Book Review #4

An Exclusive Look Into the Crimes and Trial of Charles Manson:

The Motive Helter Skelter

By: Shauna Onofrietti

A healthy human mind is considered intricate and intriguing, so it is only natural that menacing sociopaths such as Charles Manson in the novel “Helter Skelter” provide readers with an obsessive interest.

“Helter Skelter” was written in 1974 by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor from Manson’s trial, and Curt Gentry. This 600 paged piece of literature is the most detailed, affluent works of true crime I have ever read.

True crime is one of my absolute favorite genres, because I’m just your typical, average young adult – dangerously fascinated with sociopaths, psychopaths and all things serial killer related.

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Manson sticking his tongue out at photographers.

In 1969, Manson and his “family” took the reign of terror in Los Angeles, California. Manson proved himself extraordinarily manipulative, powerful and essentially insane.

On Friday, August 9, 1969, Manson told the members of the Family: “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.”

If you’re a Beatles fan unfamiliar with the mind of Manson, let me just say that yes, “Helter Skelter” is a direct reference to The Beatles’ song. And believe me, you will not want to frolic in the strawberry fields forever when you discover why.

Helter Skelter is fundamentally a term for a race war in Manson’s mind. He whole-heartedly believes he is Jesus Christ resurrected, and he convinces the Family that this is indeed true. He also claims that when the “black man seizes power” most of the world will come to its demise – except him and the Family, who will survive by living in dark caves in the middle of a California desert.

Once this situation occurs, Manson would eventually be given full reign of the world and be in complete control of everyone and everything. So why not follow him now?

On the warm summer night of August 8, 1969, pregnant actress Sharon Tate was holding a small party with several of her closest friends. And this party ended in a human slaughterhouse being discovered the following morning.

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Image of aspiring actress and victim, Sharon Tate.

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Sharon Tate was due to give birth in two weeks when she was murdered on August 8.

Victims at Sharon Tate’s house 10050 Cielo Drive in Bel Air included Tate and the unborn yet fully formed baby in her belly, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger. One victim, Steven Parent, was difficult for the police to identify at first.

The police investigation faced various obstacles during the hours following the discovery of the bodies. Meanwhile, on the following night, more murders were committed in another county.

On August 10, 1969, two additional victims were discovered dead at 3301 Waverly Drive. Married couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca had been brutally killed, in a relatively similar way to those at Cielo Drive. Despite the obvious similarities, the police failed to find any connections for months. And even then, they were skeptical.

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Three prominent female members of Manson’s Family carved x’s in their foreheads to signify their support for Manson who carved his own forehead a few days prior.

In regards to the eventual trial, members of the Family attempted to deter the prosecution, Manson himself endlessly complained and the months that followed were astoundingly brutal. With three women charged with crimes and forced to combine into one trial, along with several other Family members on trial for unrelated crimes, they mainly viewed it as an entertaining game of sorts.

“Helter Skelter” can be gruesome with intense detailing of the crimes. If you are not into true crime, nor have a strong stomach, I would not suggest divulging into the crimes and trial of Manson and the Family. This is coming from someone who has strong experience with the genre: I usually do not experience a stomach churning quite as often as I would if I were not immune to this amount of substantial detailing, but the motions inflicted upon Sharon Tate and her baby by Family member Susan Atkins genuinely made me sick.

Otherwise, Bugliosi creates a perfect timeline of events and allows readers to feel like investigators – we learn facts as the police discover new leads, evidence and build a case against Manson and his Family who are living in squalor on an abandoned movie ranch.

“Helter Skelter” can get repetitious when the situation demands for it, but it is not over-bearing. It is usually a nice summary to remind viewers of imperative details. Meanwhile, the crimes committed by Manson and the Family were grizzly and horrendous. There are heavy descriptions on the subject, so I once again warn those with a faint heart. Every brutality is spread before readers in graphic detail.

On another note, I will never be able to listen to the Beatles’ songs without Manson’s interpretations puncturing their way into my brain.

I would overall rate this novel a 10/10. I thought I thoroughly understood the Manson case. Oh man, was I wrong. I completed “Helter Skelter” several months ago and still find myself thinking about the case and recollecting the smallest details about people mentioned in the book. It is even more frightening to think that these things really happened. 

