Can You Guess Where this is in Salem?

So What do You Think…

Take your guesses and place them in the comment section below.


Smugglers and Senators, Thieves and Murderers

Salem Secret Underground Front Page of Salem Gazette

“These homes were built by respected architects – names like McIntire and Bulfinch. They were the homes and businesses of senators and Supreme Court justices,” said Dowgin. “And in the basements and under the fireplaces, many of them had smuggling tunnels.”

Dowgin, a local historian, has been primarily known for his illustrated children’s books “A Walk Through Salem” and “A Walk Under Salem,” which introduce readers to Salem history in a whimsical way. But his latest book is something different. “Salem Secret Underground: The History of the Tunnels in the City” shows a new side to the famous merchants and captains of industry, one tinged with tax evasion, thievery and even murder.

“The practice of building smuggling tunnels probably dated back to the earliest days of Salem being used as a port,” said Dowgin. “But it really became a common occurrence in the early days of the United States.”

During the Revolutionary War, many shipping magnates in port cities all up and down the East Coast turned to privateering, amassing huge fortunes in wealth captured from British vessels. After the war, the fledgling republic tried to recapture some of that wealth, in the form of steep import duties and other taxes.

“We’d just had an expensive war, we were trying to get our country started, and everyone wanted the party they were opposed to shoulder the brunt of the tax burden,” Dowgin said. “In many ports, people were losing money, but Salem just kept getting richer and richer.”

Part of the reason was that many of the goods that entered Salem were immediately spirited into a complex tunnel network that kept them away from the prying eyes of customs agents. These tunnels extended far into the city, but began practically at Salem wharf itself. As an example, look at the 1762 Derby House, part of the Salem Maritime Historic Site.



“When Richard Derby built the Derby House for his son, Elias Hasket Derby and his new wife, Elizabeth Crowninshield Derby, it was the subject of much speculation in town,” Dowgin said. “In the late 18th century, houses weren’t commonly made of brick, because there was a superstition that brick houses were unhealthy. Then there was the question of why so many bricks were needed; about three times as many as you’d need for a house of that size.”

In reality, Dowgin said, the bricks were being used to construct a tunnel in the basement. Today, the entrance to the tunnel is slightly above grade, and visitors can see the bricked-in arch.

“After the Derby House, the tunnel builders got smarter,” Dowgin said. “They realized that, if they built two brick houses at a time at a fixed distance apart, no one could guess how many bricks were supposed to be there.”

Tunnel explosion


The result, Dowgin said, was an explosion of tunnel building. It connected the port area, with its large homes and brick structures like the Customs House — which was built on the foundations of the old Crowninshield family home and had a smuggling tunnel hidden under some mismatched floorboards in the corner — with the rest of the city’s underground network. In total, Dowgin estimates that at the height of Salem’s shipping power, there were as many as 100 tunnels, about 1.5 miles in total.

“Keep in mind, these tunnel builders were the richest people in town. They didn’t just own mansions, they owned stores and banks, they funded public parks and museums, they had private militias,” Dowgin said. “It was possible for a smuggler to take his goods off his ship, put them right into the tunnel system, take them to his house and store them in a hidden sub-basement, transfer them to a store where they would be sold, then take the money right back into the tunnel and deposit it in their own bank. And all the while it would remain under guard by militiamen who were basically bodyguards.”

Dirt and labor from the tunnel projects was disguised as part of the Salem Common’s massive improvement project.


“At one point, there were three hills and five little ponds on the Common,” Dowgin said. “They flattened it out so they would have a way to explain all the commotion and moving earth. Many of the 144 contributors to the Salem Improvement Fund, which paid for the Common project, were families involved in smuggling.”

Even today, the Common is ringed with brick houses from the period — such as the houses owned by the Story and White families, who were embroiled in a famous 1830 murder recently studied by historian Robert Booth in his new book “Death of an Empire.” Dowgin said houses around the Common display many of the characteristics he looks for in a tunnel house.

“The placement of the fireplace is important — it must be flush with an outer wall. Many of the tunnels were built into fireplaces because the burning fire acted as an oxygen draw which kept the air in the tunnels breathable,” Dowgin said. “To check my guesses, I made friends with a lot of the home owners, and those I couldn’t speak to — I waited until they were having an open house and then went and looked for myself.”

