Above Photo: Massachusetts State House, Boston
A Massachusetts Amuse-Bouche
Massachusetts sightseeing began while I was still in New Hampshire; Plum Island, Massachusetts is a short drive from Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Highway 1A and has miles of public sandy beaches, including the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, home to over 800 species of birds, plants and animals on 4,662 acres.
Margot and her sister Lise played tour guides.
After lobster rolls at Bob Lobster (this one included deep fried avocado!), we strolled the quaint village of Newburryport.
The Rotary Club Is So Popular Here!
Driving along the thoroughfares of Massachusetts, signs seemed ubiquitous, announcing the distance to the next Rotary, e.g., “Concord Rotary, 12 Miles.” Some markers were even digital and estimated the number of minutes to the Rotary. I thought, Wow! Rotarians must be a really important part of their communities around here!
Um, yeah – this a a Rotary. Roundabout, traffic circle.
Mass. drivers are real bumper humpers and drive at least 15 miles over the speed limit. Also, I have never seen more “No Right Turn On Red” signs than in Mass., or more people completely ignoring them.
On my first day in Boston I stepped off the commuter train into the middle of an argument between strangers. Here’s the gist. Non-Smoker: “You are smoking in a non-smoking area, and second hand smoke kills.” Smoker: “Mind your own business, you bossy little delicate flower.” Later that afternoon, a bicyclist and a trolley driver volleyed back-and-forth for a good two minutes at a red light about who just had the right-of-way, the bicyclist taking photos of the driver and coach number and vowing to lodge a complaint with his supervisor. Imagine this retort with a Mark Wahlberg accent: “Oh yeah, Lance Armstrong? Well, do me a favor and ask him for a couple days off for me too, OK?” Welcome to the big city, with random bickering, car horns incessantly honking and sprint walkers dodging dawdling tourists.
Red Sox Nation. I am a true believer. I took in a day game at the country’s oldest ballpark, opened 1912, in the same week The Titanic sank.
In a world filled with stadiums named for corporations, Fenway is the name of the neighborhood. Many of the original seats remain, without even so much as a cup holder – gasp!
More seats have been added, and especially popular are the ones atop The Green Monster, the 37.2 foot high wall in left field.
The stories in the park are legendary. Here’s the seat where Ted Williams hit a 502-foot homer in 1946, bonking a spectator in the head and knocking him unconscious. When the fan awoke he asked the newspaper (paraphrasing), “How far out does a guy have to sit to not get hit by a baseball?”
Even the foul poles are named at Fenway. In right field is the Pesky Pole, named for Red Sox WWII era shortstop Johnny Pesky, who hit only 17 homeruns in his career, six at Fenway. He wasn’t a power hitter, and most of those Fenway homeruns landed just on the fair side of the pole.
Talk about landing fair, the foul pole in left field is named the Fisk Pole, for Carlton Fisk, who in the 1975 World Series waved and willed the ball fair, winning the game (but not the series).
It was not lost on the crowd that Sunday that the Red Sox were playing Tampa Bay, as their town was being pounded by Hurricane Irma. Members of the Boston Bruins were out, buckets in hand, collecting money for Florida.
After Tampa Bay’s win I went home and watched Jimmy Fallon’s and Drew Barrymore’s “Fever Pitch” again, enjoying all the locations in the film I had just seen.
I also watched Ben Affleck’s “The Town” again, reminding me how much I dislike Ben Affleck.
Getting Around Boston
When you travel in a motorhome, it is a rare treat indeed to be near or in the heart of the city. No such treat here; the Boston Minuteman Campground is 30 miles northwest of Boston, in Littleton. I quickly became adept at commuter train terminals and T (subway) stations, driving to various locations to catch a train depending on the day of the week and the time of day. Doggie daycare, parking for the train, and a round-trip commuter pass for the day totaled $75, so for the budget’s sake I skipped expensive meals in the city. An exception was a wonderful lunch at Union Oyster House (1826), America’s oldest restaurant, and a favorite of JFK. I met blog followers Ian and Mary there, who will soon be selling their home and embarking on their full-time RVing adventure. I hope to see them again on the Cape.
Speaking of the subway, I had a good chuckle when I purchased my subway pass. As a child I listened to my parents’ Kingston Trio LPs, and on this trip, as I got closer to Boston, I began humming “MTA,” a song about a poor man named Charlie who was stuck riding underground because he couldn’t afford the five-cent fare increase.
Imagine my delight to find the subway pass is known as “The Charlie Card!”
The Freedom Trail
After sustenance at Cheers and a swan boat ride in Frederick Law Olmstead’s Public Garden, I set out to walk the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail through Boston, from Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Memorial.
The amount of history in that short stretch is unreal. While I enjoyed touring Washington DC, Boston felt more American somehow, and made me feel more patriotic, perhaps because the roots of our government sprung up organically here, through civil disobedience, revolt, and sheer will.
Thank goodness patriots like Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock did not live in the time of a 24-hour news cycle, global communication and social media, or they probably would not be the American heroes we deem them today. As Fake Eleanor said in the NBC series “The Good Place” (watch it on Netflix!), “Pobody’s Nerfect.”
