Tag Archives: Haunted Happenings

Exorcising my Anecdotes

We are now in the midst of Salem’s annual Haunted Happenings celebration, marking the fortuitous link between the tragic events of 1692 and that second-most festive of holidays, Halloween. I think this year’s festivities began sometime in September, and the calendar is packed through October 31: tonight is the annual parade, which used to be the kick-off event event but is now late to the party. As long-time readers of this blog will know, I’ve never been able to see the connection between innocent victims and festivity, but believe me, I’m in the minority, and the majority definitely rules on this matter in Salem. I was going to skip my annual rant this year because it is getting tiresome (for me as well as others, I’m sure) but this was a big year for witch-trial remembrance connected to the observance of the 325th anniversary of the Trials, and I heard several things in its course that I just can’t forget, so I thought I’d use this post to process a few anecdotes. Readers and followers of the blog have increased by quite a bit over the past year (for which I am very grateful!) so I also want to offer these new viewers some orientation: even though my blog is called streets of Salem, this is not the place to go for event listings and coverage of all the things going on in the streets of Salem in October–you should click over to Destination Salem or Creative Salem if that is what you are seeking. These are both very comprehensive and informative sites that serve as great guides to Salem happenings in October or throughout the year (because a lot does happen throughout the year). I cannot be your October guide because I will be either hiding in my house or getting out of town. Well, obviously that is an exaggeration: I must work after all, I will sneak out on mid-week mornings because Salem is very beautiful at this time of year, and there are several cultural events happening this month that I don’t want to miss. But after my re- and full immersion into the experience of Haunted Happenings a few years ago, I realized that I needed to keep my head down and my mind on the victims of 1692—or anything else.

So before I leave this subject for another year, here are the assertions which I have been contemplating ever since I first heard them. I know; I am a bad historian to utilize only anecdotal evidence, but this is a blog, not a book. These moments have lasted with me because I think they speak volumes.

Cotton Mather promoted Wonders of the Invisible World in the London papersThis fact (Mather’s publisher did put a notice for Wonders in several London papers in December 1692 and February 1693) was uttered by the executive director of Salem’s “Most Visited Museum” and a major beneficiary of Haunted Happenings, the Witch Museum, in the context of a panel discussion on the Proctor’s Ledge site in July of this year. There was a general discussion of how the Trials had became sensationalized over time, and this was her response, meaning, in essence, it began then–we’re not first. I thought it was rather astonishing to hear Cotton Mather, the contemporary apologist for the trials, used as a role model!

Cotton Mather Quinton Jones Cotton Mather and the Witch of Endor, by the extraordinary and eccentric Salem artist Quinton Oliver Jones (1903-1999), who is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Salem Athenaeum.

I have no doubt Elizabeth Montgomery the person would have spoken out against injustice in 1692, had she been here at the time. And her character, Samantha, DID just that !  This was a comment in response to a letter in the Salem News (not by me!) in opposition to the Bewitched statue, essentially asking why this statue of a fictional television character was located in Salem. Apparently the statue is not of Samantha Stevens, but Elizabeth Montgomery, who was an advocate for social justice….but nevertheless Samantha did stand up! What can you say in response to such thinking? Does real history even exist?

Bewitched Thanksgiving I must be honest: this a THANKSGIVING episode of Bewitched; I couldn’t find an image of Samantha at the Witch Trials so Plymouth had to stand in–but Puritans are Puritans, right?

You need a licenseThis happened just the other day: one of my colleagues, who is teaching a First Year Seminar (required for all freshmen at our university) on “Hamilton and Salem” took his students on a walking tour of Salem so that they could learn about, you know, Hamilton and Salem. Standing in front of old Custom House on Central Street and explaining what the (then-waterfront) looked like in 1800 when Hamilton did in fact visit Salem, a man came up to him and asked him which tour company he worked for. When my colleague replied that he was a history professor at Salem State taking his students on a walking tour, the man replied:  you can’t do that; you need a license (and stop blocking the sidewalk). My colleague (with a Ph.D., two books, and 15+ years of teaching under his belt) didn’t quite grasp that this man was trying to get him to stop teaching, so the man repeated himself, assertively: Stop. You need a license.

Exorcising 5 No teaching here!

