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A Tour of the Salem Marine Society's Meeting Place on the Roof of the Hawthorne Hotel

Following a lovely afternoon exploring the PEM and a little Christmas shopping in some of the eclectic shops nearby, the girls and I made the short walk back over to the Hawthorne Hotel where it was almost time to meet back up with Juli for our tour of the Salem Marine Society's meeting place on the roof of the Hawthorne.

With a motto of "Where Virtue Reigns, the Unfortunate Find Relief", the Salem Marine Society, which is the oldest charitable organization in Salem, was established in 1766 by 18 local ship-masters and ship-owners "to provide relief for disabled and aged members and their families; to promote knowledge of this coast; and to communicate observations for making navigation more safe."  Members of the Salem Marine Society even paid for and erected a lighthouse on Baker's Island in 1792 to help sailors navigating the rocky shores of Salem but more on that particular item later!

In 1830 Captain Thomas Perkins, who was a merchant of Salem but not a Society member, willed the Franklin Building on the corner of Essex Street and Washington Square to the Society and it was there that the Society held its meetings for almost 100 years.  When the Town of Salem decided to build a modern hotel in 1923, the Society agreed to raze the Franklin Building and sell the land so that the Hawthorne Hotel could be built in its place.  In exchange, the hotel built a room on the roof for the Society's life use - a deal that was agreed upon via handshake and which lasted for many, many years before it was finally put in writing. The new Hawthorne Hotel didn't just build any old room for the Society, though - they built a replica of the cabin of the Taria Topan, one of the last vessels to ply the lucrative East India Trade that made so many sea captains in Salem millionaires.

The cabin is not open to the public so I felt very honored that the girls and I were granted a tour and given the chance to see some of the relics of Salem's maritime past that are kept there. At 5:30 promptly, Juli called our room and said that she and several other employees of the Hawthorne who'd never seen the room would stop by and get us on their way up and sure enough, they were there within moments and we made our way up to the cabin on the roof.

One of the first things you notice after noticing that "yes indeed, it does look like you've stepped into a ship's cabin!" is all of the portraits on the walls of past Salem Marine Society members including the gentlemen pictured below -

Past Members of the Salem's Mariners Society

- and a replica of a portrait by Gilbert Stuart (the original is the property of the Peabody Essex Museum) of Nathaniel Bowditch, one of Salem's most famous native sons who was a self-taught astronomer, navigator, and business executive as well as one of America's first scientists.

Portrait of Nathaniel Bowditch

Upon Dr.Bowditch's death in 1838, the Salem Marine Society wrote the following tribute for the man who is arguably the most influential person in the history of American navigation:
“As long as ships shall sail, the needle point to the north, and the stars go through their wonted courses in the heavens, the name of DR. BOWDITCH will be revered as one who helped his fellow-men in a time of need, who was and is a guide to them over the pathless ocean, and as one who forwarded the great interests of mankind.”
In addition to the portraits of Dr. Bowditch and other Society members that adorn the dark wood-paneled walls are a pair of portraits of the same man with a rather unusual tale behind them.   Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury who served as the first superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. and whose research led to significant improvements in ship navigation and travel as well as reform for the US Navy, was made an honorary member of the Salem Marine Society in 1848 due to his great naval achievements - in particular those in the field of navigation. In the same fashion as other Society members, Lt. Maury's portrait was hung upon the wall but in mid-1861 his portrait took on another direction entirely.

Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury - backwards!When the American Civil War broke out, Virgina-born Lieutenant Maury resigned his commission as a Commander with the US Navy (which he had served since age 19) and joined the Confederacy as Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defences. In this capacity, Maury, using his experience with the transatlantic cable and electricity flowing through underwater wires, perfected an electric torpedo which raised havoc with northern shipping. The torpedoes, which are similar to present-day contact mines, were said by the Secretary of the Navy in 1865 "to have cost the Union more vessels than all other causes combined."

Aghast that the same talents that had allowed Maury to benefit all mariners and that had made him an honorary member of the Salem Marine Society had now made him a deadly foe who cost the Union many lives instead, the Salem Marine Society voted on May 30th, 1861 that Matthew Maury be stricken from their rolls and that his portrait, rather than being removed entirely from their meeting place, be hung upside down and faced to the wall due to being perceived as a traitor to the Union and to this very day, it still hangs that way.

Lt. Matthew Fontaine MauryAs Juli told us, the story didn't end there for in 2007 - many years after the portrait had been turned - members of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities had the opportunity to tour the meeting place of the Salem Marine Society as partial compensation for a mix-up that had occurred with their reservations at the hotel and when they saw the portrait of Lieutenant Maury and heard the story behind it, they became quite upset. After returning to Virginia, members of the Association wrote to the Society and asked them to reconsider the treatment of the portrait however the Society voted to keep the original portrait hung as it was since 1861.  They did agree, however, to hang a new portrait of Maury along with a sign detailing his accomplishments that was provided by the Association next to the disgraced portrait.

Even though the Salem Marine Society now honors Maury with the newer portrait, they have no plans to change the state of the old portrait which continues to hang upside down and backwards due to the side he chose in the War Between the States.  We Yankees can be quite stubborn when it comes to certain things and I can certainly understand where the new Society members don't wish to overrule the old Society members who chose to hang the portrait in disgrace 'lo these almost 150 years ago. After all, like it or not, history is what it is and it can't be erased or swept under the carpet - nor should it be.

Before we left the cabin of the Taria Topan to head out on our next adventure in Salem, Juli offered to take a picture of the girls and I.  Considering that we were in a special place on a special tour, I acquiesced and decided to stand on the other side of the lens for once!  See what a beautiful room it is?

Jamie, Amanda, & I in the Salem Mariner Society's Room

I didn't take too many pictures of the room but that's because I knew there was a video that I planned on sharing with you that was taken by Juli in July of 2008 which gives you a nice tour of the room by Jim McAllister who is a local Salem historian. If you have a few free minutes please take the time to watch the video - especially if you ever wanted to know where the term "blackballed" comes from!


Now ... I know you're all still anxious to find out whether or not we had any ghostly encounters at the Hawthorne so please be sure to come back for my next installment and I'll see if I can scare up the answer for you!


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