Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grave Matters

Magnet # 373:  Salem Tombstone

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Just mention the town of Salem, Massachusetts and it conjures up visions of witches, ghosts, and dark occurrences.  The Witch Trials which took place there in 1692 seem to have left an eternal stain on the place.  So it should come as no surprise that it's reputed to be one of the most haunted areas in the world, plagued by both the victims of those notorious days and others who have met with their own sad endings.

One of the more haunted spots in Salem is said to be the Old Burying Point Cemetery.  It's the second oldest known cemetery in the country, and two of the judges who participated in the Witch Trials are buries here.  I visited it by daylight and was intrigued by the headstones - they look like the one featured on this magnet.  They certainly don't make them like that anymore!  And while I took photos, none of them turned out with ghostly looking features, as others have claimed theirs have.  Howard Street Cemetary is another supposedly haunted graveyard there.  This is near where the notorious Witch Dungeon once stood and where poor Giles Corey was pressed to death.  And now his ghost is said to lurk there.  Giles Corey was an ornery 80-year old who even stood against his wife Martha, when the Witch Trials began, but later recanted when he witnessed how awful they had become.  But it was too late - he was accused of witchcraft by Abagail Hobbs.  One of the lesser-known facts about the trials is that anyone found guilty of witchcraft lost all of their property.  Corey didn't waste his breath proclaiming innocence, believing he'd be found guilty anyway.  Instead, he refused to give any reply at all.  To force a plea out of him, the local authorities made him lie down and they placed a board over him.  One by one, large rocks were placed on the board, making it ever harder for Corey to breathe.  Yet when they asked him if he was innocent, Corey only replied with two words - "More weight!"  The process dragged on and he eventually died from it, but with his last breath, it's said that he cursed the local sheriff and all of Salem.  Thanks to his stubbornness, all of his belongings passed down to his children.  And there has been a disturbing trend with Salem's sheriffs - years later, sheriff and historian Robert Cahill noted that the sheriff Corey cursed died of a heart attack not long after the trials came to an end.  Since then, every local sheriff had either died in office or taken early retirement from a heart or blood ailment.  Cahill himself left the job after heart trouble,  Some sheriffs have even supposedly felt his presence in their homes, and claimed to feel a great weight on their chest.  As for Corey's ghost, he's said to appear before times of great tragedy in the town, such as the Great Salem Fire of 1914, which nearly wiped out the entire town.  People claimed to see an unusual old man in the cemetery prior to the burning.  Perhaps Corey and some of his fellow victims are still wreaking their vengeance on the town that treated them so cruelly, and Salem may be facing an eternal curse.

When I went to Salem earlier this year, I was interested in taking another ghost tour like the one I'd done in New Orleans.  Unfortunately, I'd had a few issues that day and I ended up just going back to my hotel room to turn in early.  But that might not have been bad.  Apparently, the most ghostly activity doesn't really go on in the town that's currently known as Salem.  Danvers, the original Salem Village that was renamed after the Witch Trials, is where the real action is said to be.  There, the residents aren't so eager to revel in the past and peddle witch-themed souvenirs.  Nonetheless, it's home to the Danvers State Hospital, an insane asylum that some say was the site of the first pre-frontal lobotomy.  Part of this structure is said to have been built on land where the house of John Hathorne, the notorious hanging judge of the Salem Witch trials, once stood.  He was the only judge who never recanted his actions during the trial when he sentenced so many innocent people to death.  He always maintained that he was doing the Lord's work.  Now if that doesn't sound like land that's cursed, I don't know what land would.  The institution first opened its doors in 1878, long after the horrors of the Witch Trials had come to an end.  You might think that the city had learned its lesson back then, but apparently not.  At first, intentions for this establishment were very honorable - they provided a beautiful setting in which patients could relax without the threat of mechanical restraint.  But as more and more patients were crammed into a facility that was designed to hold no more than 600 and funds began to run dry, their idealism began to wane.  At one point, a night shift of nine employees had more than 2,300 patients on their hands, some of them criminally insane.  To manage so many troubled people, administrators began to use some objectionable methods to subdue the more difficult residents, including lobotomies, strait jackets, shock therapy, and drugs.  With all of this disturbing activity going on, Danvers State Hospital was already said to be haunted by the 1960's.  There was talk of people seeing apparitions thereout of nowhere and scowled at them.  Another time, her covers were pulled off of her as she lay in bed.  Unfortunately, getting many other first-hand accounts of the strange happenings there is pretty difficult.  The police presence was very stringent at the institution, and many would-be ghost hunters were arrested and put in jail.  In 1992, the facility was closed due to budget cuts.  And in 2005, an apartment company was able to buy it.  Despite protests and a lawsuit, they have begun tearing the place down to make way for new buildings, but have left some of the original facades.  Also, some of the tunnels that connected the original buildings remain, as does the asylum cemetery.  I'm betting some of the folks who move in there are in for an ugly surprise.  Homes built both on top of a demented judge's former home and an asylum for the criminally insane should be completely normal, right?  Try as they might to deny it, Danvers and nearby Salem are places where the blood of innocents has been shed and terrible atrocities have occurred.  That sort of history has a way of sticking with a place, and resulting in all kinds of eerie occurrences.

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