As Halloween rapidly approaches it seemed only appropriate to blog about Salem. Just a short train journey from central Boston, the town is famed for its mass hysteria and witch trials of 1692.
We visited Salem on a drizzly October day although the rain did not put off the tourists. Pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns line the streets as the Halloween season begins. It appeared to me that Salem was very proud of its history and uses it to its advantage, selling all sorts of witch memorabilia (some not particularly relevant). The museums in the town certainly get into the nitty gritty of the hysteria in an informative and entertaining way. Here’s how it was told to us:
It all began back in 1691/2 when a new Reverend of the Puritan church (Mr Samuel Parris) moved to Salem village (nowadays Danvers) with his family and slave; named Tituba. The Puritan faith was very strict, even childhood fun was limited to prayer time. Reverend Parris’ children and their friends became restless with this, and used to confide in Tituba and her stories from her previous life before she was enslaved. This included Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams who both lived with Reverend Parris. One day some strange affliction came over the girls, stories of body contortions, fits and speaking in tongues. Eleven girls had been afflicted by this mysterious demonic illness. The reverend and doctor condemned it as demonic behaviour, as prayers or medicine did not help the girls. Tituba was asked to bake a rye cake with the afflicted girls urine as an ingredient and feed it to the dog to see if the dog had any symptoms. It is unknown if this lead to anything. Once conscious; Abigail and Betty accused Tituba and two others for practicing witchcraft, as this is what they thought caused them to become ill.
The accusation of these three women was the start of mass hysteria that swept over New England. The afflicted girls and other children went around accusing people for no reason, including looking at them the wrong way (including two dogs who were eventually hanged), saying that they could cast spells etc. This lead to the accusation of one hundred and fifty-six people who went on trial for being a witch. Of these one hundred and fifty-six, nineteen were sentenced to hanging and one man (Giles Corey) was crushed to death with heavy weights, in a practice known as pressing. He pleaded not guilty to being a warlock and the pressing was used to force him to change his mind. Instead, it ended up killing him. The dead bodies of the accused were dumped in a pit after they were hanged, as witches were not allowed to be buried on sacred ground.
The nineteen that were hanged are remembered in Salem in the form of a very tasteful memorial, where plinths to those who died are engraved and covered in fresh flowers. Below is a photograph of Mary Parker’s memorial, a 55 year old widow who was accused at the witch trials and hanged in 1692.
No one is certain why the girls acted like they did, people have theorised that the girls had ingested ergot, a fungus found in rye causing them illness, but this has never been proven. Other theories include the girls just playing and it went too far or acting out against Puritan oppression. What we know for sure is that this event has shaped American history and certainly affected the growth of the Puritan church. Nowadays the Puritan church is non-existent. Its flawed beliefs and anti-logical thought saw the church branch off and eventually disintegrate. The Puritan church had some interesting beliefs, and in the cemetery in Salem, the gravestones caught my eye. The Puritans did not like religious artwork on their graves so had different types of artwork engraved. The art on the top of this stone below represents death and resurrection.
I enjoyed my trip to Salem and I would certainly visit again. The history is fascinating and I urge anyone to visit and experience it for themselves. As the town geared up for harvest and Halloween, there was many different events going on in town. This is where we met this little pig, wrapped up warm in his blanket.