I am lucky enough to own an original copy and luckily in this day and age, finding a vintage copy could be done relatively cheap if you do enough research.

Movie trailer from 1976 film edition of Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter.”

    Female Manson supporters/Family members sing on the corner during his trial.

Book Review #3

“The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens:

The Legendary Author’s First Novel

By: Shauna Onofrietti

“The Pickwick Papers,” also known as “The Posthumorous Papers of the Pickwick Club,” was Charles Dickens’ first novel, serialized in 1836 and printed in book format in 1837.

There is no denying that Charles Dickens is one of the most successful and celebrated writers in history. With 15 books and a wide range of short stories and plays, it is an honor to share a birthday with Dickens, as I myself am an aspiring author.

Most first novels are just that – first novels. In most cases, an author will either publish one magnificent first published work and become forgotten, or will have to endlessly attempt to make their creativity surge and their writing amplify. As a huge Dickens fan, I will do my best to review “The Pickwick Papers” without being biased, hence why I will avoid describing his additional work to society.

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At 24-years-old and a Parliamentary reporter, Dickens was commissioned by Messrs. Chapman and Hall to conduct a series of descriptions to accompany “cockney sporting plates” drawn by Robert Seymour. “The Pickwick Papers” was originally intended to be a simple ironic and comedic daily comic in the newspaper, with Seymour’s images being the main focus. Picture novels were prominent in England during the time, but Dickens typically ignored the basic outline for the story and constructed it into something absolutely brilliant.

This altered the ordinarily simple comic. Dickens flawlessly executed his words to flow in a magically humorous way that centered around contemporary adventures in England, eccentric characters with ironic personalities, and the injustices the supposed “justice system” offered people of the 1830s.

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A copy of my own “The Pickwick Papers” from the late 1800s. Look at that magnificent cover!

Within “The Pickwick Papers” there are a variety of primarily central characters that are key to the adventurous tales that take place throughout the novel. In its entirety, every single character is an absolute oddball, with intricate oddities and eccentricities that establish the comedic tone of the story.

Samuel Pickwick is a business man and the chairman of the intimate Pickwick Club. Pickwick and his three fellow members of the Pickwick Club, along with his servant Samuel Weller, venture off to explore England’s many hidden stories. Pickwick often lands himself in situations that the viewers find humorous and he finds absolutely awful.

One of Pickwick’s traveling companions is Nathaniel Winkle who is known as the sportsman of the group. Ironically, readers witness him attempt to prove this ability multiple times, to which he fails miserably. Winkle is uncomfortably trapped in circumstances and becomes nervous, usually hurting himself and his companions in the process.

Tracy Tupman is a middle-aged bachelor who considers himself to be a hopeless romantic. He yearns for womanly affection, but often desires more than one woman at once. Augustus Snodgrass also presents ironic characteristics, as he often presents himself as being a poet, yet has never written a single line of poetry in his life.

The fellowship also brings along Samuel Weller, a sarcastic and hysterical servant who passionately presents his job with all he can muster. He is probably my favorite character in “The Pickwick Papers,” as he is usually the comedic relief and I enjoy how devoted he is, no matter what the circumstances contain.

Along their journey’s routes they come across many complicated occurrences, particularly with the man named Alfred Jingle. Jingle is a wondering rascal who causes mayhem at Dingley Dell, a popular location in the tale.

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When you flip through the last few pages of “The Pickwick Papers,” you will certainly have the satisfaction of having explored various adventures; it genuinely feels as if you yourself traveled on this journey with these idiotic characters. I believe one of the most interesting things about this first Dickens’ novel is his knack for connected episodic adventures, rather than just one long story with a single plot.

I would rate this novel a 10/10, no doubt. It’s an excellent resource when one needs a laugh, or just wants to escape the turmoil of reality and divulge into the oddities Dickens created. I find it unbelievable that he created this masterpiece at the age of 24. The text witnesses extreme character development, along with Dickens’ own sprouting talent. This is not a novel you want to miss out on!

“What was over couldn’t be begun, and what couldn’t be cured must be endured.”

-Charles Dickens in “The Pickwick Papers.”

