Harry Houdini in Salem MA

Strange Tales from the Witch City


Harry Houdini, (Mar.24,1874-Oct. 31, 1926) the famous escape artist, visited Salem in 1906.

His given name was Erich Weiss. His background was Hungarian and he immigrated with his family to the U.S. at the age of four.

In three packed shows at the Salem Theater, Houdini escaped from a large secured wooden box, and a strapped locked barrel. He also escaped from inside a police cell at the Salem Police Station.

Houdini died (on Halloween) of a ruptured appendix caused by blows from an overzealous fan. When dying, he made his wife promise to have an annual seance on the anniversary on his death. His wife did this for 10 years. In 1990 a group of organizers in Salem held a seance on Halloween to call Houdini back. Houdini forgot to attend the event at the Hawthorne Hotel…

10202482737162276Salem Theater Salem MA


~Mr. Zac

Come back every Tuesday at 3PM for new stories about Salem and images from the Salem Trilogy.

Fagin in Salem with the First Boy’s Club in the Country

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.

Downing Block
173-175 -177 Essex Street

Built in 1858 for dry good merchants Thomas W. Downing and John Downing on the site of Essex Place. In 1803 the Salem Bank and the Salem Marine Insurance Company resided on the first floor of Essex Place. Its presidents included Benjamin Pickman Jr. and Joseph Peabody. In 1804 the Salem East India Marine Society Museum resided at Essex Place. The Essex Historical Society which is now part of the Peabody Essex Museum was above the Salem Bank in that building.

In 1818 the Institute for Savings in the Town of Salem and Vicinity occupied the building. This was founded by Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke. In 1830 there was an attempt to break into the their vault. Dr. Edward A. Holyoke, Benjamin Pickman Jr. , Timothy Pickering, Benjamin W. Crowninshield, Daniel A. White, and Nathaniel Silsbee were members. In 1843 the bank changed its name to the Salem Savings Bank. In 1844 the Salem Savings Bank will move into Kimball Block on the corner of Derby Square which burns down in 1899. In 1900 W.E. Hoyt Company builds the current building on the corner of Derby Square and the Salem Bank will be in it also in 1909. The Essex County Natural History Museum was housed in Essex Place when it merged with the Essex Historical Society to become the Essex Institute in 1848. Essex Institute would be the basis for the Miskatonic University in H.P. Lovecraft’s narratives.

In 1869 the Salem Fraternity which is the oldest boy’s club in the country was founded within the Downing Block. It was created to provide evening instruction and wholesome amusement for those “who were confined to their work during the day who needed recreation at the end of their labors”. Physical training, general education, and arts and crafts were offered. They had a library, a reading room, and amusement room. These services were provided to boys and girls for free.

Then they move into the Lyceum on Church Street. That wooden building suffered a fire. Then in 1899 the Salem Fraternity buys the Joshua Phippen’s Essex Bank Building on Central Street. After being housed there they merge with other national clubs to become the Boys & Girls Club. This time the children were not able to burn the building down. All three of their locations were attached to the tunnels in town. It makes you wonder if Fagin ran the boys cub… Their current Salem location is in the hall next to the Immaculate Conception Church, another brick building…

This Downing Block has a curious set of tunnels. Under the entrance that leads to the stairs to the 2nd and 3rd floors is a long hall way in the building. On the back of the building in this basement hall is an iron door covered in thick glass. At this point the long sliding latch is rusted shut. I was able to pull the doors hinges free from the wall, but the concrete wall behind it is well mortared. From this point to the front are several arches on the left and right. In one arch you can look through a hole and look into the basement under Turtle Alley. Before you get to the stairs there are a pair of metal doors. These open into rooms on either side of the hallway. Two shoots can be seen entering them from the ceiling. Behind the stairs is the original neon sign for Bernard’s Jewelers. Past the stairs there are arches with old furnace doors in them. Then right before the Essex Street entrance to the tunnel there are a pair of arches with doors in them. The one to the left has a mail slot in the bottom of it. On the other side of this door is a metal bracing composed of a series of “x”s. In this room the tunnel entrance extends 5 feet into the basement.

In the other arch opposite of this is another door that leads to the basement under Witch T’s. This storefront was once home to the Goddess Treasure Chest. The Goddess Treasure Chest used to resides in the old Daniel Low warehouse which has a tunnel leading to it. Also the old owner’s home in the Derby-Pickman Building is also connected.

Now the tunnel entrance to Essex Street has been bricked closed, but there is a hole big enough to climb through. This section of tunnel was filled with ash and pumice which has caved in from the right and the left. Above is a granite slab which you can see in the sidewalk in front of the door.

