When I was creating Hathor, the fabulous but deteriorating island mansion in my novel Depraved Heart, I relied a lot on my experiences some years earlier of visiting Baker's Island and Great and Little Misery Islands, all in Salem Harbor. From land they don't look that formidable, but when you approach from the water it is quite a different story. Finding a place to dock and then climbing up can be a challenge. Great Misery Island is 83 acres of absolutely astonishing landscape. It contains an aspen grove, meadows, and all manner of wildlife. It is also home to the ruins of an old resort that burned down in 1926.
Little Misery is only four acres but those few acres are lovely to explore. At very low tide you can wade between the two islands. In 1923 a steamship out of Maine called The City of Rockland wrecked and was scuttled off the coast of Little Misery. Its remains can be seen there to this day.
The islands were inhabited for centuries by the Masconomet Indians but legend has it that they got their name from the misfortunes of one Captain Robert Moulton. In the 1620s Captain Moulton, a shipbuilder by trade, was testing out a new boat when a sudden winter storm blew in. He was lucky to make it to shore and endured three miserable days on the island until he could make it back to Salem. It is from that experience it is said the islands' names came.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature Great Misery has to offer is the overgrown ruins of a grand hotel and resort that was built there in the early 1900s. It was quite a work of art with a pier, a clubhouse, a saltwater swimming pool, a tennis court, and a nine-hole golf course. It was the playground of the affluent from Boston who flocked there for regattas, as well as, tennis and golf tournaments. The few pictures that survive show an impressive structure with hardwood floors, exposed beams, and a large brick fireplace. Of course, all that wood—beautiful though it was—was an invitation to disaster which happened in the form of a fire in 1926. Between the time the resort was built and the time of its destruction more than 25 cottages had been built by people who came for the summer but when the fire broke out it claimed a number of the cottages as well as the hotel. People lost interest in Great Misery and nature, as nature always does, began to reclaim it.
Of course there are rumors of ghosts wandering the island. Ghosts, especially New England ghosts, seem to have a fondness for islands. One ghost is that of a long ago sea captain who was in love with a Masconomet maiden. The captain was killed by the girl's brother and they say that on nights when the moon is full he can be seen wandering the island in search of his love.
I have a great love for ruins and abandoned places. They always fire my imagination. On my only visit to Great Misery I found myself touching the remaining pillars and arches and listening—listening to hear if they had secrets to tell me.
Next time I'll blog about the other island—Baker's Island. It is, I was told by someone who lived there, a very scary place at certain times of the year.
Thanks for reading.