Salem, Massachusetts is undoubtedly best known for its relation to witches and its deadly witch trials… Such a history, naturally, calls out to The Velvet Rocket team and so when two of us recently found ourselves in Massachusetts, it was perhaps inevitable that we would pass through this infamous town.
I shall not bother to rehash the history of the event as many already know about it and those that do not can Google it to learn all about the entire disgraceful affair in great detail.
I shall simply observe that the Salem Witch Trials should serve as a reminder of the dangers of mass hysteria (ahem, modern America) and of the regrettable need to be on guard against the all too common jealousy, spite and petty need for attention that drives human behavior (as most represented by the accusers Betty Parris and Abigail Williams – may there names live on in infamy – in this case).
Now, as can be expected for a town with this history and in this location, there are numerous tourist traps of the “Dungeon of Terror” variety. However, one can easily avoid these and there is a lot more to Salem than just witches…
The Salem of today:
In fact, many of the sites associated with the Salem Witch Trials no longer exist. One notable exception can be found in the former home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges in the witch trials:
The home is now known as the “Witch House” in Salem:
Another site of significance is the old cemetery in Salem. There are a number of historically significant figures buried here, including Colonel John Hathorne, another one of the witchcraft judges:
Next to the cemetery is a small memorial to the twenty that were murdered and the nearly two hundred that were accused in the witch hysteria:
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am somewhat biased in regard to the witch trials as two relatives of mine were among those accused and sentenced to death. One of these, John Proctor, was hanged on August 19th, 1692.
His wife, Elizabeth Thorndike (my other relative), who was pregnant at the time of the trial, was given a reprieve until after she gave birth. This had the fortunate effect of permitting her to live long enough that the hysteria had ebbed by the time she gave birth and she was ultimately released.
Interestingly, it was actually Elizabeth that was the first target of the mob. However, when John defended her and condemned her accusers, he made himself a target as well. John Proctor’s efforts to question the validity of “spectral” evidence against him and his wife during their trial were not successful and he and Elizabeth were found guilty on August 5th, 1692.
It is an interesting coincidence that John Proctor happened to be a wealthy man. It is an even more interesting coincidence that while John and Elizabeth were still in jail, the local sheriff helped himself to the family estate. Their cattle were sold off, the liquid contents of the tavern they owned were soon drained away and even their household belongings were carted off. Could the sheriff and his cronies that benefited from this
theft “confiscation” of assets perhaps have had a conflict of interest?
It should be noted that these actions did not just harm John Proctor and Elizabeth Thorndike, but it also left their children with no means of support.