Last weekend was my daughter’s 21st birthday trip. I had offered to take her on a trip somewhere fun…you know, like Vegas, New York, or New Orleans. Nope. Not my kid. She wanted to go to Salem (Massachusetts, outside of Boston). Even the customs official on the way home thought that was weird.
She wanted to go because I’ve been there a few times before, as has my best friend. My daughter is also the one who goes to all those scary Halloween Haunt things, so it kinda makes sense. Fun girls road trip!
Birthday trips aren’t supposed to be educational, but I think she learned some things while we were there. Between psychic readings, souvenir shopping at the “Harry Potter” stores (Remembering Salem and Wynott’s), and the pirate museum.
I think it’s a fascinating period in Puritan history, but my daughter didn’t know why Salem is filled with all kinds of witchy stuff. It’s where the Witch Trials of 1692-93 took place.
It’s great when places bring history alive, and at the Witch Dungeon we heard the story about two young sisters who were messing around with a fortune telling game. You can imagine that this would be bad for the girls if they were caught. The younger of the two saw something completely terrifying, and immediately went into a state of shock. She couldn’t move. Their parents called the doctor, who couldn’t explain her condition, except to say she must have been bewitched.
The little girl was sent away, and later came out of it. It was Puritan Massachusetts, with a lot of rules, and very little excitement. Mass hysteria ensued. The rest of the girls in Salem wanted the same kind of fuss made over them, and mimicked the same “symptoms”. Things like this don’t just happen. Someone had to be responsible. Picture a Jamaican immigrant named Tituba, a healer who also practised voodoo, working in one of the girls’ homes. Her husband made “witch cakes” for the girls. Four years earlier a woman named Goody Glover had admitted to afflicting children. Maybe it was still fresh in their minds as a valid explanation.
Over the 18 months the witch trials took place, 150 people were imprisoned (until the prison was at capacity), 19 were hanged on Gallows Hill, and one man was pressed to death.
Why some were accused:
- Pipe-smoking beggar woman
- Being an aged cripple
- The neighbour got sick and died
- Selling to the natives
- Stepping in a mud puddle, without getting wet
- A child said so
We had an evening tour on the anniversary of Bridget Bishop’s hanging. Sure, it’s a little creepy standing at the witch memorial on that exact day. Because they were prosecuted and executed as witches, no one knows exactly where these people were actually buried. There are stones like this to remember each of them outside of Burying Point, Salem’s oldest cemetery.
When you know the history of the trials, the memorial is a quiet place of community and reflection. It always makes me sad.
Maybe it’s because of recent events.
Maybe it’s because they didn’t have to die.
Maybe it’s because had my daughter, my friend and I lived during that time, we would have been accused too.
…or maybe it’s because, ultimately… we are scared of the things we don’t understand.