Salem: Witch you were here
RENDEZVOUs - Christine S. Dayrit () - October 23, 2011 - 12:00am

How would you like to celebrate Halloween every day of the year?

A witching good time can be had near the city of Boston in Massachusetts where Halloween fantasies and myths attract about a million visitors each year. Here in the mysterious city of Salem, popularly known as the “Witch City,” one could be hoodwinked by one’s very own senses.

Strolling around Salem recently on a rainy day with my childhood friend Reesa Guerrero-Silliman proved that a walk through history might be a ghostly and ghastly adventure as we came up-close and personal with the “witch trials” and inquisitions of 1692. For the curious visitor, touches of the past still exist which will bring the past to life, if you look in the right places.

Salem, Massachusetts is one of the oldest towns in America.

Salem’s logo depicting a witch on a broomstick is the epitome of “witch kitsch” and has incited ghost or paranormal tourism in this part of the world. This kind of travel transports you to grounds that are perceived as haunted. In New Orleans, I visited the home of Interview with the Vampire author Anne Rice. In Richmond, Virginia, I explored the eerie home of “The Raven” author Edgar Allan Poe. In Vieques, Puerto Rico, I was told many UFO sightings take place there while some streets of London are still frequented by the spirit of Jack the Ripper. I have yet to visit the Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, reportedly the home of vampires, and probably the inspiration for the Count Dracula myth. In Salem, Massachusetts, unearth more about the sensational tales of 17th-century witchcraft and sorcery.

Salem is popular worldwide for its rich history, which includes the tragic Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the dynamic maritime era evident in its glorious architecture, its impressive museums and rare artifacts, and for its world-famous month-long celebration of Halloween. The Salem Tourism Board reported nearly one million people visit Salem annually, generating more than $99.5 million in tourism spending.

Signs of the times: Two interesting invitations for witches education and sorcery in Salem.

When the month of October sets in, the icy winds of autumn whisper to the witches and welcome guests alike who make their way from all over the globe to Salem to celebrate Samhain — the ancient name of Halloween. This sacred holiday attracts visitors who toast to divinely kept secrets, magic and mystery.

Truth is, in 1692, 20 innocent people were put to death after the hysterical and malicious accusations of witchcraft. This hysteria led people to believe that some souls would actually engage in spectral travel, even though their bodies were grounded in their homes. It was alleged that their spirits would haunt the homes of innocent young girls who swore they were being chased by these fleeting spirits!

The Witch Trials led to the execution of many young women and the arrest of even more. Today, as one walks down the streets of Salem, one can pass by the Witch House where the court inquisitions took place, the Witch Museum displays paraphernalia and outfits during the 16th century, the Witch Dungeon shows how the alleged “witches” were executed, while souvenir stores sell Happy Halloween postcards all year round.

Enjoy fine dining at the award-winning Nathaniel’s restaurant at the Hawthorne Hotel.

This season, enjoy the Salem Sound, a 90-minute cruise by the shores of Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, Manchester and the mysterious Misery Islands. Of course, you can expect spooky stories and spine-tingling tales about ruthless local pirates, haunted lighthouses, mansions, abandoned mental wards, tails of local ghosts, ocean demons and living monsters while you sail.

A stay at the historic Hawthorne Hotel, the premier address in the city, is a must. According to the hotel’s regional director for sales and marketing Kristie Poehler, the structure “was built by the public subscription as a joint venture of the Salem Chamber of Commerce and the Salem Rotary in 1925. Over one thousand people in the area purchased stock in order to create a modern hotel.” She added that it is now listed as an “Historic Hotel of America,” and the Hawthorne Hotel continues to welcome thousands of visitors every year.

“Over the years, the Hawthorne Hotel has hosted many well-known personalities, including newsman Walter Cronkite, actress Bette Davis, General Colin Powell, and on separate occasions, President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush,” said Poehler.

A depiction of Salem Witch Trials in which people accused of witchcraft were prosecuted in colonial Massachusetts, in 1692. (Courtesy of the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.)

It was when the 1960s TV series Bewitched was aired that Hawthorne Hotel gained its utmost popularity, if not notoriety. For years, after two episodes set there aired as the “Salem Saga,” the hotel desk fielded telephone calls asking if this was the Hawthorne Hotel that could be seen on Bewitched.

To better comprehend the events of the Salem Witch Trials is to examine the times in which accusations of witchcraft occurred. As discussed in the book Hunting for Witches by Frances Hill, that fear and suspicion added to the ordinary stresses of 17th-century life in Massachusetts Bay Colony, as factions among Salem Village fanatics grew as well as a rivalry with nearby Salem Town, a recent smallpox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes. Soon prisons were filled with more than 150 men and women from towns surrounding Salem. Their names had been “cried out” by tormented young girls as the cause of their pain.

As years passed, apologies were offered, and restitution was made to the victims’ families. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in their history so that people may understand the issues of the time.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, famous son of Salem, is the author of The Scarlet Let- ter and The House of Seven Gables

Ever since I was a student at Boston University and Harvard Business School, I have always wanted to visit Salem, but only got the chance on this trip. Reesa and I were like school kids on a trick-or-treat trail in search of candies as we traipsed from one witch house, dungeon and museum where we watched video presentation that reenacted the Witch Trials of 1692. We even visited the nearby Peabody cemetery where bright flowers adorned the graves of many relatives of those who lived within the vicinity. We learned that it really is an electrifying place to visit all year round but particularly on Halloween when the whole town transforms into one big, ghoulish spectacle!

Each time I remember Salem, what comes to mind are the “witches” in black gowns mixing brews, incantations and potions. For the young ones and the young once like us, the city is as intriguing as the tales that fervently haunt it. Check it out… if you dare.

* * *

For more information about Hawthorne Hotel, log on to hawthornehotel.com.

E-mail the author at miladay.star@gmail.com.

HAWTHORNE HOTEL HOTEL ONE SALEM SALEM WITCH TRIALS WITCH
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