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SALEM, MA

AUGUST 2005

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by Kelly

It's the day before Halloween 2007, and I've finally decided to do a proper Halloween post. Aren't you excited? In 2005, before the dawn of Project Absurd, Ham and I visited the charming little town of Salem, MA. Because we weren't thinking of a website when we took these pictures, you'll find they're very random, but I hope still interesting! Salem is essentially a "tourist trap" these days, but since it is steeped in very real, very morbid history, there are still some actual gems to be found - if you look hard enough and avoid the obvious tourist-y spots.
 

In the absence of a good "Welcome to Salem!" sign shot, I have begun this post with a photo of the entrance sign to The Burying Point. The Burying Point is the oldest cemetery in Salem, and I have read that it is the second-oldest cemetery in the entire United States. You can read more about the history of the Burying Point here. Several people involved with the infamous Salem Witch Trials are buried here (and some are listed on the sign) or have a monument here. For example, I thought we had a photo of a monument to Giles Corey, who was pressed to death for not cooperating in the witch trials (he was actually buried in an unmarked grave on Gallows Hill - where the hangings took place, but I digress...). Mysteriously (or not, maybe we didn't really take that photo) I can't find the picture now. Since the cemetery is pretty much in the middle of every tourist attraction in Salem, our daytime visit was fairly annoying. However, I think cemeteries are fascinating - the older the better. It feels weird to me that random people are allowed to stomp around and let their kids tear through such an old and historical place. At the same time I am very grateful the public is allowed in. You don't get to see a place like this every day! If you visit, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being respectful of the stones. They each represent very real people, possibly with very real living descendants. Great care has been taken by cemetery staff to repair broken stones as it is. Please help keep the disrepair to a minimum!
 

Getting down off my soap box, let's take a look at some of the gravestones I photographed. Keep in mind, I'm an amateur at decoding gravestone symbols, and I owe a huge debt to this fantastic book: Your Guide To Cemetery Research...

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At the top of this stone is what is called a "winged death head." This symbolized the mortal remains of the deceased. The winged death head was a very popular gravestone symbol in the 1600s. At the time, most gravestone symbols depicted the harsh reality of death. The circles probably symbolized eternity. It is hard to tell from the picture if it is birds or simply wings on either side of the stone. In any event, birds symbolize the soul or spirit and wings symbolize the soul ascending to heaven, so...you get the idea. I believe this Mr. John Higginson is the grandson of Rev. John Higginson (mentioned on the entrance sign). Rev. Higginson was one of the main prosecutors during the Witch Trials. The John Higginson whose grave is shown above is the first one mentioned in this paragraph:

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Here's an awesome shot of the cemetery I managed to get when there was a lull in tourists (I just love this shot!):

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This broken marker was kindly restored by the cemetery:

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It belongs to Col. John Hawthorne (then spelled "Hathorne"), the main interrogator of the accused in the Witch Trials and great-great grandfather of Salem's Favorite Son, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne's best known works are The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. This site (<--- link!) tells us:
 

"Justice John Hathorne (son of Major William Hathorne and (Nathaniel) Hawthorne's paternal great-great-grandfather; 1641-1717)
John Hathorne was the third son and fifth child born to Major William and Anna Hathorne. He became a prosperous merchant in Salem and a judge on the Superior Court. He was also commander-in-chief against the Indians in 1696. He is best known, however, as the "witch judge" as he was a magistrate of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and the chief interrogator of the accused witches in the Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692. John Hathorne is enterred at the Charter Street Burying Point in Salem."

 

So yeah, he was a heck of a guy. On his gravestone we see another winged death head, again symbolizing the mortal remains of the deceased (which is, I guess, what all gravestones symbolize, really). There are also a couple of flowers, which I cannot find a fitting explanation for (5 pointed stars symbolize the third son in a family, but these more like flowers than stars, no?), so I'm going to say they probably were another symbol of the mortal life. They could also represent the afterlife or heck, maybe I'm reading too much into this and they were simply there for ornamentation.
 

Another Hawthorne:

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This is another Nathaniel Hawthorne relative - his great uncle (paternal grandfather's brother to be exact). The same site I quoted above say this about Capt. William Hawthorne:
 

Captain William Hathorne (brother of Daniel Hathorne; 1715/16-1794)
William Hathorne, Hawthorne's great uncle, married Mary Touzel. William Hathorne and his wife inherited from John Touzel half of the house on Essex St. owned by Philip English. (Touzel left the other half to Susannah Touzel Hathorne, a widow.) Captain William Hathorne is buried in the Charter Street Burying Ground as is his wife, Mary Touzel Hathorne.

 

According to my book, an urn on a gravestone generally refers to the death of the flesh. And that sure looks like an urn at the top of his stone.
 

At least one of Salem's early inhabitants was a passenger on the Mayflower:

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Captain Richard More was not the Captain of the Mayflower. The death year on this stone is erroneous (off by a year or two), having been etched on by vandals in the early 1900s. Also, the fact that he was a Mayflower "Pilgrim" is probably more vandalism, as by the late 1600s immigrants were no longer referred to as "pilgrims." Many thanks be to this rootsweb site for all of this information! If you look closely, you can see that everything after "aged 84 years" is in a larger font size and just looks different compared to the rest of the etching. The "vandals" as they are referred to in that link perhaps weren't trying to harm anything, maybe they were just trying to preserve information they thought was correct.
 

This is the gravestone of one of Captain More's wives, Jane:

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I don't think what you see atop this stone is a winged death head. Since this head is not actually a skull, it looks more like what my book calls a "soul effigy," or a winged cherub. This would be an early example of one, as my research indicates they did not become truly popular on gravestones until around 1700. It only makes sense the softening of the "death head" into the "soul effigy" started many years earlier - as this stone indicates - I mean, it couldn't have happened overnight. According to this site a soul effigy symbolized man's immortal side, emphasizing a rewarding afterlife rather than the grimness of death that the winged death head symbolized.
 

