Massachusetts - Salem (Part 1)

The neighbour's a right witch!

“A Bewitching Seaport”

With Halloween approaching us in the scariest year in living history, I looked back at happier times - our spooky all hallows eve trip to the city that gave birth to witch hunts, Salem Massachusetts.

Perched on our broomsticks we flew into Salem town. Despite the wet day, all the local witches, wizards, warlocks and weirdos were out en force, just what we hoped for.

Business Casual in Salem

We strolled down the main pedestrianized shopping street, Essex Street. Several witches waltzed by advertising this and that, some just out for a wander. A man with a top hat, cane, pumpkin print suit, and ghoul’s face tipped his hat to us as he glided by. The most eerie thing of all was the occasional girl, dressed up in 17th century garb, floating through the crowds, their big mischievous eyes looking through us as if we were ghosts. They were so invested in their acting I wondered what museum or play they were advertising, so I sidled up to one and realized she was advertising nothing (but the town perhaps). As I got closer I could hear her quietly singing a spooky lilting dirge. She flicked her eyes up at me, smirked, then disappeared!

Frankly, that was one of the most chilling and terrifying things I’ve ever witnessed (and I watched Trump’s Inauguration). In 1692, a small number of girls in Salem began behaving erratically ('the afflicted girls'), They claimed their behaviour was due to a bewitching, and subsequently 19 people were hanged. Later, the girls admitted their behaviour was an act put on out of boredom. Was the smirking sister a ghost of one of the afflicted?

I'll take a owl to go

We quickly dived into a local wand shop, Wynotts Wands, who boasted they had been making wands since 1692! It was right out of a J K Rowling novel, reams of wands filled dusty old shelves, old candles dripped and cast iron keys hung. The young lady who manned the shop stood tall with long black hair and a pale pallor, I'd say she knew her way around a wand alright!

We let Róisín wander around and choose one (in true Harry Potter style we suggested she let the wand choose her). Her fingers tumbled over some beautiful hand carved wands with inset jewels. My heart was hoping she'd choose one of those, but my wallet was happy to settle for the kid’s pink one she landed on with a love heart 'diamond’ on the handle. Dacro Malfoy's sister behind the counter slipped it into a long velvet bag and put it in a deep box. I was highly excited about the wrapping alone.

Next we decided to check out an authentic witch shop. It was a full on Wiccan store (Wicca is a modern day Pagan based religion, its followers practice witchcraft). Lots of sage, charcoal, pentagrams, crystals, eye of newt, etc. I'm all for live and let live (or die and let die) but when they blasted out death metal music and the old bat behind the counter glared at Róisín for touching a barrel of owl wings, we swept out of the place before we ended up in a cauldron (which happened to be on sale).

I love history, the crazier the better, so I was extremely eager to learn more about the witch trials of the 1600s which put this sleepy town on the map.

We saw a sign for the Witch History Museum, not to be confused with the Salem Witch Museum (which we'll get to in a minute). We entered a church-like room and an erstwhile 20 something year old told us in patterned pentameter speech about the history of the town (I wondered if she was under a trance herself). She then walked us through a darkened corridor where spooky mannequins set the scene.

To sum up, in 1692 the daughter of the religious minister of Salem started to have fits and blaspheme (throwing bibles against the wall, talking in tongues, etc) then her cousin who lived with her also started acting bizarrely barking like a dog and attempting to throw herself into a fire. Soon a bunch of the girls in the town were acting like this. The girls had one thing in common, they all attended classes given by the minister's slave Tituba. It's believed amongst the tips on cooking and home making, that she was asked to teach the girls, she also told them tales of witchery from her native Barbados and showed them a little Voodoo.

Personally I think any housewifery class worth its salt should be brimful of good old fashioned witchery and voodoo. Another thing the girls had in common is that they were teenagers… throwing bibles, acting bizarrely… what’s the unusual thing here?! They were teenagers, that’s the beginning and end of the story.

Of course it wasn’t though, the girls named Tituba as a witch who had bewitched them; they were ‘Innocents’, merely ‘afflicted’. Tituba was coerced into naming others in the town as witches, and the lunacy spread from there.

Witches be Crazy

Back out in the daylight we continued on Essex Street to see the Bewitched statue from the 1960s TV show. Samantha was my kind of witch, twiddling her nose to get dinners cooked and housework done.

Near the end of Essex Street lies The Witch's House, the only standing structure in Salem that not only dates back to the witch trials, it was where Judge Corwin had lived, the man who had sentenced the witches to death. It has been kept in it's 1600s fashion, the Hansel & Gretel roof and the twiggy besom brooms leaning up against the wall - it set the tone for the whole town.

On we went to the Witches Dungeon (just can't get enough of those flying females). We sat in a courtroom and witnessed a reenactment of a Witch Trial using a transcript from the day. The acting was excellent and the carry on unbelievable. How could a whole town be hoodwinked? Then again, the power of fear is frightening.

We watched the performance as a girl on the stage identified a woman called Sarah Goodman as a witch. Obviously I don’t know who Sarah was but I did turn to Dom and whisper, “Not Sarah?”. We saw poor old Sarah on the stand refuting the charges as nonsense. Her accuser screamed as Sarah touched her, claiming through the screams that Sarah was burning her. The other Afflicted girls in attendance also writhed in supposed agony as Sarah looked on baffled. The jury found her innocent only to have the judge say to vote again. The finding of a wart on her arm was enough to turn the vote to guilty. Sarah was hanged.

Although it was a play, it was a shock to the system to take it in. I wanted to jump to my feet and shout that the girls were liars and where were the adults in this town!

But as we toured the Dungeon we would learn the shameful extent of the damage these girls wreaked, a damage so great we’re still outraged by it nearly 400 years later...

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