Category Archives: Halloween

Quoth the Raven “Salem, MA”

SalemMA_Graveyard Fall Foliage_credit Teresa Nevic Stavner

Setting a spooky scene – Salem graveyard. Photo by Teresa Nevic Stavner (courtesy of Destination Salem)

Salem, Massachusetts and Halloween go together like chocolate and peanut butter – both are terrific alone and irresistible when they come together.  So, it’s only fitting that we reach into Salem’s rich history for this spooky Fun Fact Friday.

When we think about literature and Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne usually comes to mind.  But did you know that the master of horror himself, Edgar Allan Poe, was inspired by the seaside city?

In 1830, the grisly murder of the prominent Captain Joseph White swept the nation.  As the trial progressed, it was revealed that  John Francis Knapp had hired Danvers residents Richard and George Crowninshield  to kill White.  John and Joe Knapp (because, it apparently takes 2 sets of brothers to commit a horrible crime), believed that if the immensely rich Captain White died without a will, his money would be thus left to his relatives – most importantly, a Mary Beckford who also happened to be Joe Knapp’s mother-in-law. The idea was that when Mrs. Beckford died, her daughter, Mrs. Joe Knapp would come into the money and the Knapp brothers would be living on Easy Street.

But why bother to kill White?  Wouldn’t his fortune be left to his family anyway?  Well, it wasn’t that simple.  White’s will favored his nephew Stephen.  Were White to die of old age, the bulk of his fortune would be Stephen’s and Mary Beckford’s cut would be much, much smaller.  On a side note, can’t help but wonder how poor Mrs. Beckford felt about all of this.  What was to stop her son-in-law from killing her once she inherited a fortune from her relative’s estate?

Anyhow, to make sure that the will was never found, Joe Knapp stole it from Captain White’s chest…and didn’t realize that people don’t tend to keep very important legal documents just lying around their homes.  The real will was locked away in White’s lawyer’s office.  And Stephen got his money a little sooner than expected.

Ravaged by guilt for what he and his brother had set forth, Joe Knapp wrote a long confession.  Richard Crowninshield (who by now probably realized that $1,000 wasn’t worth killing someone) committed suicide, which authorities took as sign of a confession.  The Knapp brothers and George Crowninshield were brought to trial where they were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

Daniel_Webster_-_circa_1847

Webster was a…serious man. (Photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Daniel_Webster_-_circa_1847.jpg)

During the trial, the nouveau riche Stephen White asked close friend and legal bigwig Daniel Webster to aid in the prosecution.  And by “asked,” we mean he paid Webster $1,000.  He could afford it now.

Webster was a sort of 19th century Johnny Cochran.  He was a passionate showman and a great legal mind.  His dramatic orations and recreations of the crime captivated the courtroom audience and, when published in newspapers, readers from around the country.  One of his more popular orations went a little something like…

“Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim . . . A healthful old man . . . The assassin enters . . . With noiseless foot he paces the lonely hall . . . and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this, he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure, till it turns on its hinges without noise; and he enters, and beholds his victim before him . . . The face of the innocent sleeper . . . show[s] him where to strike. The fated blow is given! . . . It is the assassin’s purpose to make sure work . . . To finish the picture, he explores the wrist for the pulse! He feels for it and ascertains that it beats no longer! The deed is done. He retreats, retraces his steps to the window . . . and escapes. He has done the murder. No eye has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and it is safe!  Ah! Gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake. Such a secret can be safe nowhere . . . True it is, generally speaking, that “murder will out” . . . the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret.”

Sound familiar? The sleeping victim, the madman assassin who would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for his meddling conscience.  We know we’ve heard this story before…

Poe was a little less serious, anyway... (Photo: https://www.poemuseum.org/images/bruckmann-poe-portrait.jpg)

Poe was a little less serious, anyway…
(Photo: https://www.poemuseum.org/images/bruckmann-poe-portrait.jpg)

And it was called “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Scholars now note the similarities between case and fictional story and cite that Webster’s oration was a big influence on “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  The crime and story both center on a sleeping old man murdered in the night by a cool, calm, confident assassin.  Both Knapp and the unnamed narrator were also compelled to clear their consciences and admit to the crime due to their weighing guilt and the belief that others could see the wrongdoings even in just their demeanor.

During his oration, Webster also dared “painters and poets” to “Let him draw, rather, a decorous, smooth-faced, bloodless demon; a picture in repose, rather than in action; not so much an example of human nature in its depravity.”  After reading over the widespread and frequently republished speech, Poe could very well have accepted this challenge and met it with his own story that portrays the murderer as a passive narrator who is clearly mad, but not a depraved and inhuman caricature.

The White case also intrigued and inspired Salem resident Nathaniel Hawthorne who closely followed the grisly case that shook his hometown.  Tiptoeing around a big spoiler, one of Hawthorne’s novels features a person normally viewed as pure in thought and deed (a “smooth-faced…picture in repose”) who is consumed with guilt over something they had done and ultimately feels the need to purge him/herself to absolve their conscience.  Reverend Dimmsdale in “The Scarlet Letter.” *Phew* sometimes it feels better to confess and be honest…. (Congrats on finding this Easter Egg, by the way!) 

