I was sitting in a sunny patio at Hotel Congress in Tucson, occasionally switching seats as the shade shifted.
The reading room is designed with columns under sky lights. Once a year, at solar noon on the summer solstice, the reading room sky lights line up perfectly to illuminate the columns below them.
Unfortunately, this past weekend a monsoon storm caused a fire sprinkler to burst, flooding all five floors of this beautiful library. Most of its collections remain intact and clean-up crews sprang into action right away. The City of Phoenix is hoping it will be able to start reopening parts of the library soon.
The forecast high in Phoenix for the longest day of the year was 120F (49C).
So it seemed like a great day to try baking outside.
On the way home from the summer solstice celebration at Burton Barr Library last Tuesday, we picked up chocolate chip cookie dough. I chose that for my solar cooking experiment, because there’s no raw egg in it, and if it doesn’t cook all the way, you end up with doughy cookies – not a bad thing, in my opinion!
I scooped spoonfuls of cookie dough into a reflective aluminum roasting pan, covered the top with plastic wrap, sealed the sides with packing tape to trap the heat, and added a meat thermometer, so I could see how hot it actually got next to the cookies.
I had intended to get an earlier start, but at 3:45pm, it was still 120 degrees out. So I decided to give it a go and set the pan in direct sun on our concrete patio.
The temperature inside the pan got as high as 160. The cookies began to look like they were melting, with the oil separating from the dough.
Four hours later, the sun was low enough in the sky that the whole patio was in the shade. The dough had flattened out into cookie shapes that were somewhat solid but still pretty soft.
So we scooped vanilla frozen yogurt on top (à la pizookie), and it was delicious!
Apparently, a proper solar oven will bake faster, even if it’s not as hot out. But I would try my improvised “oven” again on a day when I could get an earlier start and give it a little more time in the sun.
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We woke up on our second day in Salem to our Red Riding Hood basket breakfast, and wisely decided to use the free street parking on Sunday so that we didn’t have to walk through the sketchy area of Salem. We parked near a park central to the village of Salem, where we could walk around the town and the wharf area and not worry.
The experience started in a darkened hall of sorts where the story of the witch trials and the hysteria that resulted in the execution of 20 people (and more who died in prison) was told through narration and lit-up dioramas with nearly life-size models of people – and one slightly disturbing dog who looked to be taxidermied, accompanying a sculpted John Proctor. There was also a creepy, lit-up, gargoyle-like devil figure looming over us, which seemed a little over the top for a historical museum.
The presentation covered the origins of the hysteria, the trials and the craziness that was conducted in the courtroom, prison conditions, and hangings. It was a bit dramatic but interesting and informative, and seemed to catch the attention of even the youngest audience members.
This was followed by a guided tour of the rest of the museum which explored what the word “witch” means today, witches in folklore and movies, herbal remedies, a timeline of witch trials and mass hysteria, Wicca and common misconceptions surrounding it, and THE BEST TIMELINE EVER of how scapegoating has caused tragedies and marks on our history throughout the ages, including Japanese Internment and the Red Scare.
It was a comprehensive look at how mob mentality and hysteria can cause horrific events, starting with witch trials through modern day.
We followed up that somewhat somber historical museum with what, in my mind, is a hidden treasure of Salem…Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.
I hate haunted houses (especially when things jump out at you. I ended up at one with friends years ago and just ran around every corner yelling “BOO!” so that I could, hopefully, startle the actors before they scared me.), and Count Orlock’s Nightmare Gallery is NOT like that. It’s a carefully curated collection of models and life masks from various horror movies dating back to the 1920s, including Nosferatu, The Fly, Salem’s Lot, Hellraiser, Aliens, and more.
They even had a model (somewhat) showing the makeup my own father designed from Hocus Pocus, which was neat to see (although he wasn’t credited in the display and it wasn’t quite right). What I loved (that some may not) was that you had to read the display notes to get the background behind each piece, and so you basically read and observed your way through the creepy museum. My husband is a huge fan of classic horror movies, and I am a huge fan of special effects makeup artist work. It was an off-the-beaten-path but worthwhile attraction.
We walked along the red-lined Heritage Trail, and came to the Witch House, which was a house that was in Salem at the time of the trials and was a judge’s home. “Judge House” didn’t have quite the same ring to it, so they named it Witch House (makes sense). We skipped out on the house tour, though, because we were planning to go to The House of the Seven Gables, and how many house tours/museum tours can you really do in one day, especially when they look eerily similar?
The House of the Seven Gables tour was fantastic, and cheaper once I found out that they had a teacher discount. Bryce was horrified that I introduced my teacher status by asking if I had time to pee before the tour started, and when told no, I said, “That’s okay, I’m a teacher, I can hold it pretty much forever.” BUT, unadvertised teacher discount for the win!
The tour was of the house, which inspired the Nathaniel Hawthorne gothic romance The House of the Seven Gables. He didn’t live there, though…his cousin did. And, when he visited, the house didn’t actually have seven gables.
It was neat to see evolution of the house: the original structure and then the parts that were added when the first owner, Captain John Turner, became super wealthy from his textiles trades with China…but then how several gables were taken down to make it more in fashion for the times.
It was later taken over by a very wealthy woman, Caroline Emmerton, who was devoted to returning it to the seven-gabled state it was in when tales told by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin Susannah inspired his novel. Mrs. Emmerton apparently took liberties with the house too, constructing a secret room above a fireplace that aligns with the novel but was never a part of the original house. Pretty cool, if you enjoy old architecture and historical homes and literary connections. The gardens were gorgeous, too.
