October is leaf-peeping month, and every October I take a trip to Maine to enjoy the colorful display of foliage. This year, at the suggestion of my dear friends Teresa and Joanie, we added a side trip to Salem, Massachusetts. There is no city more obsessed with witches than Salem, Mass., but what a difference three centuries have made.
Walking through the downtown district of Salem, nicknamed Witch City, visitors pass storefront after storefront of witch paraphernalia, psychic parlors and gift shops. To name just a sampling of the shops, you will find Bewitched in Salem, Hex: Old World Witchery, Omen, Artemisia Botanicals & Witches’ Weeds, and The Cat, The Crow & The Crown. The shops sell potions, magical curios, herbs, essential oils, and psychic readings. (A request to photograph the interior of one shop was met with a no and a reminder that they considered the shop a temple as well as a place of business. I can respect that.) Rev. Laurie Cabot, H.Ps., of The Cat, The Crow & The Crown distributes “The Witches Do’s & Dont’s” leaflet and a Witches’ Shopping List.
On the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall you can purchase a matching apron and pointed hat, spiced mead, and matches with witch logos. Whether the witch references are made in fun or in all seriousness, they are all accepted. Today the witch theme is light hearted and used abundantly, but there is no humor in the deaths of the Salem Witch Trial victims. To say that opinions have changed in the past three hundred years would be a severe understatement. Although the Salem Witch Trials were short-lived, they defined Salem, and it is still what comes to mind when you hear the name of the town. Nineteen innocent people were hanged on Gallows Hill, 14 women and 5 men, after they were tried and condemned for witchcraft during the 1692 witch trials. (Condemned witches were hanged in the US and burned in Europe.)
Charles W. Upham, a junior pastor of the First Church of Salem, wrote in 1831:
“The Witchcraft delusion of 1692 has attracted universal attention for the last century,and will, in all coming ages, render the name of Salem notable throughout the world.”
Pastor Upham was right. Salem is remembered for the witch trials, but it has also tried to make amends. “As years passed, apologies were offered, and restitution was made to the victims’ families” (www.SalemWitchMuseum.com). Next to Salem’s oldest cemetery now stands The Salem Witch Trial Memorial. The words of the condemned are etched in the stones, as well as their names and the dates of their executions. Six locust trees, representing the stark injustice of the trials, surround twenty benches with the victims’ names.
The Gordon College Institute show Cry Innocent, The People versus Bridget Bishop where the audience is the jury and hears historical testimonials and cross-examines the witnesses, and the actors respond in character, is the longest running show north of Boston. You can tour the Witch History Museum or take a historical walking tour whose guides “recount by lantern light actual haunted history as well as our encounters with supernatural Salem”.
We walked all over the downtown and waterfront district exploring shops and historical sites. As darkness descended and the air turned cold and blustery, we took refuge in The Old Spot pub, and warmed ourselves with Spanish Coffees. One of the local merchants told us that October is the busiest month in Salem. In all other months of the year, diners do not usually have to wait for a table at a local restaurant. In October, the wait for a table for dinner on the weekends can run up to 1 ½ hours. It was cold and windy on our day in Salem, but that made it spookier, which seemed appropriate.
Maine residents are often asked which week to come up to see the leaves. It changes every year and is nearly impossible to predict. Sometime in October is the best answer, when the nights turn cold and the leaves start to change color.
A windy, rainy day may blow the leaves off the trees and onto the ground, making leaf peeping more difficult. It all depends on the weather. I was lucky with one sunny day and one very rainy, windy day. Both days proved productive for sightseeing and photography. Many thanks to Teresa and Joanie for their companionship and entertainment ideas.
Salem Witch Museum; http://www.SalemWitchMuseum.com
City of Salem October events: www.Salem.org, www. HauntedHappenings.org
Cry Innocent: The People versus Bridget Bishop: http://www.Gordon.edu/HistoryAlive
The Witch House: http://www.WitchHouse.info
Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tours: www.SalemHistoricalTours.com
Ghost Tours: http://www.SpellboundTours.com
The Tavern in the Hawthorne Hotel: http://www.HawthorneHotel.com
The Old Spot Pub: http://www.TheOldSpot.com