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Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town

3.31  ·  Rating Details  ·  557 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews

In rich first-person narrative, Dogtown tells the strange, dark story of a wilderness ghost town that has enthralled artists, writers, and eccentrics—and of a brutal murder committed there. Documenting its history and lore,
East explores the possibility that certain landscapes wield their own unique power.

The area known as Dogtown—an isolated colonial ruin and the surrou
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 1st 2009 by Free Press (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,196)
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D.M. Dutcher
Jun 18, 2011 D.M. Dutcher rated it did not like it
Meandering and surprisingly boring, focusing too much on minutia. In 1984 a woman was murdered in Dogtown, the abandoned interior of an island. Elyssa is entranced by the area because of a minor painter, and goes there to research the area and the murder case.

There's a lot of problems with this. First of all Dogtown isn't really a ghost town as she writes it. It's the ruins of a town in the middle of an island, and she stretches the ruins a bit. There's a lot of TALK about how mystical and super
May 17, 2010 Diana rated it it was ok
There was such a wealth of material here, but sadly it was not well-handled by the author. In the hands of a better writer (someone like Richard Preston, for example), this had the potential to be a great book, but as it was, it felt naive and clumsy and overly self-referential. Disappointing.

One last note on this book: I do think that some places are magnets for badness, although I don't know why. Is it supernatural? Is it that once a place gets a reputation, it attracts the wrong kind of peop
Dec 27, 2009 Rose rated it it was amazing
Dogtown is a decayed colonial ruin nestled in the wilderness outside Gloucester, Massachusetts. Although it was officially abandoned in 1839, after its last resident was carted away to the poorhouse, this rural slum continues to attract people sensitive to its powerful charm. It inspired several of Beat poet Charles Olson’s famous Maximus poems, and Modernist painter Marsden Hartley felt a crippling depression recede after he committed Dogtown’s unique scenery to canvas.

Dogtown: Death and Encha
Apr 24, 2014 Janellyn51 rated it really liked it
I bought this in my local independent book store on a Monday. I already knew I was going to Gloucester that evening. We had dinner at the Causeway which is the most amazing townie, BYOB place where you get more food/fish than you can possibly eat at one sitting for a good price. We dined with a couple and their near two year old who are good friends, after which, we went to Tony's recording studio so my guy and he could rehearse a couple of songs. After that, we went to the Monday night jam at t ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Ldygray rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
East gives the history of a now-abandoned wilderness on the coast of New England called Dogtown. In alternating chapters, she describes a murder trial from the 1980s and the evolution of this wilderness from the 1600s through the present.

Dogtown has inspired painters and writers and madmen, and has seen its fair share of infamy, from pirates to witches to murderers. It's an interesting area, but the author doesn't quite do it justice. The true crime sections are, sadly, kind of boring, as these
Jun 01, 2015 Particle_Person rated it it was ok
Very sensationalist book about Dogtown in Cape Ann, Massachusetts. There aren't all THAT many books about Dogtown, but this focused too much on a murder that happened out there in the 1980s. Honestly, I could careless about what happened in Dogtown in the 1980s. I want to know what was going on out there in the 1780s. Yes, the place is pretty eerie, especially when nobody else is around, but increasingly if you walk around in Dogtown you will stumble on some people having sex in the woods, not t ...more
Anna Ligtenberg
Jan 19, 2013 Anna Ligtenberg rated it liked it
ISBN 1416587047 - I chose to read this one for several reasons. Love ghost towns! My grandmother was infatuated with Gloucester. Dogtown? Sounds like my kind of place! Enchantment? Cool!

Dogtown has many stories. In recent history, there was the murder of a local woman. Long ago, there were tales of witches. Both of those stories, along with others, are woven into this book as author Elyssa East ventures into this abandoned area, now largely reclaimed by nature, in her search for the Dogtown of
Mar 12, 2010 Julie rated it really liked it
A strange history of a strange place. Dogtown is an isolated spot of land, completely surrounded by Gloucester and Rockport. East does an excellent job of describing the eeriness that is present when you walk through the woods of Dogtown. She also does an excellent job chronicling the history of the place and Gloucester itself.

The book is basically divided into three areas - the history of Gloucester and Dogtown; the murder and subsequent trial for Anne Natti; and East's search for herself in D
Jan 07, 2010 Kristi rated it it was amazing
I totally enjoyed this book. This book is creepy. I have to admit, there was a point I put this book down, and I didn't return to it for a solid week it creeped me out so bad. This was an extremely graphic description of a murder - the writing was so clear and vivid I felt I'd watched it.

