July 14th through August 5th, 2015 Rockport, Gloucester, Cape Ann Massachusetts

Dropped KatieBug off at Barkwood Inn and drove a nice easy pace to Newport Massachusetts. Reservations were made on Tuesday for our whale watch on Thursday. We arrived mid-morning Wednesday. Cape Ann Whale Watch called to tell us the Thursday morning trip was cancelled, no problem, we left our plans open specifically for this adventure. Checked into our Eagle House Guesthouse room with itty-bitty everything. A tiny room, tiny TV, tiny bathroom and thin tiny curtains that didn’t close completely. Being on the first floor and not one to enjoy the exhibitionist lifestyle, I tried to close us off from the public, all in vain.

Tiny Bathroom  Our cottage room

Our one person bathroom was clean but the room was covered with a coating of dust thick enough for me to write “clean me” notes on the furniture. Deciding to wipe it down myself, I returned the face towel to exchange at the office, asking for a duster to remove the multiple cob webs from the ceiling. When I returned I spotted several brightly colored prescription pills dotting the floor by the bed. OK, this was my escape away from cleaning, I’m not the maid and not getting paid, no more cleaning. Called the front desk and within 20 minutes the owner came with his cleaning crew to scrub down the room. When they left, a few other annoyances popped up (toilet didn’t fill after flushing, sink stopper wouldn’t open, etc.) so we resigned to spend the night after the owner offered us one of his beachfront property rooms for the next night.

Time to explore. Rockport is a small cozy town with clusters of 1700’s and 1800’s homes and considerable numbers of huge marble and brick buildings, a few sky scraping church steeples thrown in for good measure.

1802 Unitarian  Orthodox Church, Gloucester

The town is gathered along the seaside with one stretch of land jutting out into the ocean. The jut, a.k.a., Bearskin Neck, is an historic piece of land named for a bear caught in the tide and killed in 1700.

Bear Skin Neck Sign

Orderly rows of homes transformed into businesses are squeezed snugly together and line both sides of the narrow Bearskin Neck avenue. The styles and maturity of each house varied, many having living quarters above, selling their treasures on the ground floor. The generally accepted hokey beach gift shops were mixed in with antiques, hippy-wares, oddities, a vintage “location, location, location” motel, a menagerie of eateries and sweet shops offering chewy, gooey, sticky, creamy and cold delights.

Bearskin Neck, 1695

Early evening Wednesday, Cape Ann Whale Watch called cancelling the Thursday afternoon trip. Motel, pet resort, dining and gas costs already accumulating, now without the main event taking place. A self-serving 15 minute pout for me. Pulled up my big girl pants and struggled to assume a make-the-best-of-it attitude. Darn…I really wanted to see those whales!

We walked back into town and took the recommendation of our motel manager to eat at the highly acclaimed fish restaurant, The Fish Shack. Seated by the window facing the ocean, we ordered one of their specialties, lobster scampi. The restaurant, the service, the view and the food did not disappoint.

Rockport downtown

Back to our carriage house room to pack and squint at the tiny TV before sleeping. The inability of our curtains to close and our bathroom being so tiny, I dressed for bed in the shower stall rather than put on a striptease show for the neighborhood. This relaxation escape needed a new direction. A quick TripAdvisor search availed a few options of interesting “to-do’s” to fill in for the whale watching trip that was not happening over the next two days.

An early morning stroll into town, a Kodak Moment of the boat dock next to Bearskin Neck, chit chatting with the locals over amazing veggie omelets for breakfast, all prefaced our pack-n-move.

Bear Skin Neck Docks

Our new location was a room at Eagle House Beachside. The property was directly across from Front Beach and next door to Old First Parish Burying Ground dated 1630 through 1930. Our neighbors tonight will be the ghostly spirits of early settlers and many of the officers and soldiers of the French and Indian Revolutionary and 1812 wars.  First settler Richard Tarr provided the plot of land and was buried here in 1732.

Old First Parish Burying Ground

A theatrical drama played out in my mind as to what I would do if this next overnight was anything like the first. It bounced around in my head as we drove three blocks down to the main street, over a few blocks and up a slight hill to our next sleeping destination. Well, this wasn’t exactly beachfront but the ocean was visible from our front door and the room, although somewhat defaced, was dust free.

