There’s more to Salem, MA than witches

My long train ride ended at Boston’s South Station. I had never been to Boston before, but shall omit my shuffle along unnamed streets and a cell phone that could not locate me while seeking the bus to Salem. While Boston government and technology failed me, people did not, and every soul I asked for directions was polite and concerned, even though none of them had heard of the bus I wanted.

At any rate, a sweet millennial with a cell phone app rescued me.

(The bus from Boston to Salem is a travel means I would NOT recommend. The Uber ride back to Logan—now at the top of my list as one of the worst airports I have ever done time in—was far nicer.)

Once safety arrived in Salem, my writer friend and I met up and walk-ran straight to the nearest restaurant where I quickly ordered a glass of Malbec.

Then a Lyft ride to our little AirBnB apartment out on Juniper Point where our hosts greeted us.

Salem is quite walkable. My friend, a fine fantasy author, had told me that cars were not recommended. Generally I rent a car and like a nice rental or a hotel room. My friend, more intrepid than I, is happy spending the night at the airport with a local newspaper to read. I had to agree with the no-car advice. The town center is quite small and all the standard sites can be easily reached on foot by following a red line painted on the sidewalks.

West Coast born and bred, I am always a bit gobsmacked by the historical richness of the Eastern Seaboard. We passed homes built in the mid eighteenth century, fortuitously labeled with the year they were constructed. It was not to visit the Witch City for a tour of the wax museum or haunted houses or Wicca ceremonies that I had in mind. It was the history that drew me.

Two writers of the nineteenth century were my very early influencers: Louisa May Alcott and Mary Baker Eddy. One wrote journals and fiction, the other religious essays steeped in the transcendentalist movement of the times. Later there came Emily Dickinson and Helen Hunt Jackson. By shameful accident (how could I not know this!) one of the places beside the Witch Museum that was highly recommended to me was the House of Seven Gables. I thought cool! I love touring old houses!

Not until we were entering the grounds did I come to understand that this was the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

And that he was friendly with Emerson and the Alcott family. And is buried in Concord.

The transcendentalists were a close-knit bunch as were all the other writers of the time. Helen Hunt Jackson was a great friend of Emily Dickinson. I can’t believe that Mrs Eddy didn’t meet some of them, including Jackson, Alcott and maybe Hawthorne as well. Mrs. Eddy made a habit, after her divorce and before she remarried, of moving from home to home throughout New England. Impoverished but well-known and well-liked—at least at first—she never needed to buy a house.

Hawthorne’s great-great grandfather John Hathorne earned the nickname The Hanging Judge, having condemned 19 people—most of whom were female—to death by hanging in 1692 for practicing witchcraft. Nathaniel added the ‘w’ to his name for this reason. The Salem Witch Museum’s take on the 4 month trial-and-executions period in late summer-early fall of 1692 was that the hysteria began with teen-aged boredom.

In the 1920’s a memorial was installed next to Salem Cemetery.

Inside a low-walled rectangular area are nineteen stone benches, each inscribed with the name and date of death of each victim. As we walked the memorial, we saw flowers placed on every bench.

There’s a historical novel in here somewhere. Four transcendentalist writers, two fiction authors, and one poet meet in a haunted mansion in 1835 . . . .

Share

Comments

There’s more to Salem, MA than witches — 5 Comments

  1. The Alcott house is well worth visiting. My favorite bit were the drawings the one sister did all over the walls upstairs. I also really liked LMA’s writing table, with its view out the windows into the greenery.

  2. I make regular pilgrimages to the Peabody Essex museum. It has a number of additional buildings and historic houses. I’ve keep trying to see the ones Ive missed, but then they have a new special exhibit (and they usually do a bang up job with those)and I have to start back in the main building. – The cafe there is a great spot for a reasonable and good lunch btw.
    Years ago I went up to Fruitlands and saw the Alcott house there. Its at the bottom of a steep hill. I kept seeing all those female family members working themselves to the bone to keep food on the table and mud out of the houses, and their spouses wandering about philosophizing with each other. I’ve always felt really sorry for Mrs Alcott.

    • I wish I knew! This was a random house we passed as we wandered. I think this was on Essex Street.