Today I had the opportunity to join my youngest 2 on their school field trip to Salem, Massachusetts.
I have wanted to visit for years. I have visited once in my past. Seventeen years ago and I made the mistake of visiting this town on Halloween. With it’s mystical past and history of witches, you can imagine how busy and insane it was! I vowed to go back one day and explore the history and museums properly. Well, 17 years, almost to the day, I made it!
It was a 7th grade field trip (12-13 year olds) and they are studying the history in social studies. As the twins were due to visit, I jumped at the chance to chaperone with the group.
Its about a 2 hour drive to Salem from our town in Maine and on a Wednesday morning, traffic is pretty clear. Salem is on the north shore of Boston so you can avoid city traffic pretty easily if heading southbound!
The field trip didn’t really allow for a lot of exploring on foot but we did hit 3 museums so enough to get a taste of the history that fills the town.
First stop was the House of Seven Gables. Admittedly, I didn’t really know anything about this history so it was all new to me.
The House of Seven Gables is the house that is featured in the said book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s one of the historic properties in the city and as it seems, features 7 gables 🙂
The house was constructed in 1668, so before the time of the Salem Witch trials, and over a number of years, the house was built onto as the families wealth grew…..resulting in the 7 gables!
Nathaniel Hawthorne never lived in the home but as an adult, her heard stories about the house from his cousin. The house was lovingly restored from the 1900’s and detail in the book was actually added in to reflect some of the storytelling. The kids got a real kick out of being able to take the secret staircases to alternate floors/ rooms. The tour guide was quite informative around some of the artifacts that were displayed but the tour was pretty quick at around 30 minutes.
Next door to the House of Seven Gables is the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne. To be clear, his home was not always on this site but was moved to its new location in 1958. It originally was about 5 blocks away. A number of historic homes in Salem were moved to one site to support the ease of preservation of historic properties.
It was a another nice historic home to tour but not as long as the gabled house.
Not to be overlooked are the grounds these homes are on. Water front and beautiful to look out from. While the sun was shining, it was chilly so we didn’t hang around for long. I can imagine in the summer time, much more time could be spent enjoying the view and gardens to these homes.
Stop number 2 for the day was the Salem Witch Museum. This was a 10 minute walk from the Seven Gabled House and as I found, Salem is small enough to navigate around on foot quite easily.
I was really looking forward to the Witch Museum as this was the history that was fascinating to me! I was surprised that the Witch history just marked a brief history n time for Sale. 1692 was the year the witch trials took place and didn’t go beyond this year. A good thing as you learn more about what happened, but I had thought it was a longer chunk of time! All in all, 20 people lost their lives during this period. Many more spent time in prison, awaiting trial before they could be freed when an end was called to the hysteria. The museum tells the story of how the witch focus began, to the people involved, the trials that ensued and those that lost their lives. The story telling is done through life size stage sets with narration as the story is told around the room. It’s an old exhibit but it’s unique and definitely more engaging than a typical museum type exhibit. The museum then moves onto information around witches, myths and witchcraft today.
To wrap up our day, we took a short walk to the Salem Dungeons. This is located in an old church and the museum tour actually consists of a short play – beginning with narration around the with trials again and then a brief demonstration/play of actual courtroom dialog from the trials. Very interesting and great to highlight to the kids how admission of guilt came about during this period.
For me, the most interesting part of the museum were the dungeons. Not the actual site of the dungeons that were used to hold ‘witches’ before trial. These were sadly destroyed some time ago. This replica though is to size and reflects the conditions of how the ‘witches’ were kept for months on end. Its just a quick walk thorough the dungeons but interesting nonetheless.
We managed just the 3 museums but it was a great taster to the city. There is more to explore, including the Peabody Essex Museum with a massive collection of global art and artifacts, including a rebuilt Qing-era Chinese house! Maybe next time!