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The Customs House
Transcript of The Customs House
History and Architecture
In general, a custom/customs house was used to house the offices for the government officials who processed the paperwork for the import and export of goods into and out of a country.
The Custom House of 1819
The Scarlet Letter
In 1850 Hawthorne's novel, "The Scarlet Letter" was publish.
In the book he added an introductory entitled, "The Custom House". It had a descriptive tour of the building in order to lighten the dark tone of the novel
He worked there as as surveyor from 1846 to 1849.
His office left in 1849 when the Whigs came to power.
He describes it as "a spacious edifice of brick"
*Edifice means any large building
He talks about the height of the room and the dull colors.
It was an embroidered
left by Jonathan Pue, another surveyor
He describes it as a "mystical symbol" that demands interpretation and has many meanings.
Where he found the "records" that would become the
He thinks about the passion of the characters as he looks at the letter.
It was the last in a series of custom houses built in Salem since 1649.
The Salem Custom House of 1819
Which leads up to where he assures us that on the second floor of that very building was where he found the documents that became, "The Scarlet Letter".
The Salem Custom House where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked was built in 1819. The building was designed by Perley Putnam, a weigher and Granger for the U.S. Custom Service, in 1818.
There were actually 2 plans submitted for the proposed building, one for a Federal style structure, by Putnam, and the other for a Greek Revival building, by Jonathan P. Saunders, Surveyor of the Port.
A revised version of the Federal plan was authorized by the Treasury department, which specified that construction costs could not exeed $10,000. In 1819, the building was built on Derby Street directly across from the Derby Wharf.
The Custom House is now part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.
Pallidian window above the Ionic
Round-headed first-floor windows
include a warehouse, the Public Stores, that was used to store bonded and impounded cargo.
Design of the Custom House
In his sketch, he gives his audience a
"literary virtual tour"
, depicting decaying warehouses and his ancient office
What was the Customs House in Salem?
In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne published
The Scarlet Letter.
The Scarlet Letter
is such a dark and ominous book, Hawthorne wrote a brief introduction titled
"The Customs House"
sketch to lighten the mood.
Hawthorne worked at the Customs House, a government building used for handling paperwork about trade
"I chanced to lay my hand on a small package, carefully done up in a piece of ancient yellow parchment. This envelope had the air of an official record of some period long past...... They were documents, in short, not official, but of a private nature, or, at least, written in his private capacity, and apparently with his own hand.......... But the object that most drew my attention, in the mysterious package, was a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded. There were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, however, was greatly frayed and defaced; so that none, or very little, of the glitter was left................ This rag of scarlet cloth,—for time, and wear, and a sacrilegious moth, had reduced it to little other than a rag,—on careful examination, assumed the shape of a letter. It was the capital letter A." - Nathaniel Hawthorne
One of Hawthorne's journal entries from 1868
"March 15.—I pray that in one year more I may find some way of escaping from this unblest Custom-House; for it is a very grievous thraldom. I do detest all offices,—all, at least, that are held on a political tenure, and I want nothing to do with politicians. Their hearts wither away, and die out of their bodies. Their consciences are turned to India-rubber, or to some substance as black as that, and which will stretch as much. One thing, if no more, I have gained by my Custom-House experience,—to know a politician. It is a knowledge which no previous thought or power of sympathy could have taught me, because the animal, or the machine rather, is not in nature.