Monday, October 31, 2016

Old Burial Hill: Skulls

 It wasn't long after we had started exploring Old Burial Hill cemetery in Marblehead, Massachusetts, that I declared it to be my favorite cemetery. Of course this is a bit like choosing a favorite child—for those of you who are into the kid thing—but Old Burial Hill is that good. I initially put it on our itinerary due to its Hocus Pocus cred, and while it was fun to see for that reason, it definitely doesn't need a movie connection to be considered a destination.

Old Burial Hill was established in 1638—54 years before the Salem Witch Trials and 138 years before the US officially became a country—which makes it the one of the oldest (maybe the oldest?) cemeteries I've ever visited. Located about five miles southwest of Salem, Old Burial Hill contains an estimated 600 Revolutionary War soldiers and one victim of the Salem Witch Trials—although I'm not sure if the cemetery actually contains the remains of Wilmont Redd, or just a memorial marker.

The first thing I noticed (with glee) was the high concentration of skull-and-crossbones imagery, which is my very favorite thing to see on a tombstone. This memento mori motif was popular with the Puritans, and the newer the cemetery the less likely you are to see this type of stone. Old Burial Hill was positively lousy with them and I was completely overwhelmed by all of the variations.. Usually I'll find one or two in my cemetery adventures, but every one I saw was better than the last and we just kept finding them. Like cemeteries, it's impossible to pick a favorite stone, but Mrs. Susana Jayne's stone is pretty much perfect, containing not only a skeleton, but an hourglass, bones, winged cherubs and bats.

The "hill" part of Old Burial Hill offers beautiful views of Marblehead Harbor and Salem Sound and I found myself wishing that I could visit the cemetery whenever I wanted a quiet moment. Despite being so near Salem on a beautifully sunny Sunday, the cemetery was nearly empty. I knew that the Salem cemeteries were going to be packed with funnel-cake eating and selfie-taking tourists (I was right, unfortunately), so having an hour to really explore such a beautiful and historic cemetery on our own felt like the ultimate luxury.

👻  🎃  Happy Halloween!! 🎃  👻

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Salem, Massachusetts

After successfully Halloween-ing in Sleepy Hollow for the past three years, my friends and I (the Halloween All-Star Team) decided that we were ready to tackle Salem. I'd been to Salem once, in August of 2007, but I was eager to go back. We stopped along the way to pay our respects to Lizzie Borden, and visit some Hocus Pocus filming locations, and in the end we spent about one and a half days exploring Salem.

Salem is known best as "Witch City," because of the notorious happenings in Salem Village (present-day Danvers) circa 1692. 19 people were hanged after refusing to confess to charges of witchcraft, and one man—Giles Corey—was pressed to death. It's a little strange for a town to embrace a shameful past to the point of celebrating the very thing that caused the panic—witchcraft and witches—but most of the witch hoopla feels so far removed from the historical event.

The Witch House is the only surviving structure with any real ties to the Witch Trials—Judge Corwin lived and worked out of the house—and it was definitely a solid marketing move to name it such. Even without the witch connection, I would have loved the house—I have never seen a black house that I didn't love. In fact, Salem is full of the most adorable colonial-era homes with dark siding and colorful trim, and I defy you to find a more perfectly spooky style of house.

 If the Salem Witch Trials had never happened or things had turned out differently, maybe Salem would be known as "Hawthorne City" after its most famous literary resident. After conquering The House of the Seven Gables, I was excited to tour its namesake house, which also includes a tour of Hawthorne's birth house, which was moved onto the property to save it from demolition.

Salem on any October weekend is a bit of a madhouse, and we eschewed any ticketed tour until Monday, when things emptied out slightly. There are definitely parallels to Roswell in that both towns' identities are based around events in their pasts that have morphed over time into cheesy tourist destinations. I actually thought that Salem was a bit light on witch-themed things, even if we saw witch patches on policemen, witch emblems on firetrucks and every year the high school graduates a whole new class of "Salem Witches."