Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town [NOOK Book]

Overview

The area known as Dogtown -- an isolated colonial ruin and surrounding 3,000-acre woodland in storied seaside Gloucester, Massachusetts -- has long exerted a powerful influence over artists, writers, eccentrics, and nature lovers. But its history is also woven through with tales of witches, supernatural sightings, pirates, former slaves, drifters, and the many dogs Revolutionary War widows kept for protection and for which the area was named. In 1984, a brutal murder took place there: a mentally disturbed local ...
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Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town

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Overview

The area known as Dogtown -- an isolated colonial ruin and surrounding 3,000-acre woodland in storied seaside Gloucester, Massachusetts -- has long exerted a powerful influence over artists, writers, eccentrics, and nature lovers. But its history is also woven through with tales of witches, supernatural sightings, pirates, former slaves, drifters, and the many dogs Revolutionary War widows kept for protection and for which the area was named. In 1984, a brutal murder took place there: a mentally disturbed local outcast crushed the skull of a beloved schoolteacher as she walked in the woods. Dogtown's peculiar atmosphere -- it is strewn with giant boulders and has been compared to Stonehenge -- and eerie past deepened the pall of this horrific event that continues to haunt Gloucester even today.

In alternating chapters, Elyssa East interlaces the story of this grisly murder with the strange, dark history of this wilderness ghost town and explores the possibility that certain landscapes wield their own unique power.

East knew nothing of Dogtown's bizarre past when she first became interested in the area. As an art student in the early 1990s, she fell in love with the celebrated Modernist painter Marsden Hartley's stark and arresting Dogtown landscapes. She also learned that in the 1930s, Dogtown saved Hartley from a paralyzing depression. Years later, struggling in her own life, East set out to find the mysterious setting that had changed Hartley's life, hoping that she too would find solace and renewal in Dogtown's odd beauty. Instead, she discovered a landscape steeped in intrigue and a community deeply ambivalent about the place: while many residents declare their passion for this profoundly affecting landscape, others avoid it out of a sense of foreboding.

Throughout this richly braided first-person narrative, East brings Dogtown's enigmatic past to life. Losses sustained during the American Revolution dealt this once thriving community its final blow. Destitute war widows and former slaves took up shelter in its decaying homes until 1839, when the last inhabitant was taken to the poorhouse. He died seven days later. Dogtown has remained abandoned ever since, but continues to occupy many people's imaginations. In addition to Marsden Hartley, it inspired a Bible-thumping millionaire who carved the region's rocks with words to live by; the innovative and influential postmodernist poet Charles Olson, who based much of his epic Maximus Poems on Dogtown; an idiosyncratic octogenarian who vigilantly patrols the land to this day; and a murderer who claimed that the spirit of the woods called out to him.

In luminous, insightful prose, Dogtown takes the reader into an unforgettable place brimming with tragedy, eccentricity, and fascinating lore, and examines the idea that some places can inspire both good and evil, poetry and murder.
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Editorial Reviews

Lisa Scottoline
…a true-crime story, an art appreciation course and an American history lesson stitched together, and it succeeds as all three…plaudits to East for exploring the relationship of the land to artists, as well as to the people who live upon it, in this case for generations. Ultimately, Dogtown is an ambitious and worthy book, and the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its parts.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Reviewed by Joyce Carol Oates

This is a work of narrative nonfiction in which I attempt to tell the story of a landscape—Gloucester, Massachusetts's Dogtown.” The author's succinct description of her fascinating, richly detailed and remarkably evocative exploration of a long-deserted colonial village amid a 3,600-acre woodland doesn't do justice to the quirky originality of Dogtown. Part history of a most unusual region; part commentary on the art of the American Modernist painter Marsden Hartley; part murder mystery/true crime police procedural; and part memoir, East's first book is likely to appeal to a varied audience for whom “Dogtown,” Mass., is utterly unknown.

East was initially drawn to Dogtown through the landscape paintings of Hartley—a gifted and undervalued contemporary of Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove and John Marin. Led to investigate the landscape Hartley painted, East soon finds herself, like the protagonist of a mystery, ever more deeply involved with the colonial ruin—is it a place of mystical wonder, or is it an accursed landscape? In colonial times, Dogtown was a marginal area of Gloucester said to be a “haven” for former slaves, prostitutes and witches; in the 20th century, it was largely abandoned and became a sort of uncharted place where, in a notorious 1984 incident, a mentally deranged sex offender murdered a young woman teacher in the woods.

