Colossal Victorian Divorce

America’s First Family in Disarray…

West Vs. West Divorce with America's first Millinaire FamilyMany of us living on the North Shore of Boston know of the mall called…The North Shore Mall. Some of us know the stories of the various graves that dot the property in the hedges before you walk into JC Penny’s and other locations or the  stories of the church that resides in the basement; very few know of the mansion that resided on this location and the nasty divorce that got the home pulled apart and reassembled in various places.

So lets back up a bit; who were the couple who built the mansion known as Oak Hill. Well Elizabeth Derby West was the daughter of Elias Hasket Derby who was America’s first millionaire and on some lists is described as the 10th wealthiest man in American history. Imagine that a millionaire who had more wealth than today’s billionaires? Inflation… Elizabeth married Nathaniel West, a man her father declared a scullion. Well in time Captain West won over his father-in-law and was confided in business decisions more often than not than his own children. So much so that the father willed to his son-in-law Derby Wharf which was the largest and most profitable in town. This little act led to  a no holds bar fist fight between Elias Hasket Derby Jr. and Elizabeth against her husband. later she would probably have such a fight with her brother after he inherited the family mansion on Derby Square which he soon squandered away.

In 1803 the scandal opened in court. Here is a few words from Rev. Bentley (diarist and friend of John Hancock):

Never could Johnson’s words better [be] applied, when a man marries a fortune it is not all he marries. The woman became all that is execrable in women from vanity, caprice, folly, & malignity…

He was an enterprising seaman with no uncommon advantages of education or nature, but his ambition led him to address the eldest daughter of the late E.H. Derby…The mother of Elizabeth was a Crowninshield and well known for vanity which she exposed to constant & deserved ridicule. E. possessed the rigid temper of her father, with all the weakness of her mother.”

and

“…after every quarrel with all her relatives she waged open war against her husband & this day, aided by the unfeeling perseverance of her malignant Br[other] Gen. E.H. D[erby] who has a private quarrel to avenge, she displayed in open court, to prove the incontinence of Capt. W[est], all the sweepings of the Brothels of Boston, & all the vile wretches of Salem, Marblehead, Cape Ann.

The mansion. It remained in Elizabeth’s hands during her life, but she was to die 10 years later. Then one of her daughters gave it to her father, against the wishes in the mother’s will… It was torn apart; a parlor is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, some rooms were on display at the Peabody Essex Museum a few years ago, a summer house is on the Glen Magna estate, and a portion is added to the Phillips House on Federal Street in Salem.  So Oak Hill remains no more, in its entirety, but you can visit the ghost of Captain West at the Salem Inn. Most of the time his spirit can be felt by his bottle of port which you are welcomed to share a glass with him. Plus if you are in the Christmas spirit…you can shop for many gifts at the North Shore Mall on the location of this once famous mansion.

To read more about how Salem shaped American history read Sub Rosa by Chris Dowgin published by Salem House Press.

www.salemhousepress.com

 

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First Boy’s Club and the Tunnels of Salem

Have you heard of Fagin and the Artful Dodger?

Tunnel under Downing Block

Tunnel under the Downing Block in Salem. In this building the Boys & Girls Club was founded. The building on top was recently removed exposing where the tunnel went beyond the iron door. In every location this club was in, the buildings gave these poor boys access to the tunnels in town. Also rooms off of this tunnel was used for the Underground Railroad.

Read Salem Secret Underground The History of the Tunnels in the City to find out more. The book everyone digs!!

What is PEM hiding?

Secrets of the Museum….

Recently on the PEM expansion they uncovered this tunnel. Originally it preexisted the Downing Block in which it was up to recently just a hallway in the basement. Originally there were previous buildings to the left and right of this tunnel. Until 3 months ago this section of tunnel was under the addition to the rear of the Downing Block (owned now by the PEM) which was the original location of the first Boys Club in the country. Now it is exposed as the addition has been demoed. A construction worker said they were preserving the iron door; but the question is, did they open up the tunnel beyond the door?

The original buildings attached to this building were rumored to be part of the Underground Railroad. In either building Runaway Slaves were welcome to stay for a respite. Also this tunnel was heated by a furnace under the left section of the Downing Block. This building is also haunted and the Salem Paranormal Convention has done investigations in the tunnels. Part of the investigation was Scott Gruenwald “the Naked Ghost Hunter”.

Now in front of the PEM to the far right they are digging a new cellar for their expansion which will be done in 2019. Once they did so, they uncovered another tunnel. This lined up with their mock quarter slotted viewer designed into the display above the Jersey Barriers. Now a front end loader and a big pile of dirt blocks our view of the tunnel. Also in front of the East India Marine Hall, paid for by Stephen White who engineered Presidents Harrison’s rise and assassination,  it seemed they uncovered another tunnel. Within the next year they will be reopening a tunnel that had once led from the Essex Institute to the Armory where they house many of their collections. In that collection are Romanov Crown Jewels, possibly acquired by  a member of the Crane plumbing empire when he was Minister to Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. The jewels might be right next to Blackbeard’s Skull cup…

So what is the PEM hiding?

To find out more read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City which is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and local shops in Salem, MA for all you tourists and locals alike. Also you can get an advance reader collectible edition of its sequel Sub Rosa on Amazon.com. Later its official release will be sold at Barnes & Nobe on July 4th 2017.