Peter Faneuil gave the people of Boston two gifts when he completed Faneuil Marketplace in 1742; 1) a meeting hall upstairs, which served as a center of social and political life, including some of the most important meetings of the Revolution; and 2) the never-ending attempts to pronounce his name. Fenooli, Fennel, Fenwell, Finwheel – there are as many variations as there are attempts.
A Day On The Red Line
The number of institutions of higher learning in Boston is staggering. MIT, UMass, Brandeis, Berklee School of Music, Northeastern, just to name a few, and of course, Harvard.
Having admired many who attended Harvard, and read many books about them, and their school – standing in Harvard Yard felt very familiar. The University was founded 150 years before our country became a nation. Every building has a story.
Every statue has a story. Take, for example, the statue of John Harvard. Students call it “The Statue of the Three Lies.”
The founding date on the inscription is off by two years, John Harvard did not found the University, and no one knows what John Harvard looked like, so it’s anyone’s guess who Daniel Chester French used as his subject.
At Harvard I hopped on a bus to the Mount Auburn Cemetery (1831) in Cambridge, one of the most beautiful garden cemeteries in the country.
I visited primarily to pay my respects to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
but the list of notables and luminaries interred in the cemetery is quite impressive, including Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy,
the architect Charles Bulfinch, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Winslow Homer, Henry Cabot Lodge, and B.F. Skinner. Aside from the famous, many of the markers are works of art, literally.
Climbing to the top of Washington Tower in the cemetery nets a beautiful view of Boston.
I continued on the T Red Line out to UMass and the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. The building, designed by a then-relatively unknown I.M. Pei in 1979, is situated at Columbia Point in Boston Harbor.
JFK was one of the first well-televised presidents, and there are many exhibits with films and videos.
The Boston Marathon
Bostonians don’t really talk about the Boston Marathon bombing anymore. After the trial, they put it in the rearview mirror; moving forward is the Boston way. The incident got a passing mention on the trolley tour, when the driver pointed out that the Boston Public Library is the finish line.
I didn’t really understand until I arrived in Boston that the race is held on Patriots’ Day, observed on the third Monday in April in Massachusetts. Patriots’ Day commemorates the battles at Lexington and Concord which started the Revolution, on April 19, 1775 (more about that below). Patriots’ Day is the last day of a three-day weekend, and a school holiday. The Red Sox play at home on Patriots’ Day (every year since 1959). When the bombing occurred in 2013, it was so much more than just a terrorist attack at a foot race. After spending the day in the city, I watched the Mark Wahlberg movie of the same name; while I didn’t appreciate Wahlburg’s “composite character,” the depiction of the investigation, the rapidity with which they identified the terrorists, and the confrontation between the brothers and police in Watertown was absorbing.
A Day At The Museums
I enjoy museums, but in small doses; I can get through the Louvre in under two hours. I’m a highlights gal. So, I was both excited and fatigued by the thought of visiting two Boston museums in one day – the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. But, when the dogs are in daycare and you’ve taken the train into the city, and the museums are one block apart, you hit them both.
The MFA is astounding. Inspiring vistas at every turn.
Of course there’s the impressive collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek art, but having seen so much of that in situ, I breezed right on through, pausing at the colossal Roman statue of Juno,
and the Egyptian Bust of Prince Ankh-haf, an unparalleled true likeness in a time of stylized art.
I twirled in an entire room of paintings by John Singleton Copley, staring in the faces of all the patriots I’d been communing with for weeks.
How about this famous John Singer Sargent, complete with vases? Flawless.
This Chilhuly was my view for lunch.
Who knew Monet painted Japonisme,
or Pollock, bowls?
I’ll bet you recognize the work of this fella right away, but perhaps the coffee shop painting is more iconic because it doesn’t mention Ex-Lax.
The contemporary art was outstanding, including objects d’art that I covet, even in my downsized lifestyle.
Yes, that is a lighthouse cocktail shaker at the top. And just look at that mid-century jewelry!
I purposefully did not read anything about Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924) or her museum before visiting.
My first reaction upon entering: Affluent people can be hoarders too; they just hoard better junk. The building she commissioned is beautiful,
but it is so chock-full with stuff on every surface, nook and cranny that I was overwhelmed and a bit off-put.
Highlights for me included this John Singer Sargent, “El Jaleo”
and the faces of other patrons in their happy place.
Outside Of Boston
“I Must Study Politics And War, That My Sons May Have Liberty To Study Mathematics and Philosophy.” — John Adams
I arrived in Massachusetts fresh from watching the HBO miniseries, “John Adams.” Can you believe that series is already nine years old? I never got around to viewing it until recently, while preparing to visit Boston and its environs. I have an immense amount of respect for John Adams, both because he defended British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre (that’s what lawyers do – provide competent representation no matter the allegations), and because he was the only President of the first five who did not own slaves. He shoveled his own manure, literally.
Primed with all things Adams family, trying very hard not to think of Morticia and Gomez when I heard that phrase, I went right away to Quincy, (pronounced Quin-zee) Massachusetts. Quincy is the birthplace of not only of John Adams but of his son, the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. Historic homes, famous graves, in crypts no less – what more could this girl ask for?
