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Day 13: Which ‘Wich, Witch?

07 Jul

Today was a rarity for CMRT. We slept in fairly late, we spent the entire day just playing tourist in a single city, without a true plan, and we only had an hour drive to our next hotel. We will actually be staying in a single state for the next 4 nights! (I told you it was a slow roll!) Today our destination was Salem, Massachusetts. And to be honest, I had no idea what I expected. But what we found was a really lovely New England town, full of interesting history. Of course, it had its ridiculously touristy parts, but overall I have walked away from Salem with a very positive impression, and I would happily have spent more time doing a more thorough exploration of the town.

Before we left home, I purchased the Go Boston pass. This gives us “free” admission into a great number of attractions in the greater Boston area. And this includes several Salem-area attractions. So I intend to milk that for all it’s worth! Want to get my money’s worth and more. But like any good tourists, we started off at the National Park Service Visitor’s Center. They had a film about the origins and misconceptions of the hysteria in Salem that lead to the witch trials. It was…. educational, interesting, gave a clear perspective on what started the hysteria, and was chock full of insights from learned historians. It was also kind of boring. Mostly because of the repetitive images, the somewhat hokey music, and the general lack of polish. I’m very conflicted about it, but I’m glad that I saw it, as it was very interesting historical information.

Our next stop was the Salem Witch Museum. It was not at all what I expected. They sell you a ticket for a specific time, (This one was part of our Go Boston pass) and then you are ushered into a large room with basically large-scale dioramas located all around the room above head level. The narrator, with an excellent speaking voice, tells the story of how the Witch Trial hysteria began and the trials unfolded, as the displays were artfully lit in turn. Then you are ushered into a small museum space where a guide, with the help of some recorded messages, tells more about the evolution on witches throughout history. It was very interesting, but rushed. I would have liked more time to look at the huge timeline that was on the wall, but blocked by the large number of people that were crammed in the room.

After the Witch Museum it was time for lunch. We found a decent place (one in which our admission ticket to the Witch Museum offered us 10% off!). The food was fine, the owner super accommodating about the kids’ egg allergy, and the local beer – the Left of the Dial IPA from Salem brewers Notch Brewing – was delicious! The only bad thing was fairly slow service, so we did spend more time at the table than I wished, especially since we had been somewhat late getting to town.

Our next stop was the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Full disclosure: I have never read the book. But I did buy a copy in the gift shop, and fully intend to get that accomplished after I finish re-reading Harry Potter. (Side note: I wore my favorite Harry Potter shirt in Salem today. Felt subversively right.) Now, back to a classic of American literature. Hawthorne was born in Salem, but not in the House of the Seven Gables. It actually belonged to his cousin, and he did visit there often, but never at any point during his lifetime did the house have seven gables, because it had been extensively renovated after the grandson of the original owner lost the family fortune and was forced to sell the house. But even knowing as little as I did about the novel, touring the house was fascinating. They have done an interesting job of preserving some portions of the house, leaving others as is. I am a sucker for architectural tours, especially of old homes. I was very pleased with our visit here, and as a bonus, they have moved Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace home to the site of the mansion, even though it was originally located about 10 blocks away.

From literature to art, our next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum. I found this to be an odd museum. I think things were a little off kilter because they are in the process of building a large additional wing, which meant that several of their galleries were closed. But I did greatly enjoy the American pieces, including some very nice Gilbert Stuart and John Singer Sergeant portraits, as well as some gorgeous pieces of furniture. We only had a short time here – why must everything close at 5pm?! – but I think it was worth it. The girls especially enjoyed a space they called the Pod, as part of their Art & Nature Center.

After our touristy adventures, we poked around in several shops. None of the true witch-owned magical establishments, as many of them just felt schmaltzy, but we did find something in Wicked Good Books. They had a wonderful mug detailing the differences between all the different versions of there-their-they’re, affect-effect, etc…but it was laced with profanity, and therefore not classroom appropriate. But oh how I would have liked to show it to some of my students…

Because our next destination was Plymouth, south of Boston, and I had absolutely no intention of heading towards Boston at 5:30pm, we went to get ice cream at a place called Melt. I was tempted by the Maple Bourbon, but went for Salted Caramel with Sea Salt Brownies. Salted Caramel seems to be a really big flavor up here.  We killed enough time that I felt comfortable getting on the road. We did make a quick detour to Danvers to see the Salem Witchcraft Victims Memorial. I found it especially poignant that they had carved not just the names of those who were executed for witchcraft or died in jail while under suspicion, but also that they included direct quotes from some of those executed, declaring their innocence. Our drive from there to the hotel was easy enough – some slow-downs, but nothing like the type of traffic I feared. And we ordered food into the hotel, so I didn’t even have to drive out to get that!

Overall, it was a relaxed, enjoyable, and educational day. Even though the witch hysteria and trials are not part of the US History curriculum, it still qualifies as US History. Tomorrow I really start to pile it on: Plymouth, Massachusetts!

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim