“Its front is ornamented with a portico of half a dozen wooden pillars, supporting a balcony, beneath which a flight of wide granite steps descends towards the street. Over the entrance hovers an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw.”
If you have ever read Nathaniel Hawthorne’sThe Scarlet Letter,this building before you might seem familiar. In his introduction to the novel, Hawthorne presents a detailed, written sketch of the Salem Custom House, and a bit about its history, before and during his time working there. Hawthorne tells the reader that he had found the manuscript to The Scarlet Letter among some papers left behind by a previous surveyor – a man from the 17th century he identifies as “Mr. Surveyor Prue” -- and here he was publishing them just as he had found them.
Hawthorne was appointed Surveyor due to his friendship with future U.S. President Franklin Pierce, whom he had met when they were students at Bowdoin College. His tenure as Surveyor would be challenging and frustrating, but it allowed him to provide for his family. Although a well-known author at this point, he still was unable to survive as a writer. Hawthorne worked at the Salem Custom House for three years before a change of the guard in national politics would see him replaced.
Please continue down Derby St. Our next stop will be on your right -- the House of the Seven Gables.