It is important to remember everything, especially as a writer. This blog will serve as a personal recollection of my journey to Salem Massachusetts in the Fall of 2016. Though I experienced a great many things on my way up, and had a wonderful time in Plainville and Boston – those memories belong to me.
These however, can and should be made public.
Salem is a town rich in its own culture, and saturated in its history. Growing up, Salem had always been a dream of mine, especially during the 8 years where I was a practicing Wiccan. I knew that most, if not all, of the accused and condemned were innocent of crimes. But it would not negate that the city was meant to be a hub of mysticism and magick for centuries to come. I researched the trials for over a decade, and the Craft for far longer than that. This trip, was therefore a realization of a dream. It has been a big year for those. So, I hope you will find something of value from my tales, and if you have questions, I will do the very best I can to give a correct, fact based response.
A Very Brief Overview of the Salem Witch Trials
Witch Trials did not originate in Salem, they’d been happening in New England for some time. However, 1692 was the culmination of the events. A Puritan Minister, Samuel Parish, had a slave woman named Tituba. He also had a daughter who was watched after by Tituba. Tituba wove stories in front of 6 girls in Salem centering around her brand of magic. She would tell stories, and I would presume the girls were infatuated with what they heard.
During the 1600’s everyone was deathly afraid of witches, because witchcraft was the work of the devil, and everyone was in constant questioning on if they were behaving well enough to be admitted into heaven. Every second any choice they made could damn them, that was the Puritan belief.
So, fear was on the rise, and eventually the girls began acting strange. Doctors would be called in, and if they could ever not determine the cause of a malady, they attributed it to witch craft. Such was the case here, and everyone needed to know who was afflicting the girls with these maladies. Thus began accusations.
During the trials, the girls (6 of them) were on the benches to testify against the accused. They would react violently, and unexplainably when certain accused took the stands. They would throw fits as if being attacked, they would scream. If the accused tilted their heads a certain way, all 6 girls tilted their heads the same way at the same time. The girls would claim they saw the accused appear to them late at night. They would say they saw the accused discussing things secretly with a stranger dressed all in black – believed to be the devil.
The trials continued, and the girls were recognized far and wide. In a world where women didn’t speak unless spoken to, this was unprecedented. The girls soaked up the attention, until eventually they accused the wrong person – I believe it was Governor Phip’s wife. The idea that innocents had been slain under the pretense of witchcraft spread, until eventually it was said that “It were better than ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned.” The trials ceased, and the six girls faded out of the spotlight. Out of all of them, only one apologized later for all the harm they had caused – Ann Putnam.
The girls could have honestly been possessed, they could have been enamored by the stories of Tituba, or simply drunk off of the attention.
Salem Witch Dungeon 16 Lynde St, Salem, MA 01970
The very first place we visited was a reputable museum called “Salem Witch Dungeon”, which has a website located at This Link as well as a Facebook Page. They are worthy of every 5 star review they receive. Admission is reasonable, I think Briana & I both paid a total of $18 to get in.
You are shown a reenactment of a trial on stage, and it contains reconstructed dialogue pulled from Court Transcripts. The acting is alright, but one doesn’t go there for the acting. I went for the history and the verbiage used in the trials, and was not disappointed.
After around 20 minutes, the reenactment will end, and you are encouraged to go downstairs to take pictures and learn more about the actual dungeons used in Salem.
Above is an assortment of the mounted pictures on the wall on the upstairs of the museum. Somehow, I seem to have missed #16, forgive me. Now, on to the actual dungeon. When a witch was accused, they were sent to the dungeon. An interesting fact about all of this is that they had different sized cells in which witches were held. One room was called a Coffin Cell, because it was large enough for one person to be in standing up. These were reserved for the poorest of Salem’s citizens, because if you were imprisoned, you were expected to pay for your detainment.
If you wanted new bedding, food, visitors — you could have them, but a price must be paid. And if you were hung, you too were expected to pay the Hangman’s fee. The larger cells could hold up to 110 people, though they were not designed to do so. People were packed in quite close, and there was the continual worry of scurvy, passing of bodily fluid, and exposure. Below, is such a shot that bears the actual dimensions of one of the ‘larger’ cells:
There were no lights in the cells, unless a jailer was coming down. Perpetual darkness was the accused reality. One girl plead guilty of witchcraft just so that she could be reunited with her mother, the girl was 4. Can you imagine?
