2017 Vacation, Day 2, Part 2: An Unintended Walking Tour of Salem

Gazing across Salem Common.

After we left the cemetery, we visited a few more shops, then Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan split off on their own. J.Hooligan wanted to see Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery, which didn’t interest me at all. I was counting on seeing a little more of the historic Salem houses and finding the Boardman house on the Washington Square common.

In Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Nat walks across the common toward the Boardman house, where he sees the child Elizabeth up on the captain’s walk. That day news had come that Elizabeth’s father, a sea captain, had died of fever. Nat was going to comfort her. Years later, he married Elizabeth, and they lived for a few months in the Boardman home. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died of consumption while Nat was at sea.

I strolled for a bit down the Essex Street pedestrian mall, then turned corners in the direction I thought the common was located. I wound up walking far out of my way, although I did pass St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and its cramped up little graveyard where Nathaniel Bowditch’s sister Liza is buried. (In the book, Liza has a bad fall on the steps and dies a few days later with Nat holding her hand. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get back far enough along the fence to read the tombstones to tell which one was Liza’s. Again, there were a lot of death’s heads.) I ended up down on Bridge Street not far from the river. By this time it was getting really hard for me to walk without intense pain, so I sat for awhile on a convenient bench until I got my next wind.

I turned up a residential street and saw some beautiful houses and gardens. I forget now whether my radar just kicked in or I saw a directional sign, but soon I came into sight of a wide green space bordered by an iron fence. I’d finally found the common.

I knew which house was the Boardman’s and which side of the common it was on because I’d studied the Nathaniel Bowditch walking tour guide online. It was a long trek across the common but under the prettiest of weather conditions.

The Boardman House on Washington Square.

I didn’t see a captain’s walk on top of the Boardman house, but that didn’t matter. I was thrilled to be there just the same, the thrill I get whenever I visit a location from a book I love. Except in this case, the characters were real people. Nat and Elizabeth had actually lived here.

On the other side of the common, I found a shady bench and dropped onto it as if I might never rise again. It was lovely to just sit there and gaze out on it all. I saw that the brownstone former church that houses  the Salem Witch Museum was just across the street as well as the imposing statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem. I also figured out exactly where I was: Hawthorne Street stretched behind me, so I had only to follow it a couple of blocks and I’d be back at the hotel.

My feet and legs were yammering with misery, but at last I roused myself and started my return. My route was going to take me past an antique store near the Hawthorne statue, within site of the hotel, so I decided to stop in. There wasn’t much compared to the massive antique malls we go to all the time, but enough to satisfy my interest. I was sure a small vase I saw in the shadowed corner of one shelf was redware. When I examined it, I discovered it was signed “Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts.” I bought it as a souvenir at least of the state if not of Salem; it meant way more to me than some garish “witch” item from the other shops. And it was fairly inexpensive.

I wasn’t back in the room long before Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan arrived. I thought they’d be gone longer, but J. had pooped out, too. We all crashed to take afternoon naps. I wasn’t asleep long before I woke up to leg cramps, the kind that ball your calf muscles into fists and hurt like the dickens. Usually if I breathe deeply and try to relax, I can get them to loosen up, but it wasn’t working now. I could barely walk but made it to the bathroom, gasping the whole way. Somehow I was able to get into a tub of warm water into which I spilled the contents of a tiny container of salts I’d found with the shampoo and conditioner. Eventually the muscles unknotted themselves, and the warm water felt good on my feet. So much for the benefits of wearing good, sturdy shoes.

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