Have you ever read a book and wanted to transport yourself directly into its world? I did just that when I visited the colonial House of the Seven Gables in Salem Massachusetts.
Having just arrived in Salem, I made my way to my hotel with two backpacks on my back. I wonder what I looked like wearing two backpacks simultaneously? It probably didn’t look as cool as the image I’m picturing in my mind. I headed from the Port of Salem towards the centre of town, passing by some really beautiful buildings, including an old, abandoned house which was probably once a store or family restaurant.
As I had a few hours before I was due to check-in, I took a tour of The House of the Seven Gables. I wanted to visit it at some point during my trip, so this seemed like the perfect time.
Is the House of the Seven Gables real?
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel about the fictional Pyncheon family who lived during the Salem Witch Trials was inspired by a real house in Salem, MA. Colonel Pyncheon craved land owned by another man – Matthew Maule so he took it. During the Salem Witch Trials, people were brutal and if you wanted your neighbour’s land, all you had to do to get it was to accuse them of witchcraft. Any suspected witch would have their land instantly taken away from them. Cruel.
Related Post: Visiting The Witch Trials Memorial
Salem’s Mini Shared Libraries
As I walked towards the entrance, I spotted a tiny birdhouse-like library. It was so cute! I opened it up and saw it was full of books anyone could take away and read. Or if you had books you were done with, you could tuck them inside for others. How fitting it seemed for the mini-library to be sitting right outside a house honouring a novel. These little free libraries are scattered throughout Salem and I think they’re a fantastic way of sharing books with strangers.
Stumbling through the reception doors with my double backpack, I walked up to the counter and asked the woman behind it if I should leave one of my bags with her or if it would be alright to carry them both around the houses. She recommended I leave my luggage with her, as I definitely wouldn’t fit in the tiny secret stairwell with such a large pack.
Who built the House of the Seven Gables?
On the seafront stood The House of the Seven Gables, a dark wooden mansion equipped with seven gables. A gable is a sloped roof in the shape of a triangle. If you visit, see if you can spot all seven before you go inside. The house is surrounded by an incredibly beautiful seaside garden outfitted with a well.
The original house, which is also called the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, was built in 1668 by Sea Captain John Turner, a successful fishing and trading industry leader. Thanks to his prosperous career, Turner was able to make two major additions to his home. If you take a tour, you’ll see remnants of construction in the attic. You’ll also find a smaller version of the house showing you what it originally looked like before the additions.
Did Nathaniel Hawthorne live in The House of The Seven Gables?
The House of The Seven Gables was passed down through generations and once belonged to Susanna Ingersoll, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s second cousin. Nathaniel spent time with his cousin at the house when he worked in Salem. So he did live in the house, although only as a guest.
During the time Nathaniel stayed there, it had been renovated by the Ingersoll’s to represent a more modern house with three gables. His cousin showed Nathaniel pictures of the house in its previous state, which inspired him to write The House of the Seven Gables.
Eventually, the house was purchased by Caroline Emmerton who restored it and made some really cool changes (more on this later). She also opened up an association to help immigrants with settlement programs.
The House of the Seven Gables Museum Site
The House of the Seven Gables has five buildings on the museum site, most of which were moved closer to the mansion which resides on its original spot. The Retire Beckett House, which now houses the museum store, was moved in 1924. The Hooper-Hathaway House and the Counting House were moved, too. As was the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which was originally a few blocks away on Union Street in 1958.
After leaving my backpack in the visitor center, I headed towards the mansion to join the tour and walk around the place that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. Upon entering the mansion, I noticed that Caroline Emmerton’s restorations added considerable fan service, as the building was a blend of the original house owned by John Turner and the fictional House of the Seven Gables owned by the Pyncheon family.
Fiction versus Reality
Our tour group of ten was led into a room with a large fireplace, where I learned that women in the 17th century would soak their skirts in water to help prevent the fabric from catching fire. If a woman’s skirt caught fire while tending to the kitchen, it would be impossible for her to undress quickly enough to save herself. This resulted in horrific deaths for those who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in this situation.
Directly next to the fireplace is a little store called the “Cent Shop” which was owned by Hepzibah in the novel. As we toured around the rest of the house, our guide detailed the real history of the house, sprinkled with stories about the fictional characters which called it home.
The Secret Room in The House of the Seven Gables
As we walked upstairs, our tour guide brought us into a room with a secret. In the novel, there’s a character called Clifford who had previously been jailed for murdering his uncle. However, it’s later revealed that he was framed by his cousin so he could get his hands on Clifford’s inheritance. People were truly brutal during the witch trials! I know this is a fictional story, but people in history have been known to do worse.
Clifford was frequently heard before he was seen and was known to move throughout the house without anyone ever noticing him. It’s almost as if he were a ghost or there were secret passageways only he knew existed.
After explaining that, our tour guide opened a wooden panel flush to the wall next to the fireplace to reveal a secret stairway!
Climbing the tiny stairway
The stairway was tiny, steep and a real struggle for everyone to climb. Don’t worry — if you can’t climb it, there’s a regular set of stairs that will lead you to the same place in the attic. But if you can climb the staircase, please do! It was a really cool feature that made me feel part of a secret contained within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mind.
Our next stop was a newly opened room which was still fairly empty. It’s only recently been opened to the public and the museum is still unsure what to do with it. The walls had several layers of peeling paint, revealing the real age of the house.
Is The House of the Seven Gables Haunted?
The actual Turner-Ingersoll Mansion is not known to be haunted, but the fictional house is haunted in a different way. Instead of being haunted by ghosts and spirits, the House of the Seven Gables is haunted by a curse that has followed the Pyncheon family through generations, plaguing them with bad fortune. Another reason the house may be thought of as haunted is, as I mentioned above, how Clifford moves though the house seemingly unseen.
If you love historical homes in Salem, such as The Witch House, you’ll really enjoy visiting The House of the Seven Gables. I loved visiting the museum and highly recommend taking a guided tour, as I learned so much about the history of the house and how it inspired Nathaniel’s book. If you haven’t read The House of the Seven Gables, check it out here and give it a read!
Related Post: Visiting The Witch House in Salem Massachusetts
Visiting The House of the Seven Gables
Address: 115 Derby Street
Hours: 10 am – 5 pm daily. Be sure to check their website for holidays and alternate hours
Price: As of 2019 the Adult Admission is $16
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