220px-pickwickclub_serial Want to become a Pickwickian? You can purchase “The Pickwick Papers” here!

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812. At the age of 12, Dickens was forced to walk five miles to work every day, work for ten hours, then walk another five miles home. He only saw his family on Sundays, when he would visit them in a debtor’s prison; only a single sister was not imprisoned. 

Charles Dickens once claimed “Little Red Riding Hood” was his first love. He wished he could have married her, in order to achieve ultimate bliss.

Dickens once worked as a law clerk in the legal system. He cites witnessing many injustices during this period of time, hence a significant theme in “The Pickwick Papers” being injustices in the system.

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS) was first referred to as Pickwickian Syndrome. This is due to the fact that a character within the story exhibits symptoms of the disease.

Book Review #2

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Witches’ Brew”

A Compilation Curriculum of Terror

By: Shauna Onofrietti

Alfred Hitchcock, a man of many diabolical horrors, wrote a compilation novel in the 1960s featuring 13 chilling supernatural short stories.

Due to the novel containing 13 separate tales, I decided the simplest and most pleasing way to speak of this piece of literature would be to list them in order from my least favorite to my top choice, giving a small review for each story.

Before embarking into the stories of twist endings and peculiar murders, a word of caution: these reviews are not for the faint-hearted. Hitchcock’s cauldron of fright was intended to make one’s heart pound with anticipation, your spine to tingle with trepidation; and if anyone can, it’s him, the master of surprise and murder.

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A photo of the edition I possess, published 1965.

The story’s introduction is a sarcastically humorous account on how Hitchcock was ordered to write an introduction when he absolutely had no time or desire to. His exact words were, “I brindle, I object, I, ultimately, must revolt.”

13. “A Crime Worthy of Me,” by Hal Dresner

Out of every individual tale in “Witches’ Brew,” Dresner’s “A Crime Worthy of Me” took the cake as being the slowest building story. Arnold, a young man working at Bainesville Home Finance and Loan Company, has memorized his boss Mr. Cumberby’s safe combination containing over one hundred thousand dollars. With a first person narrative, Arnold diabolically attempts to create the perfect plan in order to successfully rob the bank and purchase an ideal bachelor pad while attending college.Despite inspiration from an “Investigator McGronskey” story, Arnold finds himself in a very tricky situation much to his own disbelief.

The story has an interesting concept, but I did not find myself impressed by the way Dresner executed it; I believe I would have liked it more outside of “Witches’ Brew,” as it was one of the last tales in the book and it did not fit the eerie vibe. Rather than being spooky, it was more like an over-confident robber plotting to rob his boss just so he could impress women and have an income without working.

Hitchcock has utilized Dresner’s work in other compilation novels, on top of “Witches’ Brew.”

12. “The Big Bajoor,” by Borden Deal

“The Big Bajoor” follows a woman named Vanya who feels pressured to win a big bajoor as her first year of marriage with Sandor comes to an end. It is revealed Sandor purchased Vanya for a large sum of money, as her own mother was known for working a great bajoor back in the day – the big bajoor being a plot to swindle an extensive amount of money from someone.

Vanya finds an old woman and claims she in the queen of the gypsies, therefore she has the incredible ability to bless money and cause the amount to double over time.

Similar to #13, I found this story to be out of place in “Witches’ Brew.” The short-story has a different sort of concept and an unexpected ending, but in no way did I find this story to be creepy – which is what my expectations were set on.

11.“I Had a Hunch, And…,” by Talmage Powell

A young girl named Janet finds herself looking down at her own dead body – she is a ghost. The corpse’s neck is twisted at an odd angle at the bottom of the foyer staircase, hinting toward the idea that she was murdered. She tries her best to recollect the events that took place, and realizes who the culprit is almost instantly.

Janet’s three friends Cricket, Blake and Tom enter the room and Janet realizes nobody can see her ghostly presence. Once they contact police, Janet comes to the realization that she must have justice in order to enjoy the afterlife.

The problem is, she can only direct thoughts and ideas toward people who actually believe in ghosts.

I honestly really enjoyed this story. The ghostly girl seeking justice and attempting to succeed is intriguing and definitely supernatural. My reasoning behind making it #11 is because Powell did not provide an ending that satisfied me.

