2012: New England

Boston & Salem

Oct. 12

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On our only full day in Boston, we had pooped out before reaching some of the historic sites on the Freedom Trail. We decided we could allot a bit more time to Boston the next morning, before collecting our rental car at the airport and heading for the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unfortunately the weather had changed; the sunny blue skies of the previous day had turned gray, cold, and rainy. It turned out this would be the typical pattern for our entire trip.

Paul Revere's home is certainly one of the most famous sights in Boston; sadly, it's not as interesting as you might hope. On the outside, it's a very plain, creaky old house. On the inside (where they don't allow photos, by the way), there are a few reproductions of period furniture, and not much else.

On display outside the house is one of the many bronze bells cast by Revere at his foundry.

The North End of Boston, where the Revere House is located, was more interesting to look at. This neighborhood is the city's oldest residential community, where people have lived continuously since it was settled in the 1630s. Known as the city's Little Italy, it has cobblestoned streets and charming old architecture, although I was a bit mystified by the giant chains blocking off apparently random sections of the main street.

Old North Church. Church interior.

We wrapped the dreary Boston morning with a visit to the Old North Church, famed for the "two if by sea" lantern signal sent in 1775 from its white steeple. Because of the gray light and the surrounding buildings, it was almost impossible to get a decent outside picture. I had a little better luck with photos on the inside.

The most notable things to me were the box pews. At the time of the Revolution, townspeople who wanted to worship here would have had to purchase pews to become members of the congregation. The most desirable pews were the most expensive; those on the center aisle would have cost significantly more than those on the sides or in the second-level galleries. The inequities of class and wealth were established early in our dear ol' Republic!

Box pews, without decor. Tourists get to sit anywhere.

Families had exclusive use of their boxes and would decorate them with fine fabrics and furniture. The quality of these decorations, along with location, were indications of social status.

A tour guide seated all the tourists inside these boxes while delivering a short talk about the church's history. We didn't stick around for the lecture; we were a bit burned out on Boston history and ready to move on.

We returned to our hotel, collected our luggage, and picked up a rental car for our road trip to New Hampshire. It was at this point that I made a tactical error. Remember that for later. Big.Mistake.

Driving time to our NH lodging was only about two hours, so we had all afternoon to investigate a few more spots along our way. I had read about some lovely architecture in Salem, less than a half-hour away; and since Halloween was only two weeks off, it seemed fitting to explore the town best known for the Salem witch trials. Somehow, I should have known better.

Which house?  Witch house! Warning! PhotoWoman at work!

The Salem "Witch House" is the only structure remaining with ties to the witch trials of the 1600s. This particular house belonged to a judge who ultimately sent nineteen people to the gallows for witchcraft. Currently it contains a small museum, but we didn't visit. Instead, we opted for a nearby one-mile walking and photography tour of the best of Salem's historic homes.

Seriously.

I enjoyed our leisurely stroll down the tree-lined streets of Salem, gawking at houses built before my great-grandparents were born. It was fairly calm on the Thursday afternoon of our visit, but I had to wonder how the residents feel about the weekend crowds they must often experience.

At least one house demonstrated a sense of humor about the whole thing. We saw house after house that sported a small sign somewhere touting that structure's Patrician pedigree ("Built for William Steves, Grover, 1836", for example); but the best sign was the one Mike found, proudly proclaiming -- well, nothing.

It was late afternoon, and time to take our leave of Salem. Armed with a handful of maps, we headed back toward the road that would take us on to New Hampshire. Remember earlier how I mentioned a tactical error? Hokay, here it comes: there's only one street that leads north out of the heart of Salem. A single street. A single, one-lane-each-way street. With old-fashioned traffic lights. Did I mention it was late afternoon? Like, commuter-time late afternoon? On FRIDAY? And that apparently every single car that leaves Salem in the late afternoon goes in this direction?

You get the picture. Let's just say that our easy two-hour drive to NH turned into a, um, somewhat longer drive. Punctuated by growls and curses from Mike, and endless apologies from me. Culminating with finally reaching the White Mountain Resort way after dark. Where the temperature of our room was sub-arctic and not getting much warmer anytime that night.

So tomorrow is another day. It sure better be.