As it turned out, the experience left a bit to be desired. Because the historic homes are spread apart, the National Park Service headquarters is located in the center of Quincy, and a trolley takes visitors to the sites. The tour takes more than two hours, and on-street parking is limited to two hours. The parking garage accommodates vehicles 6’8″ and below. With the cargo box, Toad is 7 feet tall.
I drove around Quincy for at least 20 minutes, growing more frustrated by the second. No surface pay lots, no other parking garages. I finally pulled over and called the Visitor Center, and the ranger advised that I park away from the city center, then walk a fair distance back. I took half the advice; I parked, then called a Lyft to get me back where I need to be.
Having seen historic homes in the vast green expanses of Vermont, I was not prepared for the urban encroachment around the Adams estates. Quincy is really just a suburb of Boston. The farmhouse where Abigail lived for 20 years with the children (John was away at least half of that time), where nearby she and little John Quincy saw smoke and fire coming from the Battle of Bunker Hill, is flanked on both sides by busy thoroughfares.
Bus stops and a funeral home are spitting distance across the street. Still, it was thrilling to see both the birthplace of John Adams and the birthplace of his son – the nation’s oldest presidential birthplaces.
This is where John had his first law office and penned the Massachusetts Constitution, still in use today with only 22 amendments, and the blueprint for the Constitution of the United States of America. I’d say he was a pretty gifted lawyer.
John Quincy Adams was no slouch, either. He served in the House of Representatives after he was President, which is unheard of in modern times. He argued for nine hours before the United States Supreme Court in the Amistad case, advocating for the slaves’ return as free men to Africa, and he won. He won. In 1839.
Back on the trolley, we headed over to Piece field, the home John and Abigail shared after he returned from Europe, and before he became Vice President and President.
(I love the story about how John, on the day of Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, left the White House by himself, and boarded a stagecoach for Peace field.) He lived out his days at Peace field, passing away there on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after signing the Declaration of Independence. Some of his final words were, “Jefferson still lives.” Little did he know, down in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson died the same day.
After I made my way back to the car, I hurried over to The United First Parish Church, where John, Abigail, John Quincy, and Luisa Katherine are interred in crypts below the church.
It was 3:50 p.m., and the church closed at 4:00. Viewing the crypts was by tour only. The old codger at the door wouldn’t budge on letting me run down to take a peek. Drat!
Since actual history wasn’t scratching my itch that day, I settled for a little pop culture, visiting the very first Dunkin’ Donuts, opened in 1950 in Quincy. For the life of me I can’t understand why DD is so popular on the East Coast. I think their coffee is awful!
“Listen, My Children, And You Shall Hear Of The Midnight Ride Of Paul Revere” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(This lantern in the Concord Museum purports to be one of the two hung in the belfry of the Old North Church in Boston. A collector purchased it in 1853 with the understanding that it was acquired seven years after the fateful day from the sexton of Christchurch in Boston. How cool is it that? Sextons don’t lie, do they? Do they?)
I absolutely adore the Lexington and Concord areas. I was staying close by, and visited several times. Not only are Lexington and Concord hotbeds of Revolutionary War history, Concord was home to some of the greatest thinkers and writers of the 19th century.
In Lexington I took the trolley along the five-mile battle road – a 900-acre national park. (All I could think of was that ditty on “Schoolhouse Rock” in the 70’s!)
I don’t usually write about tour guides, but our guide was so magnificent. Older lady, thick Boston accent – as we passed a pasture of bovines she commented they were “cow reenactors.” On the walk to the North Bridge she gestured to a structure behind the group, saying, “This building wasn’t here in 1775, but it’s the most visited.” We turned around to see the restrooms.
If you don’t remember your fifth grade history class, the British regulars were on their way to Concord from Boston to destroy the Colonial Patriots’ munitions and supplies. John Hancock and Samuel Adams were holed up in this house in Lexington.
Paul Revere (and others, although he’s the only one immotalized thanks to that Longfellow poem 100 years later) rode on horseback from village to village, warning them to rally their militias.
Did Revere cry out, “The British Are Coming?” That would’ve been most odd indeed, as we were all British at that time. “The Regulars are out” is more like it.
The Lexington militia hung out here until they were mustered.
Revere got caught here. They took his horse but let him go.
The British opened fire on the town common in Lexington and bayoneted Colonials (800 against 80), then marched on to the North Bridge in Concord, where the 500 Patriots’ first open act of aggression against the Crown occurred. As described by Ralph Waldo Emerson,
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
Sculptor Daniel Chester French, who would later be famous for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, was asked to create a memorial to the Minutemen at the North Bridge. It was his first assignment.
French is buried just a couple of miles away, in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A plain marker – no lavish bronze sculpture – marks his grave.
It began on the Battle Green in Lexington, where couples picnicked on the grass and children ran and practiced cartwheels. It continued on the North Bridge in Concord, as rowboaters and kayakers floated underneath the bridge, and families sat on blankets and benches enjoying the Labor Day afternoon. I began to cry. I imagined the profound sacrifices and losses that occurred there, on both sides,
so that an ordinary day just like this could take place. I was overcome by pensiveness and the heaviness of historical memory, and felt so very thankful.
