Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Misery Islands of Salem Harbor

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.



26 comments:

  1. What a terrible name. They need to rename the island, stat!

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    1. Haha! This is New England--we love to be dramatic.

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  2. Definitely intriguing. I like what nature has done in her reclaiming too.

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    1. I agree. It's really very beautiful, isn't it?

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  3. Cool to find out that we share a love of abandoned and ruined places. They do let your imagination flow!

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

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    1. Absolutely! I have huge collection of pictures of beautifully abandoned places on my hard drive. They are so inspirational.

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  4. Hi, Kathleen!

    This was an exciting history lesson. I share your fondness for tiny islands and the wildlife that inhabits them, and your passion for exploring ruins and examining shipwrecks. It would be a thrill to visit places that are shrouded in mystery and believed inhabited by ghosts. I can easily understand how such places make you feel alive and make you tingle with excitement. The pictures of the Great Misery Hotel reveal a magnificent complex. I used my imagination just now and tweaked those black and white photos, changing them to vivid color. I traveled back in time to 1905, entered the hotel, walked around and admired the massive wooden beams and luxurious furnishings throughout those large rooms. It brought to mind the Titanic.

    I look forward to your next post, Baker's Island. Hopefully I'll see a ghost! :)

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend, dear friend Kathleen!

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    1. Hi, Shady,
      It's always nice to see you here. I'm glad that you enjoyed my tour of the island. By the way, I came across an article online today that reminded me of something you asked about. This is in Potter County, Pennsylvania. Could this be the old theater you were thinking of: http://seamusmcgraw.com/found-on-a-roadside-the-future-as-it-used-to-be/

      It is good that they are fixing it up!

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    2. Hi again, Kathleen!

      I enjoyed that article about Lynn Hall in the Smethport and Port Allegany area, but it isn't the old theater to which I referred. The old theater I visited at age 8 was in the next county, Potter, and I'm fairly sure it was either in the town of Galeton or Coudersport, maybe Wharton. I can still picture it vividly. The theater facade was located along the main street of the town. You went in, bought some popcorn and candy in the lobby, then walked down a flight of stairs to get to the balcony. If you wished to be seated in the main section of the theater, you needed to walk down a couple more flights of stairs. I remember sitting in the balcony and watching Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead in the mystery movie The Bat.

      Thanks for the link, dear friend, and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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    3. Hi, Shady, I'll have to ask my sister about that when I get a chance. I'm sure she would know--she's very involved in the community there. Coudersport's Main Street has a theater but it's not on the side of a hill. I'll find out what Lisa knows.

      Happy weekend to you, too.

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  5. Hi Kathleen - what a fascinating place ... but can understand why it's got its name ... which would have been so appropriate all those years ago - now of course technology overcomes ... yet - we still feel, see and hear things ...

    Yes - here's to Baker's Island ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi, Hilary, thanks for visiting. Yes, technology makes a difference--when people pay attention to it, which they often do not.

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  6. Wow. This sounds like a truly amazing place. I've personally always had a love for dark and abandoned places ever since I was little so this sounds right up my alley. :)

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    1. There's something sort of mysterious and compelling about them, isn't there? Be sure to stop by next week for my Baker's Island post.

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  7. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos, both old and new. It does look like a great place for inspiring stories. I remember crawling through wisteria vines as a kid to get into the ruins of an old house in the woods. Better than any manmade jungle gym.

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    1. I remember crawling under hemlock trees and pretending they were a tent! It was such a good place to read.

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  8. The Misery Islands sound like a great place to visit. I also love exploring old ruins and checking out tiny islands. What would you say is your favourite spot on them?

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say about Baker's Island!

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    1. I love the aspen grove! It is so lovely. And the meadows are filled with butterflies and moths.

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  9. Misery calls up all kinds of feelings for me. I'm at once intrigued and want to see what this place is like and at the same time I'm thinking, "Why would I visit a place called Misery?" Conflicted.

    I loved the images of the old resort and the walks around that island must be beautiful.

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    1. You would love the aspen grove--especially in autumn when it turns lemon yellow!

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  10. Aspens in autumn are so lovely. What a setting for a ghost story! A murder mystery set on the week of the fire perhaps? The ghost of Mark Twain is intrigued with the remains of the steamboat -- he says he will and check it out! :-)

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    1. I'm sure he'll come up with something amazing.

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  11. An island, ruins, ghosts and tales of troubled times - all the elements for a good story there! Loved this post and the pictures.

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    1. Thanks--I love places that stir my imagination.

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