10. “A Shot From a Dark Night,” by Avram Davidson

Within “A Shot From a Dark Night,” James Calvin “Jaysey” Williams is declared mayor of a fictional town and is admired by all the residents whole-heartedly. They demonstrate their dedication to him by coming together to claim that when he decides between running for state senate and county court, they will automatically vote for him.

When Williams goes to local favorite Turbyfull’s Cafe, a new man named Jemmy is working the counter, who has a very unique appearance. His face was as red as a tomato and promoted battered markings, resulting in Williams inquiring if Jemmy was someone he knew. One of William’s friends, a sheriff, informs him that Jemmy was just released from a state prison. This information brings Williams back to his own past – a past he does not want to remember.

There were a few moments in this story that I thought would lead me to a more fulfilling enjoyment, but all the plot questions were quickly answered. However, I will attest to a suspenseful confusion, meaning you’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but you will not be able to put the book down at least until the next page.

9. “Gone as By Magic,” by Richard Hardwick

“Gone as By Magic” follows Burt Webb, a man who murdered his best friend a year prior to the story taking place. It is revealed that Frank Pilcher had been more successful than Webb their whole lives, which subconsciously made him hit the breaking point.

At first, nobody questioned the concept that Pilcher ran away due to his gambling problem – nobody except his wife, Vera. When Vera informs Webb that she is absolutely broke, he comes to the conclusion that Pilcher must have been hiding money somewhere. With the business his job belonged to shutting down, Webb attempts to unearth the hidden dough.

This story starts off at a slow pace. Viewers learn why Webb murdered Pilcher, but a few pages pass where nothing particularly exhilarating happens. In all honesty, I guessed the outcome of the story before it even made it to the end. Hardwick does an excellent job as an author presenting the story, though.

8. “Please Forgive Me,” by Henry Kane

“Please Forgive Me” presents Paul Matthew, a father and police officer with a growing concern for his teenage son Billy. Billy had been listening to rock and roll music, hanging out with an older crowd, having unexplainable money that he used to purchase a vehicle and gallivants around town at all hours of the night.

Billy’s mother believes his “crazy summer” is temporary, because he is leaving to join the Army in September. His father, however, is not so sure. This leads to an investigation that he realizes he may be better off not knowing.

This piece is relatively curious. As I was reading, I felt trapped between a father not trusting his son, and a boy who had suspicious answers to questions yet showed an immense amount of respect toward his dad. For me, I really enjoy investigative stories, hence the #6 rating.

7. “Just For Kicks,” by Richard Marsten

Richard Marsten’s “Just For Kicks” witnesses the depression of Charlie Franklin, a man who never in his life had experienced pleasure from anything. He discusses his dilemma with friend Ed Bell, who makes him realize there is one thing he never tried before; murder.

This story is excellent and incredibly interesting. Readers are faced with a character who is completely and utterly emotionless, never experiencing any sort of “charge” throughout his entire life. If demented people interest you as much as they interest me, you’ll find this tale highly fascinating.

6. “The Guy That Laughs Last,” by Philip Tremont

At age sixty, main character Big Freddy is known as being a prominent criminal and elaborate practical joker. Freddy becomes smitten with a young woman named Margo, who his co-workers inform as being a strict brakeman‘s daughter.

This is a story I can’t really deliver a detailed plot summary, as it’s only a few pages long and swiftly-paced. I can attest to this story having an awesome twist and made me anticipate each line.

5. “The Gentle Miss Bluebeard,” by Nedra Tyre

Miss Mary Anne Beard is an older woman who is seemingly warm and compassionate, taking care of those who are in pain, have an illness or are just plain depressed. And, well, as a retired old lady, there is not much to do around town besides murder her fellow people.

There is just something about a killing old lady that sends chills down my spine – especially one that appears to be one of those adorable women who bakes cupcakes for their grandchildren and reads books in their spare time. The story by Tyre follows the many people “Miss Bluebeard” meets by mere coincidence whom she believes she needs to put out of misery.