Slaves and speakeasies

The construction of Salem’s tunnels slowed around 1850, as the size of Salem’s port was no longer adequate for most of the powerful ocean-trading vessels and its importance as a port city waned. But city legend did not leave the tunnels empty for long.

“There are persistent rumors, nothing verifiable, that Salem tunnels were used on the Underground Railroad,” Dowgin said. “And during Prohibition, the tunnels were used for underground speakeasies.”

Dowgin has been able to verify the remains of many tunnel sites, but an intact tunnel is rare. Many were used for sewer and utility lines or bricked up for structural reasons. Dowgin has collaborated with his publisher, Salem House Press, to create a walking tour of the remaining tunnel sites, which can be seen at Dowgin also leads tours of the tunnel sites himself.


But one tunnel is still intact — the tunnel that leads from the basement of Rockafella’s restaurant to the stockroom of the Goddess Treasure Chest gift shop.

“When I bought the store, a fire department official came to check the place, and told me that he thought the tunnel had been used to help free slaves,” said Sylvia Martinez, who owns the Goddess Treasure Chest. “I love having it here. It’s a part of Salem history.”

“Salem Secret Underground” is on sale at Remember Salem and Wicked Good Books on Essex Street. Also it is available at Barnes & Noble and




~Mr. Zac

The Stoned Elephant

The Oddfellas.
Stoned Elephant from A Walk Under Salem


I bet she could drink you under the table. The first elephant, (named Old Bett) to set foot in America came onto Derby Wharf from Jacob Crowninshield’s merchant vessel, “America” in 1796. In her initial trip from India to NYC  instead of water, which was in short supply, the elephant was fed, and learned to enjoy, dark beer.

The enterprising Captain Jacob Crowninshield charged spectators 25 cents to watch the elephant uncork and drink bottles of beer. For a $1 she would drink the keg.

Crowninshield eventually sold the elephant for $10,000. In time she was bought by Bailey who traveled with her as his star in his circus. Until they came across a scared New Hampshire farmer who thought it was something from the devil and shot her. Bailey was besides himself in mourning and dedicated his hotel in Somers, NY to her with a statue of her on a large pedestal.





~Mr. Zac

Forest River Lead Works and the Number 2 Pencil

Mr. Dixon a Salem native would buy black lead, or graphite, from here for his Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils. We all have used his pencils in school and on our SATs.  Well here is the story about his first graphite producer.

Founded and incorporated in 1840 as the Forest River Lead company, the lead works were situated on Lafayette Street at Forest River.  Originally the property was owned by Wyman Grist Mill. The company was active for 40 years under this name. In 1884, they were purchased by the Chadwick Lead works of Boston. After remodeling and enlarging the works, the name was changed to Forest River Lead works, to avoid conflicting with the original company name.

After a large fire on March 5, 1897, the entire main factory was destroyed. After rebuilding they became the largest lead mills facility, creating 6,000 tons per year to be used in paint and other trades.

Harriet Hemenway had inherited the property for a spell. She was the founder of the MA Audubon Society. She had a large building in Forest River Park she was going to dedicate to a bird museum that never got finished. Little did she know that the dinosaur she held in her collection in the park was a relative of the birds she was preserving.

Developers have eyed this area in 2001 and 2003 for building assisted living housing or condominiums, but clean up costs were too great and the project did not move forward.

In Oct. 2010, Woodward & Curran started a clean-up of the area. Now there is a popular rail to trail running from Salem to Marblehead.

Photo pf Lead Mills Salem MA

Old Photo of Lead Mills Salem MA

Old Photo of train at Lead Mills Salem, MA
Old Photo of train at Lead Mills Salem, MA

New Winter Commons Walking Tour from Salem Smugglers’ Tour

Look forward in the next week to a new walking tour featuring the history of the Common from its creation, its dedication to the local militia, the fight between Commoners and Villagers over its use, the old industrial nature, and the beautification by Col. Elias Hasket Derby Jr. and the Salem Common Improvement Fund Subscribers.

Pictture of Elias Hasket Derby Jr. in Salem MA
Col. Elias Hasket Derby Jr.

The Salem Common Improvement Fund was an alias for a series of investors who filled in the 5 ponds with dirt from the tunnels they were digging and attached their new brick homes around the Common between 1801 and 1860 to them. The tour will show you various pictures of the sealed tunnels leading from these houses and give you the history of Federal Architecture and its real reason for being created.