I also began to understand, at least a little bit, this country’s fascination with firearms. We are a nation built on an armed insurrection. Before the Revolution began, the king offered a compromise which included relinquishment of all guns. The patriots were having none of that.
To those who argue those militias mentioned in the Second Amendment are no longer necessary in modern society, some gun owners retort that it may be necessary to rise up against our own government. That may have made some sense during the Revolution, when the government and the militias were similarly armed (except for cannons, of course, and then the revolutionaries got some of their own). Today, no submachine gun or assault rifle will rival an airstrike, nuclear weapons, or drone attack.
Within view of the North Bridge stands Old Manse (1770), a home owned by the Emerson family, where Ralph Waldo Emerson conceived the concept of Transcendentalism, and Nathaniel Hawthorne lived with his wife for the first three years of their marriage, writing “Mosses from an Old Manse.” Upon learning that Hawthorne planned to lease the home, Henry David Thoreau planted a garden for him and his new wife. Isn’t that just as charming as you can imagine?
The Emersons go way back in Concord, and Ralph Waldo Emerson was a mentor and benefactor to other writers, thinkers and philosophers, such as Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott. Emerson’s house is directly across the street from the Concord Museum, and when renovations were completed in the 1930s, the entire study was relocated to the museum. Oh man, just imagine the lively discussions in that room!
Walden Pond, where Thoreau lived purposefully in the woods for two years, two months, and two days, is near the village.
I strolled along the pond path, watching boaters and kayakers, swimmers and sunbathers.
Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but a replica has been erected near the Walden Pond Reservation entrance.
(By the way, I learned in Concord that I have been mispronouncing his name all these years. “Thoreau” is pronounced like the adjective meaning complete; exhaustive. At the Concord Museum, the following bumper sticker: “Be Thoreau.”)
Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived as a teenager, is the setting for her book, “Little Women.”
As if this literary history wasn’t enough, all of these great minds rest in eternity together on Authors’ Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered
A handful of stories made an impression on me as a child. One was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. When I went to Italy and stood in Pompeii’s ruins, I felt a profound sense of being a citizen of the world and a witness to history.
I thought it might experience the same emotions in Salem, Massachusetts, where in 1692 over 200 people were accused and 20 executed on allegations of witchcraft. Not quite.
Three hundred and fifty years is a long time, especially when it comes to American history. With the passage of time also (sometimes) passes the gravity of an event, and the solemnity surrounding it. The events in Salem in 1692 were horrific, unjust, barbaric acts of an unhinged populace against innocent people, in a town whose name was derived from the Hebrew word “shalom,” meaning peace. As a lawyer, it particularly offends and frightens me that the accused were dragged through sham legal proceedings that failed to protect them. Today, those acts are used to sell everything from tattoos to T-shirts.
No don’t get me wrong, I know people gotta eat. Without the witch trials, Salem probably would not be the hub of tourist activity you see today. And, righteous efforts have been made to commemorate the actual history and the innocent victims, like a long-running play about the actual events (no, not Arthur Miller’s), the memorial adjacent to The Burying Point Cemetery,
and the annual Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice. I revel in the fact that in the ultimate act of defiance, over 800 Wiccans live in Salem.
Crass commercialism aside, even I enjoyed the campy side of Salem, such as the Elizabeth Montgomery statue in the center of town, erected by the TV Land cable channel. But, something inside me knows I would not enjoy Salem during Halloween season.
Stephen and Linda were camped in Salem, which gave us the opportunity to catch up and enjoy each other’s company as we toured the town. The most delightfully surprising site was the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel (1851).
Nathaniel grew up in Salem and often visited a cousin who lived in the 1668 house, inspiring his work. Without the novel, it is unlikely the house would even exist today; it is one of three homes currently in Salem built in the 17th century. (The second is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum. The third was owned by Jonathan Corwin, a judge during the Salem witch trials, and thus it will always be known as “The Witch House.”
It was at the Witch House that we read about Puritanical remedies, and I learned two phrases I cannot un-know: Corpse Medicine, and Head Moss.
Google that up, before dinner.)
In a grand example of life imitating art, in 1908 a very savvy woman from a children’s charity purchased the Seven Gables house, restoring it and adding features to make it more like the book, then offering paid tours. She added Hepzibah Pyncheon’s cent shop, and a secret passageway through the center chimney to explain how Clifford moved so quickly and mysteriously through the house.
The same charity still owns the house today, and the tour was excellent. On the grounds, relocated from just a few blocks away, is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace.
Over at the Witch Museum, while the static, life-sized dioramas make you yearn for cheesy Disney animatronics, and the presentation’s narrator sounds like a vaguely British Vincent Price down a well, with pneumonia, the message is on point. Exhibits explain the church’s demonization of women, especially midwives and healers; traces the history of witches through popular culture; and compares the hysteria of the witch trials to other historical scapegoating, such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and McCarthyism.
By the way, the statue in front of the Witch Museum is not a witch; it is Salem founder Roger Conant, dressed in his finest Puritan garb. Very imposing!
I considered seeing Plymouth Rock a must-do on my Massachusetts itinerary, though several locals warned me it is rather anti-climatic. There it was, on the beach, a rock, surrounded by a decidedly Greek Revival edifice, with the year “1620” engraved upon it.
