Welcome to the Salem Tunnel Report. Every Monday we will post new and old tunnel finds along with those who built them. In our posts you will learn how Salem has shaped American history from the profits of the smuggling that happened in these tunnels; sometimes for the good, but more often not.
Dr. Nathaniel Peabody House
53 Charter Street
Prior to 1794 this home was owned by Benjamin Pickman Jr. and Frank Cousins ascribes a date circa 1780 it was built. Pickman was a brother-in-law to Elias Hasket Derby Jr. and purchases Derby Square from him. He would also own the property next to the Peabody Essex Museum where they are now in 2017 putting the current addition in where the Oriental Garden was. This home was connected to the Pickman estate through Court Street.
Literature fans might know this as the home from Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret that was posthumously published by Julian Hawthorne the author’s son. The work highlights the nature of his father-in-law who uses spider webs to make a potion to heal people. Dr. Nathaniel Peabody was a dentist who was always struggling to maintain a practice and later lived with his daughter in Boston as he made pharmaceuticals with varying success. This propensity for poverty also led Hawthorne to hire him to sell tickets for the Lyceum lectures.
Where the father failed in life his daughters made up for in spades. Sophia had married Hawthorne after a 3 year engagement. Sophia was always playing ill, and might of been because her father prescribed a cure for her teething which contained mercury. Later she would rely on opium for migraines. In 1864 President Franklin Pierce would tell Sophia’s sister Elizabeth that Nathaniel had died. Hawthorne was traveling in the White Mountains with his old friend when he had passed.
Elizabeth Peabody started the first kindergarten in America in 1860. She also translated the first Buddhist scripture, Lotus Sutra, into English in her transcendentalist magazine The Dial. At the time she had a bookstore, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s West Street Bookstore, at her home in Boston (circa. 1840-1852). She was a proponent of Paiute Indians and women’s rights. Margaret Fuller’s “Conversations” where held here. Many gatherings of the Transcendentalists happened in her bookstore. Fuller and herself where the only two female writers in the group. This is where she raised her father as he kept trying his hand at selling his pharmaceuticals.
Mary Tyler Peabody married the great educator Horace Mann. In fact there is a tunnel running from the Horace Mann School to the old gym/art room in Salem State University. Her and her sister Elizabeth met him in the boardinghouse they all lived in when they were teaching together. After her husband’s death she worked with Elizabeth in her kindergarten. Her and Horace had a child named Benjamin Pickman. Mary had became an adopted granddaughter of Benjamin Pickman Jr. through her father’s friendship with Dr. Thomas Pickman, his son.
On riding by on my bike I noticed new construction. See they started repairs early in 2017, but they have been stalled. Due to an argument with the city planning board the previous owner, who is deceased now, had sworn his properties would fall to ruin. His other property is the abandoned home on Federal Street Court, which is my setting for Mr. Pelinger’s House & Intergalactic Roadshow, behind the Ropes’ Garden. In his will it is said his heirs can only do enough repairs to keep the homes from being condemned. It looks like the family tried to do more and construction halted. So when I was going by I noticed that where the steps where to the front door had a hole in the foundation. It reminded me of the tunnel that ran under the William B. Parker House and Francis Skerry House.
In front were boards covering up the tunnel that ran under the steps. I did not feel brave enough to lift the board over the tunnel, it was getting caught on a barrier, but I opened the other one to the side and seen the left wall of the tunnel and the hole next to it. I wonder if this served as Nathaniel’s and Sophia’s tunnel of love…
For more read info Salem Secret Underground: The History of the Tunnels in the City and its sequel Sub Rosa by Chris Dowgin published by Salem House Press. Available at Barnes & Noble, Remember Salem, The Witch House, Jolie Tea, and Amazon.com.