic sites and attractions are seasonal, and this time of year traditionally brings them to close. One such venue is the Mt. Holyoke Summit House atop Mt. Holyoke in Hadley, Massachusetts.

It is a small mountain, only just over 900 feet, but overlooking the broad terrain of the Pioneer Valley, the perspective is panoramic. This month the Summit House will close for another year.

A summit house was first built in the 1820s, and went through various owners and renovations to become by the 1850s, quite the stop for well-to-do tourists. An early visitor in 1823 was Ralph Waldo Emerson. A tram was built up the mountain to bring visitors, along with stage coaches up the winding road. Eventually the Summit House boasted upper levels, extensions, elegant dining rooms, and such architectural embellishment that even President William McKinley could not resist its charms, and visited in June of 1898, whereupon he headed down the mountain to attend the graduation of his niece from Mount Holyoke College.

The Hurricane of 1938 tore up a chunk of the building, (Was there nothing that mammoth storm did not touch?) and the Summit House entered its declining years. Deteriorating over the next several decades, supporters kept the building from being demolished and a restoration project in the 1970s and early 1980s gave the Summit House back to Western Massachusetts. From its cozy height, you can see the patchwork farms and the winding Connecticut River, and other companionable mountain ranges that makes the view from the Summit House veranda one of the most easily accessible of lofty inspirations.

Want to go? Now part of the Joseph A. Skinner State Park, have a look at this website for more info.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-Shirt? Let us know.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Seamen's Bethel - New Bedford

The Seamen's Bethel is a chapel built in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1832 for the sailors, most of them whalers, who called New Bedford their home port. There are many memorials on the walls for those who perished at sea.

In 1851, Herman Melville published “Moby-Dick” and became inextricably linked with the Seamen’s Bethel of New Bedford. Melville wrote:

"In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot." The minister of this chapel calls his congregation “shipmates” and recounts for them the story of Jonah and the whale. Here Ishmael sat through the sermon, along with Queequeg, and moodily ruminated on their own fates.

In 1956, Director John Huston shot a scene from the movie adaptation of “Moby-Dick” with Gregory Peck, in front of the real Seamen's Bethel, but interior shots in the movie were not filmed here. This film brought tourists to the area, and also left the Seamen’s Bethel with a new pulpit. The bow-shaped pulpit, which Melville described in his book was entirely made up, and never part of the original chapel. As Melville described it: “Its panelled (sic) front was in the likeness of a ship's bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship's fiddle-headed beak.”

The film version of “Moby-Dick” brought new visitors here, who were then disappointed to find there was no such pulpit. The bow-shaped pulpit you see here now was built in 1961 as a nod to Melville’s famous novel, and to appease the movie fans.

In 1996 the Seamen's Bethel became part of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. It is still a house of prayer, and a memorial to the seamen of New Bedford. Non-demoninational weddings, baptisms and Vesper Services occur here, and you can also visit Melville’s pew, where he sat in 1840.

Herman Melville, born in 1819 in New York City, had written novels, short stories and poems, but what little attention he received dwindled quickly and by the time of his death in 1891, he was almost forgotten. His book “Moby-Dick” was considered a financial flop, and was not revered as a classic until the 20th century.

Mr. Melville worked as a young man as a surveyor on the Erie Canal, afterward his brother got him a job as a cabin boy on a New York ship bound for Liverpool. He later wrote of this journey. Melville then taught school, but in 1840 again decided to sign ship's articles. On New Year's Day, 1841, he sailed from Fairhaven, Massachusetts on the whaler “Acushnet,” which sailed around Cape Horn to the South Pacific. An 18-month voyage, it probably inspired “Moby-Dick”.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Katharine Lee Bates Memorial

This statue stands Falmouth, Massachusetts to commemorate Katharine Lee Bates, a Falmouth native, who wrote the words to “America the Beautiful.”

There’s quite a lot of beauty in Falmouth, too, so Miss Bates wouldn’t have had to go far to find inspiration for an inspirational poem. This poem, however, found its roots in a trip she took across the country when on sabbatical from her position as Professor of English literature at Wellesley College in 1893, on her way to lecture at Colorado College.

She took in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition on the way, whose exhibits lauded the progress of a vigorous American nation, and that and the train ride the rest of the way through the “amber waves of grain” of Kansas and the “purple mountain majesties” of the Rocky Mountains gave her a lot to think about. An expedition up Pike’s Peak in a horse-drawn wagon and the view from the top was probably all she needed to get her going on one of the most endearing patriotic poems ever written.

An early draft had been written almost immediately, then there were revisions, publications of different drafts, and finally in 1904, a Baptist minister from Rochester, New York linked the stanzas with a tune written in 1882 by Samuel Augustus Ward, a church organist from New Jersey who had conceived the melody as a hymn.

Mr. Ward and Miss Bates never met each other, and neither profited from the resulting song. Miss Bates gave permission to use the poem to anyone who wanted it, requiring only that not a single word be changed.

Here is the final version of “America the Beautiful” published in 1913:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self the country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Want to go? Visit this Falmouth visitor’s website.
Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.