Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dying to Go: Salem Massachusetts

My fascination with the period of accusations and paranoia known as the Salem Witch Trials began in 7th grade after I watched a history channel program about them. A little while later, I found out our next book for English class was about this time period as well. Ever since then, I've been dying to go to Salem Massachusetts. The Witch Trials started in 1692 when Tituba, an Indian Slave owned by Samual Parris became the first to be accused of witchcraft. Her's is a mysterious story that begins in isolation, continues into misery and finally disappears into...nothing. Tituba was said to have been caught teaching voodoo practices to the children of the Parris household; harmless enough things like reading initials in apple peelings to discover the name of one's true love.
 During the winter months of 1692, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, ages nine and eleven, began to have strange fits in which they growled and threw things, contorted themselves into strange positions, and sometimes tried to throw themselves into the fireplace. When William Griggs, the local doctor could find no physical signs of ailment and other girls in the village began acting similarly, the religion driven Puritans had no other logical outlet to turn to. They declared the girls were possessed, and Tituba was to blame. At first, Tituba renounced all of the accusations, but as the madness escalated she confessed to "riding on sticks" and "conversing with the Devil."  She also accused Sara Osborne of possessing a creature with the head of a women, two legs, and wings. 
Sara Osborne was singled out because she rarely attended church, and the Puritans believed that her second marriage to an indentured servant was against God's will because in their eyes, she had remarried for her own interests. Sara Good, a homeless beggar, was also accused alongside Sara Osborne. All three women were interrogated for seven days and sent to jail. Tituba was not executed for her connection to the witchcraft paranoia, and after she was released from jail, she moved away and no one ever found out what happened to her after that. Accusations continued and several more women were tried and jailed in the next few weeks including Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, Rachel Clinton and Dorothy Good, Sara Good's four year old daughter. The charges against Rebecca Nurse brought the trials to a whole new level as she was an upstanding member of society who always attended church. If such good women could be witches, then anyone could be. Trials became more and more wild, with hallucinations taken as credible evidence, and the Maleficus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches, a guidebook that outlined how to identify, torture and dispose of a witch) making rounds in the court. 
Bridget Bishop
On June 10th, Bridget Bishop became the first woman to be executed during the Salem Witch Trials. She refused to admit to having practiced witchcraft stating "I am innocent, I know nothing of it, I have done no witchcraft, I am as innocent as the child unborn" during her trial. By the end of the trials, 19 people were hanged and one man, Giles Corey, had been crushed to death for refusing to attend trial. The trials ended as abruptly as they began, in October of 1692. People still in jail under charges of witchcraft were pardoned, although they had to pay for the food they received in jail or they would have to stay there. There are many theories as to why the accusations spread around colonial Massachusetts escalated to the point that they did. Some say the citizens of Salem were generally having hallucinations, due to a crop of wheat gone bad. Others say it all stemmed from political and familial issues because most of the people who were accused were outcasts, and being different from the norm usually puts one under suspicion.
What I love about the city today is that it is upfront about its dark past. There are signs of witchyness everywhere, and a whole lot of history to be found, not to mention, ghost stories! I suppose its necessary for there to be a bit of a morbid back-story for a location to be haunted. For some great ghost tours, perhaps you'd like to check out:
The Ward House
One of the most haunted locations in America

The Old Salem Jail
Yeah, this place is definitely haunted.

The Old Town Hall
Nathaniel Hawthorn's House of Seven Gables

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  1. Wow gosh! Salem is one of the places I really want to go if I get the chance. :) That's really awesome info about the witch trials, and the fact that Salem using their history as a town attraction <3

    Awesome post!

    1. Thank you! Maybe we can go together some day :D