A Novel Trip: Geeking Out in Salem, MA
Shelf Pleasure contributor Jackie Kimmel took the trip of her literary lifetime by visiting Salem, MA to check off her bucket list goal of seeing the town that inspired her favorite play The Crucible. Kimmel also has a few travel suggestions for those of who you may want to take a similar trip.
Everyone has a book, play or poem that changes their view on life. For me, it was Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. This was required reading for me in middle school, and after reading the play I began a life-long obsession with the Salem witch trials. I am fascinated with the idea that a group of young girls could, in only nine months, alter justice for their community. I was so intrigued by Salem and their witch trials that one of my nicknames in high school was “Goody Kimmel.” Goody being a term used for Mrs., Ms. or Miss at that time
After becoming the resident Salem witch trail expert in school, I promised myself I would visit the city and tour the town that was used as the backdrop of my favorite play. Last month, I achieved this bucket list goal and spent an entire day geeking out in Salem, MA. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more.
As a graduation present to myself, I booked a trip to Kennebunkport, Maine, and planned out an entire day to drive down to Salem, Massachusetts, and be a witch-chasing tourist. First off, regardless of the witch trials, Salem is a beautiful coastal town and the leaves turning in New England is breathtaking. Once I arrived in the heart of the city, I somehow managed to park in the garage just across from the Salem Armory and Visitor Center. The helpful park rangers (yes, this site is a national park run facility) gave me a map of all the historical spots, several options for tours (both walking and trolley), as well as food and shopping areas.
Despite the map and verbal explanation, I decided to take a trolley tour for two reasons. One, I wanted to get my bearings and two, a guided tour may give me additional details I never knew about the city, the trials and the homes of those who lived at that time. Needless to say, in addition to all the places I had planned to see, I was able to find the Hocus Pocus house from the ‘90s movie with Bette Midler.
After the trolley ride, my first stop was the Salem Witch Trails Memorial. It felt appropriate to pay tribute to those I have spent two decades reading about and obsessing over. I was speechless seeing the names of my favorite trial persons (John Proctor, Bridget Bishop, Sarah Good and Rebecca Nurse) carved on their individual memorial benches. According to the trolley guide, the cemetery next to the memorial is the third oldest resting place in the continental USA behind Jamestown, VA, and Boston, MA.
After paying my respects at the memorial, I went to the witch museum. The two-part museum offers a narrated overview of the trials of 1692 followed by a guided tour of the evolution of the term witch (both good and bad). The tour was well worth the fee and offered a great overview of historical events that fostered the citizens of Salem to accuse each other of devil worship and witchcraft.
The next phase of my journey was by far the most amazing. I decided to complete a self-guided walking tour of the whole city. Additionally, to help tourists navigate for themselves, the city has painted red lines on the sidewalks to help tourists guide themselves to all the historical locations. I was able to visit the witch house, the witch dungeon, the old town hall, the Essex Museum, Custom House and Salem Common. It was a fantastic feeling to be able to walk around the city that inspired my favorite play.
Now, a bit of history to share. Arthur Miller’s version of the witch trials in his play, The Crucible, is not historically accurate. Miller’s play details Abigail Williams and her affair with John Proctor and how his lack of returned affection caused the girls to act out and accuse their neighbors and friends of witchcraft. Yes, Abigail Williams was one of the young girls bewitched in 1692, but she was 11 at the time (not 17) and there was never an affair between her and John Proctor. Arthur Miller brilliantly used the Salem Witch Trials as an elaborate backdrop for his 1952 play The Crucible, but the play was actually Miller’s attempt to comment on the ‘witch hunt’ being led at that time by communist-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy. Miller was one of the many writers accused of communism, and he wrote this play as a satire for those desperately trying to uncover communists in Hollywood.
Salem also houses the works of another famous author Nathanial Hawthorne. He is best known for his books The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables and The Marble Faun. Nathanial Hawthorne has family ties to the Salem Witch Trials. Nathanial’s great-great-grandfather was John Hathorne who was one of the judges during the trials. Nathaniel (after his college years) added a “w” to his surname as to not be linked to his infamous lineage. While in Salem, you can tour the House of Seven Gables as well as visit the Hawthorne Hotel. Salem and its treasures were a life-long literary dream come true to tour.
The remainder of my vacation took place back in Kennebunkport, Maine, best known for being the summer vacation spot of the Bush family. While driving back, I learned that two blocks from my hotel was the former home of Pulitzer Prize novelist Booth Tarkington. He wrote The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams. What started as a trip to relax and visit Salem, turned into a novel trip with the likes of three well-known writers. What more could a girl ask for?
Reflecting upon my trip, I have a few recommendations. One, everyone should travel by themselves at least once in their life. It is so empowering to go where you want, eat whatever you want and just be free to do as you please for a few days. Two, planning a trip based on your literary passion is well worth it. Three, if you have traveled somewhere based on a book, I want to hear your story. What book inspired you to travel and how did it turn out?
Jackie Kimmel is a writer who lives in Colorado. She is the former editor of several publications including: RV Trade Digest Magazine, The Morning Bridge, The Sky Report, Tusk Magazine and The Daily Titan Newspaper. She has loved reading since she was very young and prefers biographical, historical and chick-lit books. Follow Jackie on Twitter @Jackie_Kimmel.
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