The corridor is about 3 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Roots were growing through the tunnel from the direction of the Hawthorne Hotel. The tunnel extended past the granite slab and had water pipes running through it. Soon after the first printing of this book the Peabody Essex Museum buys this building to protect their secrets.

During Salem Con., a paranormal convention, they had a ghost investigation that resulted in a ghost talking through a ghost box (an app that records white noise which voices manifest through) pretending to be the ghost of Tituba.

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.

My Favorite Rocket Ships of the 50’s

Welcome back to my blog about balloons, rocket ships, airplanes, space travel, Star Wars, sci-fi, and everything about flying! This time we will look at some of my favorite space pilots. After you read the list, won’t you add some of your favorites!

Here are some pictures of my favorite toys.

 Now, How Cool Are They. 
I wish these toys were still around when I was young enough to play with toys. I am too sophisticated for them now. But, on the off chance you might have any of them, can I come and play with them?



To find out more about me visit Salem House Press and buy my book onAmazon.com! Now available in paperback at your favorite booksellers. Ask for it by name! If they do not have it in stock, ask them to order it for you.

Also come back every Friday at 8:30 pm, before I am sent to bed, to read my posts each week!

Cool Places in America: Mystery Spot; Santa Cruz, California

It’s your favorite child travel adviser, Tyler,  once again bringing you the best in last minute vacations. Your road trip planner for the weekend getaway to the coolest and strangest places in America. How do I know about them all? My parents are contract workers in the software industry and keep moving the family every 6 months….

Remember when Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny would walk off a cliff and not fall…until. Until Bugs Bunny loaned Elmer his book on the laws of gravity. After a short read Elmer takes a long fall. Well I read the same book, but I forgot it all when I went to the shed at Mystery Spot. It reminded me of that hallway in Willie Wonka where he walked to the back of the hall and the room shrunk. In this place you do not shrink, but lean.

During a drive through the redwood forests of Santa Cruz, California, can stop to witness firsthand the effects of Bugs Bunny gravity. The Mystery Spot is 150 ft. in diameter and features a slanted shed that visitors walk through and witness strange variations of gravity, like an object rolling up a plank rather than down it.  When you walk in the house you fall sideways! The Spot’s web site speculates that aliens planted metal cones in the ground, scrambling the area’s terrestrial physics. After taking a guided tour, visitors can puzzle over whether this is truly paranormal or an optical illusion, and then trek on through the Redwoods.

Here is the spoiler:

Now I always thought my parents’ jobs were always a little slanted which explained why we kept falling out of one town into the next….

To find out more about Tyler visit Salem House Press and buy Tyler’s latest book “Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida” on Amazon.com.Keep checking back often for great cheap vacation ideas that might surprise you and become the best vacation you ever had.

Come back Every Thursday at 3pm for another post from Tyler the Boy Who is Always on the Move!

New Illustrations for Speak Softly and Carry a Sticky Wicket!


This is the first illustration for the latest in the Mr. Pelinger’s House series. Mr. Pelinger invites the Foster siblings to be contestants in a gameshow where the celebrity guests are Teddy Roosevelt and Queen Victoria battling over the supremacy of art, music, culture, natural wonders, vehicles, and just about everything between America and England. Only problem is that the two didn’t fare well through Pelinger’s Wormhole attached to his house through time; they came back a little short and distorted like their political cartoons.

So sit back and enjoy over the next few weeks as we show you the latest illustrations from the book and the process of how they are made.

The Battle over the Navies! 

The Parts:

Finished Illustration: 

Which side do you think is winning? England or America. Tell us below.


For now you can buy the first book in the series Mr Pelinger’s House & Intergalactic Roadshow where Sitting Bull and General Custer battle it out in a three ring circus over the Foster Siblings souls inside the house that is bigger in the the inside than the outside. Available in eBook and in print at our website at www.salemhousepress.com. Support local authors and illustrators! When you buy directly from us we can pass the savings on that the distributor would of taken out of our authors and artists mouths and we can pay them much quicker than the 90 day trade terms. Thank you for your support!

Illustrator of the Week: Felix Valloton

It Ain’t All Black and White…

Today we will look at Felix Valloton and his pioneering efforts in woodcuts.

Felix greatly admired the works of HolbeinDürer and Ingres; these artists would remain exemplars for Vallotton throughout his life. In 1891 he executed his first woodcut, a portrait of Paul Verlaine. The many woodcuts he produced during the 1890s were recognized as innovative, and established Vallotton as a leader in the revival of true woodcut as an artistic medium. In the western world, the relief print, in the form of commercial wood engraving, had long been utilized mainly as a means to accurately reproduce drawn or painted images and, latterly, photographs. Vallotton’s woodcut-style was novel in its starkly reductive opposition of large masses of undifferentiated black and areas of unmodulated white. Vallotton emphasized outline and flat patterns, and generally eliminated the gradations and modeling traditionally produced by hatching. He was influenced by post-ImpressionismSymbolism, and especially by the Japanese woodcut: a large exhibition of ukiyo-eprints had been presented at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1890, and Vallotton, like many artists of his era an enthusiast of Japonism, collected these prints.


