Friday, July 14, 2006

East Newbury

We got to East Newbury late Sunday night. It’s a little farther than Alun made it sound, closer to the coast than the center of the state. Once you get off 95, the roads up here aren’t so clearly marked, and they tend to change names five or six times whenever the landscapers felt like it. C. got a little worried when we started seeing signs for the New Hampshire border. Fortunately we got an early start—I don’t think we ever would’ve found the place at night.

Our bed and breakfast, the East Wind Inn, had the kind of quaint New England charm they make calendars out of, but by the time we finally got there, all we needed was a place to crash and get some food. C. was exhausted and the boys needed a break after nine-plus hours on the road. It was almost nine o’clock but the couple that owns the inn, Deb and Charlie, were nice enough to reopen the kitchen and whip us up a late dinner. After we put the kids to bed, C. went up to take a bath, and I went out on the porch and asked Charlie if he knew anything about Isaac Hamilton. Right away he asked if I was writing a book. Apparently nobody else asks. When I mentioned the historical society, Charlie looked dubious. He said they’re hardly ever open.

In the morning I stopped by anyway. Sure enough, they weren’t open and there wasn’t any indication of when they might be back. C. and the boys and I spent the rest of the morning wandering through town but there wasn’t much to see, a few streets, shops, an old garage. It was getting hot and I couldn’t even find the statue of Isaac Hamilton that Alun had told me about. By the time we got back to the B&B for lunch, I was seriously starting to wonder if there was enough material to make an article about, let alone a whole book. C. wanted to call her friend and former employer in Concord and possibly take the boys out to Nantucket.

After lunch Charlie introduced me to two other guests at the Inn. Jay and Amy run an urban exploration web site called and they’d come out to take a look around the old Shaw House—an abandoned estate outside of town. When I told them I was writing a book about Hamilton, they were more than willing to let me tag along.

Depending on who you ask, the Shaw house was either built just before or just after the turn of the 19th century. Apparently Leonard Shaw had been a wealthy shipping magnate and he and his wife had three children. Jay told me there was some kind of local legend that Hamilton had murdered all three children one afternoon in October and Mrs. Shaw had spent the rest of her life in an asylum while Mr. Shaw drank himself to death as the house crumbled around him.

We got to the house late that afternoon. It was at the end of a long dirt road (unmarked, of course). I never would’ve found it by myself. Jay and Amy knew what they were doing and once we got in, they took some pretty amazing pictures of the interior.

When we got back to the B&B for dinner, C. told me that Alun had called. He wanted to meet us the next day in a town called Gray Haven, further west, closer to where he lives. He said there’s at least five other towns with some association to Hamilton. After I scanned in the Shaw house pictures Jay and Amy had taken, we talked more about possibly going out there together—Alun said were at least two old homesteads of Hamilton’s victims still standing. We made arrangements to meet before they left to go back to Ohio.

So tomorrow we’re supposed to head west, to Gray Haven. C. is basically okay with this but I can already tell this isn’t exactly the vacation she’d expected. The compromise is that once we’ve covered this ground, come August, we’ll go spend a week on Nantucket. If the University of California Press has a hard time with that, I’ll pay for it out of pocket.

Meanwhile, I’ll post again when and if I get anything interesting in Gray Haven.


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