Engraved in 1880. Sure, must be the same rock! Up on Cole’s Hill overlooking the site – the remains of Pilgrims who perished that first winter,
and a statue and marker memorializing the entire culture that perished due to their arrival.
Yeah, more than a little depressing. History can be a real bitch.
At Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum, the Pilgrims’ village has been re-created, and you can interact with Caucasian Pilgrim roleplayers and real Wampanoag tribal members.
Maybe it was because of the rainy day. Maybe it was because the Mayflower II, a replica ship, was in Mystic, Connecticut for repairs, but I could’ve easily skipped this place and the steep admission price of $28.
One weekend day I stopped first in Lowell, Massachusetts, to pay my respects to Jack Kerouac.
Then, the dogs and I took a driving tour of Essex, Manchester-By-The-Sea, Gloucester, and Rockport, northwest of Boston. Tourism literature refers to the area as “Cape Ann,” but the locals just call it Essex County. When they refer to “The Cape,” that means only one thing: Cape Cod.
Woodman’s of Essex is the birthplace of the fried clam, in 1914.
Most people outside the state had never heard of Manchester-By-The-Sea until that depressing Casey Affleck movie, but the town is lovely. It was renamed in 1989 to differentiate it from the town in New Hampshire. On the day of my visit, there was a picnic at Tuck’s Point,
and soccer and family gatherings at Masconomo Park, overlooking Manchester Harbor.
Gloucester is the site of the landing of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and those Pilgrims at Plymouth must have rock envy.
Gloucester is the oldest seaport in the United States, and very proud of it.
In the mid-19th century, Glouchester was the fishing capital of North America, and fishing is still the way of life for many of its residents today, though many of them are no longer primarily English-speaking. On the HarborWalk there is the Fishermen’s Memorial Statue, “The Man at the Wheel,”
And the Fishermen’s Wives Memorial.
You may recall that Gloucester was the homeport of six swordfish fisherman who perished in 1991 in “The Perfect Storm.”
I watched the George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg film again that evening. It was filmed in Gloucester in 2000.
“The Perfect Storm” was a best-selling book before it was a movie. Gloucester has a long history of both shipwrecks and works of literature regarding same; Longfellow’s “Wreck of the Hesperus” was based on a real shipwreck just off Gloucester’s shores.
But on the day of my visit, it was nothing but sun and blue skies and calm waters at Good Harbor Beach.
Rockport, the most northeasterly part of Cape Ann, is a haven for artists, and dogs.
The Rockport Art Colony galleries stretch along Main Street for several blocks. Bearskin Neck, a little sliver of land jutting out into Rockport Harbor and Sandy Bay, is lined with shops, studios and restaurants.
The dogs had their pick of water bowls along the way, with many shop owners and shoppers stopping to make new furry friends.
I could easily spend an entire summer in Essex County. It is not only picturesque, but very close to Salem and Boston. I learned there are a couple of RV parks in Gloucester, so I may do just that at some point.
“And I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee” — Herman Melville
My time in New Bedford will be one of my fondest memories of Massachusetts. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a literary geek. “Moby Dick” holds a special place in my heart, as it figured prominently in my freshman year of high school (I wrote a play based upon it). I would not have missed the town Melville described in such detail. (Let’s face it, he described everything in detail!)
Between 1815 in 1825, New Bedford was the largest whaling port in the world. Even when surpassed by Nantucket, in 1857 its fleet numbered 324 vessels.
At the Whaling Museum, I was relieved to read that the whale skeletons were acquired through accidents with ships or natural causes.
I tried to put myself in the mindset of an 1800’s whaler who risked everything to supply the world with fuel oil (and get rich),
but I couldn’t help but feel a little gleeful to read stories of the whales who fought back. Sperm whales sunk at least three ships, including the Essex of Nantucket in 1820 (the inspiration for Melville’s novel).
The museum’s Scrimshaw collection was extensive.
Sailors carved and whittled on whale bones during downtime at sea, and since there was a lot of downtime, they produced astounding works of art. One sailor lamented there were enough scrimshaw canes on board his ship to supply all the old men in Wilmington.
At the Whaling Museum, I purchased what is sure to be a long-treasured T-shirt, emblazoned with the following quote from the novel:
Directly across the street from the Museum is the Mariner’s Home, an historical home for homeless and aged sailors, and the Seamen’s Bethel, immortalized by Melville in the book.
Because whaling was so dangerous, many whalemen felt the need to attend services at the Bethel prior to shipping out. Among those so inclined was Melville, who came to New Bedford in December 1840 and stayed until he sailed out on January 3, 1841. He attended services at the Bethel before his 18-month whaling expedition.
What a thrill to tour the Bethel! On the first floor is the schoolroom where the ladies of New Bedford taught sailors to read and write. It was known as “The Saltbox.”
But, upstairs? Oh, upstairs is the most glorious place.
The walls are lined with cenotaphs, a word from the Greek meaning “Empty Graves,” markers for those lost at sea.
Melville described it all thusly:
(Please excuse the long quote, but it’s impossible to paraphrase Melville, and I did redact large sections! I’m geeking out, okay?)
“I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable robustness entered; immediately as the storm-pelted door flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the congregation sufficiently attested that this fine old man was the chaplain. Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among whom he was a very great favourite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his youth, but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry. At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; …
Like most old-fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle with the floor, seriously contract the already small area of the chapel, the architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple, and finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular side ladder, like those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea. …
Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel. …
For I was not prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn round, and stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder step by step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec. …
But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the place, borrowed from the chaplain’s former sea-farings. Between the marble cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall which formed its back was adorned with a large painting representing a gallant ship beating against a terrible storm off a lee coast of black rocks and snowy breakers. …
Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled 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.”
In the John Huston 1956 movie starring Gregory Peck as Ahab, Orson Welles delivered his sermon from the nautical pulpit. Fans visited the Bethel in droves, disappointed to find a plain old altar. In 1961, in a case of life, imitating art, imitating art, the ship’s bow pulpit was erected.
Isn’t it just grand?
At the Whaler’s Tavern I tried a local specialty: Stuffed Quahog (pronounced coe-hog) Clams. Delicious!
That evening I watched, for the fourth or fifth time, Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” about the sinking of the Essex by that great white whale. I just love that movie. A lot of the critics panned it when it was released in 2011, but it’s worth a look-see if you haven’t before. I am looking forward to visiting Nantucket for more whaling history.
Cape Cod & Martha’s Vineyard
My arrival on Cape Cod was less than auspicious, as the high curb on the Sagamore Bridge gnawed on Nellie’s passenger side and sheared off all the lug nut covers on the right front tire. (I took this photo of the bridge on the way out; see how the rig in front of me is wisely over the center line?)
(I scraped the entire side from stem to stern, but you don’t need to see all the gory photos.)
The lanes on that bridge are quite narrow, and over-confidence in my knowledge of the rig’s dimensions and a moment of inattention resulted in a gawd-awful scraping sound. Luckily nothing structural was harmed, the lug nut covers are on order at Newmar, and I already have my guy in Houston standing by to fix the paint scrapes. (Last year he repaired a couple of gouges and scrapes on the rear bumper; I am far from a perfect driver!)
My Temporary Home: Eastham
Eastham on the Lower Cape is known as the gateway to the Cape Cod National Seashore, which comprises a third of the town.
The Seashore stretches 40 miles from Eastham to Provincetown. I loved Eastham’s location at the skinniest part of the peninsula; it was a quick drive to either the Atlantic Ocean or Cape Cod Bay.
Eastham is a pretty little community, with beaches, a lighthouse, and an old whaleman’s home.
I chuckled when I arrived, recalling a conversation with a man from Massachusetts while I was still in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “Yeah, don’t miss that Close Encounter beach. Beautiful place.” Nice try, Spielberg. The beach is actually First Encounter Beach, where the Pilgrims first met some pretty angry natives, as the interlopers stole their stores of corn from the beach a couple of days before.
“I Feel It In The Air, The Summer’s Out Of Reach”
My first evening on the Cape was the last evening for the season of the Wellfleet Drive-in Theater, running double features all summer since 1957.
I grabbed some fried clams to go from a nearby restaurant, and the dogs and I watched “Beetlejuice” and the 2017 version of “It.”
The following day I had a scrumptious scallops dinner at Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar next door to the RV park.
It was so good I returned the following day, only to find they switched to winter hours and were no longer open for dinner. The beach accoutrements, knickknacks and wind spinner store, in full glory one day,
was closed the next. On my last day, as I noshed on Wellfleet oysters for a buck 50 each at Van Rensselaer’s,
I overheard locals asking one another how their summers had been, and what they were looking forward to for the winter.
On the very tip of The Cape is “P-Town,” the site of the Pilgrims’ first landing in 1620. Everyone assumes the first landing was at Plymouth some 50 land miles away, but when the Pilgrims first arrived they bounced around like a pinball for a bit.
The Pilgrim Monument, built between 1907 and 1910, rising 253 feet in granite above the town, commemorates that event, but more importantly, that during the five weeks they were in the area, the Pilgrims drew up the Mayflower Compact, the law that would govern them in their new land. It was the first written agreement for self-governance ever created in America.
I immediately felt at home in Provincetown, because it is such an all-inclusive and welcoming community. The dogs and I caught sunset at Herring Cove on our first day; P-Town is the only town on the Cape that allows leashed dogs on its beaches, and after 6:00 p.m. and after Labor Day, dogs are allowed off-leash.
While the town has only 2,000 year-round residents, it burgeons to 65,000 in summer. Many of those tourists are LGBTQ, as Provincetown is a safe and unbiased place for all people.
And here’s an interesting phenomenon: Provincetown was heavily populated with Portuguese fishermen back in the day. Now, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians flock to P-Town in summer to work in the service industry, returning to Brazil in wintertime.
The Portuguese culture and influences are everywhere; I even picked up Portuguese muffins at the local grocery store.
In P-Town I sat with a Bellini and Lobster Benedict brunch on a calm, quiet September Monday on Commercial Street, toying with the fancy of living in Provincetown. The waiter dissuaded me immediately. First, there’s the brutal winter. And, while there is a health clinic nearby, the closest substantial medical care is over an hour away, in Hyannis. Over 70 percent of the homes in Provincetown are owned by non-residents and corporate interests. Almost all the shops and restaurants close for the season. It’s as if Provincetown is Brigadoon, rising up out of the mist each summer for the pleasure of gay boys and girls.
Hyannis, Playground Of Presidents
Having just come from the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, I skipped the JFK museum on the Hyannis town green, but stopped at the memorial on the waterfront.
I hoped to catch a glimpse of the Kennedy compound, still in use by the family, but it is only viewable from the water. A few days later I took a boat to Martha’s Vineyard from Hyannis, but alas, it was foggy on both legs of the trip!
Highway 6A – The Old King’s Highway
There are three main highways on the Cape, and Highway 6A was my favorite. It is depicted in green on the map.
You don’t necessarily drive along the water on the entire stretch, but you pass through quaint villages for miles. On three separate days I drove Highway 6A.
Barnstable (pronounced like “constable”) is lined with charming homes and shops, and this cool old courthouse.
Yarmouth is on the quiet north side of Route 6A, and is home to the Edward Gorey house – one of my favorite artists and illustrators. I mean, what’s not to love about “The Gashleycrumb Tinies?” “A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil, assaulted by bears. …”
The lovely berg of Dennis is home to the Cape Cod Center for the Arts, including the 85-year-old Cape Cinema and the Cape Cod Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1930 American painter Rockwell Kent created the mural that covers the theater’s ceiling, depicting the heavens, signs of the zodiac, comets, galaxies, and constellations.
Brewster is known for its sea captains’ homes along what I think is the prettiest part of Route 6A. Sorry, no photos – too busy driving!
A Magical Day On Martha’s Vineyard
Off the southern coast of Cape Cod sit two islands – Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. With only so much time on the Cape, and the expense of boarding the dogs and the ferry fare, I opted to visit only Martha’s Vineyard. Alas, I didn’t get my hands on that most famous of T-shirts: “I Am The Man From Nantucket.”
British explorer Bartholomew Gosnold landed on The Vineyard in 1602, naming the area of wild grapes for his infant daughter, Martha. I knew little else before I arrived, as I was happily scheduled for a full day of sightseeing with my own personal tour guide.
I can’t tell you what a treat and pleasure it is when someone who lives locally generously offers to show me around. First, there is the joy of conversing with and unveiling and unwrapping someone new – someone just crazy enough to offer to spend the day with a complete stranger! My kinda person. It is also good for me to commune with other humans from time to time, to release me from my solitude. How wonderful it is to sit in the passenger seat, not driving, not lost, looking at the scenery and taking it all in.
Kate, who lives in Rhode Island, has a cottage on the Vineyard, and she reached out via email about getting together. I have Pam Kueber at Retro Renovation to thank for this introduction; Retro Renovation profiled Kate’s cottage, then later my prior Seattle home, the Atomic Abode. Kate caught the piece about my house and has been following the blog ever since.
Kate really pulled out all the stops, researching, writing notes about what we would see, and providing me a goodie bag full of brochures and pamphlets and maps and newspapers for further reference. I could tell that she reads all the drivel I write, because she had my sightseeing M.O. down to a tee – vistas, history, architecture, cemeteries, movies, museums, art, good food, and the curious and quirky. All this in eight hours!
Kate picked me up from the ferry at Oak Bluffs;
within minutes we were in a storybook land.
Oak Bluffs’ brightly painted gingerbread cottages have a rich history dating back to a 19th-century Methodist summer campground.
In August 1835, a handful of tents were pitched amid a group of oak trees for a week of spiritual rejuvenation. By 1880, the campground had grown into a summer city. The original owners modeled their cottages after the Victorian style popular in Newport, but added unique Revival elements, such as filigreed wood trim. The result is the “Carpenter’s Gothic” style. There are more than 300 cottages on the 36-acre site.
Martha’s Vineyard is roughly triangular-shaped, nine miles wide and 23 miles long as its farthest point. The total land area is approximately 100 square miles, and Kate squired me around all of it! From Oak Bluffs we headed southeast to Edgartown, overlooking Katama Bay, the Edgartown Lighthouse, and the infamous Chappaquiddick, known as “Chappy” by the locals.
We toured the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and had lobster rolls at the Seafood Shanty.
From Edgartown we headed to West Tisbury and The Field Gallery, home to artist and whimsical sculptor Thomas Maley (1911 – 2000), who is buried on the grounds.
We continued “Up Island” to Chilmark, paid our respects to John Belushi at Abel’s Hill Cemetery,
then stopped for lemonade at the exquisitely quaint working fishing village of Menemsha, where scenes from the movie “Jaws” were filmed.
The trophy for most spectacular view of the day goes to the Gay Head Light and the Aquinnah Cliffs on the southwest corner of the island.
The lighthouse, first erected in 1799 – the first light on Martha’s Vineyard – has been relocated twice due to the eroding cliffside, first in 1844, then again in 2015, when it was backed up 129 feet. The clay of the cliffs, now protected, was once used to make beautiful pottery, now highly collectible.
Kate really surprised me with our next stop – the West Tisbury Cemetery and the grave of Nancy Luce (1814 – 1890), “The Chicken Lady.”