I have looked and looked and cannot figure out what the semi-circles at the upper left and right are supposed to be. They could be moons, but given the rotation that seems unlikely. Leaves in general can mean many things, depending on the type of leaf depicted - and I cannot tell what what type of leaves these are, either. The teardrop-shaped items I am going to conclude are pears, which symbolize Christ's love for mankind, according to my book. Feel free to enlighten me on the rest of this stone (or correct any inaccuracies I have written) if you have the correct interpretation.
 

Here's a rather sad (and broken) stone engraved for the small children of Thomas and Mary Mould. I found at least one site that stated that Thomas Mould (the father) was constable of Salem. As you can see, son Thomas died at age 16 months on August 1, 1681 and his sister Elizabeth died - also at 16 months - on August 20,1684. According to my book, in Colonial times the heart symbol meant "the soul in bliss" (it was only later, in the Victorian era, that it came to symbolize romantic love). We can only assume they wished bliss for their poor babies souls.

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According to some websites, the missing piece of this stone was for another daughter of theirs who died earlier than Elizabeth. This child was also named Elizabeth and she died Feb 6 1680 or 1681. It seemed to me that the first Elizabeth might have been Thomas' twin, but upon further research I found they are not - first Elizabeth was born 1679 and Thomas was born 1680. The second Elizabeth was born in 1683. The Mould's lost 3 children in 4 years. I know this happened a lot in those days, but that's still a pretty harsh number! And yes, both girls were named Elizabeth. I have found this a lot in doing my own genealogy research. When they really liked a name back then, they really liked a name!
 

Here is a wider shot of the Mould stone and the stones surrounding it (I have crossed out faces of tourists throughout this post to protect The Annoying):

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Unfortunately, I cannot remember to whom the rest of these stones belong, nor can I read any of them in the photo (even enlarged). Nevertheless, this is a beautiful example of an authentic colonial graveyard.
 

The stone of Dorothy, wife of Philip Cromwell:

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Here we see another winged death head (again, symbolizing the mortal remains of the deceased) and we also have two hourglasses. An hourglass on a gravestone represents the passage of time. I cannot find absolute confirmation, but this may be the oldest stone in the Old Burial Point cemetery. She died Sept. 27, 1673.
 

I have found this information about the Cromwells:

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A "gay blade"? Urban Dictionary tells me that is a man suspected of being homosexual. Very interesting... if that term had the same meaning 350ish years ago!
 

There are hundreds of things to do in Salem besides wandering around The Burying Point. The locals have set up every imaginable type of store, museum, etc. to educate tourists about and/or exploit the witch craft trials. If you're lucky you'll stumble onto an establishment that has a vested interest in teaching the realities of the Wiccan religion, rather than forging ahead with the hype. I remember one store that had a tour of dioramas in the back displaying the history of witchcraft and the Wiccan religion. It was the best store/museum we visited, simply because they were really against the typical hype you see all around Salem. The guide went out of her way several times to point out that Wicca is not devil-worshipping, it is about nature, etc. This is the only picture we got from that tour. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the store/museum!

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At another museum quite near the Burying Point, we found a monument to Salem's obsession with Their Favorite Son, Nathaniel Hawthorne, in the guise of a wax figure. Being an English major (nerd), naturally I took a picture:

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Around the corner in the dimly lit next room of the same building were these creepy dioramas, depicting Salem's favorite story - the Witch Trials.

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If you visit Salem, there is no way on Earth you will leave uneducated on the history of witchcraft in America, in Salem, in general. You will learn about it via many formats: dioramas, plays, walking tours, stores, random people on the street handing you things, etc. But this is the only place I remember where you can set off alarms for fun and pleasure. The white square in front of each scene above:

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The following was my favorite clothing store in Salem. I took a picture of the storefront so I could someday go back and look for a cool wedding dress there. Alas, the time has come and I couldn't get to Salem. I bought a dress elsewhere. But if you go to Salem, look for Fool's Mansion. It's cool and stuff...

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Oh sure, NOW I realize Fool's Mansion has a website and online shopping! They didn't when I looked a few years ago! Well, cool!


Moving on, the Salem Witch Museum is probably the most visited museum in Salem (I'm saying that mostly because their website says so)....

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At the Salem Witch Museum you are herded with a large group of tourists into a smallish room with... more dioramas! They are up higher on the wall than the ones from the other, less ornate, museum I showed above. And this time you get to sit down and listen to voice-over narration and watch as the dioramas light up one at a time along with that narration, to teach you all about (at the time we visited, anyway)... the Salem Witch Trials!


Ok... I mean, I get it. The witch trials were here. It's hardly something to be proud of. But they have found a way. And there is only so much to know about these events (sigh...). I am not denying their importance. What I'm trying to say is, for the love of all that is holy and sacred someone please come up with a new angle or something else to talk about regarding Salem at one of these places! Going to several of these places in one day gets really repetitive. By the time you leave town, you can recite the complete history of the Witch Trials and even name most of the accused girls by heart!


Look at this place... doesn't it look like there would be more here than the diorama thing and a gift shop? Maybe we missed something.

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By the way - I'm trying to see how many times I can fit the word "diorama" in one post.
 

Finally, as an example of the overdose of witchcraft-mania in Salem, I present to you one restaurant's idea of the ideal breakfast:

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Oh, and "diorama" = 8. I'm kinda disappointed. Diorama Diorama Diorama Diorama. There - now "diorama" = 13, a much more appropriate number!


(Posted 10/2007)