The tour will showcase many images of the Common through time on a tablet and tell you entertaining stories, tales of ghosts, and how the tunnels were used. Plus we can peer into two locations that once were entrances to the tunnels.


Check the Salem Smugglers’ Tour web page next week to find out more information. Imagine a walking tour through the snow on the beautiful Common!

100th Anniversary of The Salem Fire Ghost Story

Ghost story? What ghost story? Am I talking about all of those disposed ghosts who had to flee their burning homes in search of new haunts, no silly. Even though that is a good point. I mean do they now haunt invisible houses? Or, I know they get mad when you renovate a home, what do you think would happen when yo build a new home through theirs? No. I mean the famous one. The ghost story of the couple who was put to death in 1692.

Here is the facts we know about the Salem Fire of 1914:

  • The famous Salem Fire of 1914 was one of the largest fires in the history of Massachusetts. Burning about 253 acres or two square miles, the Salem blaze began in the early afternoon of June 25, 1914, at Korn Leather Co. factory at 55 Boston St. in the city’s Blubber Hollow section of town. It spread to 20 factories, most used for leather-working. The wind pushed the fire toward south Salem, spreading to wooden residences and crossing the railroad tracks into South Salem.
  • Thirteen hours later, after the fire had run its course, the damage was assessed: 20,000 homeless, 50 people injured, 1,000 buildings burned and total loss estimated at $12,000,000. Fifty-one streets were totally wiped out and 48 partially burned.
  • The 200 children from the Orphanage on Lafayette Street were removed safely to Salem Willows, as were some of the patients from the hospitals, though some were taken to Danvers Hospital.
  • Forest River Park and Bertram Field were both used for relief camps. Bertram Field had 152 tents with 470 occupants while Forest River Camp accommodated 1,500 people in 400 tents. The Salem Militia and the Red Cross set up and ran these and other food relief efforts.
  • One of the worst losses was St. Joseph’s Church, a twin-towered structure on Lafayette street erected only a few years before the fire. The fire house in Pigeon Park ironically burned down first. The church was rebuilt in 1949.

Now there was a even more famous church in this story. The First Church. Here is a quick fact sheet:


  • The First Church Unitarian, considered the oldest continuous Protestant congregation in America, was established in 1629. This was the church that persecuted the innocent Christians in 1692.
  • Between 1635-1673 the First Church congregation gathered for worship in a succession of meeting houses on or near the former Daniel Low building in Town House Square. In 1647 George Corwin Sr. (Sheriff Corwin’s father) and William Lord pay for the repairs to the church.
  • 1670 is the year in which the first building is given over to a new one. It is within the second building they persecuted the innocent of witchcraft.
  • The present church edifice at 316 Essex Street was built in 1836. This was the fifth building they erected on the site. This is the now famous Daniel Lowe Building.

So what happened to the first building? It was eventually moved to a rear portion of the Proctor Estate off Boston Street. So why was it moved there after they built the second building on Essex Street? John Proctor owned an estate with a tavern on Old Ipswich Road which now runs from Boston Street-Bridge-Goodhue-Mason-North Streets and up around to Danvers. His property went from around Proctor Street to the base of what was Felton’s Hill in Mack Park. While John Proctor was sitting in jail in Boston accused of witchcraft, the church confiscated his property. Years before, in 1672 the first building is handed over to the town to move and use to its liking. They added it to the Old Watch House and held a school within. Then in 1760 Thorndike Proctor removed the church from the old watch house and settled it on his ancestor’s lot which he regained from the church. This building was the one that was much loved by Sheriff Corwin’s father.  Sheriff Corwin was the man who had Martha Corey and John Proctor hanged.

Now the first building stood on that location till it was taken down in 1856 to be removed to its current home behind Plummer Hall next to the Visitor Center. During its stay on Boston Street it was used as a tavern, an inn, a garbage shack, and a horse stable. So it is safe to say that the First Church was full of horse shit for awhile.

In 1902 The Korn leather Factory opened for business on that location. Their building had multiple tenants employed in the art of cobbling. The Korn Leather company had on its site a chemical combination of cellulose and alcohol used to tip shoes. This caught on fire and spread up past the trees in which the innocent were hung upon.


