Here is a destination of historical interest, situated on the Massachusetts Bay, U.S., says K. KUNHIKRISHNAN.
She haunts Salem -- the witch.
OUT walking one day along a well-maintained pathway on the banks of the Charles River in Boston, U.S., my son suggested a weekend trip to the historic city of Salem. The trip turned out to be memorable.
Salem in Massachusetts, 17 miles northeast of Boston, is a colourful coastal city with a diverse population and a bewitching seaport. Its art and architectural treasures and history have all been well showcased. Examples of Georgian, Greek Revival, and Colonial Revival style architectural buildings are abundant. They were built for ship owners, sea captains and merchants.
Founded in 1624, Salem is one of the oldest settlements of Europeans. Its original name was "Naumkeake". The name "Salem", an adaptation of Shalom, means peace. But the city did not have a history of peace! It has a rich maritime heritage and an impressive display of historic architecture with original 18th Century furnishings, and amazing stories spanning across four centuries. America's first millionaires lived in Salem. They made their money in overseas trade, as the town became known around the world as a centre of merchant shipping and Chinese trade. The legacy of their wealth, can be seen on Salem's streets in the forms of incomparable architecture and unique museums.
The `witch trials'
The city is globally known today for a seven-month episode in 1692, known as the "Witch Trials". The infamous witchcraft trials led to 20 deaths and three centuries of disrepute, and countless lessons on the evils of prejudice. Unable to erase the bad patch of history, the city has embraced it and is really making capital out of it in a big way. While the rest of the world long finished the celebration of Halloween, the oldest of religious holidays, starting October 31, Salem has a month-long magical festival that blends the traditional autumn celebrations with exciting Bizarre Bazaar, and Salem Haunted Happenings, right till the end of the month. From July 4 onwards, the city began year long (200th birth centenary) celebrations of one of America's most renowned writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables.
The festival of Halloween
The festival of Halloween, celebrated all over the world, has its origins going back to thousands of years. It is one of the oldest holidays and has over the centuries many influences from many cultures. The Roman's Pomona Day, to the Celtic Festival of Samhain and the Christian holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days have all blended into the present holiday of Halloween.
The Celts worshipped nature and had many Gods, with the Sun God as their favourite. They celebrated their new year on November 1 to mark the end of the season of the sun and the beginning of the "Season of darkness and cold". It was also the end of the cropping and harvest season.
On October 31, cooking fires in homes would be extinguished and the Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet on the hill top under the sacred oak trees, light new fires and would dance around it offering sacrifice of crops and animals. In the morning, Druids would give an ember from their sacred fire to each family who would take it home and light a new fire, to keep their homes from evil spirits and celebrate Samhain, while dancing and parading in colourful costumes.
The House Of Seven Gables
When the Romans invaded Britain during the First Century they brought with them their festivals and one of them was Pomona day, named after their goddess of fruits and gardens and celebrated on November 1. After hundreds of years of Roman rule, the customs of Samhain and the Pomona merged and became a major holiday. With the spread of Christianity, the Roman Catholic church would make November 1 as a church holiday to honour all saints, which became All Saints Day or Hallowmas or All Hallows. Years later the church assigned All Souls Day on November 2 to honour the dead. It was celebrated with bonfires, parades and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils. Later, customs of all the holidays mixed and October 31 became known as All Hallow Even and eventually All Hallows Eve, Hallowe'en and, ultimately, a contracted Halloween. Present day celebrations include apples, nuts and harvest (of Pomona), and black cats, magic, evil spirits and death (of Samhain) and the ghosts, skeletons and skulls of All Saints and Souls' Days. The dead are believed to return to their earthly homes during Halloween. Many families construct an altar to the dead and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs and food, drinks and fresh water. People would make preparations and light up lamps by carving pumpkins.
Pumpkin carving is the most popular part of America's Halloween festival. Despite the widespread pumpkin carvings and the Jack O' lantern made out of them, nobody knows the history of the tradition. Salem, being the witch city, everything about it has a "spell". It is only natural that it has the longest and spectacular Halloween festival associated with witches and spirits. Even the sports teams of schools are called "The Witches" and the daily Evening News has a logo of the silhouette of a witch.
It was Roger Conant who founded Salem in 1626. He and his family devoted their lives to develop the colony of settlers sent by the Massachusetts Bay Company into a town despite disease and depression. Because of its strategic location, it became active in coastal shipping and the triangular trade across the Atlantic. Its early settlers also harvested the sea as the waters nearby were teeming with cod, mackerel and flounder and fishing provided an attractive alternative to farming the rocky New England soil. Local merchants began sending vessels laden with salted fish and other exports to West Indies and Europe. This lucrative trade was affected by the early years of the French and Indian wars (1689-1713). Later the trade revived and Salem's maritime activity and prosperity grew to unprecedented heights.
