On Friday my friends Tim and Betsy drove us to Salem, a historic town in coastal Massachusetts and, of course, notorious for the Salem Witch Trials. Those trials, in 1692 and 1693, wound up with the kangaroo-court conviction and execution of 19 people: 14 women and 5 men accused of witchcraft.
But we went there not for the witch-related tourism (there’s a lot, including modern women purporting to be witches), but because it’s a beautiful town with many houses dating from the mid 17th to the mid 19th century. There’s also a lovely port district with a famous Custom House, as Salem was a center for international sea trade for many years.
On the way out of Cambridge, we saw this woman whose photo I snapped from the car. The combination of her “Jesus is coming” sign, the face mask, and the axe strapped to her back makes her a scary character indeed. I wouldn’t want to cross her up!
A statue of Roger Conant (1592-1679), the founder of Salem, also credited with founding the communities of Peabody and Danvers (parts of Salem in his time). Conant led a group of fisherman from Cape Ann to the site of Salem, founding the town in 1626.
The John Ward House, built between 1684 and 1723.
Salem’s oldest house: the Pickman House, dating from 1664.
The memorial to those executed in the witch trials is a small square surrounded by stone benches, each inscribed with the name and fate of one of those executed. All were hanged save one man, who was “pressed”: crushed by piling stones on top of him.
The old graveyard, with many of Salem’s early citizens and people involved in the witch trials.
This John Higginson lived only 42 years, dying in 1718. There’s another John Higginson, a minister, who died in Salem, but this apparently is not him.
Random but lovely houses that I couldn’t be arsed to identify:
Lots of plants were in bloom and seed, including rhododendrons and azaleas.
The Derby House, built in 1762:
Built in 1819, this is the last of 13 Custom Houses that served the port. Their function was to collect import duties from goods brought to Salem from abroad (tea, silks, spices, molasses, etc.). Goods for which taxes weren’t paid, or were to be paid later, were stored in a warehouse behind this building.The Custom House is perhaps most famous for featuring in Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne was born and lived in Salem, serving for a while as its official surveyor. In the preface to the novel, Hawthorne recounts that the story of Hester Prynne and her illicit relationship with the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was found among papers in the Custom House (all of that was of course fiction).
For two centuries Salem was a center of international trade. Here are some of the trade routes that ended in the port; you can read about the goods that were imported at this site.
Every American knows the phrase “cash on the barrelhead”, which means “payment at the time that goods or services are received.” On our drive to Salem we discussed its origin, which is mysterious, though here’s one theory:
The lexicographer Charles Earle Funk surmised that this term originated in the days when upended barrels served as both seats and tables in bars, and customers were required to pay for their drinks immediately, literally putting their money on the top (head) of a barrel.
We reenacted this usage when we found barrels behind the Custom House:
On the drive home, which took about 45 minutes, we stopped to see the mighty Atlantic Ocean rolling out to the east. This was taken in Beverly, Massachusetts.