House of Seven Gables

Semoon Chang | 9/18/2017

I was invited to join the July 14 to 17 trip from Washington to Philadelphia to Boston to New York, and finally back to Washington. What was unique about the trip was that the objective was to visit places that were more historical than, say, sight-seeing. For instance, we visited the historical Episcopal Trinity Churchin New York that opened in 1846, but not the 911 Memorial or the new World Trade Center around the corner.


The trip was organized by the highly respected Chang Soo-young who was the second President of Pohang School of Engineering, and writer Lee Yung-mook who is well known in literature circle in the Washington area. Actual trip was handled efficiently by Hans Travel also in Washington.


I need to tell you in advance that I am not of an intellectual type. My preference in music is old Korean pop songs, not classical ones. My preference in travel is more for sight-seeing than for historical places that require intellectual mind. One place during the trip caught my attention, however.


It is Salem, a short distance north of Boston in Massachusetts. Salem is famous for its witch trials of 1692 and 1693 during which more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were executed. Salem even has two museums on witches; Witch Dungeon Museum and Witch History Museum.


As you guessed by now, our travel group skipped these witch museums of my preference, and went directly to the House of Seven Gables that had its own remarkable story.


The House of the Seven Gables is an1851 novel that was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne who became famous for the highly successful novel, The Scarlet Letter. The story of the House was about the history of the house that had seven gables. A gable, in case you wonder, is the top part of a wall of a building just below the roof, that is located at the ends of a roof and is shaped like a triangle. Most homes have gables. This particular house had seven gables; the eighth is not counted because it was way below the level of seven gables that were on top corners of the roof.


Let me try to summarize the story of the house as best as I can as we were told by the House tour guide.

The land on which the house was built was owned by Matthew Maule. Colonel Pyncheon wanted the land and accused Maule of practicing witchcraft as widely practiced during the time in Salem. Maule was executed and Colonel Pyncheon was able to build the house there.


When Maule was executed, however, he laid a curse on the Pyncheon family. During the house-warming festivities, Colonel Pyncheon was found dead in his armchair. Legend has it that he died from the curse. Colonel Pyncheon's portrait remains on the wall as a symbol of its dark past.


The later resident of the house was a lady named Hepzibah Pyncheon, who was so poor that she opened a shop in a side room to support her brother Clifford who had just completed a 30-year sentence for murder. She had wealthy cousin, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, but refused any assistance from him. Soon, pretty Phoebe, a distant relative of Hepzibah, arrived and a romance grew between Phoebe and the mysterious attic lodger Holgrave, who was writing a history of the Pyncheon family.


Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon arrived at the house to find information about land in Maine that was rumored to belong to the family. Judge Pyncheon thought that Clifford knew the location of the missing deed of the land in Maine, and threatened Clifford with an insanity hearing unless he revealed details about the missing deed.


Clifford knew nothing about the deed, and was about to be brought to the Judge, but before he was brought before the Judge, the Judge died while sitting in Colonel Pyncheon's chair. Curse continued.


Afraid of being accused for murder of Judge Pyncheon, Hepzibah and Clifford fled by train, but returned when the suspicion was lifted. New evidence in the crime that sent Clifford to prison for 30 years turned up, proving that Clifford was innocent of the crime. Actually, the crime was framed by Judge Pyncheon, who was looking for the missing deed for a long time.


Holgrave, who was a mysterious lodger in the house, turned out to be Maule's descendant, who was trying to find out how Maule was executed. Although the missing deed was later discovered behind the old Colonel's portrait, the paper became worthless because the land had been settled by others over the many years. All residents left the house, freeing themselves from the curse of the past.


The house with seven gables is a small wooden house, but built with great passion for details. There are small passages connecting rooms, and a nice view overlooking the bay. Now that you have an idea of what the House of Seven Gables is all about, you may visit the house in Salem and truly appreciate the place.

Chang Se-moon is the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Impact Studies. Write to him at: