Great American Road Trip: Massachusetts
Destination: Cape Ann, Massachusetts
Book: Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town (2009) by Elyssa East
Here we are in a wild, wooded 3,000 acre area next door to Gloucester MA. It may come as a surprise that we are not visiting Gloucester, a tourist mecca and authentic fishing town, or Cape Cod, or the historic and charming city of Boston.
I picked this new book because when I read it I was hooked from the very start. And it makes a good first step on our Great American Road Trip, because it reminds us of the great variety to be found in any state. You want to know about the whole state? Buy a guidebook. Here, we look for good reads that will also give you a sense of place.
Elyssa East, the author of Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town goes looking for the inspiration reflected in paintings by Marsden Hartley. She seeks a place of peace and healing. She finds a ghostly deserted colonial village, witches and warlocks, a cultivated wilderness, words of wisdom carved on immense boulders and an eerie landscape. And she follows the tracks of a gruesome murder and its impact on people’s feelings about Dogtown.
In this extensively researched literary non-fiction, East weaves together her many different tales in the way that underbrush tangles around the base of those glacier-tossed dolmens that dominate her thoughts and the landscape.
Does it make the reader want to go there? Depends. I am willing to state that the next time I go to Boston, I’ll head north to Cape Ann and explore not only the usual tourists destinations of beach and quaint fishing village of Gloucester, but also hike into the woods of Dogtown.
The only fault I can find with the book is that I longed to see the paintings that inspired Elyssa East’s journey. They probably are restricted by copyright so that they could not be reproduced. And heaven knows we can see plenty of them on Google images. In addition to his painting, Hartley wrote poetry, and here is what he had to say about Dogtown and its rocks.
Hartley, whose story gets buried (excuse the term) by the murder and subsequent trial, has words of wisdom that all travelers might well ponder. East says, “when he found a place he wanted to paint, he said that he ‘did as I always have to do about a place–look at it–see–it–and think of nothing else.'” He also quote T.S. Eliot:
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks.
Those words strike me as more inspiring than those preachy ones Roger Babson, economist and philosopher, had carved on the boulders. “When work stops, values decay,” “Keep out of debt, “Help Mother.” …Well, on second thought, I might carve that last one on a rock outside my door.
East does a good job of recreating this sometimes scary, sometimes peaceful landscape, but she also knows that you cannot comprehend a place without understanding its people. She talks with and introduces us to a fascinating parade of personalities. All in all, it makes wonderful travel literature for a road trip to New England.
For another view of Dogtown, you can read Anita Diamant‘s (author of The Red Tent) novel The Last Days of Dogtown (2008)
You can always strike up a conversation with Elyssa East, author of Dogtown, on Twitter where she is @elyssaeast.
MUSIC FOR THE ROAD
Get the music to go with a road trip visit to Cape Ann over at Music Road,where Kerry Dexter has some fisherman’s chanties and maybe more waiting for us.
And, if you want more of Massachusetts, see our post on Jaws at Martha’s Vinyard, Wellsfleet, Transcendental New England, France in Boston, Spenser’s Boston and the Pilgrims. See, didn’t I tell you? A lot of variety in one small state.
And thanks to Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster for providing me with a review copy.
Did you know about Dogtown? Have you visited it? Or is this all new to you?