The commodification of history has its costs. No doubt there are benefits too: the official line is that Haunted Happenings revenues offset taxes and many downtown businesses report that the Halloween season is the time when balance sheets move from red into the black. We hear about the benefits of Haunted Happenings a lot, but never about the costs, literal or otherwise. I can’t speak to the former, but in reference to my anecdotes I see: a declining historical empathy, a declining historical understanding, and…..increasing restrictions on free speech? (perhaps this is going too far but I find the last anecdote simply chilling, though I was relieved to read that unlicensed teaching is actually allowed in Salem). Certainly our ability to engage in a meaningful dialogue is limited by the constraints of official boosterism when questioning public policy is interpreted solely and simply as threatening private livelihoods and the collective refrain is embrace or retreat, love it or leave it–and stop whining.

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Exorcising 4 A joyful walk down Federal Street yesterday (Salem IS beautiful at this time of the year–do come during the week, if you can)–but then I went downtown and saw that the Museum Place Mall has been renamed the Witch City Mall.


A Folio for the Worst Day

September 22: the first day of fall, and the worst day of the Salem Witch Trials, I am aware of both markers every single year. The beginning of the end. In successive posts on this day over the years, I’ve tried to focus on remembrance of the eight victims, the last victims, who were executed on this day 325 years ago: Ann Pudeator and Alice Parker of Salem, Martha Corey of Salem Farms (Peabody), Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker of Andover, Wilmot Redd of Marblehead, Margaret Scott of Rowley, and Mary Easty of Topsfield. Looking over these posts, I see one big change: we finally have a memorial at the execution site on Proctor’s Ledge. No longer do I have to wander around the Gallows Hill area in search of the sacred spot (like so many before me). It’s been an incredible year of remembrance really, with our anniversary symposium and the dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, at which my colleague Emerson Baker, so instrumental in the verification of this site, asserted that we need less celebration in October and more commemoration and sober reflection throughout the year. I am not hopeful that Salem will see less celebration in October (or now—the celebration seems to start earlier every year), but those who seek more sober reflection now have two memorials at which to meditate: the downtown Witch Trial Memorial turns into a food court in October so head to Proctor’s Ledge if you are so inclined.

Memorial Collage The two memorials: Proctor’s Ledge this summer; downtown in October 2015.

One does not need a memorial to reflect, of course: words and images work just as well for me. The other day I rediscovered a slim (and dusty) volume in my library which I hadn’t seen for years: The Witches of Salem, a “documentary narrative” edited by Roger Thompson, with amazing linocut illustrations by Clare Melinsky. Like all Folio Society books, it’s a beautiful book, encased in its own hard-case slipcover: I think it was a gift but I don’t remember from whom! The Witches of Salem is an an annotated compilation of primary sources with a chronological format, and a good introduction to the Trials. There’s nothing really new here in terms of information, but Melinsky’s illustrations enhance the presentation in myriad ways: aesthetically, of course, but also contextually. They strike me as a cross between Ulrich Molitor’s first woodcut witches from the later fifteenth century and the chapbooks issued in the eighteenth century—after Salem–which featured deliberatively-primitive images to suggest just how backward belief in witchcraft was. To my eye, the illustrations look more European than American but there are some very familiar scenes….

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Folio 13

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Folio 6

Folio 8

Folio 5

Folio 7

Folio 12

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Folio 4

So much suffering on this day 325 years ago, before and after. We do have our memorials here in Salem, so I suppose that gives us free rein to milk the Trials for all they are worth. The worst day, the beginning of fall, the beginning of the ever-longer, ever-bolder Haunted Happenings: they all converge. Even the stately Peabody Essex Museum, which has always been above the fray, has joined in the celebration, moving their monthly Thursday PEM/PM event to Friday this month: September 22.

Appendix:

 A really good article about the “holiday creep” of Haunted Happenings and Salem in general by someone much more objective than I!  http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/salem-and-the-rise-of-witch-kitsch    


Two Nights in Salem

As you might imagine, my teenage stepson is not at all sympathetic to my I don’t want to see tacky & exploitative witchcraft “attractions” attitude in October so we have ventured downtown for the last couple of nights.The weather has been warm but rainy so there weren’t that many people milling about but we did avoid the more commercial sites. I think I first took him to the Salem Witch “Museum” when he was six or seven and he thought it was ridiculous then; so he has no desire to return now, thankfully. On Thursday night we went to a few shops on the way to one of the Peabody Essex Museum’s monthly themed PEM/PM evenings, which are always great.This month’s theme was “Moon Landing”, in reference to their brand new exhibition “Lunar Attraction”, which is just the kind of multi-media, multi-genre, multi-era, and multi-perspective presentation that I always enjoy. We spent a lot of time watching the colorized version of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) that was playing continuously, but I found many of the exhibit items almost as captivating.