Eagle House Motel and Beachside

A quick unpack and we left to explore. First “to-do”, a side trip to Gloucester, America’s greatest fishing port for nearly four centuries.

Names of those that went down in ships

Beginning in 1623 with the first settlers from England coming to harvest the oceans bounty and again in the 1800’s this port drew in immigrants from Canada, Scandinavia and Ireland. Later, Italy and Portugal joined in the perilous work, sustained by the hope of prosperity.

The Oceanside walk is famous for the statue of a fisherman, its fame augmented by a breaded fish stick product owned by a Japanese seafood conglomerate Nippon Suisan. The company, in case you haven’t guessed, is Gorton’s of Gloucester.

The fisherman stands facing the ocean, wheel tightly gripped, braced against the turbulent seas.

Gloucester Massachusetts

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep. Psalm 107, 23-24”. Over 5,300 men lost their lives. The names on the plaque are somber reminders of mother nature and her powerful force.

The stroll along the oceans edge is peaceful and relaxing. A double dip in the “to-do” department, a mid-week farmers market happening at the end of the pier. It called to us, flaunting several to-die-for oatmeal/peanut butter chocolate chips cookies. They drew us in, pried open our lips and forced their way into our bellies while we perused both lengthy rows of home baked breads, fresh pressed cheeses, fresh fish, organic meats and veggies, an assortment of crafts, soaps, toys and hand sewn clothes. Each booth charmingly displayed wares to shoppers with large reusable bags in tow.

Next up…Hammond Castle, built from 1926 through 1929 by John Hays Hammond Jr. to house his medieval collection and his laboratory that developed basic inventions of guided missiles and radio communications. He was known as the “father of radio control”.

At 12 years of age, John Hammond accompanied his father on a business trip to Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, NJ.  Introduced to Edison, John asked so many questions that the inventor gave him a personal tour of the complex and assumed the role of mentor, remaining in contact with Hammond Jr. for the rest of his life.

In total, Hammond is credited with more than 800 foreign and domestic patents on more than 400 inventions mostly in the fields of radio control and naval weaponry.

Hammond Castle Front

We bought tickets for the candlelit night tour but found out it did not allow views of several areas I was interested in seeing. The ticket counter granted us access to a self-guided walking tour on the spot with an assurance that we could return later for the candlelight tour if we so wished.

Outside Courtyard

Authenticity was foremost for Hammond. No cost was spared to achieve the settings he wished to accomplish in each area of the castle. The entrance to the dining room, the dining room and small library contained dozens of priceless artifacts as did the Great Hall.

Entrance to the dining hall   Dining Room  Library and Music Room

The Great Hall stands in for the church, the center of medieval life. The archway (back right corner of the picture) surrounding the “church” is carved from volcanic rock from Pompeii and was likely carved in the 12th century.

Castle courtyard, 2nd floor dive area

The organ is a Hammond Pipe Organ, no relation; in fact, rumor was that the two heads of households didn’t get on well.  The suit of armor is authentic.

The Great Hall  Hammond Organ and armor   Great Hall from servents area

So many details inside the Great Hall, we stood and tried to take in everything.

Inside the Great Hall  Ornate church platform

The sitting room, a small alcove of the Great Hall, was my favorite room.  The window arches and stained glass are authentic and the room feels cozy and inviting.

Great Hall sitting room (2)  Great Hall sitting room

The oddest relic, but by far the most remarkable, was an authentic skull of a sailor who sailed with Columbus.

Skull of a sailor who sailed with Columbus

Sections of two 15th century French storefronts were purchased to place on either side of his courtyard to give the effect of being in a medieval village. You can see carvings above the door of wares sold in the store which were used to identify the shops for villages who could not read. On one side is a bakery with a residence above.

Bakery with residence above

The other side is a butcher shop with a tavern above.

Butcher shop with tavern above

Mr. Hammond would often tell his guests, while dining, about the castle and courtyard mentioning that in medieval times, the town water was only 12-18 inches deep. Later he would climb to the second floor and dive into the water, which was actually 8-1/2 feet deep, shocking his guests but livening up the post dinner conversation.

Courtyard from Second floor

The ceiling in the courtyard contains Mr. Hammond’s weather control system which allowed him to create a lite drizzle or a torrential downpour, the sound of thunder, knee deep fog and sun or moonlight. He used his weather system to water his plants, startle his guests and dispel boring conversations.

A wealthy eccentric, notorious for being a jokester, he frequently took delight in playing pranks on his drunk overnight guests. Having built his guest room with wall paper covering all doors that opened with a button on the wall, he would impishly move the button before they retired. You can see the bathroom door slightly ajar on the right side of the bed.

Early American Guest Room

Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, was a close friend and regular guest. He had a permanent bedroom in the castle.

Cardinal Cushings Room  Cardinals room

Pictures and information about Mr. Hammonds Radionynamic Torpedo System and his Dynamic Accentor, two of his greatest inventions, were immediately observed upon entering his invention room. The 1950’s Dynamic Accentor is an invention that contains many of the components of today’s stereo systems. He installed the invention in his Great Hall and it controlled 35 speakers in the ceiling and walls.

Dynamic Accentor

The Radionynamic Torpedo System is a carrier of explosives for a military target.

Invention Room

Lastly, we took a brief stroll around the castle grounds and paused for a Kodak moment of the castles ocean view.

View from the Castle

John Hays Hammond, Jr. died February 12, 1965. He is buried under the drawbridge of his castle and, as per his instructions, his grave is surrounded by poison oak plants.

Castle Drawbridge

A relaxing drive back to our motel and an early evening walk down to the end of Bearskin Neck to watch the seagulls skim the surf. Rinse and repeat of last nights delicious lobster scampi meal but with an additional treat, the melodic voice of a young singer playing softly on guitar. It was a perfect background for our dining experience. A short stroll back to our room, a glass of our private stock of fermented grape brought from LilyPad to sip on our porch while lounging on comfy padded patio chairs, view of the ocean across the street, quiet and peaceful. Our mini escape had made a complete about face.

Sunset, Front Beach

I set the alarm to awaken before sunrise. John decided to come with and we watched as a warm orange glow spread across the horizon just before an intensely brilliant sun rose up out of the ocean into the morning sky. Well worth the 5:30 a.m. roll out of bed.

Front Beach at Sunrise, Rockport, MA

Beachcombing for old brick and flow blue pottery shards, another beachside ocean view breakfast at a local café, all before packing up and beginning our drive back to Charlton.

On the way home, a quick drive-by the 1862 Eastern Port Lighthouse.  New England’s coastal shores are saturated with lighthouses but sadly, many are now privately owned and not accessible.  This one was private.

Eastern Point Lighthouse, 1862

Back home, mini escape behind us and our “it’s always something” looming large, demanding to be addressed.

This week’s “it’s always something” is the bolt holding the front entrance retracting stairs together. When it came off, it bent other parts resulting in the step refusing to retract or extend. John strapped them closed while we waited to find parts that may no longer be available. It’s one big step up until parts arrive.

Incorrectly assuming that we had enough go wrong this week, the “motorhome spirits” laughed and cried out…”one more for these idiots who refuse to heed my warning and continue to roll around the country on a wish and a prayer!”

John had read on the forum that running high pressure water through the black tank roof air vent might clear the horrid sewer smell that wafted into our bedroom each time we flushed. Mounted on the ladder, he pushed the newly purchased hose and fittings into the vent and turned on the high pressured water. I screamed through the window that something was splashing behind the washer/dryer. John switched it off and we both watched as water dripped down the wall and all over the wood flooring behind the washer/dryer. Turns out the vent wasn’t connected and had separated mid-way causing the smell and now the flooding waters. As appliances are not installed to be removed easily, we will be forced to cut an additional hole in our bedroom wall to access repairs. Yep, this is truly the life.

Time to quickly pull out the towels and fans…again. For the next five days the contents of our box on wheels is once more, askew.

A much needed and appreciated peaceful, relaxing visit with John’s family, who lives in Holden 30 minutes away, for the evening. John’s sister, brother-in-law, their children (our niece and nephew) and their adult kids will be our dining companions. It is what I miss the most about this life…our related (and unrelated) family.

Our next escape will be John’s 50th High School Reunion in Gloversville, NY.  Although several weeks away, it is another highly anticipated escape from the blood, sweat and tears of our current contract position.  Calmly practicing my breathing exercises no longer helps me endure those intolerable horrid 5% of our Sunday guests.