Patch from the Salem Police. This emblem is on the police cars and fire trucks. (photo courtesy of wickedlocal.com)
Salem is famous for its Witch Trials/Hysteria in 1692. It started when three young girls went into a series of fits and seizures. They claimed to be under the influence of dark magic. They accused three women who were on the social fringes of Salem, a beggar, an infrequent church-goer (major social mistake), and a slave, of causing their ailments. The slave, Tituba, was browbeaten into confessing. She then accused others of being witches, and it gained a life of its own. By the time it was over, about a year later 25 people were dead. Over the next 300 years they were all exonerated by various decrees and legislation, but the stigma of the witch trials made Salem famous. The city fathers of Salem have embraced this fame using it to attract tourists and increase their tax base. They use a witch on a broom as their city seal, which appears on its police cars and fire trucks. The local high school calls them the Salem Witches. They have a street called Witch Way, and the word “witch” or “witch city” is everywhere.
kichee kichee koo
This could be kinda fun.
Gloucester to Salem is only about a half hour drive, so we barely got settled into the car and we were there. It was about when we arrived, so one of our first orders of business would be to get something to eat. But first, I wanted to check and see when the guided tours at the SalemWitchMuseum would begin. We found a parking lot not far from the museum. I was looking forward to seeing a real witch. Salem is supposed to be home to about 5,000 witches. I wasn’t expecting a warty-chinned hag, in a pointy hat. I knew that was the stuff of folklore. I knew that real witches, who for the most part practice a pagan religion, Wicca, and looked relatively normal.
My Mother-In-Law on her nightly rounds (Checking to see if Margo reads my blogs)
More like a resident of Boulder, CO. Beads and Birkenstock sums it up. Still the allure of meeting a real witch appealed to me. So I figured a witch museum had a reasonable chance. Margo and I went in and purchased a dual ticket, called a HysteriaPass, that covered a tour of the Witch Village and the near by Wax Museum. We discovered that we had plenty of time to grab a bite to eat before we would take our tour.
Lunch was had at the near by Brothers Deli. I got the impression that this place was a Salem institution, even though tourists were definitely in residence. The food was good, and the sandwich and salad choices were many and varied.
I was looking forward to this tour.
Not because I have a great fascination with witches or their history, but because one of the pieces of literature that they gave us with the tickets said that the tours were given by practicing witches. Cool, now I would get to meet a real 21st century witch. When the guide showed up, I wasn’t surprised to see that she was a he. I knew there were male witches. But, I asked anyway to be sure. He replied that he was not a witch and didn’t seem very enthused to even be here. Maybe a real witch had cast a grumpy spell on him.
The tour was kitschy and only mildly interesting. It wasn’t worth what we paid, $26 for two combo tickets. Still I gave him a couple of bucks for his effort and hoped that karma would smile on me for the rest of our trip. Plus, you never know. He might have friends that aren’t of the Sabrina or Samantha variety. I did not want to potentially piss off Julian Sands.
The SalemWax Museum was right next door, so onward and upward (it had stairs) we went.
The SalemWax Museum has wax figures of some of Salem’s notable past citizens. Cory Giles, a man “pressed” to death, during the Witch Trials, John Hathorne, the unrepentant judge who presided over the trials, and famous author and gg-grandson of John Hathorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
We started out with Cory Giles, who evidently was a 17th century pain in the ass. He was quarrelsome, disagreeable, and sometimes out right mean. What he wasn’t, was a witch, even though he was accused. What is interesting about Mr. Giles is that under Salem law at the time, a man could not be tried for a crime, if he refused to recognize that the court had authority over him. Being the type of man he was, Mr. Giles evidently told Judge Hathorne to stick his charges of witchcraft in an inconvenient place. The Judge, who was pretty self righteous and cocksure of his cause, decided he would persuade Giles to recognize his authority.
Rebecca Nurse being exhumed, in wax
To that end Giles was laid on the ground, a large board place on him, and then heavy rocks stacked upon the board. He was tortured in this way for a couple of days before he died. He evidently had a stubborn streak as well.
Next up, was the aforementioned John Hathorne. John Hathorne was a prominent man, from a prominent family in Salem. He was one of several magistrates who oversaw the Salem Witch Trials, but his is the one most remembered. Hathorne, who as a judge was supposed to be impartial, acted more the prosecuting attorney, continually badgering the accused to confess. His behavior which at first was while not universally popular soon turned obsessive. After the shame of the trial was evident to everyone and those in power at the time began to question how things (150 arrested, 29 convicted of witchcraft, 19 hanged, Cory Giles pressed to death, and five others dying in prison) got so far out of hand. Only John Hathorne refused to repudiate his actions. Common lore is that Hathorne’s great-great grandson added a “w” to his surname, to become Nathaniel Hawthorne, to distance himself from the shame.
