A Witch-Link to Salem, Massachusetts
I am acquainted with a witch. Not a witch dressed in a long black dress, flowing cape or pointed hat, nor does she flip a wand to zap me into a frog. Virginie Esmor is a present-day witch who dresses in elegant black slacks, vibrantly patterned, silk over-blouses and shapely clogs. Long, red-beaded earrings dangle from her ears to her shoulders. An assortment of twisty snake bracelets ringed by tiny silver stars and occult charms, remind me that she is an ordained witch.
Virginie owns an eclectic craft emporium filled with exotic tapestries, jewelry, pottery, soy candles, luscious smelling creams and lotions, and sparkling crystals crafted by local artists. Many of those artists are cult friends.
Amidst of fountains washing waters over smooth rocks and pebbles, I am intrigued by the hand-waving conversations of Eugenie and her friends and associates concerning recent ‘witch-happenings’ attributed to The Pagan Resource and Network Council of Educators. P.R.A.N.C.E., has been instrumental in the reconstruction of the Witch Village in Salem, Massachusetts and has hosted the ‘Witches’ Hospitality Tent’ every year. Located on the Common during Salem’s Haunted Happenings, Prance gives Pagan/Wiccan tourists information and a warm welcome to the ‘Witch City.'
The Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Witch History Museum take you back to 1692, yet, present-day popularization of the witchcraft hysteria, does not reveal the large number of witches living in Salem today.
The goal of the Salem Witch Village is to promote religious tolerance and participation in a positive society that encourages growth and acceptance of all of its people.
Virginie and I vacation in Salem - not together! The link we have to each other is our discussions of our own particular interests in Salem, Massachusetts. Otherwise, we travel with our own entourage.
My family and I enjoy touring Chestnut Street, a registered National Historic Landmark, considered one of the most architecturally beautiful streets in America. It is a showcase of grand antique houses and part of Salem’s McIntyre Historic District.
Other points of interest are the schooner, Fame, at the Pickering Wharf Marina, a replica of the successful privateer from the War of 1812. Fame sails from Memorial Day through September - weather permitting. Forest River Park offers beaches and picnic areas. Hamilton Hall, built between 1805 and 1807, and designed by Samuel McIntire, is a social center for Salem’s merchant families. This National Register historic landmark remains a unique setting for special functions and weddings.
My special destination in Salem is the House of the Seven Gables made famous by author, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
“God will give him blood to drink!” An evil house, cursed through the centuries by a man who was hanged for witchcraft, haunted by the ghosts of its sinful dead, wracked by the fear of its frightened living….
Four Pyncheons play a part inside the blighted house: Hepzibah, an elderly recluse; Clifford, her feeble-minded brother; Phoebe, their young country cousin…and Jaffrey, a devil incarnate whose greedy quest for secret wealth is marked by murder and terrible vengeance from a restless grave.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works are imbued with a mixture of the actual and the imaginary, and The House of the Seven Gables is an enduring example. The puritanical Colonel Pyncheon is the embodiment of Hawthorne’s own great grandfather, a judge at the Salem witch trials; the gloomy, gabled house with a secret passage, typifies his own depressing home. It is this masterful blending of the spiritual and symbolic that allows Hawthorne’s haunted house to stand firm where many a weaker one has fallen.*
For academic interests and the pure enjoyment of “seeing sites New-Englandly,” Salem gives me the opportunity to tour nearby areas made famous by Henry David Thoreau, the Cambridge of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickenson’s Amherst, and the Orchard House at Concord. Louisa M. Alcott wrote Little Women at The Wayside in Concord, and, of course, there is Boston – the place where powerful and original literary expression in America began.
Virginie revels in Dracula’s Castle, Salem’s haunted house. Eerie chambers filled with “live spirits” lead to Dracula’s haunted crypt. The Peabody Essex Museum exhibits eerie memorabilia associated with Salem Witch trials, such as the “Witch Pins” used in the examination of witches and a small bottle supposed to contain the finger bones of victim George Jacobs. The bizarre, seemingly inexplicable behavior of two young girls, the daughter, Betty, and the niece, Abigail Williams, of the Salem Village minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, launched the hysteria which led to the trials.
In February1692, Magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hawthorne examined three accused women. Corwin’s home, known as the Witch House, still stands at the corner of North and Essex Streets in Salem. This is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Guided tours and tales of the first witchcraft trials are provided there. John Hawthorne is an ancestor of author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Finally, back at Eugenie’s Emporium - at times I feel uncomfortable in the aura of witches, particularly when Jim-bo, a long-limbed Indian sits in a trance in a room furnished in surreal and Wiccan accessories, preparing to tell fortunes. It is my prerogative to leave. I am not a witch.
Other tours and points of interest in Salem:
Burying Point (1637), Charter Street – The oldest cemetery in Salem. Contains the graves of a Mayflower pilgrim and witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne.
Hollywood House of Wax, Museum Place Mall – Movie stars and monsters from supernatural Hollywood.
Nathaniel Bowditch House, 9 North Street – Home of Nathaniel Bowditch from 1811 to 1823. It is a National Historic Landmark, and is significant both architecturally and historically. The house is being restored.
New England Pirate Museum, 274 Derby Street – Piracy flourished in Salem post 1692. Notorious villains like Blackbeard and Kidd prowled the coast. Relive their adventures. Admission: Adults $6; Seniors $5; Under 14 $4.
Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Square – built in 1816 after the land was donated to the City of Salem by John Derby III and Benjamin Pickman, Jr., it was the city headquarters until 1836/37 when the new City Hall was erected on Washington Street.
Salem Common, Washington Square – Nine-acre park which was the public land used to graze livestock and train local militia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today it is used for concerts and community activities.
Spellbound Museum, 190 Essex Street – Authentic historical, cultural and religious artifacts pertaining to the supernatural world. Experience America’s only “Ghost Gallery!” New England’s only museum dedicated to the supernatural world and its mysteries.
Witch Mansion in 3D, 11 Pickering Way – Salem’s only 3D Haunted House. Located at Pickering Wharf.
*The House of the Seven Gables - New American Library 1961