I was in witch country this last weekend, celebrating Kristi’s birthday. First we were in Boston for a couple of days and then we went on to Marblehead where we stayed in the top story of a house built in 1710 while making day trips to Salem.
While in Boston we took a haunted tour, which I really enjoyed. I’ve been on two before–one in New Orleans that I think will always be my favorite and one in Philadelphia that was just so-so. It really does seem to depend on your tour guide whether the experience will be worthy or not.
The Boston haunted tour featured ghosts in the subway tunnels near the stop at Boston Common, ghosts (many) in the Common where they used to hang people, and a ghost that was seen in the Boston Atheneum by Nathaniel Hawthorne for two weeks running. There were also sordid details about the Boston Strangler and the true-life backstory of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which is rooted in a live burial that took place in Boston. All in all, a solid tour.
Then we went to Salem, which I was already hating on from the minute we stepped in it, with haunted houses and exhibits resembling those you’d see in a shopping mall. I love the graveyards and the architecture of Salem, but the mall culture laid on top of all that history in order to appeal to the tourists–that was depressing.
Our last night in Salem we lined up for an evening ghost tour and our guide introduced himself as Silvus, his stripper name I guess. He gave some background on Salem complete with sound effects that were quite annoying and encouraged the audience to act as paparazzi. From there, we went on to the Salem Atheneum, and guess what? Silvus told the same Nathaniel Hawthorne ghost story but littered it with terrible pop culture references to tuna fish sandwiches and Tupperware. Our tour guide was more suited for bad stand-up comedy than ghost stories.
After that the tour was spoiled for me, and I didn’t believe anything Silvus said. Near the cemetery, where the most horrific witch execution occurred (a man named Giles Corey was pressed to death by boulders piled on his chest), Silvus began telling us about the man’s ghost. Supposedly he appears before something awful occurs, and then Silvus launched into a story that involved the ghost in September of 2001. I cringed, thinking this would eventually tie back to 9/11. Thankfully, it didn’t go there.
A little fact checking in our rooms at Marblehead proved that the atheneum haunting written about by Nathaniel Hawthorne did indeed occur at the Boston Atheneum. Once home in New York, I picked up Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables from the bookshelf and began reading. The novel begins with a witch execution and a curse while the townspeople spout hypocritical Puritan values, which I can still see going on in our country today. This was the Salem I had been expecting.