In 1825, the U.S. Customs officials in Salem paid Joseph True $50.00 to put the finishing touch on their new Custom House: A great carved eagle, sitting majestically on the roof of the building at the edge of the harbor to mark the Federal Government facility. Famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who spent three unhappy years working in the building, declared in the introduction to The Scarlet Letter that the eagle "appears, by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief upon the inoffensive community," but she would have been a welcome sight to mariners coming into Salem harbor after months or years away from home.
For over 170 years she was a landmark as she overlooked Derby Wharf and the changing harbor, weathering storms and even a dark paint job when German U-Boats were seen off the coast of Massachusetts during World War II. Finally in 2002, a replica was made and mounted on the roof, while Joseph True's eagle was conserved and placed on display inside the Custom House. Today, visitors by land and water can see the replica eagle shining in the sun on the roof of the Custom House, and inside admire the skill and delicacy of the carving on the original sculpture.