East is thorough in her descriptions of the attractive young victim and the loathsome murderer—a devastating portrait of the type of predator of whom it's said “he would never hurt anyone.” Though the true crime chapters—which alternatewith chapters presenting the tangled history of Dogtown—are inevitably more interesting, East gracefully integrates her various themes into a coherent and mesmerizing whole.

In her admiration for Hartley, East kindles in the reader a wish to see his works, as well as the allegedly “mystical” landscape that inspired them; it would have been a good idea to include color plates of some of Hartley's work, juxtaposed with the landscapes. Also, the true crime chapters—written with appalled compassion—and the detailed portraits of individuals involved—the murderer, the victim, the victim's husband and his family, several police officers—would benefit from photographs as well. Late in Dogtown, as if the author's inventiveness were flagging and her material running thin, there are digressions into local politics that will be of limited interest.

Dogtown is surprisingly spare in personal information. We learn only a few facts about the engaging young writer whose life was so changed when she first saw Hartley's paintings that, five years later, she was led to the adventure of Dogtown, which would involve her for 10 years. This is most unusually self-effacing, particularly in our rabidly confessional times. Some readers will appreciate the author's vanishing into her subject, which is certainly strong enough to stand alone, while others might feel an absence in this evocation of, as Hartley described it, “one of these strange wild places... where the chemistry of the universe is too busy realizing itself.”

Joyce Carol Oates's latest novel is Little Bird of Heaven (HarperCollins/Ecco).

Kirkus Reviews
New England regional magazine writer East traces the multifaceted history of the 3,600-acre wooded area in Gloucester, Mass., known as Dogtown. In June 1984, Gloucester resident Anne Natti was beaten to death while walking her dog, her body found stripped naked in the Dogtown woods. That gruesome event, and the arrest and trial of Natti's killer, provide a narrative center for East's wide-ranging history. The author was first inspired to investigate Dogtown after she was moved by 1930s-era paintings of the area by the modernist artist Marsden Hartley, whose own story she sprinkles throughout the narrative. She also skillfully folds in stories of pirates who attacked Gloucester ships in the early 1700s; the modernist poet Charles Olson, who lived in Gloucester and wrote many poems about Dogtown, starting in the 1950s; and hallucinations of ghostly apparitions in 1692. These rich, lyrically told stories, which span 400 years of local history, paint a portrait of Dogtown as an enigmatic, mysterious town. East is a skilled writer, adept at setting a mood, and her research about Dogtown and its environs is thorough. However, there are some sections that would have benefitted from a lighter touch or tighter editing. In one particularly labored sequence, East writes about Gloucester's annual St. Peter's festival, heavy handedly comparing Natti's murderer to St. Peter himself. The author also has a tendency to overdramatize certain scenes, as when she describes nightfall: "Blackness was seeping into the woods like freshly drawn India ink, bleeding from the outlines of things to pool at my feet."Not without its flaws-it's the author's debut-but a satisfying, worthwhile portrait of Dogtown'shistorical wilderness. Agent: Brettne Bloom/Kneerim & Williams
From the Publisher
"A MESMERIZING FUGUE of knife-edge true crime, deviant Yankee Americana, and historical evildoings. With an insider's authenticity, East commands a haunted haven where renowned American thinkers and artists seek hideout, and finds the brilliant pin dot on a mysterious American murder map, charting a community's bouts of wickedness for generations toward a spellbinding modern homicide. No other book captures our colonial ghost history with such chilly quirks, intimate lore, and fireworks. A pure original, East guides us through stunning supernatural gates into a bountiful wilderness." — MARIA FLOOK, author of Invisible Eden

"This book is a wonder. I fell completely under its spell — Elyssa East does not merely reupholster the old bones of Dogtown, she plunges you headlong into the green mystery of this place; I loved the looking-glass chill of opening her book and finding myself in another world entirely. Dogtown is true literary sorcery, a portal to one of the strangest places in America." — KAREN RUSSELL, author of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

"Beautifully written, deftly told, and suspenseful to the very end — a stunning work of reportage. A keenly observant writer with a painter's eye for detail, East explores the strange, hypnotic spell that Dogtown seems to cast upon all — including herself — who enter its woods. The result is a riveting and very personal book that both dazzles and unnerves." — JULIE OTSUKA, author of When the Emperor Was Divine