I'd never heard of Dogtown before, and I think I'll skip if I ever get a chance to visit. This is a very talented writer, the language is beautifully crafted, the insight is solid, and the combined effect, for m
Jul 23, 2012 Mara rated it did not like it
Ok so I don't usually like non-fiction and this was no exception. I thought I'd take a chance and see what happened. Maybe I would like it? Um, no. It's not that the book wasn't interesting at times. It was. Especially the part about the murder of Anne Nati. I did like learning about Dogtown-Gloucester. However, some of the details were just too much and my mind easily wandered during my reading. If you like historical fiction about small towns and you are ready for the details, then this may be ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
East does a masterful job of weaving together

--her fascination with artst Marsden Hartley's eerie landscapes and writings about an isolated New England locale,

--the bump-in-the-night history of that ghost town from its puritan, piratical, and political roots, and

--the true-life crime horror of the brutal 1984 murder in Dogtown, this isolated New England ghost town just behind the touristic and gentrifying coast town of Gloucester and minutes from Boston by train or Route 128.

East keeps the inter
Nov 06, 2010 Kathi rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. I've been to Dogtown in Gloucester - its' great for a dog outing and the book did win the New England Award in Nonfiction. But I just couldn't get into it. I had to force my self to finish it. It was long, rambling and kept jumping around between the present day of the author researching the book to the settlers in the 1700's to some poet and some other painter. It was just a disjointed mess.
Rick Hautala
Aug 08, 2010 Rick Hautala rated it it was amazing
I grew up on the fringes of DOGTOWN, and my friends and I played in the woods all the time ... This book captures both sides of the area ... its beauty and its terror in it depiction of the absolute horrible murder of Anne Natti ... Read it! It is, hands down, the best book I've read this year!
Jan 19, 2014 Lesley rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-england
I have seen this book going in and out at the library for years and every time I think - "that looks interesting... I should read that." Well, I finally checked it out and I was right! This is an intriguing book looking at one small area of Cape Ann from historic, artistic, spiritual, true crime, and anthropologic perspectives. The entire book is framed by the author's own interest in this area, sparked by her admiration for and connection to the paintings of Hartley Marsden that center on the r ...more
Jan 04, 2010 peaseblossom rated it it was ok
True crime is not really my genre of choice, so I was less enthralled by the murder chapters, but I did enjoy the history and fascination of the place itself. Probably could've used more Lovecraft references, though.
Bill Higgins
Jun 21, 2016 Bill Higgins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four and a half stars! Very interesting and full of the local history of Dogtown and Gloucester/Rockport from colonial times to the near present. I can understand that if you aren't familiar with the area, you may not find it as interesting, but since I can personally relate to most of the locations described, I thought it was wicked awesome! (The history part anyway.) I was surprised to learn that the "Whale's Jaw" broke just 27 years ago. Wish I would have seen it before the change.

The murder
Feb 23, 2016 Misty rated it it was amazing
Part true crime, part colonial history, part folklore, I just loved this book. I'm stunned to read negative reviews. The author uses firsthand, contemporary accounts, artists' diaries, folklore and history to weave a multi-faceted story about a beautiful, haunting landscape. East paints intricate portraits of the modern day characters and is humble enough to acknowledge her own preconceptions about, and idealizations of, Dogtown. The book is a rare opportunity to discover a place from so many an ...more
Jan 18, 2010 Beth rated it it was ok
To much going back and forth between far past, current time and murder. It didn't flow for me and it was hard to finish it.
Jul 10, 2015 Vsdavis21 rated it did not like it
This book could have been an exciting subject but the author's writing style included major tangents making it a painful read. The book oscillates between present and revolutionary history. My book club chose the book because one of the members met Ann Natti's sister who gave the book rave views. I honestly think the book did a slight disservice in honoring her sister's life and death by the lack of character development. The history chapters were boring, but the current event chapters were inte ...more
Aug 05, 2015 Daisy rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book had been on my want-to-read list for several years, I wish I could say the wait was worth it. As someone with an American Studies degree who loves the kind of fascinating facts found here it had sounded like my kind of book. Unfortunately, the author's writing style made it impossible to enjoy. It is the interesting facts that get the two stars here not the book itself. Elyssa East did a lot of research for this book and it shows sadly she was a better researcher than connector of all ...more
Jun 02, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
East is obsessed with Marsden Hartley's paintings which use Dogtown (on Cape Ann in MA) as their inspiration.
East obsessively researches the area and the many eccentrics inhabiting it.
She concludes that the place is stubbornly mysterious, but that this mysteriousness is partly a product of perception.
East does too much research and seems to try to fit too much of it into the book.
The seams start to bulge.
East lambasts people for fixating on the murder of Anne Natti, but does the same by framing
Apr 06, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, local, nonfiction
I have been to Dogtown several times hiking with my husband and dogs, and have been enraptured by the place. It's very lonely feeling walking through, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, yet civilization is close by. Each time I've been, I've gotten lost and a little scared that I couldn't find the way back to the car before dark so I truly understood the authors impressions of the place.

