By Katelyn Billings
Known to locals as “Witch City,” Salem, Mass. is a bustling city filled with eerie history. This past Saturday, a group of Union students got to experience it for one whole day. A little over three hours away, Salem is filled with witch museums, haunted houses and plenty of shops and restaurants to explore. Student Forum President Richard Harris ‘14 came up with the idea for the Salem trip.
“I initially thought of Salem because I heard that it was fun around Halloween, and I brought up the idea to the Student Forum who thought it sounded great,” said Harris.
“I thought we’d have a pretty good turnout, but it turned out being much greater than I thought. Our sign-up filled in just a few hours.”
He also added, “Last year was the first time we planned a Halloween trip, and we went to Frightfest at Six Flags Great Escape. It went well and we had quite a few students go, but the interest was tepid. So this year I wanted to do something a little more exciting.”
And exciting it was! Everyone was wide-eyed as the bus pulled into the Witch City with the old museums and cathedrals coming into view.
Founded in 1626 by Roger Conant and his fishermen crew, Salem was made famous for its witch trials in 1692. Over 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and dark magic, and 20 were eventually executed as a result of these prejudiced trials.
The witch-hunt hysteria began when the daughters of Reverend Parris, Abigail and Elizabeth, began having fits and tantrums wherein they would scream, contort themselves and throw things. Their doctor blamed the supernatural, and, under pressure from Judge John Hathorne, the girls began accusing women in the town of possessing them with the Devil.
March 1, 1692 was the first day of the witch-trials, and as a result of bigoted judgment and scapegoating, three women were arrested on account of witchcraft. The incarceration of Sarah Good, Sarah Osbourne and Tituba (an African slave) sent the town into a frenzy, and out of fear of being accused, everyone turned on each other.
The paranoia escalated and when loyal churchgoer Martha Corey was charged, the people of Salem assumed that anyone in town could be a witch.
Accusations turned into a method of enacting revenge, or expressing hatred. Many promiscuous women, beggars and widows were accused of being witches simply because of their reputations.
During the trials, the accused witch was thoroughly questioned by Hathorne and presented with the evidence levied against him or her. The use of “spectral evidence” was most prominent in these trials. Spectral evidence was the label given to personal accounts of dreams and visions in which the accused performed witchcraft and suspicious deeds.
There was no tangible proof on which to base the court ruling on; thus, spectral evidence ran rampant in the Salem courthouse. The mania of 1692 resulted in the innocent citizens of Salem being sentenced to death on Gallow’s Hill, pressed to death under layers of rock and leaving noble family names ruined. It wasn’t until 1957 that the state of Massachusetts formally apologized for the events and tragedies of 1692.
Now, the city vibrantly celebrates the history of witches in Salem, putting on one of the most spectacular annual Halloween festivals. Stepping off of the tour bus and onto Salem’s cobblestone streets was like walking out of Union and into the set of Halloweentown. Every rustic building was decorated in Halloween style, and even the townspeople and tourists were dressing up in costumes and getting into the spirit.
If Halloween is one of your favorite holidays, you definitely need to visit Salem in October. There are plenty of haunted mazes, costume stores, psychic readings and cider donuts to keep you fueled for a day of festivities.
Some of the more scary attractions include Frankenstein’s Laboratory and the Haunted Witch Village. But if you are more of a history buff, there are many museums that showcase the witch trials and Salem’s town history.
Salem is also widely known for its famous resident, Nathaniel Hawthorne. If you are one of those people who enjoyed the author’s The Scarlet Letter, based in Puritan Salem, there is a grand tour of Hawthorne’s home in which he wrote both The Scarlet Letter, and the House of Seven Gables.
For anyone who read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in high school, the Salem Witch Wax Museum is just for you. Most people did not know that the characters in Miller’s play were actually real people, and seeing their posed wax figures really brings his story, and the history of the trials, to life.
In addition to Salem’s witchy history, an old TV Land hit series from the ‘60s, Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York, was actually filmed and based in Salem. The show centered on a young witch named Samantha who tries to live a suburban life despite the fact that she is a witch. It was a huge success, and there is a bronze statue of Montgomery in town.
Salem, Mass. is a town full of history and tourist attractions that will undoubtedly put anyone in the highest of Halloween spirits.I highly encourage anyone who loves Halloween, or is curious about Salem’s history, to visit the charming city and have a bewitchingly good time.
If any student has an idea for a bus trip somewhere off campus, Harris would like the student body to know that his e-mail is always open to suggestions that he can pass along to the Student Forum. He can be reached at [email protected].