One of the theatre classes I took this semester was centered on a play about the Salem Witch Trials. So, we took a class field trip to Salem! Even in the middle of October, Salem was decked out in Halloween decorations. We wandered through several shops claiming to sell magic objects and enchanted trinkets. One thing for sale was an explanation of “THE WITCH TEST” that included the “top ten reasons for determining if you’re a Witch.” Some of these we had learned about, for example, Witch Dunking: “If you are bound and thrown into the nearest body of water and float, you’re a witch. If you sink, you’re not.” Cool, so if you somehow survive, you would be called a witch and get killed anyway. But if you die, well, oops! They just happened to kill an innocent person. Awful things happened many years ago in a time filled with paranoia.
We visited the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in an attempt to find some of the characters in the play we were putting on. Unfortunately we were unable to find them. We were, in particular, looking for the grave of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death with stones for refusing to confess that he was a witch.
We went into three of the main tourist attractions: the Witch Dungeon, the Witches & Pirates museum (apparently the two are related), and the Salem Witch Museum. Each place put on a small performance detailing some cool history before leading us through a tour of the actual museum, where strange wax figures were programmed to move around as a recording explained the historical significance of each scene. And here are some pirate flags because, you know, pirates and witches were totally friends.
However, even though the mannequins were tacky, the people who worked there seemed pretty knowledgeable. We learned some interesting details about the girls involved in the trials: there is no evidence that Tituba, the first woman to be accused of being a witch, ever taught the girls real witchcraft. They did, however, play a game where one would crack an egg into a bowl and peer in to see the face of their future husband. One girl instead saw a coffin and was very scared!
I was sad to see them trying to twist this fun trick (usually seen in introductory psychology classes) into something about witches.
But we did have fun trying to palm read!
The Salem Witch Village was fun too. A surprising number of people were visiting dressed in witch cloaks and hats.
We all ate a ton of kettle corn throughout the day. Yum! On the train back, since we were technically together as a class, we read out one of the plays we were currently studying aloud: The Skriker. It is a very strange play with intense vocabulary and a dark story. We had a great time and I think most passengers (including a very innocent young girl, who I hope did not understand what we were reading) were entertained.
Salem was really touristy and all the shops seemed to prey on gullible folk, but we did learn some interesting historical information! It would probably be much more entertaining (and scarier!) to visit during Halloween weekend.