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Salem – Trip 1

May 31st, 2006 · 1 Comment · Family Centered Living

Yesterday we travelled to Salem to see what we could turn up about my family tree. When we arrived in Salem, we headed for the Peabody Essex Museum, which houses many of the original documents related to the Witch Trials of 1692. First, we made a stop next door to the Visitor’s Center, run by the National Parks Service. I wanted to know if they had some good suggestions for things to see, places to start in order to get a good historical picture of the times. I was amazed at their ignorance – they directed us to all sorts of amusement-type attractions, but mentioned that I might also try the Phillips Library and the Nurse Homestead in nearby Danvers.

We did in fact head over to the Phillips library which was closed to visitors that day. Phillips is a research library specializing in genealogy and local history. While we were standing in front of the building taking down times (so we could make plans to return another day), one of the curators spotted us and invited us in. He asked what our interest was, and I explained that I was doing genealogical research. He was kind enough to let all 7 of us have a snoop around at some of the exhibits, including 3 hand-written depositions from the Witch Trials and some personal artifacts of principal players. We left with a handful of information and an invitation to return and an assurance that the research into my families was already done, and probably bound and ready to take on home!

We decided to have lunch and discuss where to look next. On the way to lunch, we took a slight detour to view the Witch Memorial. It was dedicated in 1992, the 300th anniversary of the Trials. The memorial was dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel. Situated at the edge of the Old Burying Point Cemetary, it is a beautiful contemplative spot comprised of a stone wall with 19 granite slab benches, each bearing the name of a victim. Down the center of the small park is a grassy strip planted with trees. I was touched by the flowers that had been lain on some of the benches. As you enter the space, you will notice several stone blocks inscribed with the final words of some of the victims. Truly moving

After our visit to the Memorial, we headed to lunch at a wonderful pizza shop on the Museum Place Mall. The pizza was fantastic, as was the service and the prices were right on (a surprise considering it’s location and proximity to tourist attractions). We decided to visit the Witch Museum after luncheon, based upon the brochures we’d collected from the Visitors Center. It looked like we might get an accurate portrayal of the events and hopefully some background information on the victims. I was gravely disappointed. After dropping $24 to get in, we walked up a flight of very dark stairs and into what used to be the sanctuary of a church. There is no handicapped access, in case you’re wondering. We were instructed to sit in our seats and wait for the presentation to begin. There followed a light and sound show with life-sized vignettes and an audio narration of the events of 1692. It was very brief and, consequently, not terribly informative. When the presentation ended, a young man entered the room and ushered us on to the next portion of the presentation. We were rushed through an exhibit called “Witches: Evolving Perceptions”. The presenter spoke as fast as any country auctioneer, slapped a few buttons on the wall activating more audio presentations and then tipped us out into the gift shop.

I found the second portion of the Witch Museum an offense to the memory of the men and women who were killed the summer of 1692. We were treated (and I use the term loosly) to an introduction to hollywood witches, followed by some solid information about Pagan Midwives, back to Hollywood, then on to a historical timeline of Witchcraft and Christianity. We finished with an explanation of modern witches and modern witch hunts. It had nothing to do whatsoever with the citizens of Salem Village, their lives, the reasons for the accusations, or their legacies. I’m sure they’d have been appalled – these are people who had nothing whatever to do with witches – real or imagined – and didn’t want to be associated with them. The “Museum” is nothing more than an amusement for tourists. Don’t waste your money.

If you want to know what really happened and to truly honor the victims of the Witch Hysteria, visit the Phillips Library and the Rebecca Nurse Homestead. The Towne family descendents have an association which meets annually. Check the Towne Family Association.

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