A Lesson in Tolerance

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Victoria and I have both been looking forward to our visit to Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is steeped in history from its initial role as one of the world’s largest seaports to its renowned federal-style architecture and more infamously as the site of the Salem Witch Trials.

Salem of course is the location of the first and only witch trials in the United States, as portrayed by Arthur Miller in The Crucible. Since this is Salem’s calling card, a great portion of our day focused on the witch hunt and subsequent trials. In addition, I found it was very important to reflect a bit on what these trials meant to America and the hysteria (pardon the pun) that ensued because of things we, as humans, can’t explain.

Our first stop was the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. The memorial was designed as an important reminder of the lessons of tolerance and understanding learned from the trials. It is simple but quite moving in that the architects let the victim’s pleas speak for themselves.

As you enter the memorial the stone threshold is inscribed with the victim’s protest of innocence covered and interrupted by the memorials walls to symbolize society’s indifference to oppression. In addition, six locust trees, the last trees to flower and the first to lose their leaves which represent the stark injustice of the trials. At the rear of the memorial, visitors view the tombstones of the adjacent 17th century Charter Street Burying Point, a reminder of all who stood in mute witness to the hysteria. Twenty granite benches cantilevered from a low stone wall surrounding an area adjoining the Old Burying Point. The benches are inscribed with the name of the accused and the means and date of execution.

The trail then led us to the Witch House which is a historical representation of the houses of that time, and is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. The house was home to Judge Jonathan Corwin who was called upon to investigate the claims of witchcraft. He served on the court, which ultimately sent nineteen to the gallows. All nineteen refused to admit to witchcraft and maintained their innocence. The house features many relics of the day and represents a beautiful example of a well-suited home from the period.

We continued our walk to some other historic homes in the town. First was Hamilton Hall which is on what some have called the “most beautiful street in America” Chestnut Street. This public hall was used for dances and meetings and features one of the most beautiful dance floors of the time.

Next, was the oldest home in Salem, called the Pickering House, built in 1651 and finally, it was on to the house that inspired the book The House of the Seven Gables written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. He never lived however it was owned by his cousin but he spent a lot of time there. We decided to skip the property tour as it cost $12 each, and we could see the seven gables from the sidewalk.

Our last stop on this Salem tour was the Salem Witch Museum. There were two parts of this attraction. The first was an interactive wax museum featuring scenes and a menacing Vincent Price like voice describing the horrors of each scene – surprisingly cool though the presentation was a bit outdated. The second part was a more traditional museum that highlights witches in popular culture and more recently as a recognized religion.

We really enjoyed our walk around Salem learning so much about the famous witch trials. The only thing that could have made our trip better is if was closer to Halloween.

To schedule your trip, or to learn more about these attractions, visit the Salem Visitors Bureau here