Zach and I were married on October 10th, 2009. This time of year I am reminded of the fabulous time we had on our honeymoon. We were married in the fall, as it is both of our favorite time of year, and what better place to experience Autumn's splendor but the East Coast? We went from Lancaster, Pennsylvania north to Maine, spending the majority of our trip in Maine. But along the way, we stopped in some of the most interestingly historic towns in the country.
One such town is Salem, Massachusetts.
Salem is a town of nooks and crannies. It's a crooked sort of cobblestone place, fraught with history, character, and an unyielding sense of solemness. It's nestles into itself and huddles, standing hunchback against the cold bleak sea.
You enter Salem Towne and though there are many modern businesses, and eccentric personalities, the oldness stretches its bony fingers across the place and twines itself around the docks and harbors, the cedar shank buildings and the black stained houses.
Who's eyes have peered through those leaded glass windows with the deep diamond patterned cross bucks? Long ago dead and buried in the Salem Town Cemetery no doubt. What drunken sailor, stumbled sea legged and staggering across that same stretch of sand and maybe stabbed over a pint of unpalatable whiskey? As we learned in the Pirate Museum, Salem was quite the town for scalawags. It was busting with commerce, which drew the riff-raff of the world.
Salem was particularly interesting for me because I earned my Bachelors in English with a focus on Early American Literature. Salem was the home of Nathanial Hawthorne, which was one of the main authors that my senior thesis was devoted to. So of course we visited the House of Seven Gables.
It was like being transported back in time. The house is full of odd shaped rooms and strangely angled ceilings. There is a narrow "secret" staircase with uneven steps that creak and moan. You can imagine where Hawthorne got his muse! The whole house has a personality. While I love Hawthorne novels, the Scarlet Letter is one of my favorites. I really enjoy some of his short stories equally as well. In particular The Minister's Black Veil, and The Young Goodman Brown. Both stories are this mysterious blend of Puritan sin, and lurking evil. Hawthorne was born many years after the Trials, but his ancestry was embedded with Puritan blood.
And, with that note, you can't speak of Salem without talking about the Witch Trials. I won't go over the details, as I'm sure you've all read The Crucible, instead here are a few short glimpses as to how Salem encompasses this tragic time in history.
Here is the Witch House, which is the only building still standing that has any connection with the trials. It is home to the local judge of the time. It is a museum now.
Here is the Witch Dungeon Museum which shows how the accused men women and even children were held until their trial date. It was lightless, cold and damp. Many died of starvation or disease before they met their fate at the hangman's noose. There was one small dungeon room where particularly dangerous "witches" were held. It was only about 2' by 2' so the person was forced to stand for days. The museum has one large timber preserved from the original dungeon. The curator said it was good luck to touch it...I didn't.
Here is the cemetery where many of the judges are buried.
There is only a memorial to those who were wrongly accused. The hanged people were buried in a mass grave in the woods under a large oak tree. At night, the friends and family of these poor people, re-buried them in unmarked family plots. Zach and I asked the curator where the original mass grave was, and she explained that there was now a Dunkin Doughnuts sitting on the place.
We also visited an awesome historic village that recreated what an average colony in the 1600's might look like. Many of the homes were nothing more than a one room straw hut with mudded walls and a fire pit at one end. Even now days, they reeked of smoke and mold, add to that no indoor plumbing, no medicine and you have a good explanation as to why they lived to a ripe old age of 25.
There is also a good deal of Halloween fun that circles around the town of Salem. Here I am at the steps of Town Hall which appeared in the movie Hocus Pocus, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler. There are also many shops and stores that thrive on the "witchiness" of the place. You can also get a mean Lobster dinner at a few of the restaurants and cafes.
This is the oldest candy store in the United States. We bought real Boston Baked Beans and Gibraltars, which were the first sold candies in America. I think they taste like after dinner mints. Taste some for yourself, visit them at http://peppercandy.net/