Dogtown : death and enchantment in a New England ghost town

Elyssa East.

In rich first-person narrative, Dogtown tells the strange, dark story of a wilderness ghost town that has enthralled artists, writers, and eccentrics--and of a brutal murder committed there. Documenting its history and lore, E ast explores the possibility that certain landscapes wield their own unique power. The area known as Dogtown--an isolated colonial ruin and the surrounding 3,600-acre woodland in historic seaside Gloucester, Massachusetts--has always exerted a powerful influence over artists, writers, eccentrics, and nature lovers. But its history is woven through with tales of hallucinations, pirates, ghost sightings, witches, drifters, and violence. A 1984 murder there continues to loom large in Gloucester’s collective psyche: a mentally disturbed local man crushed the skull of a schoolteacher as she walked the woods. In alternating chapters, East interlaces the story of this murder with Dogtown’s bizarre history. The colonial settlement was a haven for former slaves, prostitutes, and witches until it was abandoned 180 years ago. Since then, Dogtown has inspired various people, including a millionaire who carved Protestant precepts into its boulders; the Modernist painter Marsden Hartley, whom Dogtown saved from a crippling depression; the drug-addled poet Charles Olson; a coven of witches that still holds ceremonies there today; and the murderer, who spent much of his life in Dogtown’s woods. The murder tapped a vein of thinking that has quietly endured in Gloucester for centuries: some people rallied around Dogtown protectively, but others blamed it for the tragedy. In luminous, insightful prose, Dogtown tells an evocative tale of a community both haunted and bound together by its love of this strange, forgotten place and its denizens.



More Travel NarrativesPosted September 9, 2011