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Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Recent Visit to Salem, Massachusetts

     As you've probably read previously in my blog, Salem, Massachusetts was on my list of the most haunted places in the United States that I'd like to visit. My husband and I took a detour on our road trip home from Maine and went to Salem, Massachusetts. Now I can cross it off of my list of places to visit. For now. I would like to revisit Salem at night time, when they have the different ghost and witch tours. I'd especially want to walk through the cemeteries after dark.  In my previous blog entry there is a slide show of my whole trip to Salem Massachusetts. But if you haven't seen it yet, here it is for you to look at. Enjoy!

      Salem was one of the most significant seaports in early America. It has the first National Historic Site designated by Congress, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which , protects Salem's historic waterfront. But most of the city's cultural identity is reflective of its role as the location of the Salem witch trials of 1692: Police cars are adorned with witch logos, a local public school is known as the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, the Salem sports teams are named the Witches.

    Salem is a mix of important historical sites, New Age and Wiccan boutiques,  many witch and Halloween themed attractions and a bustling downtown with restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.  We ate lunch at Custom House Rotisserie on Liberty Street across from the Salem Witch Trials memorial. The town has the old time feel, with modern day traffic, to sum it up.  Everywhere you look there are pictures of witches, signs, tshirts, tours, museums, all capitalizing on the tragic events that took place in Salem in 1692.

    The Salem Witch trials claimed the lives of many innocent people. Nineteen women were accused of and hanged on Gallows Hill for witchcraft. One accused witch, a Giles Corey was pressed to death on September 19th, and several accused witches died in prison. History likes to forget that small detail, that there were more than 19 victims of the Salem Witch Trials. They say at least 13 accused witches died in jail. But there weren't sufficient records to confirm exactly how many deaths.

     It may be most widely known as the site of the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, but this colorful, coastal city has much to offer both residents and visitors: a culturally diverse population, a rich maritime heritage, an impressive display of historic architecture and amazing stories that span almost four centuries. Stroll through Salem with an open mind and a big imagination. There are countless ghost tours, witch tours, even a witch's education league and witch supply stores. It really kicks into overdrive this time of year, around Halloween. Then it really lives up to it's nickname, "Witch City USA". There were people dressed as witches on the sidewalk.  There were vendors selling witch tshirts, and a big red line painted on the sidewalk.  The line is a "guide" through the town, leading you to different historic sights, museums, and other tourist attractions.
     You would think the Witch Trials, that were so public and awful that Gallows Hill would have made such a huge impression on people that the location would live forever if only in infamy.  Yet today, the exact location of the hangings, and even which hill is Gallows Hill, is not precisely known. We went to a field where they say it could be located.  Others say it is a different location, now used as a playing field for the local team's games.  No one knows for sure. It was interesting, poking around, walking on the same ground that many might have perished on. There were some trees standing in that area that could have possibly been old enough to have been the original Gallow's Hill Hanging Tree. But perhaps there once was and it was cut down. Maybe an attempt to move past the town's tragic history? It can't be a coincidence that every other historical site pertaining to the witch trials is available for public viewing but this one is just gone? There were records of every person accused of witchcraft. There were documents giving a pretty detailed account of the witch trials, for back then.  But there is still conflict as to where exactly the Gallow's Hill Hanging tree, used for at least 19 hangings, is located, today, not definitely at least.

     I'll admit I was a bit disappointed that Salem had made such a large tourist trade off the Hysteria.  Executions took place on June 10, July 19, August 19, September 19 and September 22, 1692. To this day, the events of 1692 are used as a basis, an example, to attempt to measure the depth of civility and due process in our society.  Hopefully past mistakes have led to learned lessons.  They remind us of a time when the world was more chaotic, less organized, and a bit ignorant. The Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in August 1992 as part of the Salem Witch Trials TerCentenary.  The Memorial consists 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.

It was a bit sad that these innocent people were murdered and their memorial consists of benches that people can sit on. That really shows where people believed they ranked in society. It was as if the memorial was an afterthought, not something genuine.  It seemed more of a political thing than anything else. It makes one look good to recognize and honor past tragedies.

     Salem is a nice quaint little town with a very fascinating history.  Definitely worth a visit. There is a lot to do, especially after dark. Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to see one of the lost souls lingering in the cemetery.  That's definitely a reason for me to go back. In the daytime it was nice though. There were a lot of tourists. Which was a negative. But it had a laid back feel to it.  It was a nice, sunny afternoon to enjoy a nice stroll through this town, and there was a lot to take in and reflect upon.

   When reports of witchcraft began circulating beginning in late 1691, Jonathon Corwin was one of the magistrates called on to make preliminary inquiries into the reports. He and John Hathorne, another local magistrate, held hearings in early March 1692 in which testimony was gathered from Tituba, ,Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne, the first three women accused of being witches. These magistrates presided at the "examinations" which functioned as preliminary hearings and decided whether there was enough evidence to hold an accused witch for trial.  John Hathorne's house is in Salem. As is Jonathan Corwin's. Jonathan Corwin's family moved his grave elsewhere to avoid desecration.  I did find it somewhat funny that the other bigoted, single minded people, who sentenced innocent people to death, are buried by the witch's memorial. That is a bit ironic to say the least. Just also. Perhaps they cannot rest in peace because of it. That seems fair to me.

So go check out Salem, Massachusetts. It's worth the visit. I had fun and plan to go back to hunt down the supposed ghosts of the graveyards in Salem, Massachusetts.


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