I heard that someone was getting married today, and my first reaction was, “That’s so special!” but then I thought of how unusual it is, in a practical sense. When do you celebrate your anniversary? Is your spouse going to make lame jokes after eight years that it’s only your “second anniversary, har har”? What does that say, metaphorically, about your marriage? Nevertheless, Leap Day feels like a day to celebrate, either by tying the knot, or asking a man to marry you in Ireland, or–in my case–visiting Salem, MA and seeing where convicted witches were hung.
My friend Katie was on board when I said I wanted to celebrate Leap Day Fun(!) because to her, “real life is for March,” but the prospect of Salem arrived somewhat incidentally.
I work with a visiting scholar in the Portuguese Department who mentioned there was a planned excursion to Salem through Brown’s Global-Something Department, and it was intended for graduate students, but I was intrigued because I’d not yet visited Salem. Katie was shocked when she found out, which is ironic because we later deduced she hadn’t been there in 19 years, but it was confirmed: we would drive to Salem, meet up with the visiting scholar, and return to Providence in time for a night of Greek Orthodoxy On-Tap.**
**anyone care to guess whose idea this was?
We got a late start because of spin class and other sundries, like raspberry fritter donuts, and arrived to Salem at 1:15pm. The first order of business was parking among the zoo-like traffic that is Salem in late February. Who in the world is visiting Salem right now (aside from us)?
Out of necessity, we ended up in a parking garage, on level “1B Millionaire.” It seemed like a sign of good fortune, as whomever this floor of the parking garage was named after was the first millionaire in New England, although I don’t know if it’s actually good fortune that the only people who remember you are the owners of a parking garage. Nevertheless, we met up with our visiting scholar friend and went to the gravesite/memorial straight away, where we were greeted by a man who looked like Mr. Tumnus, minus the shades. His sunglasses were such a dark midnight black that we couldn’t see where he was looking. He gave us a “self-guided tour”–i.e., three pieces of paper in a folder–with 1-2 sentences of Wikipedia facts for each of the deceased whose names were engraved on the stones.
“Tips are appreciated,” he added.
Since I was suckered into paying a dollar for this, I figured we might as well read the stories. They were, as to be expected, gut-wrenching and sad. There was one woman whose hanging was postponed until after she gave birth, she since she was eight months pregnant; both she and the baby ultimately died. Another woman, hanged as a witch, was known by the people of the town for her “tender care of her blind husband.” One woman was 80 years old and mostly deaf–she was the first person tried and convicted of being a witch, even though the jury deemed her not guilty the first time around. The accusers went into such violent outcries in the courtroom that the jury “reconsidered,” and found her guilty.
We were unclear why everyone was hanged except for one man, and Mr. Tumnus explained the situation, going into detail about how he was pressed to death–over the course of three days–having more and more weight placed on his chest until he choked on his own tongue. It was insightful, if not graphic. Mr. Tumnus then went on a radically charged sentiment about hysteria and how people need to be able to disagree without executing each other (I’m paraphrasing). Ultimately, I think he earned the dollar.
Then we went to the Witches Museum, where we witnessed the exact same audio and visual display that Katie remembers from the 8th grade, nearly 20 years ago. We sat on short stools in the middle of the floor, with giant dioramas around us (all of us in the dark). A spotlight shined on one scene at a time, and a 1970’s voice-over guy narrated. The story began with a rather frightening, life-size depiction of Satan holding what appeared to be a medieval war axe. The narrator’s voice had a rasping edge when he spoke, saying that in the 1600s, Christians attributed all evil (including unfavorable weather patterns) to the evil work of satan. If I had seen this as a child under the age of 12, I would have been terrified. Even now…I was a little terrified.
Around the room the lights illuminated one box at a time, beginning with Ann Putnam and her daughter, Ann Putnam Jr. They were the first to become afflicted with, what sounds like, demonic possession, and they blamed everyone else in the town–including the 80 year old deaf woman, for causing it.
We also saw a diorama of the trials, the jail cells, John Proctor who was hanged for standing up for women he knew were falsely accused. In the end, Ann Putnam Jr confesses, in her ripe old age (since she was never sent to the gallows), that she made up her accusations.
We ended the $13 experience with a walk-through in a secondary museum with a guide, an enthusiastic young Kai, who did a great job. Just before they released us into the gift shop, we heard an uplifting recording (spoken through life-sized figurines) about the merits of modern day Wicca.
At this point in the afternoon, we were starving, so we walked to Brothers Taverna because it sounded Greek (it wasn’t, though they offered a “Greek Breakfast”). I ordered a Sunrise Burrito, which I’m mentioning because lunch was the only thing I took a picture of during our entire visit in Salem.
Note: Brothers Taverna serves breakfast all day, and one of their offerings is a nutella stuffed French toast. I think that qualifies them as an all-star restaurant.
We braced ourselves for the cold once more–it was the kind of cold that makes your face hurt and your eyes water–and walked to Nathanial Hawthorne’s house. The $17 ticket price was more than we deemed reasonable, so we used the bathroom and left. Our last stop of the evening was the house where Max, from the movie Hocus Pocus, lived. In the movie, not in real life. In real life, the house belongs to a family, so we could only stand outside and take pictures of it. My hands were frozen, so I didn’t take a photo, but here’s the gist:
It was finally time to head back to Providence, to our night at Yoleni’s with a consortium of Orthodox priests and Christian young adults–pretty much the opposite crowd from that of a day in Salem. After a few quick exorcisms and splashing of holy water, we were good to go.
I admit Salem is not my new favorite town, nor is it likely I will ever return, but today was just what I hoped it would be: Leap Day Fun.