His woodcut subjects included domestic scenes, bathing women, portrait heads, and several images of street crowds and demonstrations—notably, several scenes of police attacking anarchists. He usually depicted types rather than individuals, eschewed the expression of strong emotion, and “fuse[d] a graphic wit with an acerbic if not ironic humor”. Vallotton’s graphic art reached its highest development in Intimités (Intimacies), a series of ten interiors published in 1898 by the Revue Blanche, which deal with the tension between men and women. Vallotton’s woodcuts were widely disseminated in periodicals and books in Europe as well as in the United States, and have been suggested as a significant influence on the graphic art of Edvard MunchAubrey Beardsley, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

By 1892 he was affiliated with Les Nabis, a group of young artists that included Pierre BonnardKer-Xavier RousselMaurice Denis, and Édouard Vuillard, with whom Vallotton was to form a lifelong friendship. During the 1890s, when Vallotton was closely allied with the avant-garde, his paintings reflected the style of his woodcuts, with flat areas of color, hard edges, and simplification of detail. His subjects included genre scenes, portraits and nudes. Examples of his Nabi style are the deliberately awkward Bathers on a Summer Evening (1892–93), now in the Kunsthaus Zürich, and the symbolist Moonlight (1895), in the Musée d’Orsay.

Now what I enjoy is his use of simultaneous contrast. He is a master of leading your eye from white shape to white shape through large expanses of black that never give up the shape of the objects they are depicting. He gets so much bang for his buck with so little expense. See what you think…

Now this is the end of my sampling from Felix Valloton. I hope you enjoyed him!
 ~ Chris

The History of Hot Air Ballooning

Welcome back to my blog about balloons, rocket ships, airplanes, space travel, Star Wars, sci-fi, and everything about flying! This time we will look at some of my favorite space pilots. After you read the list, won’t you add some of your favorites!

Well I’m not the first to float around attached to a balloon. Welcome back to my blog about balloons, rocket ships, airplanes, space travel, Star Wars, sci-fi, and everything about flying! Though, I might of had the most fun! So lets look at its history!

  • Brazilian priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão on August 8, 1709, in Lisbon, made a small hot-air balloon of paper with a fire burning beneath it, lifting it about 13 ft in front of king John V and the Portuguese court.
  • On the 19th September 1783 Pilatre De Rozier launched the first hot air balloon called ‘Aerostat Reveillon’ with a duck and a rooster.  It stayed in the air for 15 minutes before crashing.
  • Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier were the first men to attempt 2 months later on 21st November. It took off from the center of Paris and flew for 20 minutes.
  • Two years later in 1785  Jean Pierre Blanchard and his American co pilot John Jefferies became the first to fly across the English Channel.
  • This same year Pilatre de Rozier (the world’s first balloonist) was killed in crossing the channel. His balloon exploded half an hour after takeoff because he used a hydrogen balloon and hot air balloon tied together that went kaboom!
  • Then on January 7th 1793 Jean Pierre Blanchard became the first to fly a hot air balloon in North America. George Washington witnessed the event.
  • August of 1932 Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard was the first to fly to the Stratosphere. He reached a 52,498 feet. Afterwards altitude records continued to be set and broken every couple of months.
  • In 1935 a new record was set and it lasted for the next 20 years. The balloon Explorer 2, a gas helium model reached an altitude of 72,395 feet (13.7 miles)! It was proven that we could survive in a pressurized chamber at high altitudes. This paved the way for future space exploration.
  • In 1960 Captain Joe Kittinger parachuted  from a balloon that was at a height of 102,000 feet. It also beat the high altitude parachute record. His body broke the sound barrier!!!

I remember an episode of Connections in which a scientist sent  two men up in a balloon using a  high-altitude oxygen system which used a vacuum flask of liquid oxygen to supply them for one hour at 15,000 feet in 1919. Only one chose to trust the device and only one man came back to the ground alive… Go figure!


To find out more about me visit Salem House Press and buy my book onAmazon.com! Now available in paperback at your favorite book sellers. Ask for it by name! If they do not have it in stock, ask them to order it for you.

Also come back every Friday at 8:30 pm, before I am sent to bed, to read my posts each week!

Cool Places in America: Ave Maria Grotto

It’s your favorite child travel adviser, Tyler,  once again bringing you the best in last minute vacations. Your road trip planner for the weekend getaway to the coolest and strangest places in America. How do I know about them all? My parents are contract workers in the software industry and keep moving the family every 6 months….

I used to love the book and the movie the Borrowers. Imagine if they had their own city? In Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman, Ala. they do. Well I think they could of moved in and not had any trouble… There is this monk from Bavaria, Brother Joseph Zoettl, who made these wonderful miniatures of shrines and cities from around the world. It is real awesome. My parents and I lived in Cullman for 3 months before I found this place. Then we were off to who knows where 2 months later. It was a short contract…

The builder of the miniatures at the Ave Maria Grotto was a Benedictine Monk — Brother Joseph Zoettl, O.S.B. Born in Landshut, Bavaria in 1878, he was maimed in an accident that gave him a hunchback, but luckily it did not hurt his ability to bend over and build the miniatures.

In contemplating the Main Grotto, which was to be the centerpiece of the whole park, Br. Joseph had yet to decide on the type of building materials he would employ. A solution was handed to him when there was a derailment of the L&N railroad. One freight car full of marble overturned and the marble was crushed. It was useless to the owner so he gave it to Saint Bernard. The monks went up and carted it down; it was exactly what Brother Joseph needed as the main stalactites to hang in the Great Grotto.

The material which adorned the works had been donated by people who admired and had seen the beauty in his previous works: the small grottoes enclosing Father Lawrence O’Leary’s bargain statues, crucifixes, ash trays, etc. People sent colored glass, marbles, cold cream jars, punctured commode floats, wrecked marble, broken bathroom tile, costume jewelry, gifts from every state in the union and from many foreign countries.

The first replicas were erected on the monastery recreation grounds, but because of the large number of visitors, a new site was selected and on May 17, 1934 the Ave Maria Grotto was dedicated. Brother Joseph continued his work for over 40 years, using materials sent from all over the world. He built his last model, the Basilica in Lourdes, at the age of 80, in 1958.

The Ave Maria Grotto, located on the grounds of Alabama’s first and only Benedictine Abbey, consists of over 125 miniatures, reproductions of famous churches, shrines and buildings. Encompassing an area of over three acres, this miniature fairyland sees visitors from all over the world.

More detailed information can be found in the book titled Miniature Miracle by John Morris sold in the Grotto gift shop. I got a copy of the book and I use it as reference as I construct houses for my train set.

It goes to prove in the most sleepy towns if you look hard enough you will find something that is truly amazing. For I did find something in Cullman. Alabama!


For more information about Tyler visit Salem House Press and buy his latest book “Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida” on Amazon.com.

The Book A Walk Through Salem Where You are the Main Character

Available from Salem to California in Barnes & Noble….

A Walk Through Salem 2nd edition cover with the Unzipping Tree.

The magical whimsical tales set in Salem that has entertained thousands is in its second edition and available at Barnes & Noble and your favorite independent booksellers throughout the country. The tale that began when Mr. Zac invited you through the Unzipping Tree to see flying fish, churches turned into rocket ships, tall ships dropping anchor next to parking meters, and Vikings storming Dead Horse Beach! A tale filled with witches, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s Monster. A tale in which you are the main character…

Vikings stormin Dead Horse Beach in Salem from A walk Through Salem

Many wonderful illustrations turn local favorite locations into something of merry and mirth.  The tale has the flavor of Willie Wonka in ire, Alice in Wonderland in absurdity, and the “..you were there, and you!” feeling of the Wizard of Oz. Because the characters in the book walk the streets of Salem for real! Just not as magical during the sunlit hours…

The goodship Friendship sailing from Salem to Neverland past the moon across the stars with the Baron Munchausen flying past on a cannonball.

A tale in which you venture through, but may never return from. In it you acquire the aid of Mr. Zac who is posthumously played by Ed Wynn. This was his final and immortal part. It follows the structure of the Journey of the Hero laid out by Joseph Campbell. A format that Lord of the Rings, Percival, King Arthur, and Star Wars follows. Truly magical!

Mr. Zac from the Salem Trilogy illustrated by Chris Dowgin and published by Salem House Press.So pick up this tale and begin the Salem Trilogy and walk through the Unzipping Tree which appears every night after dusk on the Salem Common in real life and see where it takes you. You will not regret it.

The Dream bagger from A walk Through Salem Illustrated by Chris Dowgin published by Salem House Press.Available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, The Witch House, Wicked Good Books, and Remember Salem. If your bookseller does not carry it ask for it by name from Salem House Press. Then pick up the next two books in the trilogy.

eBooks are available direct from Salem House Press with animated extras and Amazon.com. A Walk Through Salem was twice a winner of the Mass Cultural Commision Grant.

Come back every Tuesday at 3PM for new stories about Salem and images from the Salem Trilogy.