Daycation: Exploring the History of Salem, Massachusetts

We are the grandchildren of the witches you could not hang.

I’m about to show my nerdy side here, so brace yourself: I am fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials. The history is just… well, it’s hard to believe that it happened. I’ve been intrigued since I was a young girl when my mother took me to visit, and I was so excited to share the history with my husband on this trip.

Here’s my StephanieNotes (not to be confused with CliffsNotes) version of the Salem Witch Trials:

The village of Salem lived with a lot of fear back in the 1600s, so it’s easy to see how a town slipped into hysteria so easily. They feared everything, it seems- they feared the Natives, they feared infection, they feared their home country of England, and above all, they feared God and they feared the Devil. So if they felt like you were dancing a little too closely with either one, they feared you, too.

Now, before we go on, picture Puritan times. Picture how much people had to do for fun… if you’re picturing “pretty much nothing” you are exactly right, especially women and girls, who weren’t encouraged to pursue pleasure even if they had time for it. So what did they do? They met in small groups and told stories to pass the time.

One particular group of girls met at a Reverend’s house where they were treated to stories and tales courtesy of Tibula, the Reverend’s maid/nurse. Tibula told stories, which included charms and folklore that came from her heritage- history seems torn on whether that was African or Caribbean. So, when the Reverend’s daughter started having convulsions, speaking in tongues, and screaming uncontrollably, and the town doctor didn’t know what was wrong and she called out Tibula’s name (possibly calling for assistance from her maid), Tibula was accused of bewitching the girl.

And it spiraled from there.

People say little girls have no power, but they could not be more wrong in this case. The girls who started this hysteria were only nine and eleven years old. Soon, other women began exhibiting the same symptoms, and calling other people out for being witches. Those accused would accuse others in hopes of escaping the gallows. In the end, eighteen people were sentenced to death by hanging (and one by the barbaric method of pressing, which entails lying someone between boards and piling more weight on them until their ribs break and they’re crushed), and 150 more men, women and children were accused of witchcraft- in only 9 months time. Once the hysteria died down, many of those involved apologized for their actions, but it was too little, too late: the infamous legacy of the Salem Village Witch Trials still lingers, even centuries later.

So, yeah. Salem is a super interesting place.

E and I arrived in the early afternoon, and it was plenty of time to see what we wanted to see. First we stopped in the visitor’s center and poked around. We picked up a free map that included a handy guide to the historical sites on the red line painted around town. If you follow the red line, you’ll see almost everything notable in Salem. We went on a weekday so it wasn’t crowded at all. If you can swing it, that’s definitely what I’d recommend.

First on our tour of Salem we went shopping! Luckily, the path led right through an area filled with shops.

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There are a lot of witchy, magic shops (which I’m totally into!), a store packed to the brim with crystals (I lost my mind in there so if you go and find it, please let me know), a few psychics, gift shops, and a couple men standing around in scary costumes.

We continued to follow the trail to the Witch House, which is apparently the only historical building associated with the trials that is still standing, but we declined the tour. I took a couple pictures and felt tall (a rare feeling for me) in the seventeenth-century doorway, and we were on our way.

Next we went to the Salem Witch Museum, which is my faaaaaavorite. It’s $11 a person and tours are every half hour. We sat in a small waiting area for the show to begin where there are posters describing the history, and then you’re ushered into a large auditorium-like room where you’re told the story of the trials by sets that are lit up one by one around the perimeter. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and it’s really, really cool. Then half the group is taken to the next room where the history of witches in general is explained, and the other half waits in the gift shop for 10 minutes. After the history of witches exhibit, you exit into the gift shop. This museum was definitely a highlight of the day for me.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the museum, as photography was not allowed.

The next stop for us was the Charter Street Cemetery, which was adjacent to the Salem Witch Trial memorial for those killed during the hysteria. I thought it was so beautiful the way people still lay flowers on the bench memorials and write notes to the deceased. A lot of them still have family that visit their memorials- while we were there, a family posed around a bench and someone explained to a young child that the bench was there for their great “to the hundredth degree” grandma.

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Soon after we left, having accomplished everything we had set out to do. I had a really great time in Salem and would recommend it to any history buff- or those of you with witchy or magical inclinations. That sort of thing is fully embraced here and personally, I loved it.

The burning times are over. You don’t have to hide anymore.

 

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