Ghosts, the First Phone Call, Dante’s Inferno, and Tunnels

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.

Lyceum
43 Church Street

Joshua Holbrook borrowed a concept from the Mechanics Institutes he had encountered in England and created the Lyceum movement. In 1828 Holbrook started the first lyceum in Milbury, Massachusetts. Soon 100 others sprinkled throughout New England. By 1834, the number of lyceums in America had grown to 3,000.

The Salem Lyceum started in January 1830 when Captain Joseph White was dying from a sickness he could not shake. The mission of the Salem Lyceum was the “mutual education and rational entertainment” for both its membership and the general public through a biannual course of lectures, debates, and dramatic readings. The new hall could accommodate 700 patrons in amphitheater-style seating and was decorated with images of Cicero, Demosthenes and other great orators of the classical period. Lectures were held on Tuesday evenings. Admission was $1 for men and 75 cents for women, who had to be “introduced” by a male to gain entrance.

Over the next 60 years there were over 1,000 lectures. John Quincy Adams delivered a lecture on politics, Agassiz on geology, and Alexander Graham Bell made his first public demonstration of the telephone here. Well sort of…he was a hit at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition first.

Bell had invented the phone on the property that the Salem YMCA now is on Essex Street. In 1873 Thomas Sanders hired Bell to teach his deaf son George in his mother’s house at 292 Essex Street. The house was torn down in 1898. Bell was teaching to the deaf in Boston and working on the phone in a laboratory in Boston. He would take the last train home to Salem and continued to work on his invention in the attic and basement of the Sander’s house. On February 12, 1877 he had his expo at the Lyceum. Thomas Sanders became one of his first investors in his telephone company which became The Bell Telephone Company. The Ma Bells of America. Later it became Atlantic Telephone & Telegraph company. Sanders was their Treasurer.

What was the conversation that happened with that first phone call of any distance:

Bell~ “Mr. Watson, will you speak to the audience?”
Watson~ “Ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to be able to address you this evening, although I am in Boston, and you in Salem!”

Thomas A. Watson was at Exeter Place in Boston with musicians, reporters, and artists. Watson and band sang Auld Lang Syne and Yankee Doodle Dandy (a song the Regulars sang as they attacked the North Bridge in Salem) to Bell in Salem with everyone hearing them. This won Bell a 2nd appearance on Feb. 23rd in front of an audience of 500 people netting him $8,500 which was the first money the phone ever made.

Bell was not the only inventor in Salem. Tesla had created a generating facility for Pequot Mills/Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co. in Salem, Moses Farmer created the light bulb purchased by Thomas Edison and was the first to light his home by electricity in the world, Joseph Dixon created a crucible that could withstand high heat for minting coins for the U.S. Mint and the #2 pencil, Charles Grafton Page worked in the patent office in D.C. and created a magnet that could lift a 1,000 pounds, and Louis Packard was making electric cars in the 1800’s. In fact half of the room on electricity in the Smithsonian Institute houses inventions from Lynn, Salem, and Swampscott.

The Lyceum was the destination that people like Agassiz, Thoreau, and Longfellow would walk through the tunnels from Col. George Peabody’s home on the common to give a lecture or try a out a reading before they published a work. Oliver Wendell Holmes had a lecture on “Lyceums and Lyceum Lectures;” and abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave one on “Assassination and its Lessons” shortly after President Lincoln’s murder. The man who got away with the assassinations of three presidents, two in office and one three months after, Daniel Webster was paid the most. He received $100, for his lecture on “The History of the Constitution of the United States”.

Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the most lectures at the Lyceum for a total of 30. Emerson, whose maternal granduncle Jonathan Waldo was the man who refitted the old hill fort and chose to rename it Fort Pickering in 1801.

As Derby was getting money from Common Improvement Fund subscribers, Waldo just got paid by the War Department. After fighting with them for two years since 1799 for the funds necessary he will refit the fort with strong brick arches. Does the old hill fort have tunnels leading to Richard Derby’s wharf that Elias Hasket Derby Sr. was looking to refit before his death in 1799?

James Russell Lowell, also gave a lecture on “Dante’s Inferno”. He was working with Holmes and Longfellow on a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy at Harvard. The book The Dante Club goes over the history of that undertaking within a murder mystery where people are being murdered by various punishments found in Dante’s work.

That hill fort, the man it was named after, Timothy Pickering. He was Washington’s Aide to Camp, his Secretary of State, and Secretary of State for John Adams. Pickering after leaving Washington was the head of the Essex Junto. An organization whose sole purpose was giving New England back to the British. He had worked with John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr in this process that culminated in the Hartford Convention in 1814 that Daniel Webster participated in that threatened cession and siding with the British in the War of 1812. Little did they know the peace treaty was signed in Ghent, Belgium before they left Salem for Hartford…

In 1898, the Salem Lyceum voted to dissolve and give the records and remaining monies to the Essex Institute. The money became the “Salem Lyceum Fund” to be used to maintain a course of lectures.

In fact the Salem Boy’s Fraternity purchased the building next from the Lyceum that was owned by then by the Essex Institute. This was the boy’s second location in town after moving out of the Downing Building and they were the second and last tenants of this old wooden building; for they created their own inferno in it.

The modern brick building built on the location houses Turner’s Seafood. During the reconstruction of the Lyceum/43 Church restaurant to Turner’s the construction crew were disturbed by the “Flushing Ghost”. An entity would enter the women’s room who kept flushing the toilet. After much aggravation, the construction team decided to dismantle the plumbing since they were moving the bathroom anyway; the ghost then proceeded to the men’s room. Pictures of girl materializing out of the floorboards on the second floor also have been taken. Why is she cut in half by the picture? Because she remembers the original floor of the wooden building and not the current one.

Elsie also haunts the ladies room in Murphy’s. Up to the second floor in the back the foundation of the building supports the Old Burying Point. They say two coffins fell through the wall in the building. Since then Elsie has been rattling stall doors aggravating those women preoccupied with nature’s call for years now.

The Lyceum was built in the apple orchard of Bridget Bishop. Her house stood where the Salem Five Bank is now on the corner of Washington Street and Church Street. Her first husband Mr. Oliver had died and left her a house with many gables. Then she married Mr. Bishop. Even though she married a bishop, the church still hanged her as a witch. Her home was an influence on the exterior descriptions of The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne and the interior based on his cousin Susan Ingersoll’s home which at the time was missing a few gables…Hawthorne never spoke at the Lyceum, but acted as their secretary and his father-in-law sold tickets.

Now back to the boys; it is strange that their three locations in town were in buildings attached to tunnels. The boy’s were from the working classes without much affluence, could they have been doing the work of the ‘Artful Dodger’ and ran by some sort of ‘Fagin’. Their third and first location were in brick buildings; I guess they learned quick.

Zack Fagan of Ghost Adventurers and Ghost Hunters have filmed episodes in this building.

Now about Charles Lenox Remond and his sister Sarah training Frederick Douglass within these walls into the Abolitionist Movement; that is another story.

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.