Sunday 10 October 2010

Day 44 – Which Is Witch?

On our way out of Maine this morning we popped into the town of Freeport on the promise of a giant boot. The flagship store of outfitters L.L.Bean is located here and outside it sits the large footwear. Unfortunately it was neither that large or well made; just a big, plastic boot. We moved swiftly on, leaving Maine behind (where I was able to get a better ‘Welcome to Maine’ sign) and after a quick hop back through New Hampshire we arrived in state number 29, Massachusetts.

A word of advice, if you’re going to visit a town whose rich history is all to do with witches, it’s probably best not to go in October unless you like crowds of people. With it’s proximity to Halloween, today marked a busy weekend in the city of Salem. After searching for somewhere to park for almost an hour (they make every street for about a mile radius ‘resident parking only’ during October), we took refuse in a Dunkin Donuts for a very unhealthy lunch.

Finding the guts to get back out on the manic streets we had two hours to kill before our timed tour at the Salem Witch Museum. I imagine most weeks of the year Salem is quite a sleepy town that gets as much tourist business as most sleepy towns we’ve been to so far, but it seems the bewitching month brings out the kooks.
One legitimately impressive thing the city has is the second oldest cemetery in the US. The Burying Ground dates back to 1637 and includes a grave from someone who came over on the Mayflower. It also has the grave of John Hathorne, one of the judges in the Salem witch trials.
John Hathorne has another famous connection to the town though; his great-great-grandson is author Nathaniel Hawthorne (who changed the spelling of his surname, some speculate to dissociate himself with the crimes of his ancestor). Hawthorne was born in Salem and worked at the Custom House; which is still standing. His most well-known piece of work was ‘The Scarlet Letter’.
Waiting around we got surrounded in a crazy Zombie walk and were happy to finally get to go into the Salem Witch Museum. We were hoping the long wait would pay-off, but to be honest it was a letdown. It’s not so much a museum as a voiceover retelling the story of the witch trials with wax models. It’s not what I was expecting, but apparently Joe hadn’t got his hopes up, so he got to do his ‘I told you so’ routine.
Overall, Salem would have been a cool little stop on this trip, but the amount of tourists there made it a bit unbearable. It looks great decorated in the Halloween theme, but it also seemed weird that a town would celebrate, and almost mock, the tragic history of what happened there. The truth is, The Salem Witch Trials were about innocent people being persecuted; 19 people were hung because a group of young girls got carried away accusing their neighbors of witchcraft – likely just out of boredom. I have mixed feelings about this being exploited in such a tacky way I guess. Though I’m sure when France opens a ‘Joan of Arc Amusement Park’, we’ll be first in line…
We bid the haunted happenings of Salem ‘goodbye’ and made the long trek back to our car. Along the way we walked by the replica of the Friendship ship in dock. The Maritime National Historic Site is one of the oldest seaports in America. We didn’t hang around though as it was getting late and time to find our hotel and some dinner. No easy task on a Sunday night in this neck of the woods apparently…
So, until tomorrow…

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