Another poignant memory I retain, is that a woman was placed in Stocks – attached below is such an image of the device. She asked if she could please sit down. The person in authority, I believe it MAY have been Jonathan Corwin (will look up the info in my notes) said something along the lines of “You had strength enough to kill a man, you have strength enough to stand.”
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial – Liberty St, Salem, MA 01970
In 1992 – 300 years after the hangings – a memorial was built in Salem for the witches who were condemned.
The Memorial contains the names of the condemned, and there are all manner of tokens on the ‘benches’. There are pennies, coins, flowers, cards, momentos. There are letters written by hand, mainly I saw them on Rebecca Nurses memorial. Now, Rebecca Nurse is one of my personal favorites, as she was accused of witchcraft at 71. Some of her final words on the subject of her being accused :
“I can say before my Eternal father I am innocent, & God will clear my innocency.” Rebecca Nurse
Rebecca Nurse had oodles of children, and her son Benjamin was quite the honorable son. After his mother was hanged, he went out in secret to rescue her body for a proper burial. He rowed six miles in a boat to fetch it under cover of nightfall. His mother deserved dignity, and thank goodness for her son to have done this, lest she end up lying in a ditch as was wished by the courts.
Below are several shots from the memorial:
The most significant thing I’ll take away from these are the notes from their families. These were real people who suffered real injustice. Nearly 325 years later, we are still witch hunting anyone from the middle east. We need to remember that human life is sacred, no matter what fears we harbor. The entrance to the Memorial displays inscriptions from the condemned. They are as follows:
“For my life now lies in your hands”
“On my dying day, I am no witch”
“God knows I am innocent”
“Oh Lord help me”
“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness”
“If I would confess i should save my life”
“I do plead not guilty”
Gallows Hill – AKA: Proctor’s Ledge
There was a great lack of historians in 1690’s Salem, as such, the actual location of where the hangings took place was a point of much argument until the work of Sidney Perley made breakthroughs. I am not here to give information on that explicitly in this blog; if you want full details see This Link or watch This Video.
The short story is the location of the real hangings was determined by the work of Sidney Perley. The location was confirmed in 2012 by the Gallows Hill Project. It is behind a Walgreens, upon which was once the Bickford Pond. I will include several pictures of my trip to Gallows Hill. Enjoy them below, but keep in mind, these were taken at twilight, so quality is not optimal.
I pulled into the walgreens, and parked. Briana didn’t come with me right away. I approached the hill, and saw a bramble of trees, thick with foliage. After a moment, I discovered a well used trail leading up the hill. It was muddy but had been raining for several days. I made my way up the hill, and at its apex, was in the forested area where I firmly believe the hangings occurred. It was twilight by the time I arrived, and there were all manner of trees in the forest. Some were young, I have a belief that the older trees were cut down to make way for the row of houses that sat higher up the hill. However, I did feel a great heaviness on me. I did not feel threatened, but I did feel as though I were being watched. There were branches all over the place, logs, and fallen trees. There was a strange little cairn almost in the center of the woods. The air was cool, and I could taste the woods. It was sensational. I brought back a twig from one of the trees. Upon closer inspection, I found up the hill more part of what was once a wall. There was just a very clear, though nearly destroyed, stone wall. It was crumbling, yet it was still quite clear to see what it had been. My initial and conclusive thought was that past that wall is where things happened, and it was very easy to imagine the bodies being thrown down the side of the hill, where they would land in a crevasse at the bottom, alongside the pond where Walgreens now stands.
I took Briana up with me the second time, and she too shared that she felt a sense of overwhelmingness. She said she felt malevolence, not that spirits there were seeking vengeance on us, but that they were angry, but with complete right to be.
I ended up bringing a stone from the wall back with me, along with the twig/branch thingy. I don’t want to forget the feelings I had there. I stood on ground where 300 years prior, the hangings occurred. The history bled through the twisted roots, and saturated the soil with its yearnings to be heard. I will remember, because this was important. This was a lifetime of waiting. Salem.
I will never forget.
I hope that this entry has been informative, and entertaining for anyone who has read this. I appreciate comments, questions, and general discussion. I loved this trip. I love this history.