Salem and Cambridge
I toured these two cities in 1992. I thought about including them on my virtual tour to Boston, but they have enough of their own history to justify their own pages.
Salem, of course, had the famous witch trials. By standards of the day (this is the era of the Spanish Inquisition) relatively few people actually met an untimely end. These events also formed the supposed setting for Arthur Miller's The Crucible though everyone knows he really refers to McArthy era America. Salem, though preceeded the witches. An old Puritan port, it shared the same culture with Boston. As time went on, Salem became the center of the whaling industry. In the 19th century, lamps burned whale oil, and whaling became the oil industry of its time, making Salem a port to rival Boston itself. Ishmael's journey in Moby Dick, of course, starts from Salem. Salem also features prominently in the life of Nathaniel Hawthore, the author of The Scarlet Letter.The real House of Seven Gables inspired his novel of the same name about a family doomed by its history. Hawthorne himself worked at the Custom's house in Salem. His firing gave him the time to write, which goes to show that American government sometimes makes good decisions.
Cambridge qualifies for a visit for two reasons. First, the Colonials defeated the British at the battle of the same name, celebrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.Actually, the initial British attack took the city, but when the patriots discovered the British burning powder, which they mistook for torching the town, they counter-attacked with more sucess. In the 19th Century Cambridge became the intellectual center of America in a way unrivaled by any other American city past or present. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the local minister, presided over an important intellectual circle, as well as writing influential works like Nature and The American Scholar. His poetry today still ranks among the best of the time. His friend Henry David Thoreau lived nearby on the lake, an event celebrated in Walden. Thoreau's famous refusal to pay his taxes to support the Mexican War inspired the entire Civil Disobedience movement that influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Meanwhile, Hawthorne lived in a nearby mansion, mentioned in his title Mosses from an Old Manse. His friend, Herman Melville, feared after the success of Typee that forever after they would refer to him as "the man who lived with the cannibals." This was before Melville wrote Moby Dick,a failure in its time but considered today perhaps the greatest American novel. All of these intellectuals, along with poets well-considered in their day, but not so well today, Longfellow, Whittier, and Lowell, opposed slavery. So that one might consider Cambridge also the center of the anti-slavery movement that led to the Civil War. One wonders, had Thoreau lived that long, would he have paid his taxes to support that war? A visit to Salem and Cambridge, then, requires bringing along quite a library to understand, and enjoy, the real heartland of what many consider "classic American literature." A visit also shows how explicitly (in the case of Hawthorne) and implicitly the course of American thought and belief runs directly from the stubborn Puritans to modern America.
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