This book was received as a Christmas gift, a very thoughtful gift indeed. The author did a wond
Deb Mj
May 31, 2012 Deb Mj rated it it was ok
This was interesting enough, but didn't live up to my expectations. I would think that someone at all familiar with the area would find it a fascinating read, but I had to fight my way through it.

The murder is horrible, yet no more horrible than any committed any day in any location; the accused is a somewhat frightening individual, yet not inherently evil, and of whom we never get a clear picture; and Dogtown itself is no more mystical or supernatural than any random community's remote, forest
Steven Belanger
Apr 02, 2011 Steven Belanger rated it it was amazing
Really well-written, in a very pondering, smooth way. It does not read like other non-fiction books. It has a workshop-like feel about it when you read it, a book version of a grainy documentary. It goes back and forth between the colonial history of the place (it's a remote part of Gloucester, MA, so there's lots of history) and the murder of a young woman by a local whistling kettle in the 80s. But mostly it's about the feel one has in the place itself. East shows that the entire acreage of Do ...more
Oct 02, 2012 Michele rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
East's book is what could be called a landscape narrative, in which she attempts to explore the history of Gloucester, Mass via her own discovery of the area (in search of the inspiration of painter Mardsen Hartley's works). She intersperses a historical narrative of the area, biographies of artists (such as Hartley and poet Charles Olson) who have been inspired by the landscape, in addition to a 1984 murder that took place in the area. Specifically, she focuses on the wooded interior, an area k ...more
Nov 12, 2012 Zack rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012

Synopsis: A journalist becomes fascinated with an American modernist painter and visits the forbidding island wilderness of Dogtown, just outside of Gloucester, Mass., where he drew his inspiration. There she learns about a senseless murder committed in the woods in 1984, and spends the rest of the book trying to account for the eerie presence that inhabits both the wilds of Dogtown and the minds of those who dwell nearby.

Thoughts: We're all familiar with this trope from fiction—the visitor roll
Mar 26, 2013 Deb rated it really liked it
Knowing just a little about Dogtown and feeling drawn to it, I was excited to find this book last weekend on a clearance table in a Sherman's (locals all know they are great!). I cracked it open a day or 2 later and was immediately anxious about the focus. The author spent a great deal of time on a real and horrible crime that happened in Dogtown in 1984, going deeply into the families of both murderer and victim as well as the murderer's psyche and many details of the crime and trial. She also ...more
Sep 16, 2013 Sandy rated it it was ok
this book was about 75 pages too long. It was the author's love note to a place that, in the end, she never made the case for me to want to visit. Dogtown is a mysterious, rocky abandoned settlement that sits between Gloucester and Rockport on Cape Ann. It has fallen into disrepair for many years and has become overgrown. Many think that the land has a certain mysticism about it, an otherworldliness. Author East tells many stories of denizens in the area from the 1700s to the present, and she su ...more
On the North Shore of Massachusetts, some 30 miles northeast of Boston, an oblong of land called Cape Ann projects into the Atlantic Ocean. The Agawam tribe, belonging to the Eastern Algonquian language group, occupied the area when Europeans began arriving. By 1617 three quarters of the Native Americans in Massachusetts had perished from a pestilence, probably European-delivered, against which they had no immunity. In 1623 when ships from the Dorchester Company, precursor to the Massachusetts B ...more
Oct 03, 2012 Trudy added it
Dogtown, a remote portion of the island peninsula on Cape Ann, in both Gloucester and Rockport (formerly Sandy Bay) has a rich historical past. Elyssa East, the author, became enamored of the work of Marsden Hartley, an American Modernist painter whose best (translate most haunting) work was done in Dogtown. East, becoming obsessed with him, comes to Gloucester to commune with the magic of Dogtown, to discover the magic of the place that imbued Hartley's paintings with a mystical sense of place. ...more
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Elyssa East received her B.A. in art history from Reed College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia Universitys School of the Arts. Her writing has appeared in numerous New England regional magazines. She grew up in Georgia and now lives in New York City."
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