The Burying Point Cemetery
Nathaniel Hawthorne is most famous for the books The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables. He was a contemporary and friend of President Franklin Pierce, Herman Melville, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The House of Seven Gables is actually in Salem, but we wouldn’t have time to find it. We did find his wax visage, and those of several other notables.
It didn’t take very long to see all there was to see and we were soon in their gift shop. We didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without, so we left still without seeing a witch. I was a bit disappointed. Neither museum was particularly inspiring. I enjoyed some of the history in the wax museum, but I just didn’t think it was that well done. And, Dammit, I still hadn’t seen a real witch.
The Old Burying Point
We headed next to the nearby cemetery, The Burying Point. This is the oldest cemetery in Salem and thought to be the 2nd oldest in the nation. Buried in it were John Hathorne, Richard More (a Mayflower passenger), and several other Salem notables. If I couldn’t see a witch in person, there had to be one buried in this cemetery, right? Nope, it occurred to me much later, that there was no way a witch was going to be buried in consecrated (blessed) ground, but any god fearing people. At least as long as this cemetery was in use, witch (aren’t I hilarious) was sometime in the mid 1840s. We snapped our requisite pictures, including one of a particularly ‘scary” tree. It looked so stereotypical that I had to take its picture.
At the edge of the cemetery is The Salem Witch Trials Memorial.
Headstone of John Hathorne. These headstones are made of thin slate, so 300 years have taken their toll
This is a stone memorial consisting “of 20 granite benches cantilevered from a low stone wall surrounding an area adjoining the Old Burying Point. The benches are inscribed with the name of the accused and the means and date of execution.”, as quoted by salemweb.com, a site geared towards Salem tourism. I found the two stones, I was interested in, Corey Giles and Rebecca Nurse. Rebecca Nurse was a very proper Salem woman of the time. She was elderly and very pious. Her accusal of being a witch sent shockwaves through the community. If a woman like her could be accused, no one was safe. Margo and I wandered for a bit, it wasn’t that big, took our pictures and moved on. But, at least I had now seen an official memorial to a witch.
It was only about . We could stay as late as 4:30 and still get to our next stop (we were spending the night in Plymouth, MA) so we decided to wander around the shops a bit and pick up a few gifts for the kids back home.
Headstone of Richard More, Mayflower passenger. He died the same year as the Salem Witch trials.
We ended up dropping about $80 for T-shirts and such at the Trolley Depot. We bounced around to other shops not really finding anything. Then we stumbled across a shop called “The Broom Closet”. It advertised itself as “Salem’s Largest Shoppe for Witches and Others”. Surely I could find a witch here.
We walked in, and manning the counter was a woman who certainly looked like what I thought a modern witch looked like. Long , straight, blonde hair. Beads and a flowing blouse. We looked around for a few minutes. Margo headed over to the incense to look at something for Jessi and Pete. I was trying to work up the courage to ask her if she was a witch. Margo quickly had a question about the fragrance of one of the samples. When she asked the lady, we were soon graced with the story of her recent life. Auto accident, brain injury, destroyed sense of smell, and so on. I wasn’t sure what to think. She didn’t look like she was recovering, even distantly, from a head injury. Like I said she had long hair. That usually has to go, when you start working on a head wound.
Spooky cemetery tree
There were no visible scars. But maybe they did not have to shave her head or even a spot. But, she was a bit odd. She would ramble about her situation and repeat herself quite a bit. She was certainly nice enough and as helpful as she could be with the incense, without having smelled it. I never did actually confirm she was a witch. I just couldn’t muster the nerve to ask her outright. But, when I tell this story I am going to assume that she was.
After leaving the Broom Closet, we decided that we had seen enough of this area of Salem. There was a lot more to see and do, but we knew going in, that we would only have just a few hours, and had decided to focus on this narrow area of downtown Salem.
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial (photo courtesy of salemweb.com)
There was no time to visit the PeabodyEssexMuseum, or the docks, or The House of Seven Gables, or any of the various historic homes.
The Broom Closet (photo courtesy of thebroomcloset.com)
Maybe we would get back another day. But, for now, we were pointing our car south and heading to the land of Pilgrims.
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