As Halloween is winding down and the decorations are being put away until next year, visitors to the witch capital of Salem, Massachusetts might be surprised to discover that there were never any witches executed there at all.
Michelle Delio writes in wired.com that 300 years ago, those witches were actually tried 5 miles away. Despite this, Salem has built an entire tourist industry around the incident, which occurred in 1692, when a group of young women claimed they were being bewitched by their neighbors.
“It was the town now known as Danvers, once known as Salem Village, that was ground zero for the events of 1692,” says professor of religious studies Benjamin Ray. Salem Village broke away from Salem Town in 1752, and wanted to rid itself of any association with those times, according to Danvers town historian Richard Trask. Salem Village changed its name to Danvers, but Salem Town decided to capitalize on the witch trials in order to draw tourists to the area, while Danvers has only a simple memorial to the victims.
The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is in Danvers, which is where 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse once lived, who was executed as a witch on July 19, 1692. “We believe Rebecca is buried here,” says caretaker Bob Osgood. “The victims were supposed to be left in shallow graves on Gallows Hill after they were hung, but records indicate Rebecca’s family recovered her body and buried her in the family cemetery in an unmarked grave. We wanted visitors to understand the lives of these people instead of focusing on their deaths.”
Benjamin Ray says, “By presenting actual court documents, maps and images, we hope to bring modern people as far as possible into the minds and hearts of those who were involved in the trials.” His ancestors, as well as Osgood’s and Trask’s, were involved in the trials. Two of Trask’s relatives, and one of Osgood’s, were executed as witches. Ray’s family signed a petition in defense of Rebecca Nurse. Ray hadn’t known about his family connection to the trials until recently, and the knowledge inspired him to create the Salem Witch Trial website. He says, “Technology allows us to pull together the pieces of our past in amazing ways, juxtaposing images, text and maps that help us make sense of the best and worst of the human story.”
Man can kill and man can heal. You already know the worst, now hear the best about mankind on this week?s Dreamland.
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