4. “Premonition,” by Charles Mergendahl

“Premonition” features a woman who knows for a fact that she will be murdered by a person killing women in the area. The woman, Martha Ricker, has premonitions of events before they occur, leaving everyone around her, including her husband, to believe she were an absolute basket-case. Ricker must face her fears with caution, completely alone.

With an unexpected conclusion and suspense throughout, it is evident why Hitchcock had this as the opening piece in “Witches’ Brew.”

3. “Diet and Die,” by Wenzell Brown

“Diet and Die,” a first-person narrative, follows the narrator on a quest for love and an exquisite meal. The narrator admires the ability to be a proper chef and instantly falls in love with Yvette, a heavy-set woman whose dish he tastes at an elegant restaurant. He finds her beautiful and wants to marry her; mainly because she can cook him his favorite dishes whenever he wants.

Yvette later begins to lose weight and spend all her time working on creating her ideal appearance, therefore not having any time to waste on cooking or being friendly for that matter.

This is probably one of my favorite short-stories of all time, because it has humorous concepts providing comic relief for the dark formations happening.

2. “A Killing in the Market,” by Robert Bloch

Albert Kessler, a previous Wall Street employee, quits his job after saving three thousand dollars to pursue his desire to make investments in the market. Lon Mariner is a name he recognizes over and over again as making an excessive amount of dough in the market, and Kessler ventures to Chicago in search for the stranger.

When Kessler finally finds Mariner, the stranger disappears and nobody seems to remember him; the hotel they are both staying in does not have a record of a Lon Mariner, despite Kessler witnessing him enter a room and talk to several employees.

This tale was stimulating and engrossing, deliciously compelling. A wide range of questions enter your brain and you cannot possibly put “Witches’ Brew” down.

1. “When Buying a Fine Murder,” by Jack Ritchie

A hit man of twenty-years is sent on a mission – to kill himself. The requester does not know he is the hit man of course, and the main character Ron finds himself suspecting everyone, from the landlord who made the actual request to his beautiful wife who is not telling him something.

This story is pretty unhinged. Ritchie absorbs you in instantaneously, and you won’t regret reading this narrative, either from “Witches’ Brew” or in another piece of literature. It is an excellent tale written beautifully.

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As a whole, I would rate Hitchcock’s compilation “Witches’ Brew” a 9/10. I value his opinion, as his influence is inexpressible. Each tale is unique, hence why I went through them individually. It’s difficult finding one story and saying it demonstrates the entirety of the novel. And, you may have found short-stories to look up through their authors, or you may have decided to purchase the book yourself… for now, farewell.

“There is not terror in the bang, only in the anticipation in it.”

                                                        -Alfred Hitchcock.

Book Review #1

“The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: 

A New England Book Review

By: Shauna Onofrietti

Vintage books possess a unique grandeur and the “House of the Seven Gables” is a perfect example.

Antique literature can provide a fresh outlook on modern life, as well as inspire endless ideas to broaden one’s imagination. For as long as I can remember, I’ve adored vintage novels; in fact, I spend more time than I care to admit watching black and white films, exploring antique shops and living through characters within old texts.

Books from before the 21st century generally have a studious sentence structure, with detail and creativity that is rare in this modern era. Most people today dislike spending countless hours patrolling book stores and divulging into the world the mind creates when reading novels. Sometimes the school environment will force students to read critical stories that are supposed to have an impact, but the majority will openly admit not completing the novel and blowing it off instead. Even my interest lessens when assignments start piling up and teachers start badgering these tales onto me.                          I prefer reading on my own terms, at my own pace.

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Ever hear of the Rory Gilmore book challenge? Don’t ask me how many I’ve read from this list.

With this blog I will dedicate my time and ability to structure analysis’ on literature from before the 21st century. This will primarily be a review blog, with a minimal amount of spoilers – if there will be a spoiler, a warning will be issued beforehand.

Now, on to the first book review, one of the most curious books I’ve ever read: “The House of the Seven Gables,” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I regretfully do not possess my own vintage copy, but I purchased a version from 1999 in Allaire Village located in New Jersey in early autumn of 2016. For those who do not know, Allaire Village is a historical site that is preserved almost in entirety. It is currently a living history museum, where people are costumed in colonial outfits as a job. I wish.

I had been wanting to read “The House of the Seven Gables” for ages, but I had a gigantic stack waiting to be investigated and took awhile to get around to it.

