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.)
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?