Ann Putnam was the first. Elizabeth Parris was next. Then Abigail Williams. Crawling on their hands and knees, barking like dogs, speaking in tongues, going into silent trances, the young girls were judged "betwitched."
Then came the accusations.
Tituba, a black slave from Barbados; Sarah Good, a housewife; Sarah Osborne, a local woman held in low esteem by the community -- all charged as witches.
Thus began the Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692, a shameful period in Salem's history -- a period that ended with 19 innocnet people hanging from the gallows, one slowly crushed to death under huge rocks, several dead from prison conditions and hundreds more, their reputations tarnished and their spirits broken, langusihing in prison. And all because a few little girls wanted to play a game.
But the hysteria, the time when Ann Putnam and her friends accused anyone of being a witch who displeased them, came back to haunt the accusers, too. Ann Putnam, who started it all, humbled herself in church shortly after the hysteria ended, admitting her part in the horrible "game." She then became a recluse and, broken in mind and health, died when she was only 36, the last victim of the horror.
You can return to that time in Salem today, the time that forever branded this small (40,000) New England town as the witch town. Rather than hide its reputation, Salem capitalizes on its infamy. You can visit the Witch Museum and see a presentation of the horrors of 1692, or walk through the so-called "Witch House," the beautifully restored home of Jonathan Corwin, the judge of the Witchcraft Court.
Salem even has its "Official Witch", Laurie Cabot, who owns a shop, "Crow Haven Corner," where you can buy all kinds of witch potions, magic mirrors, magic wands, and paintings and perhaps ask Laurie about withces. "Witches know that the only demons and devils that exist are ignorance and fear," she told me. A lesson Salem learned in 1692.
The Salem High School sports teams are known as "The Witches," and most of the gift shops in the city sell miniature witches swooping down from their dangling brooms. And so it goes.
But salem offers more than "Ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night." Salem, the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the home of sea captains and merchants, one of the more historic towns of the United States, is perhaps New England's most attractive and inviting tourist center.
It is a far cry from Salem of the early 1960s, a city that was down on its luck, a city of history but of little future, a typically small New England town that had seen its glory days and was slowly dying only 20 miles north of Boston.
Oh, the city fathers had begun an urban renewal project, but like most early renewal programs it meant tearing down, not restoration. Salem was faced with not only a failing economy, but the destruction of its precious history as well. Citizen outrage soon stopped the destruction, renovation replaced ruin and today Salem is one of the more handsome examples of wise management in the country.
Just take a walk along Chestnut Street, where proud houses of sea captains bask in the glory of their Federal architecture, the huge shade trees casting shimmering shadows across the brass door knockers on the black oak doors. It was here that the great fortunes of Salem were spent, the fortunes made from sailing, and rum and slave trade. Although many of the great houses today are apartments, their facades are perfectly restored and their grace and beauty nearly overwhelming.
Or, walk along Federal and Essex strets, where the Essex Institute has restored several houses to their former glory. There is the Crowninshield-Bentley House, built in 1727 and exhibiting many of the architectural styles of the 18th century under one roof; and the Pierce-Nichols House, built in 1782 and among the first and best of architect Samuel McIntire's designs; the Assembly House, with its magnificent protico decorated with grapevines in high relief, and the John Ward House, built in 1684, and filled with authentic 18th-century furnishings.
You will want to visit the House of the Seven Gables, where Nathaniel Hawthorne once lived, and walk up the spiraling, secret staircase; go next door to the birthplace of Hawthorne; finally, walk to the Custom House on Derby Wharf, where Hawthorne worked and which is described in his most famous work, "The Scarlet Letter."
If museums are important to you, Salem has two of the best in New England: the Essex Institute with its collection of books and manuscripts, furniture and furnishings of early Salem; and the Peabody, which spotlights the seafaring history of Salem.
Even the Hawthorne Inn, Salem's only major hotel, has been historically renovated and is today much like it was when entertaining guests in the last century.
The newest attraction in Salem is Pickering Wharf, a $10-million investment project begun just over two years ago. Pickering Wharf is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants located in two ancient and 11 new buildings on the historic waterfront. The capstone of the wharf is "The Voyage of the India Star," a 25-minute, multi-media presentation of the history of shipping and ships in Salem. It is indicative of what is going on in this historically significant city.
"Salem is gong through an exciting revival. "With the New England trend toward moving back to the center of the cities, we have realized just what we have here, what we can do and how exciting and vibrant oldness can be," said May Hyand, executive vice president of Pickering Wharf. "Now, if only we could convince the rest of the state that we have something worth seeing and get some access in here. . ."
That is a problem -- perhaps the major problem -- for a tourist trying to get to Salem from Boston. Like the man said, there's just no way to get there from here.
If you are driving your own car (and God help you, for Massachusetts drivers are among the world's worst) you have to go from Route 1 to Route 128 to Route 114 to Route 107 to . . . you get the idea. Or you can take one of the three weekly Gray Line tours (a better idea), or a 25-minute train ride from North Station in Boston.
Even though it is a trial to get here, your efforts will be well rewarded once you arrive in Salem. If the spirit moves you, that is.