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two-nights-to-the-moon

two-nights-melies

two-nights-vaca

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two-nights-rabbit

two-nights-holyoke-eclipse

The Peabody Essex Museum on Thursday evening past: atrium and “Lunar Attraction” exhibits, including screen shots from A Trip to the Moon; Beth Hoeckel’s “Campground” collage from her ongoing series “Point of View”; Scott Listfield’s “To the Moon”, 2004, a Japanese moon rabit, and Edward Holyoke’s ink illustration of a solar eclipse, 1713.

On our way over to the Museum we stopped in at the Salem Arts Association, where there were works both timeless and ephemeral and seasonal-macabre, some more witty than others. I liked these little coffins in the window and a “Vampire Test”mirror; my stepson liked a map of the United States divided into regions which have Waffle Houses and regions which do not.That came home with us.

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two-nights-arts

On Friday night, before the deluge we had later and the PBS documentary on the making of Hamilton, we went to the House of the Seven Gables for one of their seasonal experiences, “Legend of the Hanging Judge”, in which actors play out different roles relating to the witch trials in the rooms of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace: the author himself was in residence, consumed with guilt, as his ancestor is the title character. The one good thing about Salem’s crass commercial Halloween tourism is that it gets tourists through the doors of real museums like the Gables, although I fear out-of-town sausage sellers make more money.

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The Gables at Night. I can never get a good night shot–was trying for the contrast of garden and house and this is the best I could do!


Escape from Salem, part I: South Shore Ramble

After last year’s full immersion into Haunted Happenings, Salem’s month-long celebration of its apparently fortunate association with the tragic Witch Trials of 1692, I’ve decided that a better course of action for me this year is to get out of town. I try to engage in the festivities every three years or so, but last year was just too much:  too much craven exploitation, too much tackiness, too much trash. Last year nearly broke me: if my husband had had a similar reaction and intent, we would have sold the house and moved to Ipswich. I don’t want to move, so this October I will simply escape Salem whenever I can–or hunker down in the house (I’ve brought in supplies). I’m sure my family, friends and students will appreciate this decision, as I’ll be a much nicer person to be around, but this is a declaration for my faithful readers: my blog’s title will be a misnomer for most of this month, although I might be able to sneak in a few midweek walks.

October is also a busy academic month, so I’ll have to take quick regional road trips whenever I can. The other day, I meandered around the South Shore, a world apart from the North as any greater Bostonian knows. I got off the highway in Dedham, which has a wonderful historic downtown, drove on small roads all the way down to Plymouth, and then back up north via Route 3A on the coast. I took tons of photographs, but it was a rainy, cloudy day so most of them didn’t really “pop” (especially as I seem to have a predilection for two-story square white colonial houses–you don’t need to see a multitude of those!) Now, before I get multiple protests from local readers, let me say that in the greater Boston area, many people do not consider Dedham to be part of the South Shore, as it is decidedly not on the coast and too far west: as you can see, it is not on this “North Shore vs. South Shore” map from Boston MagazineBut I’ve never known how to classify Dedham geographically so I am including it here—northwestern towns like Burlington (??????) are regularly included in the North Shore, so it seems only fair to include southwestern towns like Dedham in the South.

north-shore-vs-south-shore-map Map by John S. Dykes, Boston Magazine

Downtown Dedham: even though it’s about half the size and much less urban, Dedham is kind of like Salem in that it’s a county seat and a “mother of towns”—an early settlement from which all the surrounding towns later separated. Dedham is also difficult to get into because of traffic and a confusing intersection of major arteries–but well worth the effort.

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ramble-fairbanks-house

……all in the immediate downtown with the exception of the amazing first-period Fairbanks House. Then it was down to Plymouth via routes 138 and 106 with a pitstop in Plympton.

Plympton and Plymouth:

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SHEEP in relatively rural Plympton and this rather stately old brown house….on to Plymouth which is large geographically and always somewhat less historical than you expect it to be–however there are some great old houses there, and of course the Mayflower II. I don’t think we need a picture of the rock, and I’ll leave Plimoth Plantation for another post.

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Then back up north via Route 3A, through Duxbury, probably the most beautiful town in Massachusetts, which one local radio host used to refer to as “Deluxbury”. Very pristine–and no sidewalks! Then on to Marshfield–where my camera promptly ran out of power. I will return–I have an entire month of daytrips ahead of me!

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There are so many beautiful houses in Duxbury it was difficult to choose , so I just limited myself to one–the very Salem-like Nathaniel Winsor House, headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Shingles everywhere on the South Shore, less common on the North. LOVED Marshfield Hills, especially these last two houses.


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