Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ralph Waldo Emerson House

Have taken so many day trips to Salem both this summer and last, that it was time to try a different commuter rail. The Concord train depot is about half a mile from the town center. The town is well prepared for tourists with an information booth and lots of places to buy a sandwich and soda. After taking my tour of the Ralph Waldo Emerson House , I pulled out a train schedule. The guides seemed surprised and one exclaimed, "That's more than a mile from here. I guess with the price of gas..." Actually, I don't own a car and I really don't mind walking.

The house itself is in bad repair with lots of cracking plaster and a strong smell of mold. The prints on the walls are very yellowed and the spines are separating from the books. The guides were just competent but somehow I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The house felt more like some very old people lived there rather than a sterile museum. Our two guides leaned up against and stroked the objects in the house. They told us that descendants of Emerson did repairs on the house. There was something very charming about my entire afternoon, including my stop at the elegant Concord Public Library. Strangers smiled in the streets and the cars stopped at the crosswalks. Culture shock for a city dweller.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stephen Phillips House

Very few museums are still free in this era of rapid increases in admission fees. This is the last summer that the Stephen Phillips House will still give free tours. Historic New England has acquired the property and will charge admission starting next year. In the meantime, it is a real bargain in the MacIntyre District of Salem, MA.

On both visits I have had excellent docents that were well informed and interesting. The house has a long history including five generations of Stephen Phillipses and a divorce in which half the house was moved from four miles away. A good guide can explain it all while talking about the furnishings, which are all original to the house. Also of interest, half the house is Federal style architecture and the other half is Colonial revival. It is well worth a short trip on the commuter rail from Boston.

The Persian carpets, oil paintings, antique furniture, dental moldings, Polynesian war clubs, and large plate collection, all make for an interesting interior. Outside is the carriage house that features a vintage Ford, two Pierce Arrow automobiles custom made in Buffalo, NY, a sleigh, and several carriages. It was originally designed as a cow barn and later had stalls for horses. The last male resident, Stephen Phillips V, drove his three ton Pierce Arrow around Salem through the mid 1950s. Whether you drive or take the commuter rail, go see this house museum.