For more information on the White Trial, check out this article from the Smithsonian Magazine“A Murder in Salem.”  It gives an in-depth overview of the trial and how both Hawthorne and Poe were influenced by it in their writings.  And, for some fun, quick Halloween reading, a copy of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Sources:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-murder-in-salem-64885035/?no-ist=&page=1
http://www.eapoe.org/works/mabbott/tom3t002.htm

You’ve got to pick a pumpkin or two…

pumpkin pinterest

Animals have (albeit savagely) caught on to our time-honored pumpkin traditions.

Pumpkins are an essential part of autumn.  We pick them, cook them, vaguely flavor our coffee like them, and painstakingly carve spooky, whimsical, or funny faces or scenes on them and illuminate them on our front steps.  Even after they are no longer “good,” we find uses for pumpkins, à la “Pumpkin Chunkin” (or hurling overripe pumpkins at great distances.  We don’t quite get it either…).

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In the North of Boston, we love to celebrate the autumn’s favorite orange gourd.  Here are two pumpkin-related events happening this weekend:

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Pumpkin Day at Cogswell’s Grant
Saturday, October 19th 11am-4pm
Cogswell’s Grant
60 Spring Street, Essex MA

Celebrate all things autumn at Cogswell’s Grant.  Take a hay wagon ride through the fields to choose a jack-o’-lantern from our pumpkin patch. There will be many great activities and events for the whole family including arts and crafts, games, face painting, and more!  Try your hand at pressing apple cider and warm up with a cup of hot mulled apple cider and pumpkin pie (save room for the pumpkin pie-eating contest!).  Decorate and carve pumpkins, compete in a pumpkin pie-eating contest, make crafts, play games, have your face painted, and try cider pressing.  Afterwards, tour the house and see one of the most celebrated collections of American antiques and folk art.

http://shop.historicnewengland.org/p-7048-pumpkin-day.aspx

pumpkin-624x468Newburyport’s Great Pumpkin Lighting & Stroll
Saturday, October 19th 5-8pm
Market Square, Newburyport MA

An evening for the whole family, you are encouraged to bring a carved pumpkin to be lit and placed with other pumpkins on the stage in Market Square.  Each family will receive a votive candle – the candles will all be lit at once at dusk.  Watch as all of the pumpkins are illuminated and stroll downtown Newburyport and the Tannery to admire the pumpkins designed and carved by local businesses.

http://business.newburyportchamber.org/Events/details/newburyport-s-great-pumpking-lighting-stroll-6620

Columbus Day Weekend Events

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
In 2013, on Columbus weekend, we look for stuff to do…

Okay, so maybe the meter is a bit off, but for many, Columbus Day weekend provides us with 3-4 days free days to do as we please.  So, other than the numerous sales at car dealerships and department stores, what is there to do this weekend?  Here is just a taste of what’s going on in the North of Boston (for a full schedule of area events, visit http://northofboston.org/events/month/).

fhf_eventspageFall Harvest Festival
Newburyport, MA
October 13-14

Held Sunday & Monday of Columbus Day weekend, enjoy great live music, art, fine crafts, food from Newburyport’s best restaurants! There’s something for the whole family, from Linsdsay & Her Puppet Pals Puppetry and Storytelling at Market Square (Sunday, 10:30-11am) to live music from the Squeezebox Stompers (Sunday) and 97 North (Monday) (1-4pm, Market Square).  http://business.newburyportchamber.org/Events/details/fall-harvest-festival-5834


Lannon in SunCeltic Music Sail 
Schooner Thomas E. Lannon
63 R. Rogers Street
Gloucester, MA
Saturday, October 12 (2:30-5:00pm)

Join Celtic singer Michael O’Leary & Friends for a sailing ‘seisiun’ of traditional songs ‘n tunes aboard the schooner Thomas E. Lannon as she takes an early autumn sail around beautiful Gloucester harbor on Saturday, October 12, 2:30-5pm. The musicians include harper/singer Moira Kelly, fiddlers Ramona Connelly and Kate Hanlon, and singers Susan Goyette Young, Chris Leghorn and Austin O’Keefe. For more info and tix: http://schooner.org/ or 978.281.6634.

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(Photo by Brian Giamberardino)

(Photo by Brian Giamberardino)

Topsfield Fair
207 Boston Street
Topsfield, MA
Now through Monday, October 14

A tradition for nearly 200 years, the Topsfield Fair is an Essex County staple.  The oldest fair in America, the Topsfield Fair is 10 days of fun for the whole family.  From the record-breaking giant pumpkin contest and sand sculpture exhibit to the mouth-watering food, countless rides, and concerts by Bobby Vinton, Cher Llyod, Tate Stevens, and many more, this year’s fair is not to miss!  http://www.topsfieldfair.org/index.php


32nd Annual Salem Haunted Happenings
Now through Thursday, October 31

A frighteningly festive celebration of Halloween and autumn in New England, Haunted Happenings has fun and activities for all ages including the Haunted Biz Baz Street Fair, Family Film Nights on Salem Common, farmers’ markets, costume balls, ghost tours, haunted houses, live music, and chilling theatrical presentations.  Visit Salem this October for a spook-tacular time…if you dare.  For a full schedule of Haunted Happenings events, visit http://hauntedhappenings.com/calendar