The Inspector

By NPI, Inc.



Haunted Places Series: House of the Seven Gables

 October 10, 2022 |  Holiday, Just for Fun |  entertaining, fall, Haunted Places Series

Location: Salem, Massachusetts
Architectural Style: Colonial, Georgian
Built: 1668

For our next entry in this year’s Haunted Places Series, get ready for falling leaves, a legendary author, and a set of infamous trials. This week, we visit the historic House of the Seven Gables.

In the height of Puritan New England, Captain John Turner I constructed a home for his family on the coast of Massachusetts Bay. This simple two-story, two-room home circled a tall chimney in its first iteration and would expand considerably over the years. Features would be added, removed, and added back again to match various styles over the decades, but its famed “seven gables” would become the home’s most iconic feature.

From the Turner family’s hands, the property would be sold to another family of wealthy sailors in the Ingersoll family by 1782. From this, the home gained the colloquial name of the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion. However, it was during this time that Nathaniel Hawthorne, a relative of the Ingersolls, would begin to visit in order to spend time with his cousin Susannah Ingersoll. Though the historic home had already established itself within Salem’s history, it was this association that won the home its fame.

Photo by State Library of Massachusetts, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

As a boy, Nathaniel injured his leg and was restricted to the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion for two years. Susannah regaled her cousin with the home’s history during this time, as well as the history of their family and the town of Salem. These visits would prove to be of considerable significance to Nathaniel, as he would go on to write a novel based on the stories he’d heard. Nathaniel called this book, The House of the Seven Gables, as a tribute to his cousin’s descriptions of the house from when she was growing up. It has been due to the popularity of Hawthorne’s book that the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion came to be better known as The House of the Seven Gables.

In 1908, the home would pass on to Caroline Osgood Emmerton, a wealthy philanthropist in the region. Emmerton renovated the home into a museum and settlement home, making alterations inspired by Hawthorne’s novel and bringing the overall look back in line with a more authentic colonial style. Capitalizing on the novel’s plot, it was actually during this time that a well was added to the garden as well as a “secret staircase” leading from behind the chimney to the attic. Both additions were installed so that incoming tourists would find a location more in line with the novel, although they were not original features to the building.

Nathaniel Hawthorne & John Hathorne
Susannah’s stories about the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion and the town of Salem captivated a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, although not always in a positive way. Nathaniel had heard stories of the Salem Witch Trials, but was particularly struck to learn the story of his great-grandfather, John Hathorne’s, direct role in the event.

John Hathorne presided over the infamous trials as one of the chief judges, which led to 19 executions based on flimsy claims of witchcraft. Seeing this act as a terrible injustice and a stain on his family’s name, it was for this reason that Nathaniel decided to add a “w” to his surname, in hopes to separate himself from John Hathorne. It seemed that this blemish still marked Nathaniel, at least in his mind, as his novel went on to condemn a fictional version of his ancestor in the character Judge Pyncheon.

In the novel, Pyncheon took advantage of hysteria in the community of Salem, and falsely accused a neighbor of practicing witchcraft in order to take his land for himself. As the falsely accused neighbor was executed, he placed a curse on the Pyncheon family, which sets up the events of the novel.

Clearly, Nathaniel was similarly troubled by what his ancestor had done, and felt that his actions left an almost supernatural inheritance he couldn’t rid himself of. As he writes in the prologue of The Scarlet Letter:

He [Judge Hathorne] made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him…I know not whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves to repent, and ask pardon of heaven for their cruelties…At all events, I, the present writer, as their representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by them...may be now and henceforth removed.

Whether a curse was actually waylaid towards Judge Hathorne during the trials is unknown, but some believe these malevolent forces have remained at the House of the Seven Gables.

Ghost Stories
Today, the House of the Seven Gables is open for tours with its focus on historical Puritan life, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, and “social uplifting” through citizenship classes and other outreach efforts for immigrant communities (causes championed by Caroline Emmerton.) Tour guides firmly deny the existence of any ghost or ghoul on the premises, though this has not stopped the rumors from circulating over the years.

Curious events consistent with the most frequent haunts have been reported. Visitors claim to see “shadow people” and hear ominous murmuring (especially late at night). More reference a general strange atmosphere that surrounds the property grounds. Those more familiar with the house’s history claim that two recurring spirits call the House of the Seven Gables their home.

First, a small boy who loves to play in the attic has been said to make noises during tours or peek out from windows on the upper floors. On at least one occasion, the boy was seen scrambling up the secret staircase, only to vanish after being trailed up to the attic. Some claim with absolute certainty that this boy is Julian, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, although there isn’t any record of him even visiting the home in his lifetime.

The other most common specter sighting has been attributed to Susannah Ingersoll herself, who is said to roam the halls of her former home. Guests claim to see a woman in white peeking down through the windows, watching as they enter through the grounds’ gardens.

Whether the city’s history simply inclines visitors into a supernaturally expectant mood or something otherworldly truly walks the halls of the House of the Seven Gables, perhaps the only way to know for sure is to book your visit for yourself!

Cover Photo by Upstateherd, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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