For today's Boston regional outing, my dad and I went and visited Salem — possibly the biggest tourist spot in Massachusetts (apart from Boston itself). And why? Because of the witches, of course! As all history buffs should know, The Crucible (which I studied in high school). These days, tourists flock to Salem for the trial re-enactments, for museums portraying the tragedy of bygone years, and for Halloween celebrations that are unrivalled by any other town in America.
Salem is quite close to Boston: only ½ an hour by train. We caught the 'T' in from Newton Center, to North Station; and from there, we transferred to the commuter rail, which has regular trains going north to Salem. Just follow what the pamphlets tell you, and you can't miss it. Salem itself is also a charming town: it's much bigger than it was back in the 17th century, of course; but the historic centre still retains much of its authenticity, and the locals still exude an air of friendliness and a certain insularity.
When my dad and I arrived, we went straight to the Old Town Hall, to catch a live re-enactment of the witch trials. We were 5 minutes late: but they were nice enough to open the door for us, and to let us squeeze in. The re-enactment was very well done. All the actors wore elaborate period costumes, and not only spoke in Olde English or Irish accents, but even did a pretty good job of using an Elizabethan vocabulary. The scene was the trial of Bridget Bishop — but with a twist. They weren't just acting out what happened back in the day: they were giving us (the audience) chances to question the witnesses; and at the end, we became the jury, and we voted on whether or not Mrs Bishop should hang. We let her off, but it was close: 31 voted "guilty", and 35 voted "not guilty". In the real case, unfortunately, the no-doubt innocent Mrs Bishop did actually hang.
The judge questioning Mrs Bishop on stage, while the witnesses look on.
Two townspeople of Salem testify against Mrs Bishop, who appears angry and shackled behind them.
The kind of testimony given against Bridget Bishop would have been hilarious, if not for the sombre fact that it was historically accurate. Witnesses claimed that Mrs Bishop entered their beds while they were sleeping, and attempted to strangle them to death in their dreams. They claimed that she "possessed" them, and used their bodies to perform unseemly and horrific acts. And they claimed that she appeared to them in forests and on misty fields, threatening and cursing them through her phantom self. Back in the day, all of this so-called "spectral evidence" was as absurd as it was uncorroborated; and yet somehow, it was admissible before what was supposedly "a just court of law". This is a chilling lesson on just how far we can perilously stray from the thin path of justice, if we put just a few feet wrong.
In the afternoon, we went to the famous (and the official) Salem Witch Museum — this was the main one, there are many others in town with variations on the theme — and there, we saw a narrated light-and-model show that explained the history of the events of 1692 in detail. The show was quite well-done, if a bit melodramatic. It did a good job of explaining the importance of such characters as Tituba (the Jamaican slave woman), John Proctor (the man who refused to succumb to the madness of witchcraft, and who paid for this refusal with his life), Reverend Hale (the local priest of the town), and the infamous Abigail Williams (the girl who accused so many others of being witches). Plus, there was a little exhibition after the show.
Front view of the Salem Witch Museum.
When we got out of the museum, we were surprised to find that a dense fog had suddenly rolled in, and had blanketed the entire town. Considering that we'd just learned all about the witchcraft and the irrational fear that had once gripped this town, we found the fog most fitting, and also a bit freaky. I must admit, I couldn't help but suspect seeing a witch or two silhouetted through the fog. With eerie weather such as this, no wonder the whole town went mad.
Fog in Salem common — insert X-files music here.
Modern Salem is home to environmentally-aware, bicycle-riding witches, who are cunningly disguised as little boys out for some leisure pedalling.
We went for a little wander around Salem in the fog. Luckily, it wasn't too foggy to appreciate the gorgeously vivid "fall colours" on the trees around here. However, it was a bit dense to really make out the ocean around the docks.
Golden-brown Salem leaves in the Fall.
Dad and a foggy ship at the docks.