The Salem witches are gone without a trace.
Years ago, I read a book called A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill about the trials and burning of witches in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. In a nutshell, these horrific events were the result of ignorance, religious intolerance, thirst for power, unbridled ambition, jealousy, collective hysteria and envy. Sadly, we can see these traits in today’s society as well. All in all, the authorities hanged twenty innocent people at, from elderly ladies to slaves and even a tavern keeper.
I’ve wanted to visit Salem ever since I read that book.
My wish was granted during a trip to Boston. We rented a car for the weekend and drove to Salem, about half an hour’s drive. It was late November and the ferry from Boston had stopped sailing for the season.
We first stopped by the Tourist Office and picked up a booklet with all the historical places called “The Witchcraft Hysteria of Salem Town and Salem Village in 1692.” This booklet describes the people and the buildings associated with the whole ordeal and includes maps to find them.
In all honesty, Salem let me down. I don’t know what I expected but it certainly wasn’t that. Main Street felt like Disneyland. Too “happy” and cheerful and shallow. There are lots of shops and “museums” that take advantage of the witch theme. It’s a tourist trap through and through. Some even jump on the Harry Potter wagon. Oh, and don’t let me forget the fortune-tellers.
We decided to go and look at some of the historic houses, which are located a fair distance from one another. It’s either driving or taking the hop-on-hop-off trolley. I chose two or three houses at random. One, Jonathan Corwin’s house, is now a museum (3110 Essex St.) Corwin was a local magistrate who led the preliminary hearings. I can’t remember the reason why we didn’t visit the museum.
John Proctor’s house (348 Lowell St) is a private residence. I took some photos from the street but I wasn’t really comfortable doing it. Proctor was a tavern keeper. His third wife, Elizabeth, was accused of sorcery by that brat Abigail Williams, the one who started the whole thing. Proctor was also accused of sorcery after he tried to defend his wife by accusing Abigail and her friends of lying (which they were). He and his wife were hanged.
The neighbourhood adjacent to Salem Harbor is gorgeous with its 18th and 19th-century homes. This is where the famous House of the Seven Gables is located. This house, ca. 1668, belonged to Captain John Turner. The house’s claims to fame are its age and style, Colonial Georgian, and the fact that it appears in a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne called The House of the Seven Gables (1851.)
Salem in film
Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible was made into a film in 1996 with Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis.
A Haunting in Salem, a 2011 horror flick.
There are many versions Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter on film, both shorts and long features: 1908, 1911, 1917, 1926, 1934, 1973 (in German directed by Wim Wenders), and 1995 (with Demi Moore and Gary Oldman)
Trivia: author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was a direct descendant of Judge John Hathorne, who was involved in the witch trials. Nathaniel was ashamed of his ancestor and added a w to his last name to mask the connection.
PS: I’ve started reading The Crucible by Arthur Miller on the plane. Could not put it down.