The Murder that Inspired the Game Clue and Edgar Allan Poe

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.

Gardner Pingree House
128 Essex Street

Built in 1804-1805 for John Gardner Jr. by Samuel McIntire. Jeremiah Page provided bricks, David Robbins was the mason, Joseph Fogg the lumber, Epes Cogswell was housewright, and William Luscoomb III painter. Gardner had owned 6 ships. All but 2 had different captains and co-owners. He never captained any of his ships. The only economic venture he went on twice with anyone was with his relative Simon Gardner who had owned two ships with him and captained both.

Next door was the site of the Captain Joseph Gardner home where the Plummer Hall now stands that houses the Essex Institute. The Captain was killed by Narragansets in 1675 at the Great Swamp Fight. At the Captain’s death his wife Anne inherited her father’s Emmanuel Downing’s house which was west of Plummer Hall and married Gov. Simon Bradstreet and lived there. This house was torn down in 1750 and Francis Peabody built his mansion. This book was written across the street from where the first American poet wrote her books, Anne Bradstreet.

In 1811 John Gardner Jr. ran into financial problems and sold the house to Nathaniel West. Could he have received a bribe from Russell Sturgis as well? Nathaniel West was a captain who owned many ships with Nehemiah Andrews, Crowninshields, Derbys, Benjamin Pickman, and Francis Boardman. Nathaniel West bought the John Turner mansion, next to the Peter Palfrey House to the right, opposite Central Street in 1833 and opened it as a tavern called “The Mansion house” in time for President Andrew Jackson’s visit. Later it would be called the “West Block”. Nathaniel West sold the Gardner-Pingree House three years later to Captain Joseph White. He was murdered in this house.

“It’s raining, it’s pouring.
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed bumped his head,
and he couldn’t get up in the morning.”

Captain Joseph White who bought the Come Along Patty from Elias Haskett Derby with the Cabot brothers and renamed it the Revenge became the first privateer from Salem. He was in the slave trade. He was heavily invested in The Second National Bank of the United States. He had questionable feelings towards a young niece who lived with him. He hated the man whom she would marry and made a fortune of $3 million dollars before 1830, which he was not going to give her any. In the winter of 1829-1830 Captain Joseph White was feeling ill and had his lawyer Joseph Waters draft him a new will. In 1830 someone snuck through the tunnel and murdered him.

This murder would inspire Edgar Allen Poe’s to write the Tell Tale Heart. It is reminiscent of Agatha Christies’s Murder on the Oriental Express. The intrigue of the murder and the sudden death of Judge Parker might of led Parker Brothers to buy the U.S. rights to the 1949 Cluedo/Clue game because it reminded them of the strange tale that happened in this Salem house! I wonder if it was a literature fan who moved the Crowninshield-Bentley House to the right from its old home in the Hawthorne Hotel’s parking lot. That house was in H.P. Lovecraft’s story The Thing on the Doorstep. Also Rev. Bentley wrote his memoirs of Salem in the Crowninshield-Bentley House.

Captain Joseph White was not kind to his relations that had worked for him in his house. He only showed a special form of kindness to his young attractive niece. The announcement of her engagement to a captain that was just released from Joseph Jr. & Stephen White Co.’s employment just sent him into a furor.

At 82 he has been abandoned by his niece for 3 years and is ill during a hard winter. His favorite nephew has been dead for some years but his brother is still at the old captain’s side. Was Stephen jealous of the attention his uncle gave to his female cousin or the attention she deprived him? Did Stephen foster some hatred towards his uncle for favoring his dead brother over him? Did the old Captain plan a mercy killing that would blame the Knapps and Crowninshields of murder to remedy the capture of a ship he once owned and a public insult? Remember Joseph J. Knapp Jr. was born the same year his father had lost the captain’s baby the ship Revenge.

We will not know, but we do know who ever snuck into to kill the old man knew of the tunnels. The tunnels connect the White/Story compound to the old man’s mansion. The old man bankrolled Joseph Jr. & Stephen White Co. and the construction of his nephews houses with the tunnels attached to them. I have been in the White brothers homes and seen the sealed up entrances to the tunnels and I have friends who have played in the tunnels attached to Judge Story’s House.

Many secrets in Salem!

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.

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