After lunch at Flying Saucer Pizza (again), we left Salem and drove to nearby Marblehead, a neat historic harbor town in its own right, but a great place for an afternoon walk to admire fancypants houses along the seashore on the island connected to the mainland via sea wall causeway called The Neck.
While we were only there for the walking, we found a steel frame lighthouse on the rocky northern tip on the Atlantic, houses with more hollyhocks than I’d ever seen in one place, grand mansions with private beaches, and a beautiful, secret-feeling public park nestled between two mansions called Castle Rock.
Castle Rock was absolutely beautiful — a giant rock formation overlooking the ocean with a rocky beach to the left where people fished, and a cobbled beach to the right that sounded like a rain stick on crack as the waves came in and out.
It was gorgeous, worth the 10 minute drive, and fun to live vicariously by walking through the neighborhoods of the fancy.
I am so happy that we found a new (to us) New England stopping point between our home and Maine. Salem was a great combination of the historical, the spooky, the literary, and natural beauty. I would love to come back for a repeat visit…maybe if I’m brave enough in October, when Salem is at its spooky, kooky best. I have to say it was pretty amazing in July, too.
[Ever been to Salem, MA? Me neither. Fortunately, Jessica Tennant of My Path to Mommyhood took a road trip there this summer from her home in upstate New York and is telling us all about it! –S]
My husband Bryce and I go to Maine every summer. There is nothing quite so beautiful as coastal Maine, and we get to see many different parts of the state because my in-laws live in the capital area, which is central to just about everything.
It just takes a REALLY long time to get there, so we’ve started stopping partway on the way there and the way back, which gives us the added benefit of exploring New England.
This year, we decided on a romantic weekend in Salem, Massachusetts to break up the trip to Maine.
I had actually never been to Salem before, which is a shame. Salem is a tremendously kooky town, full of serious and tragic history (ahem, witch trials) as well as an affinity for ghosties, ghoulies, and all things Halloween, and a literary history involving Nathaniel Hawthorne and H.P. Lovecraft. It has cobblestone streets, tremendously old houses, and a red line painted throughout town called the Heritage Trail – following it sends you past many interesting historical attractions.
We stayed in The Coach House Inn, a bed and breakfast on Lafayette Street. It was built as a Victorian ship captain’s house in 1879. The inn was great, the innkeeper was very helpful and hospitable, and the breakfasts were continental and came in a Red-Riding-Hood style basket to your door at 8:30 in the morning, like magic.
One thing about the Coach House that wasn’t so great was the location. It was right on the street that leads you straight into historic Salem, but, to get there, you had to walk through a fairly sketchy (and, as we heard from locals, heroin-plagued) section of town. We walked once and used Uber to go home and then took advantage of street parking after that…so if you don’t mind driving instead of walking, it’s perfectly lovely.
Our favorite place to eat was Flying Saucer Pizza Company, which sounds like a strange choice for me as a person with Celiac disease, but it had delicious and safe gluten-free options. AND, it was decked out in art and action figures and all kinds of paraphernalia from Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, the Avengers, Ghostbusters…it was a terrifically geeky place! All the pizzas were named after various things from sci-fi, and they have a Space Pug, Charlie, who is their mascot.
I had The Vision pizza, TWICE (for dinner the first night and lunch the next day, because it was THAT GOOD), which had walnut pesto, cheese blend, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic fig. Does that not sound amazing? The regular pizza was excellent too, with Bryce mumbling “This is THE BEST pizza I have EVER HAD” to the server with his mouth full of a Hawaiian-style pizza with jalapeño peppers.
It was an appropriately thunderstormy night for a ghost tour with Black Cat Tours. Our guide was dressed in old-timey clothing and delivered a great mix of historical and paranormal tales. He brought us through the burying ground, past an original house that was restored and, apparently, has a very Ring-like ghost of a girl who was quarantined in the attic for having scarlet fever and peeks out the windows.
There was a section of the burying ground that had stone benches jutting from a stone wall, with each bench etched with one of the names of the witch trial victims and the date of their death.
All were hanged except one – Giles Corey, who was accused of witchcraft in his 80s (but, lest you think he’s a good guy, he also accused his wife), and knew that if he was convicted or confessed he would lose his property to pay for his time in jail (yup, they had to pay for their meals and everything they got in the deplorable jail conditions themselves). He refused to confess or consent to be tried. He was tortured to death through “pressing” – they lay a board on him laden with more and more stone weights every time he refused to consent.
Although he died, he saved his property from confiscation this way, and now you know what it really means to be pressed for an answer (!)
Supposedly, he haunted the head of law enforcement who had him arrested, hanging out at the end of his bed and causing chest pains.
We also learned of an angry divorcee ghost who haunts the space where they have weddings and dances and other events, tries to push people down the stairs, and wreaks havoc on art displays, stomping around the top floor and going down invisible stairs that don’t exist anymore to frighten people on the first floor.
We didn’t personally see any of the ghosts, but thought the tour was fabulously spooky and informative. (Who knew the inspiration for The Tell-Tale Heart was a real-life murder of a stingy old captain by his caretaker right there in Salem?) I am a sucker for a good ghost tour, and this one was atmospheric and not corny at all.
So much to do and see in the first day, how could our second day in Salem compare?
[Part 2 is coming up on Monday!]