Now on the night of the fire it was rumored through the lore of Salem that Giles Corey was seen laughing from his point of crushing in the Howard Street Graveyard near the old prison laughing at some nuns who were standing just outside. He was pressed to death in 1692 while Sheriff Corwin was trying to obtain a plea from him. His wife, Martha,  had hanged on the hill behind the Korn leather factory till she was dead.

Could it be said that the spectral apparition of John Proctor lit the flames in the factory, on the location the First Church’s building had once resided on, and Martha Corey fanned it up the hill and beyond the tree the two of them hung from while her husband laughed at nuns on the location of his execution. It can be said.

This is one of many ghost stories on the Salem Tunnel Tour.

Come on by and take a tour! A few years ago I went through them to recover the Golden Egg for the Boy Emperor of China before he started an international temper tantrum. Now that was an adventure!

~Mr. Zac

Mr. Zac looking down at you


To find out more about Mr. Zac and his journeys through the magical whimsical side of a quirky little town called Salem, visit The Salem Trilogy site. Then buy the three books; A Walk Through Salem, A Walk Under Salem, and A Walk Above Salem;  today and take yourself on a truly amazing adventure into the truly warped.


News from Mr. Zac~ Who the Hell is Moses Farmer?

Farmer, Moses G.

So who the hell is he. Well he’s this Salem guy….

Moses Farmer of Salem, Ma who was the first to iluminate his house with electricity.Moses Gerrish Farmer (1820-1893) was an inventor who perhaps was the first person to have a room in his house lighted by electric incandescent sources. He lighted a room in his house at 11 Pearl St. Salem every night during the month of July, 1859. Now my friend Don and his son Andy live in the house. Its still filled with energy with a painter and drummer living there… Moses  used a galvanic battery in the cellar which current passed by wires up to his parlour where on the mantelpiece were two lamps. He discontinued it after a month because the acids and zinc in the battery made the lights cost 4x as much as his gas lights.

Moses started early. So did I, but I was telling my sister to stick a paperclip into the outlet…  She still has an amazing hairdo. At age 26, Moses had built an electric railroad and two years later improved the telegraph. At 30 he invented and constructed the fire alarm system with water powered dynamos and within 5 years, he discovered the means of duplex and quadrulex telegraph. In 1893 he went to the Chicago World Fair to help install the Tower of Light which was the show piece for General Electric. It was 82 feet tall with thousands of red, white, and blue bulbs. At the top was an 8 foot tall Edison bulb. Also at the fair was an exhibit showing Moses in his illuminated house in Salem. Unfortunately he caught pneumonia while attending and died…

Tesla was also at the Chicago World Fair. Could Moses and Nikola have met each other before the fair? There is a rumor that Tesla was in Salem and had built a small power Station for Pequot Mills (Shetland Park). Could the two have met in Salem? Hell, GE was in Lynn, could Edison, Farmer, and Tesla have sat in a restaurant in Salem and discussed electricity over a cup of coffee? Who is to say, but it is possible!

Naumkeag Steam Mill in Salem, Ma with small building in which Tesla built to power the mill.
The small building to the right might of been built by Tesla to power the mill.

His daughter, Sarah Farmer was the founder of  Green Acre conference facility in Eliot, Maine in 1894. The name Green Acre came from poet John Greenleaf Whittier, a personal friend of the Farmer family. As a member of the Bahá’í faith she would be instrumental in helping Teddy Roosevelt settle the Sino-Russian War between the Chinese and the Russians. She had offered Green Acres  as a peaceful setting to hold talks before the official summit at the Navy Base in Kittery Maine. The funny thing about the Navy, none of their bases are in the town they are named after….

Treaty of Portsmouth postcard in which Teddy Roosevelt preceded over.So that is who that Salem guy was. A truly shocking story, but not as shocking as that elephant that met Edison acquaintance.

~Mr. Zac

Mr. Zac from the Salem Trilogy written by Chris Dowgin and published by Salem House Press.

To find out more about Mr. Zac and his journeys through the magical whimsical side of a quirky little town called Salem, visit The Salem Trilogy site. Then buy the three books; A Walk Through Salem, A Walk Under Salem, and A Walk Above Salem;  today and take yourself on a truly amazing adventure into the truly warped.