Wiccan I go to Salem Again?

There are two periods in history that absolutely fascinate me: the Holocaust and the Salem Witch Trials. (Okay, three. The European witch hunts fascinate me, too.) So I couldn’t wait to make a detour through Salem, Massachusetts when we visited Maine a few years ago. My then 6-year-old daughter was not as thrilled.

We quickly admired the Bewitched statue. Cute. If we’d been concerned with pleasing my daughter instead of me, we would have stopped there. But I wanted real (or at least ‘accused’) witches – Arthur Miller The Crucible witches. And we got them.

Our first stop? The Salem Witch Museum.

Guests entered and sat on the floor around a red illuminated pentagram. The lights dimmed and a panoramic presentation began. Eerie music played and a man speaking deeply began recounting the witch hysteria that took hold of Salem as a spotlight shone on the first diorama display. My daughter burst into tears.

My husband held her on his lap with her face pressed against his chest. She refused to even look at the displays. The man’s voice continued booming through the years and months leading up to the famed accusations. I admit, it was getting a little intense, but since she had no idea what he was even talking about and was really just scared of the atmospheric room, I begged her to cry quietly. She did. (No ‘Mother of the Year Award’ for me.)

She makes such a cute witch! I wish she hadn’t been so scared of it all.

The show ended and we wandered into the next room where there were displays that explained the different/evolving perceptions of witches from midwives to today’s wiccan witches – of which there were approximately 1500 in the Salem area. Sounded like it was a regular witch’s coven around there!

My husband mercifully took her to the tamer, even-more-touristy pirate area while I went on to the Witch Dungeon Museum by myself. I love him for that…

The Dungeon Museum started with a short re-enactment of Mary accusing Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch. It was a great scene — exactly the type of thing I’d hoped to see in Salem. Then we followed the accused witch down into the dark dungeon, which was a re-creation of the actual dungeon utility workers discovered a few blocks away back in the 1960’s.

In 1692, the people accused and jailed as witches had to pay a charge for their cells and the food they ate. The cells were horribly narrow. A person could only stand in some. One of the bigger cells housed a family, including a 4-year-old girl named Dorcas. A live person played her inside the cell, reaching out to us as we passed. Her hands grabbed at us through the bars and we all scurried past, afraid that more people were going to grab for us, too. They didn’t, but I had a whole lot more sympathy for my daughter at that point.

After that, I met up with my family and we traipsed over to the Salem Witch Memorial Park. Stone benches had been erected for the 19 hanged witches and Giles Corey, who’d been pressed to death. Each bench was engraved with the name of one of the accused. Oddly, these benches brought it all to life for me more than anything I’ve ever read has.

We ended our day in Salem with a Spellbound Ghost Walk. One stop was the old, condemned Salem Jail which once housed the Boston Strangler. Rumor has it that the jail is one of the most haunted places in the world and even scares off ghost hunters. Not surprisingly, we couldn’t go inside, which was just as well since we’d scared our daughter enough for one day. We snapped pictures of the jail while she chased fireflies. Then, before we knew it, our day in Salem was over.

I’m sure there must be more to Salem than just the touristy stuff that we saw. I’d love to spend more time there and really absorb what happened in that tiny town in 1692. I’m already wondering when I can go again. Next time, I will earn my Mother of the Year Award and will let my daughter stay home.

Confess! Are you as fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials as I am?


25 responses to “Wiccan I go to Salem Again?

  1. Yes!! I teach The Crucible every year and it does not hold a candle to the true story of the trials. This is my favorite unit to teach and we always do so at this time of the year. I would love to visit Salem again.

    • I love The Crucible! I’ll bet that’s a great unit to teach. We read it in high school and I remember liking it, but really got into it in college when I took a class on Witches & Plagues. It was my favorite history course ever.

    • I’d like to go back and live there for a while and see what the community is really like. It was hard to get a sense of it in one short day. I’d need a few months, or maybe a year there, I think.

  2. Thanks for taking me back! My husband grew up in Boston and we visited Salem on one of our trips back “home.” Fascinating place. Like you, I wish we’d had more time to explore.

    • Hhhm. This is getting to be a recurring theme. Seems none of us feel like we spent enough time there. Anyone who’s reading this and hasn’t yet travelled to Salem, take note! Give yourself enough time to explore.

  3. I can’t believe in all of the times that I’ve passed through the area, I’ve never visited Salem. Well, guess it is another reason to return. :o)

    • You know, as much as I love the Salem witch stuff, Salem never occurred to me as a destination spot, either. Until we planned our trip to Maine and thought we’d swing through Salem, Boston and Cape Cod afterward. Then I became a woman obsessed. Unfortunately, we didn’t give ourselves enough time. Next time we will.

  4. Next time I teach the Crucible, I should take a trip up to Salem. Even though I teach high school kids in NYC, I think some of the boys will be as scared as your kid. You should have seen them during the last thunderstorm.

  5. I attended graduate school in Boston and loved visiting Salem, especially around Halloween. I just finished a great book The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. It’s a quick read for those fascinated by the trials!

    • Believe it or not, I have an autographed copy of that book. 🙂 I met the author at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati and talked to her about her research and inspiration. I loved the book. And I think she has a new book out. I’ll have to check into that and see.

      Two of my other favorite witchy books are: Witch Child by Celia Rees and Time of the Witches by Anna Myers. Both are YA books, but sooooo good.

  6. I visited Salem with a bunch of male family members who didn’t have the patience for any more museums, so I didn’t get to go there, but it would be great to take a trip back there by myself sometime…the museum looks like it was quite the experience!

  7. Yes! I taught The Crucible, and after I left the American Lit classroom, I began researching my husband’s genealogy. As it turns out, he is descended from Rev. Hale, three jurors, and from several members of
    the Porter family who comforted Rebecca Nurse and her family before her arrest. I would encourage you to drive to Danvers (Old Salem Village) and visit Rebecca Nurse’s home. It is beautiful and well-worth the trip. And you daughter will like it much better than the witch museum. 🙂

    • Oh my gosh. Your husband’s family is almost like royalty to me. It’s like when other people trace their ancestry to dukes and earls. If I traced mine to the people of Salem, I’d run around like I was something special.

      On our next visit we’ll DEFINITELY see Rebecca Nurse’s home. I can’t believe we missed it!

      • Haha! He is completely unimpressed with his heritage, but I think he’s like royalty, too! He is also descended from eight people on the Mayflower as well as the second President of Harvard which makes him descended from Charlemagne. I think if you dug into your own roots, you might just get to run around like you’re something special anyway. If you go back twenty generations, you’ll find you have over a million ancestors. Surely, there is royalty in there somewhere!!

        Meanwhile, back in Danvers where most of the action really took place….there is a monument to those killed on the site where many of the trials took place. When the building fell into disrepair, no one had the heart to breathe life back into it. No one wanted to glorify such a dark time in the town’s history. It was reconstructed (using the original building plans) for the movie Three Sovereigns for Sarah, and at the end of production was donated to the city and is now on Rebecca Nurse’s property. Make sure to see that movie if you haven’t already!

      • I own a copy of “Three Sovereigns for Sarah.” 🙂 I have got to get back to Salem and Danvers!
        Your husband has quite the ancestry. We did trace my roots back to an earl in Scotland, but I’m leaving all the geneology research to my aunt. She loves doing that.

  8. I’ve never been to Salem, but I love all that witchcraft history. Growing up, one of my favorite books was “The Witch of Blackbird Pond,” not set in Salem–but has a witch-accusation theme.

  9. I have seen the movie Three Sovereigns for Sarah. It was a great movie. Funny thing is, when I went to Salem, we stayed in Danvers. We didn’t even realize the significance. Of course, it was before I began teaching.

  10. Ever since learning of this period of history during elementary school, I’ve always been interested in this subject (also always been interested in the Holocaust–I recommend a book called “Night”by Elie Weisel). I am trying to think of a movie I heard of & still need to watch, which is based upon these witch trials. I just tried Googling for the title with no luck–now it’s going to bother me the rest of the day, lol!

    • Let me know if you think of the movie.

      Meanwhile, I loved “Night.” It’s a classic. Another good one is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. I don’t know how she did it, but even while she was recounting what it was like during the war, she made you feel good about humanity.

      And if you want to read a good book about Yellow fever, read “Fever 1793” by Laurie Halse Anderson. Great book!

  11. I’ve been lucky enough to have gone to Salem several times. There are a few touristy things that were not worth the price of admission but most of the places were wonderful. The house of the seven gables (the house the the novel is based on) is a great place to go. The tour even goes through the secret passage way to the attic. The house that Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in is on the same property. His Grandfather, Justice John Hathorne (Nathaniel added the “W” later to distance himself from the trials) is buried in the cemetery behind the witchcraft trials memorial. The Witch House is also an interesting place to go. According to the docent there, many of the accused were taken there for their initial examinations. Also, take a trip to the warf and enjoy the shops there. Laurie Cabot’s shop is on the warf and a really great place to shop. I am planning on going up there in April for a week and really enjoying being able to do everything at a relaxing pace. It is definitely worth the trip back.

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