Can you believe it’s that time of year again? I have to admit, it really caught me unaware and totally unprepared. It seems like just yesterday I was writing about…HALLOWEEN!!!!! Having the very good fortune of living close to but not in Salem during the month of October makes for some fun excursions. We went on a Haunted Night Walking Tour. We figured after living here for nearly 20 years, it was about time. It was actually a mosey through and around the downtown Salem homes and buildings. I was really hoping to get a tour through a the haunted historical houses but the we were limited to standing outside the creepy buildings while our Ghoul regaled us with the history of the building we were standing in front of in a semi-British accent he used only when talking about the buildings. Directions and traffic alerts were barked out in a very precise Massachusetts accent. I think we were quite a sight–a large group of tourists craning our necks at the windows to see if the curtains shifted or if there was anything like this peering out:
We walked past two notorious cemeteries. Howard Street Cemetery is famous for the grisly murder of Giles Corey during the Salem Witch hysteria in 1692. Poor Mr. Corey was the only person to be “pressed” to death–a gruesome ordeal of death by being sandwiched between two wooden boards while the prosecutors pile on boulders until the accused confesses. Mr. Corey never confessed nor begged for mercy because either action would forfeit his property to the city. Instead, his only utterance when repeatedly questioned of witchcraft was, “More weight!” until, after three days and several hundred pounds of rocks, he died. Rumor has it that Giles Corey placed a curse on the town with his last breath and there have been many reports of seeing his ghost travel up and down Howard Street. I asked this fellow if he’d ever heard of such a thing, but he disappeared before I could hear his answer.
One of the most famous cemeteries in Salem is The Old Burying Point. It is the oldest cemetery in Salem and the second oldest known cemetery in the United States. “Witch Hanging Judges” Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne (relative to Nathaniel Hawthorne–who changed his name to distance himself from his relative) are buried here along with Governor Simon Bradstreet, two passengers on the Mayflower, a few of the accused, a small pox victim and a poor fellow who was thrown from a horse to name a few of the inhabitants. From the cemetery you can walk into the Witch Trials Memorial, an area designated for reflection on the horrors of the hysteria when in 1692, 14 women and 6 men were tried, convicted and executed for witchcraft. The names and quotes of the accused are carved into 20 granite benches and the site is a harsh reminder of a regrettable time. I returned to The Burying Point during daylight because it was impossible to see the gravestones at night. All of the grave markers are hand-carved and believe me, they are creepier in daylight because you can see the etchings on the tops of the stones.
They certainly didn’t believe in sugar-coating the afterlife back in the 1700s. I mean, you have a pretty clear image of what’s going on by looking at this marker.
These grave stones are a form of art and, unfortunately, some are breaking apart or crumbling away after almost 400 years.
I decided to walk around more cheerful venues after spending an evening and the following day in the old cemeteries of Salem. It is certainly lively but this time of year I am loathe to find any cheerfulness unless you find yourself smiling happily about skulls.
It is definitely The Year of The Skull for Halloween 2011.
Last but certainly not least,