I doubt this stop would have ever been on my radar if it had not been for a local’s intimate knowledge of place, and I just loved it.
Nancy was still a young woman when her parents died, leaving her alone on the farm. She had few friends except for her animals, and she wrote poetry, especially about her chickens. She gave them fanciful names and buried them on her property, complete with headstones. You can read more about her here. Now, chickens of pottery and plastic in all shapes and sizes are deposited on her grave, and tend to proliferate around Halloween, although she wasn’t born and didn’t die on Halloween, so no one knows why.
From there we passed the famous Eisenstadt oak tree in Vineyard Haven,
His version (1969):
My pale comparison:
then settled in for prosecco and tidbits at Kate’s cottage
between East Chop,
and West Chop,
before she returned me to the ferry at Oak Bluffs.
What a day of discoveries, great conversation, and delightful company!
(In case you’re interested, the cottage is available for summer rentals!)
I had two main goals in North Adams, Massachusetts, on my way out of New England: 1) Visit the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, “MASS MoCA,” and 2) “Leaf Peeping” and the Fall Foliage Festival.
The Little Town In The Valley
Driving into town, there is a lovely view of North Adams from the western summit of the Mohawk Trail, at a hairpin turn that wasn’t much fun in a motorhome towing a car; I returned with just the car to snap a photo of the the city below in the Hoosac Valley.
The town of North Adams is pretty sleepy. It was once a mill town, and efforts are being made to repurpose and reuse all those beautiful old industrial brick buildings. The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is in North Adams. But, communing with locals at the parade, around town, at the campground and at the dog park, it seems many North Adams residents are still pretty down and out.
The marquee of the classic Mohawk Theater is not lit at night, and there is little to do downtown after 5:00 p.m. Cigarette smokers are everywhere. Hard drugs were the only explanation for the man with the glassy eyes and his female companion with a few remaining teeth at the dog park.
Fall Foliage: Psych!
Remember the scene in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when Clark Griswold calls the entire family outside to see the imported Italian twinkle lights on the house? When Ellen finally figures out how to turn them on, Clark’s father-in-law says, “Those little twinkle lights aren’t twinkling.” As I pulled into the rustic campsites along Windsor Lake in North Adams, a little voice inside my head was saying, “Those little leaves aren’t fall foliage-ing!”
Not yet, anyway. Well, maybe just a little bit.
While there may be full color in the higher elevations, in Massachusetts things will not fully pop until on or after Columbus Day weekend.
Still and all, the fall foliage parade was lots of fun, with tons of first responders and Shriners and high school marching bands.
MASS MoCA – Wow!
MASS MoCA is a series of 27 buildings in an industrial complex built between 1872 and 1900 by a textile manufacturer. Despite being the largest finisher of cotton cloth in North America, the print works closed its doors in 1942, after which the complex was used for 43 years to manufacture capacitors and electronic components. When the factory closed in 1985, it hit the local economy very hard. It took over a decade, but curators at the nearby Williams College Museum of Art re-opened the doors as MASS MoCA in 1999, to showcase large works of contemporary art.
In May of this year, the museum added a staggering additional 130,000 square feet with Building Six, where I spent a large portion of my day, marveling at the gargantuan art. There was art and virtual reality by Laurie Anderson,
a 140-foot long mural by Joe Wardwell (too large for me to photograph the entire work!),
sculptures by Louise Bourgeois,
wall murals in the style of Sol LeWitt,
and a spectacular light installation meant to resemble the Milky Way, by Spencer Fitch.
Exploring Beyond North Adams
Day tripping from North Adams was soul satisfying. In Stockbridge I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum and stopped by his grave,
then toured Chesterfield, the home of sculptor Daniel Chester French.
Having spent the summer admiring French’s work, such as the John Harvard statue in Harvard Square, the Minuteman statue at the North Bridge in Concord, and of course The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, it was lovely to see his summer home and studio.
I then drove the short distance to Pittsfield and Arrowhead – the home of Herman Melville for 12 years, where he wrote “Moby Dick.”
It was in this study, with a view of Mount Greylock, that he finished his masterpiece.
The following day, I drove to the summit of the mountain, to Greylock State Reservation – the highest peak in Massachusetts, at 3,491 feet.
At the summit stands the 90-foot high granite Veterans’ Memorial Tower, a commemoration to Massachusetts war dead.
I also visited Williamstown, home to both Williams College and the Clark Museum. The Clark began as the private collection of Sterling and Francine Clark and houses an outstanding collection of French Impressionists, Old Masters, and American paintings. The space was recently expanded, to glorious results.
I may not have seen the foliage in its full splendor, but I enjoyed my time in North Adams. I would return, especially to spend more time at MASS MoCA. That’s high praise coming from a gal that does the Louvre in two hours!
And so, alas, alack, my friends, my four months in New England have come to an end, and so swiftly at that! Thanks for traveling along with me. It’s time for me to boogie on outta here. My knowledge, understanding and admiration of New England has grown immensely, beyond this stereotypes map I saw recently and had to share:
After next summer in Seattle and the following summer traversing Canada west to east, I hope to see Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, upstate New York, and Pennsylvania.
In the meantime, stay tuned for other musings, adventures and mishaps!