Salem is a strange place.
The town is known for the witch trials that took place there in 1692. My understanding of the basic storyline (after visiting two museums in Salem) is the following:
The people of Salem were strict puritans; they had strong religious beliefs, for example girls were not allowed to partake in ‘frivolous’ activities such as playing or befriending boys. Girls were supposed to learn housework and help out around the house. Within this context, the girls of Salem were clearly bored out of their minds and looking for excitement.
The excitement was provided by Tituba, a black slave from Barbados who worked for Reverend Parris. She told the girls strange and shocking stories about witchcraft from her country. Intrigued by the stories (or just being down right silly), the girls started behaving (or pretending to behave) as if bewitched. They would make strange noises, climb under furniture, have fits, scream and complain that they were being pinched by something unseen.
The first two girls who behaved strangely was Betty Parris (9) and Abigail Williams (11). When a doctor could not diagnose them, he said that their ailment is not physical and that someone is bewitching the girls. And then mayhem broke loose…
The Reverend would ask the girls: “Who torments you?” and they would randomly shout out names of villagers. Many women from the village were arrested for being witches and later men too. If you were arrested for being a witch, there were several ways in which it would tested if you really are a witch; if you were not able to say the Lord’s prayer, then you were a witch. The irony was that, if you confess to being a witch, it was believed that the evil spirits have left you and you were released to carry on with life as usual. Many people confessed and to ‘prove that they were witches’ accused other people in the village of being witches.
Tituba was also an obvious target to be accused of being a witch, and was the first to confess to doing witchcraft. Other people who were more religious and who refused to confessed to being witches were hanged. 19 Innocent people were hanged and one man was ‘pressed to death’: When Giles Correy was arrested for being a witch, he refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If he entered a plea, he would have lost his estate, but by refusing to plea, his estate remained his and was passed on to his children after his death. Rocks were placed on his body to torture him to go into a plea, but he kept refusing, saying “More weight” every time.
During a 13 month period over 150 people were arrested for witchcraft. The nonsense ended when the Governor’s wife was accused of witchcraft and he quickly shut down the courthouse.
When you visit Salem you are bombarded with options of witch museums, tours and re-enactments that all has to do with the Witch trials. I first visited the Witch Dungeons and would not recommend it; it entails a shallow re-enactment of a trial and them you get to walk trough a fake dungeon with creepy mannequins staring at you through their cells.
The Salem Witch Museum (not to be confused with the Salem Museum or the Witch History Museum) is worth a visit. You enter a large room where the history of the witch trials are explained with entertaining scene depictions. After the ‘story telling’ you do guided walk through a museum that explains witchcraft through the ages.
There is a landscaped memorial (next to a graveyard) for the hanged and pressed people.
I enjoyed walking to the beautiful harbour where there is a ship named friendship (I kid you not) that you can explore at certain times.
The rest of the town is filled with fortune tellers, tattoo parlours, weird pet dress up stores and generally random touristy shops.
Other interesting things from Salem:
Monopoly was made in Salem! There was a factory that produced games until 1968.
The first long distance phone call by Alexander Bell was made from Salem!