Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Witch Way To Salem?

Thanks to the infamous witch trials, Salem will forever be associated with all things witchy and spooky. The trials were an example of how things can get out of hand when an atmosphere of suspicion and fear takes over. As men and (mostly) women were accused of witchcraft, their options were to deny it and be hanged or admit their guilt, in which case they would only face prison, but with a caveat - they had to name some of their fellow witch colleagues. So, some were accused by neighbours who had a grudge, others by people who were trying to save their own necks and by the time everything had calmed down, over 150 people had been arrested and at least 20 had been put to death.

If you visit Salem, you are presented with a wide range of potential ghost tours most of which sounded extremely cheesy, so we'd tried to find a walking tour which leaned a little more towards the historical rather than the supernatural. We met at the starting point of the tour in Salem's shopping precinct - it reminded me of Stockport (for those of you who are familiar with one of the North West's premiere shopping experiences) and it soon became clear that even this tour would have a squirt of cheese on the side.

It would appear that the lady who was to guide us around had been to the Dick Van Dyke Institute Of Overacting and we found it difficult to keep straight faces as she beckoned us to follow her from one historic site to another. As the tour continued she'd build up the tension by recounting part of a terrible murder story and then asking "do you want to know what happened next?". In my mind I'm thinking "oh just get on with it woman, tell us about the stuff like we've paid you to" but I don't think she picked up on my British cynicism as she lowered her voice, leaned in towards us and whispered, "well... you'll just have to wait.". We were getting ham as well as cheese.

We were taken round the town and saw various buildings where bad things had happened. But apparently, nearly all of these buildings had been moved there from somewhere else. As we went on, I began to wonder whether any of the buildings were here originally - there's even a large house which has been imported from China - we've no idea why!

Our guide began to describe one of these buildings (again, it wasn't originally in this location, it had been moved from another part of town where they'd needed a parking lot) and the Dick Van Dyke training really began to shine through as she invited us to look up to where the "chiminies" were situated. The more she said "chiminies" the more vividly I could imagine a chirpy whistling chimney sweep dancing across the rooftops, perhaps with an umbrella-wielding nanny alongside him.

To be fair, we did learn some interesting facts about the witch trials including the fate of Giles Corey who refused to plead guilty or not guilty when he was accused. In order to try and force him to submit a plea, stone weights were gradually placed on his chest by the sheriff. Corey still refused to plead and eventually, as the interesting choice of phrase on his memorial stone shows, he was "pressed to death".

After the tour we continued exploring on our own and saw more witchcraft equipment shops than you could shake a broomstick at. Clairvoyants were occupying office space like estate agents do in most towns, and it was interesting to see that, in a town that once killed people for being witches, they were now actively advertising for them!

Excuse me for a minute, I'm just going in to find out what the benefits package would be. If you get a company cat I might be tempted.

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