The American Revolution
The American Revolution disrupted Salem's shipping business again. It was in Salem that the first bloodshed occurred during the war. After the war during 1780 and 1820, Salem merchants began trading in new ports as far away as China, India, Russia, Sumatra, Africa and South America. Salem became synonymous with overseas luxury trade. "East India Trade" resulted in rich rewards to Salem's merchants. Fortunes were made with the imports of silk, porcelain, pepper and vanilla. It was Nathaniel Bowditch, famous mathematician, astronomer and author, who in 1773, published a most remarkable scientific book in early America, through his New American Practical navigator. His success in science is unparalleled. He built his own navigational instruments and set up insurance companies in Salem and Boston. He contributed significantly to the industrialisation and to the development and economy of the region. His house, The Nathaniel Bowditch House, now relocated in the North Street, is a national historic landmark and tourist attraction.
The other attractions of the city are the Salem Maritime National Historic site including the Custom House, where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked. Derby House and The House of Seven Gables, described as an American masterpiece, on which the celebrated writer based his novel. It is the oldest surviving mansion in New England. The childhood home of Alexander Graham Bell's Assistant famous Assistant Thomas Watson is in Salem. It was in Lyceum Hall on Church Street, Salem, that the first public demonstration of the telephone took place in 1877. Another historic site is the Hamilton Hall built in 1805 and the site of social gatherings. The Pickering Warf and the Peabody & Essex Museum are sites that any visitor would enjoy. The Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest operating Museum in the U.S. was established in 1792 by 22 sea captains who wanted to display their souvenirs of exotic locales. Some 30 galleries present an astonishing variety of artefacts: ship models and nautical equipment, decorative arts and art materials, furniture, and religious items from Asia and Africa.
The most remarkable and the best-visited sights in Salem are associated with historic witchcraft trails. They all revisit the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, witchcraft and the phenomenon of witch-hunts: Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, Salem Witch Village, Witch Dungeon Museum, Witch History Museum and the Witch House. The famous play "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller is also based on the Salem witchcraft trials. For conducting research for the play, he had stayed in the Hawthorne Hotel, another tourist site.
The Salem Witch Museum -- an insight into the trials.
Witchcraft was widespread in Europe and America during the 17th Century. It all began in January 1692, when a group of adolescent girls began to show strange and bizarre behaviour. They had convulsive seizures, blasphemous screaming and trance-like state of mind. When they were questioned, they accused several women of being witches who were tormenting them. The physicians who examined them could not diagnose any physical malady and it was concluded that it must be the work of Satan and witches! The after-effects of this incident are one of the darkest chapters of appalling and shameful cruelty on innocent lives in American history. Voluminous work has been undertaken to identify the causative factors of the Salem Witch trials and many social, economic, political and religious factors have been identified, besides elements of personal vendetta and jealousy. The deadly consequences of sensational and false charges eternally smeared the face of a beautiful village.
The Salem Witch Museum, which gives the comprehensive picture of the trials, has 13 stage sets and the presentation is based on actual trial documents and enables the visitor to re-live spine chilling history with the testimony of the hysterical girls, the sufferings of the blameless victims, and the decisions of the fanatic judges who punished innocent people to death.
The curator told this writer that on an average nearly 1,200 people watch the shows and visit the museum. The seating capacity is for 60. The whole of Salem now flourishes on the merchandise of a historic tragedy, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world all through the year.
Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.
Location: 17 miles north-east of Boston.
Four miles North West of Marblehead.
Commuter trains from North Station; takes 30 to 35 minutes. Round trip $6. One-way: $2.75.
Peabody Logan (Boston International Air Port) Express departs every half an hour.
Bus No. 450 from Haymarket (Orange or Green line)
Though the frequency of train is less than that of buses, train journey is advisable.
By Car: Routes 1, 1A or I-93. From the South routes I-95/128 or I-93.
www.northofboston.org, 17 Peabody Square, Peabody, MA 01960.
National Park Services Regional Visitor Center
21 New Liberty Street, Salem.
59 Wharf Street, Salem.
Salem Trolley-one hour conducted tour with 15 stops. Can get down, walk and re-enter at any point. $10 per adult.
Coach House Inn, La Fayatte Street (rates from $80 to $155).
Hawthorne Hotel, On the Common: Washington Square.
(Rates from $104 onwards. Discounts available.
Salem Inn, 7, Summer Street (rates from $119 onwards).
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