Introduction & Founding of Salem
Salem, a city on the coast of Massachusetts was one of the most prominent sea ports in the New World. Settlers came to Salem in 1626 and named it “Salem” an Arabic derivative meaning “peace”. That name is extremely ironic because the future of Salem would be dramatically opposite, and the town became home to some of the most disturbing historical occurrences in American History.
Salem Witch Trials
The witch craze of 1692 began when Betty Parris and Abigail Williams began experiencing what Minister John Hale described as, “fits beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural disease to effect.” However, the girls could’ve simply been playing for attention (as children do quite frequently), or perhaps they really were experiencing some kind of seizures caused by something (read below for possible explanations). The girls threw themselves about the room, had body contortions and convulsions, made strange screams and noises and claimed of physical pain: being pricked and pinched all over. A doctor looked at them and concluded that there were no physical signs of ailment. After this mass hysteria stormed over the settlement. Many claimed to be afflicted and several women were accused of hexing the first two accusers: Tituba, a slave from South America who was “owned“ by Betty Parris’s family (she was the first accused), Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. The accused were all accused of witchcraft for many reasons. It was either personal motivation from the “bewitched victims”, mass hysteria, paranoia, self interest, and bigotry. For example: Tituba was likely accused because she was ethnically different than the others, Sarah Osborne rarely attended church, which in Puritan Times, was very frowned upon. Over two-hundred people were accused, thirty were convicted, and out of those 19 were executed. At least five people died in jail. Disturbingly, all of the executions were done by hanging (which is better than burning like Europe had done) except one, Giles Corey, an 81 year old man who died by being crushed to death by boulders. The Salem settlers were so mad that they convicted someone as young as five years old, who plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. The absurdity in Salem went even further, they executed two dogs because of witchcraft as well.
Explanations & Theories
As we know from history, witchcraft was not what took place in Salem that caused such panic. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that those afflicted by the “witchcraft” were faking their illnesses. There are many explanations and theories as to what happened there.
- Mass hysteria
- Personal vendettas between accusers and the accused
- Rye ergot, a fungus that causes hallucinations and illness
Industry In Salem
Industry in Salem goes beyond fishing, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie was started in the 1800’s and is the oldest candy company in America. Salem’s most lucrative products in trade in Colonial America were black pepper and spices. The Parker Brothers, the makers of so many popular board games, were born and raised in Salem. The first elephant ever brought to America was bought in Africa for $500, then purchased by the Barnum family for $10,000.
On our trolley tour of Salem, even though it was only an hour and a half, we learned a lot of interesting (and odd) facts about the city as we went. One thing was emphasized time and time again while stopping at different sites: Salem has a lot of simplicity in the naming of its landmarks.
One of our first stops was Dead Horse Beach, and can you guess why it was named that? Yes, Salem simplicity: it was a beach for dead horses. In 1914, there was a giant fire in Salem and two dozen horses perished in the inferno. The horses were given a burial at the beach, but disturbingly enough, years later corpses and body parts of the horses washed up while people were at the beach (yikes).
Another stop was Corner Beach, and I asked the guide, "is it because its in a corner?" And the answer is: yes it was named that because it was in a corner.
There is a certain creepy atmosphere that surrounds the entire town of Salem. Perhaps one feels uneasy because throughout the town there are many unmarked mass graves. While on the trolley tour we were told that the last execution to tale place in Salem took place at the now Winter Island Camp Ground... creepy. To make matters worse, the execution was of a 16 year old who was convicted of arson: he set fire to a barn in the area. Disturbingly, where he was hanged is now the site of the camp ground playground. We also stopped to an apartment complex which used to be the site of a tuberculosis hospital. So many patients died and were buried in mass graves under the hospital. When the hospital was demolished for the building of an apartment complex, workers accidentally dug up many bodies of patients that died from TB. The mayor deemed it unethical for the bodies to all be dug up. He advised workers to not disturb the graves and leave the bodies there. So, the apartment complex is built on the remains of dozens of bodies. That story in particular is reminiscent of the Poltergeist. When we parked the car in the visitor lot at the beginning of the day before we passed by an old church and we noticed many graves in the front yard. They were only inches apart, and we wondered how on earth there was enough room for coffins under the graves.
Old Burying Point Cemetery
Haunted Sites & Legends
The Hawthorne Hotel is thought to be one of the most haunted hotels in the country. The hotel was named after Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The House of Seven Gables, and The Scarlet Letter. The hotel was opened in 1925 and was built on the land that was once an orchard belonging to Bridget Bishop: one of the first women executed for witchcraft. The land is thought to be cursed because of its connections to its previous owner and her violent killing. People claim to hear strange noises, see mysterious lights and ghostly apparitions. Many claim that doors have been open and shut, faucets turned on, lights flickers or turning on and off, and random objects falling out of nowhere. Room 612 and 325 are said to be the most haunted rooms in the entire hotel. The Hawthorne is one of Stephen King’s hotel inspirations for his breakthrough novel, later turned film, The Shining. My friend and I infiltrated the hotel to get photos and footage to get the scoop if it really was haunted. We (unfortunately) lied to the front desk clerks and said our friend was staying on the top floor. We were suave, played it off and got access to the elevator. After going to the top floor, we explored every floor one by one. I had an extra button down shirt that matched my outfit so I took it off and hid my camera with it so that no one would be suspicious and ask us to leave since we didn’t have a reservation.
My Salem Experience
After a nearly four hour car ride, my friend and I parked the car in a lot and set out on foot to explore. We mainly walked around taking photos and portraits on my Canon camera. We passed all the historic sites, museums, statues and land marks, and made reservations at Turner’s Seafood, which interestingly enough, Alexander Graham Bell the famous inventor of the telephone and prominent scientist, gave a lecture in that same building. We passed by the Salem arch which President George Washington visited, learned about pillar humiliation on the trolley tour and learned a very strange fact: many of the old houses had extremely wide doors in order to carry coffins in and out of. Back then, parlor rooms were used for wakes and funerals and had the unofficial name, the “death room”. People were unnerved by this and stopped this practice and renamed it the “living room”, a starkly opposite name to combat the former usage of the room. The actual site of the executions is a rocky hillside strangely behind what is now a Walgreens. In 2017, on a college trip to Salem I did my own thing and explored alone. I went to the real execution site and there was such a melancholy feeling behind it. This visit was no different. The rocky hill still felt gloomy. We took many photos and videos and caught what appears to be orbs.
Orbs Photographed at Execution Site
Disclaimer: the article itself is copyright as well as the photos (which are all photographed by me). Photos not belonging to me will be made clear in the captions. Please do not use photos without my express permission.
Salem In Pop Culture
Salem is represented in pop culture time and time again and is an inspiration for many halloween films, shows, books, etc.. Salem is represented in the popular halloween favorite, Hocus Pocus, and there is a statue of Samantha from the hit series Bewitched. The 1953 play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller is inspired by the Salem Witch Trials.
Is Salem Haunted?
© 2020 Elijah DeVivo