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Saturday, November 27, 1999 - 12:00pm by Lolo
28 miles and 0.75 hours from our last stop
It's always difficult maneuvering a motorhome through an unfamiliar city and Salem with its narrow streets was particularly a challenge. Herb's back was killing him this trip--he had sciatica pain almost constantly shooting down his leg--and I don't think I particularly improved the situation when I navigated him down a dead end street right next to the famous "House of the Seven Gables." I was really excited to see that the house that Hawthorne wrote about really existed, and I was busy counting its gables--just to make sure--when Herb interrupted my reverie with a rather abrupt command to "Get me out of here." I guess he never read the book. Not wanting to press my luck, I jumped out of the RV and helped him back out onto Derby Street.
We managed to find a more appropriate place to park and set off on foot to explore the historic section of Salem. There were plenty of museums and historic homes to visit, and even just walking along the historic waterfront looking at the old captains' houses was fun. However, although Salem was an active seaport in its day, its claim to fame will always be as the place where in 1692 twenty "witches" were put to death. Rather than being ashamed of their past, the town of Salem embraces it, and there are several witch-associated attractions highlighting this 7-month period of witchcraft hysteria.
Next to the Commons, we came across an old church that now houses the Salem Witch Museum, a definite must-see when in Salem. The museum was both informative and a bit frightening, especially in view of the fact that the witch hysteria is not just a scary story, but something that actually occurred. The museum has a very large room with life-size displays that are lit and narrated in sequence. There are dramatic scenes tracing the hysteria that ripped through this small village in the late 1600s--scenes of accusations, scenes from the irrational and unjust trials, and even reenactments of the gruesome executions. The scene which left the most lasting impression on us was one of a man being pressed to death by rocks piled on a board on his chest. When asked to confess to being a witch or having more rocks piled on, his brave, hoarse response was "More weight." It's amazing to think that something like this could actually have occurred in America.
There was a lot more to do in Salem, but we wanted to go a little further up the coast to Gloucester before it got dark.
Salem is located along the coast about 17 miles northeast of Boston. Settled in 1624, it is most famous for the witch trials which were held here in 1692. During a 7-month period of witchcraft trial hysteria, 20 supposed witches were put to death. Today, rather than dissociate itself from its past, Salem embraces it, and there are many witch-associated attractions. The historic district of Salem extends from the waterfront well inland. While most of the old sea captains lived near the water, their employees built their homes away from the water. Many of them lived on Chestnut Street, which has been preserved as a registered National Historic Landmark. Some things to see and do in historic Salem:
- The House of the Seven Gables - the home that inspired Nathanial Hawthorne's novel
- Moby Duck Tour - 50-minute amphibious tour of the streets of the city and the harbor
- Salem Maritime National Historic Site - includes Derby Wharf, the tall ship Friendship, and Central Wharf
- Peabody Essex Museum - the nation's oldest museum, founded in 1799 by a group of sea captains and merchants that wanted to house the "natural and artificial curiosities" brought back from their travels to foreign lands
- Salem 1630: Pioneer Village - re-creation of a 1600s Puritan village staffed by costumed interpreters
- Salem Witch Museum - this museum brings you back in time to the witchcraft hysteria of Salem 1692. A series of dramatic stage sets with life-size figures are sequentially lit and narrated. The program lasts approximately 30 minutes.
Salem location map