Somewhere in the past a curse fell upon Newburyport.
It is hard to believe but our city was considered at the turn of the 19th century the fifth most important community in the New Republic. We were the center of International Trade – In many ways we were like Modern Day Seattle – not only a center for international business but the Clipper Ships, vehicles of commerce, (like Boeing jets) were built here. President Washington made a point of visiting Newburyport and certainly not because he just liked it here. He needed to meet with leaders of one of the great centers of the country.
But something happened – There is no record of someone casting a curse upon the city. There is no minister railing against Newburyport – no disgruntled citizen issuing an oath. Nevertheless, a curse fell upon Newburyport.
First came the Embargo of 1807 – President Jefferson decided to punish Great Britain by putting an embargo on England. Today, that would be like Cuba putting an embargo on America. It was a disaster – It crushed our international businesses. Then came the horrible fire in 1811 that burned down over 250 buildings and basically finished off the city. It was so terrible that businessmen fled the city for greener pastures elsewhere. When the war of 1812 came the British remembering the great rush of privateers who issued from Newburyport during the Revolutionary War blockaded our city ‘s port with a permanent detachment of ships right off the mouth of the river.
And so the curse has passed through the years. Thanks to the Clipper Ship era, the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution, Newburyport was able to rebuild and moderately prosper however its fame was gone.
Just consider how strange it is. Mention to a Kansas farmer, Gloucester, and he’ll picture Captains Courageous and the Perfect Storm. Ask a person in South Dakota, Salem, Massachusetts and they picture Witches and China merchants and the House of the Seven Gables. Mention Portland, Portsmouth, Marblehead and Plymouth and even Ipswich to anyone around the country and images come to mind of New England quaint towns and seaports. Mention Newburyport anywhere in the country and they want to know how to spell it: Newberryport? or Newberport followed by a puzzled look. Heck, even many Bostonians didn’t even know about the city until the last two decades.
Familiarity is certainly not our friend. The name Newburyport is found no where else on our planet. It is unique – Even in England –landlocked Newbury will never be a port. In fact, if you take many of the towns around us, they are repeated in other locales. There is Amesbury in Wiltshire, England; Salisbury also in Wiltshire. There is Seabrook, Texas and Seabrook, Maryland. There is Groveland, Illinois and Merrimac, Wisconsin. Rowley is in Montana and in North Humberside, England.
In many ways, Newburyport has thrived as a sort of “Brigadoon”. In the Broadway play, a minister afraid of the outside world’s influences charges God to protect the Scottish hamlet. Whenever the residents fall asleep, a hundred years passes. Only when people on their way to somewhere else, stumble upon this hamlet do they discover this ancient wonder. How many people have “stumbled” on Newburyport while on their way to somewhere else and been smitten by our beautiful town?
Our curse of ignominy can take us just so far – the purpose of the HUD development was to elevate Newburyport to an international destination – only then can our city support a hotel, parking garage and a level of affluence that matches our beautiful views.
Many have come and failed to conquer this curse. I submit that wherever the source of this curse, Karp has to beat it to make Newburyport into an international destination. His success is central to this fact.
So the final question is this, “Can he do what so many others have tried and failed?
We saw in our lifetime the Curse of the Bambino defeated by the Red Sox; can Karp and New England Development beat it here?
Time and Circumstances will tell.