Travel Secret in Massachusetts

Great American Road Trip: Massachusetts


DogTown Book Cover

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.


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?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

10 thoughts on “Travel Secret in Massachusetts

  1. Fyi- Dogtown is an area in Gloucester, not Glouchester. A portion of Dogtown is in Rockport. The city of Gloucester and the town of Rockport comprise the island that is Cape Ann.
    As with many islands, the middle is uninhabited and has been since around the time of the Civil War.
    Despite Ms. East’s impressions of Dogtown, not all of us who were born and brought up in Gloucester and Rockport fear Dogtown.
    Do we have a deep respect for Dogtown and its history that lead us to where we are so many generations later? Yes.
    Do we understand that deeply wooded areas around the world often harbor disturbed or outcast or undesirable characters? Of course.
    Do we enjoy walking through Dogtown to investigate the early settlers cellar holes; gathering blueberries, cranberries and bayberries in season; finding the myriad of geocaches hidden there, sometimes in plain sight; teaching hundreds of local school children who come to Dogtown to learn about their ancestors and their way of life, or to be inspired to sketch and paint what they see and feel while among the erratic boulders- Yes… Over and over again.
    Some of us have lived and played around Dogtown all of our lives.
    We been inspired there; we’ve been lost and found there; we’ve cleaned and pruned and thinned out trees there; and we’ve found sadness there. Some of us even live on Dogtown conservation land.
    Occasionally an individual will,for whatever reasons, disrupt the safety, tranquility and culture of Dogtown as Peter Hodgkins did.
    His actions and horrible actions of some who preceded him and will probably follow him, whether in Dogtown in Gloucester, Central Park or the Black Forest do not define that destination nor its inhabitants.
    Does it all make for great reading? You bet!
    I congratulate Elyssa East on her fine writing and ask that readers remember that she is sharing her own impressions of the Dotown that she found.

  2. This is a part of the world I have not been to, so I am taking copious notes. Thanks for the write-up, it’s quite interesting/useful.
    .-= Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences hopes you will read blog ..Travel Where You Want =-.

    1. Stick around, Andy. We’ll be visiting a different New England state each Wednesday. Next up: Connecticut. And Anjuli–join the crowd–all reading travelers feel that way.
      Alexandra: Somehow I knew you would say that. It’s okay to be loyal to your part of the world, but relish the variety that is within a day or two drive from home.

  3. I’ve always wanted to go to Massachusetts- and now I want to read this book AND go visit. oh my- if I keep reading more on this site my list of books to read and places to go is going to be endless 🙂

  4. I hadn’t heard of this book but am intrigued. And thanks for the music suggestion; I love this type of music and enjoy finding local folk music when I travel. In Nova Scotia I was quite enchanted by the local ceilidhs, pronounced kay-ley, which are gatherings of anyone and everyone who wants to play and sing.

  5. Aw,Mark, as someone who writes about Travel Wonders every day, I wouldn’t think you would avoid ghost towns. The boulders around Dogtown? The inspirational inscriptions? The deep, dark woods–oh, sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you. 😉

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