Saturday, August 28, 2010

Witchy Ways

Magnet # 328:  Salem Witch on Moon with Black Cat

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Massachusetts is one of the most historic places in our nation, filled with places that were important in the birth of it, like Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation, others that helped bring freedom to it, such as Paul Revere's home, the Bunker Hill Monument, the USS Constitution, as well as the homes of presidents from both our distant and recent past. So did I visit any of these noteworthy attractions when I headed up to the Bay State during my New England trip earlier this month? Of course not - my stops there were at locations that dealt with two of the most notorious moments in Massachusetts history - Fall River and Salem. Combining the two locales certainly made for an interesting journey through the history of the state.

Many people may not be familiar with Fall River by name alone, but they've likely heard of its most famous, or infamous, resident - Lizzie Borden. Back in 1892, she was accused of a brutal crime indeed - taking a hatchet to both her stepmother and father's skulls. The resulting trial was a national sensation. Some have even compared it to the grip the more modern O.J. Simpson trial had over the United States. Even though Borden was acquitted of the crime, her life as she knew it was over as many still held her accountable for the grisly act. And the home where it all started still stands in Fall River. Yes, both her stepmother and her father were found dead there and what's even more unsettling, both of their autopsies were performed on the premises. Borden moved to another home in Fall River after the trial and the notorious locale was eventually purchased by an entrepreneurial individual who turned it into the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. During the days, it's open for tours and I made a special trip to Fall River just to take one. It was worth stopping by just to see the place and hear about the trial - I got a very in-depth summary from a guide who was very into his work. Unfortunately, that was about all I had time for in the city. It might have been fun to stop by the Fall River Historical Society, which houses memorabilia from the crime, or the Oak Grove Cemetery, a Registered Historic Place where she is buried under the name of Lizbeth Andrew Borden. It's even possible to tour Maplecroft, the home she bought in Fall River after the trial, though on a very limited basis. And the city also has some noteworthy sites that aren't associated with Borden at all, like Battleship Cove, which features a very impressive collection of 20th century naval ships. But, as I like to see so many places on my trips, it was time to move on to my next destination.

Getting to Salem was a little hairy, as I had to drive though the crowded Boston interstate on my way there, but at least I was able to avoid the rush hour traffic. As the hotel rates in Salem itself were pretty high, I opted to stay in nearby Peabody at a recently renovated Homestead Studio Suites Hotel. It was a good move - even though the free breakfast was a little lacking, the premises were very impressive and I had my own suite for about half the price I would have paid to stay in Salem. It was also a little secluded, and I loved the quiet. The trip to Salem from there was pretty short, and once there, I parked at the garage across from the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center, which proved to be not as expensive as I'd thought. The first place I checked out in Salem was the Peabody Essex Museum, possibly one of the few places in town with no ties to the Salem Witch Trials. It was a huge structure with art from all over New England and the rest of the world, especially Asia. Much of it focused on maritime subjects.  Perhaps most impressive was its Yin Yu Tang House, a 200 year-old Chinese house that was rebuilt on the grounds of the museum. I only had an hour to check it out all it had to offer and while that wasn't really enough, I still enjoyed myself there.  After it closed, I headed to the Salem Witch Museum, which tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, a terrible series of events that left twenty innocent people dead and many more imprisoned between 1692 and 1693.  Then, I did some shopping at the Essex St. Pedestrian Mall, where I also had dinner at a Japanese restaurant before heading back to my hotel for the night.  The next day, I started off in another part of town where I was able to tour the historic House of Seven Gables, which inspired Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name, and walk over to see the nearby Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which includes a replica of the ship Friendship.  I wrapped up my time in the city by walking though the Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park, a site honoring those who died that was finally dedicated in 1992, the 300 anniversary of the beginning of the madness.  It's next to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, which is the second oldest known graveyard in the nation, dating all the way back to 1637.  The headstones there are of a completely different style than the ones used today, and were very interesting to see.  After that, it was time to head off to the next stop on my trip.

Seeing Fall River and Salem alone certainly made for an unusual trip to Massachusetts, but considering how much the stories surrounding these places have intrigued me over the years, it was nice to finally check them out in person.  Heck, I've been into the Salem Witch Trials since junior high.  And while both places have had their dark moments, they've managed to move past them without denying their existence, making the cities both relevant in the modern times and a great place to travel to and connect with some of our nation's dubious past.

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