"Elyssa East's narrative history of Dogtown, Massachusetts, is a fascinating book, sometimes strange, sometimes mystical, but always gripping. Her exploration of its dark, eccentric past begs the question: do certain mythic landscapes influence its inhabitants to do great good and, at times, to do great evil?" — KATHLEEN KENT, author of The Heretic's Daughter

"Dogtown is a haunting and powerful and hypnotic book, a tour-de-force of history. Part novelist, part l940's gumshoe working the streets, Elyssa East is a writer whose wonderful attention to detail and unflinching gaze at human behavior is the rarest of gifts. This book is both an old-fashioned page-turner — what happened in Dogtown? — to a modern social x-ray of small town America. Gloucester, Massachusetts is where very real, very strange, and very memorable life took place, and we need to thank Ms. East for presenting it all to us with the immediacy of a photograph album found in a antique store, dusted off and presented with care and passion." — Howard Norman, author of What Is Left the Daughter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416587187
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 552,098
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Elyssa East received her B.A. in art history from Reed College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She has received awards and fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo; the Ragdale, Jerome, and Ludwig Vogelstein Foundations; Columbia University; the University of Connecticut; and the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.


Elyssa’s book, Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town, interlaces murder, legend, and history in a Massachusetts ghost town. It was recently awarded the 2010 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for the best work of non-fiction about New England. Dogtown was also named a “Must-Read Book” by the Massachusetts Book Awards and an Editors’ Choice selection from the New York Times Book Review.



Elyssa’s writing has also been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Morning News, The Kansas City Star, and other publications nationwide. A scene from her opera libretto, Mr. Hawthorne’s Engagement, was performed with American Opera Project’s Composers and the Voice series. Elyssa currently teaches in the undergraduate Creative Writing program at Purchase College, State University of New York.
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Table of Contents

Prologue The Prophetic Pictures 1

Part 1

Chapter 1 The Birth of Tragedy 11

Chapter 2 Follow the Brush 21

Chapter 3 Cynomancy 33

Chapter 4 The Painter of Dogtown 38

Chapter 5 Le Beauport 45

Chapter 6 The Baron in the Trees 55

Chapter 7 Ghost Dog 64

Chapter 8 Rollicking Apparitions 69

Chapter 9 Taking Care of Its Own 75

Chapter 10 In the Time of Pirates 86

Chapter 11 The Green Man 93

Chapter 12 Dooming the Seats 99

Chapter 13 Shadow Hunting 106

Chapter 14 God's Burning Finger 112

Chapter 15 Confession 119

Chapter 16 In Gypsy Ways 129

Chapter 17 "Viva San Petro!" 139

Chapter 18 Life's Book 148

Chapter 19 Island Heart of Darkness 55

Part 2

Chapter 20 Maximus, to Dogtown 161

Chapter 21 The Masked Man in Yellow 171

Chapter 22 The Geography of Being 180

Chapter 23 Into the Deep Woods 193

Chapter 24 City Bred Tenderfoots 200

Chapter 25 "No Intention of Leaving This Courtroom Alive" 206

Chapter 26 Nature Working Her Magic Unmolested 213

Chapter 27 Confabulation 227

Chapter 28 Mountains in Stone 239

Epilogue 246

Author's Note 253

Appendix: Notes on the Term "Dogtown" 254

Notes 257

Acknowledgments 280

Index 283

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Dogtown Delivers

    DOGTOWN delivers what I want in a book: some new information, an escape and the sense that I've been somewhere all without actually having to inconvenience myself by leaving my green couch and cup of whatever.

    East writes exceptionally well about art and the power of beauty to motivate and inspire. For me, that's a welcome extra like the house buying you a drink. I was already satisfied with the murder story and the sheer compelling weirdness of the place itself.

    The quality of the research also lifts this book above the average true crime story.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2013

    Great book

    I have visited Cape Ann dozens of times since 1969...The author does a wonderful job weaving the historical events into this tragic story....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2011

    Nook blows! Barnes and Noble web interface needs some work before I'll buy here again.

    I bought this book hoping to read it. Unfortunately, Barnes and Noble waits for sixty minutes to deliver a book to your PC. Maybe its faster if you have an actual Nook ereader. I must say I'm dissapointed.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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