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My edition of the “House of the Seven Gables,” from 1999.

“The House of the Seven Gables” was originally published in 1851, and Hawthorne established the novel’s main events as taking place in the mid-19th century. With this being said, he also uses the concept of flashbacks to discuss the direct history of the gloomy New England house.

Unlike the typical novel, Hawthorne dedicates the whole first chapter to the Pyncheon family, a descriptive archive of the multiple brooding character’s ancestors and establishing the backstory of a haunted past that impact the family’s luck by creating a cursed land – the land which, the seven gables mansion sits on.

With a colonial America theme, it is easy for Hawthorne to grasp the reader’s attention by utilizing his knowledge of moral good verses evil, citing events such as religion, land negotiations, and witchcraft from the Salem Witch Trials that took place in the late 17th century.

Michael Maul, a character based on the flashback portion of the novel’s beginning, was accused of witchcraft and executed, causing well-known Colonel Pyncheon to seize the land that was rightfully Maule’s in the process. The big question is: Did Colonel Pyncheon frame Michael Maule in order to gain access to the ideal land in the perfect heart-of-Salem location?

Before executed, Maul cursed the land and the Pyncheon family. Once Colonel Pyncheon completed the seven gabled building, he threw a boastful party full of desirable members of the Massachusetts society. When Pyncheon fails to join the party, he is found dead in his notable armchair before a burning fire in his study. Above the fireplace is an incredibly realistic portrait of Pyncheon himself. This painting is still sulking in the same location when the book lurches forward.

This background information is relatively quick and to the point, and may even seem exhilarating as a plot. I believe Hawthorne executes this novel beautifully, with such vivid detail and an extensive vocabulary it is nearly impossible for someone not to visit a dictionary or search for a definition online at least once. Despite my utter enjoyment at the challenge, I can attest to the novel being intriguing. It features eccentric yet mysterious characters, betrayal, family passion and hatred, and ghosts with a knack for miserably floating around the house. However, if you aren’t up to a challenge, I would not recommend this particular piece of historic literature. The pace is sluggish, particularly if you’re impatient and aren’t one to enjoy that “steadily climbing to the top of the mountain” sort of plot.

The remainder of the novel follows Hepzibah Pyncheon, an unmarried woman who is of the upper class but is forced to convert the seven gabled house into a penny shop; Holgrave who is a daguerreotypist and is not a member of the Pyncheon family, yet boards with them despite being viewed as odd and dangerous; Phoebe Pyncheon, Hepzibah’s seemingly perfect younger cousin from the country who comes to live at the seven gabled house; Alice Pyncheon, a ghost rumored to haunt the halls of the house; and Clifford Pyncheon, who hasn’t ventured out of the house as he served a lengthy sentence for murder. Oh, and there’s also the pestering Judge Jaffrey who frequently comes to the house in order to harass the inhabitants.  

 “The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy of the present and the future.” 

                  -Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The House of the Seven Gables.”

I would personally rate “The House of the Seven Gables” as a 9/10. Hawthorne had an excellent way with words, and if you can appreciate sentence structure and vocabulary as much as I do, you won’t be sorry you read this novel. Although, if you on the other hand need an exhilarating plot throughout a book’s entirety, you will probably throw the novel out a window by the fifth page. It’s a wonderful concept, but progresses at a leisurely rate. At times, you may not even realize something is happening until after it already occurred. 

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The Seven Gables Mansion is now a museum. You can view a few pictures of the inside here.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. Hawthorne’s family was thrown into Puritan ideas. An ancestor, William Hathorne, arrived in Salem in 1630 following the trend of England to America emigration, and became a judge. Known for brutal sentencing, his son John followed his father’s footsteps and became a judge. John Hathorne was one of the three judges who participated in the Salem Witch Trials.

Hathorne to Hawthorne? That is no spelling error. Hawthorne was terrified by his ancestor’s decisions and added the “W” in order to distance himself from the family name.

Where did Hawthorne get his ideas for the Seven Gables from? The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, was the home to Susanna Ingersoll in the mid-1800s. Ingersoll was Hawthorne’s second cousin, who he visited often when working at the Custom House.