When I think of the witch trials of Salem, I used to wonder how people could give in to mass hysteria like that. Are there really people so dangerous in the midst of society that we have to kill them to prevent them hurting us? Now I think about capital punishment, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the handful of people in the US who tested positive for the Ebola virus. Mass hysteria is still going strong in the United States. Tom read a quote from George Carlin to me the other day, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” The Salem witch trials were one more example of this.
Of course, we have to consider that 1692 was a different time (although probably the same percentage of stupid per capita). People were more superstitious in general. The medicine they practiced was as much based on superstition as it was on scientific fact. Most of their children died before they reached adulthood. They got most of their news “word of mouth”, and we know how reliable that can be.
Anyway, we followed the red line, the Heritage Trail, as we walked through Salem so we would see all the sights, historical and touristy. We started at the Visitor Center, in the center of town, and then followed the red line to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, where we saw graves dating back to the 1637. We looked at the Witch Trials Memorial, where there are stones in memory of the 19 people who were killed after being accused of witchcraft. We walked to the Derby Wharf and admired the ship “Friendship”: a replica of a merchant ship from 1797. We took pictures at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site sign. We saw the Custom House where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked and looked at the house where he was born as well as the House of the Seven Gables, which inspired his story by that name. We also spent quite a bit of time in the Witch House, the only building you can tour still standing from the 1600’s. It has the best historical report of the witch trials in Salem. We read all the historical plaques around town and ended up back where we began.
It was an interesting visit to Salem. It was the third time I had been there, and every time I go it gets more touristy. Most of the shops were catering to the tourists – candy, souvenirs, restaurants – and it looked like most of them were thriving (or at least busy). Salem is worth the trip, but you might want to go soon, because who knows what it will be like in another ten years!