Salem is not a theme park
By Emily Rosenberg
Every October, people from around the world flock to Salem, Massachusetts to celebrate Halloween and participate in the lore of its famous 1690s witch trials.
With over 160,000 people coming to the city on an average weekend, Salem’s traffic is as congested as Times Square, and its small businesses are tasked with fulfilling the demand of overwhelming crowds.
In 1692-1693 Salem Village and Salem Town, what is now present day Danvers and Peabody, 25 people died due to punishments after being found guilty of performing witchcraft. Nineteen were hanged. Five died in jail and one was crushed to death.
It was an early belief that the devil could give people, thought of as witches, powers for their loyalty. Throughout the 1300s and until the 1600s, tens of thousands of supposed witches, mainly women, were executed.
During Salem’s Witch Trials, more than 200 people were accused of possessing such powers. It began with three women: Tituba, a slave owned by a local reverend; Sarah Good, a homeless woman; and Sarah Osborne, another impoverished woman. All three were blamed for supernaturally afflicting fits onto three young girls.
Good and Osborne were hanged. Tituba was spared, but only because she pleaded guilty and claimed to possess knowledge of other offenders.
It is fun to tour Salem during October and partake in festivities, but we must also consider the reality that making Salem synonymous with caricature-like witches and a Halloween town is ignoring its history.
What happened to the 25 people who were murdered during the trials is not worth traveling from miles around to gawk at on Oct. 31. This was one moment out of several in history where Christian extremists used their religious power to oppress and impose violence against women, and in this case - women from marginalized and underprivileged communities - without being held accountable for the true pain and suffering inflicted.
What happened to these women parallels what Christian extremists are still doing today to eliminate oppressed communities.
Puritans accusing people, especially women of influencing young girls with the powers they received from being loyal to the devil resembles conservative politicians accusing LGBT+ people of infiltration.
Anti-LGBT+ campaigns are often embedded in the idea that LGBT+ people are loyal to the devil and need Jesus to cure them.
Similarly, pro-life campaigns aim to abolish a woman’s right to choose abortion, some referring to it as demonic.
These are only two examples. Christian extremists have been prosecuting non-Christian people for performing supposed heinous acts for centuries, when really it is because they are different and do not conform to their beliefs and standards.
We are romanticizing the murders of Good, Osborne, and the other 22 people when we use Salem as a center for spooky celebrations because of its history of witch trials.
These glorified celebrations also serve as a reminder that the men who wrongly prosecuted these people of witchcraft never received any punishment besides having to confess to their wrongdoing.
If we do not hold Christian extremists accountable for their crimes in the past, how can we hold to our commitment to do so in the present?
Salem erected a memorial in 1986 commemorating those who died during the trials at the site where people were hanged and also has a Salem Witch Museum documenting the history of the Witch Trials. This is a respectable way to honor those who suffered from the trials. However, this does not erase the painful, traumatic stain that Christian extremists left on Salem. It does not erase the fact that tragic events, whether they occur in small towns on the North Shore or big cities across the globe, are still capable of happening if we allow the dreadful history to be romanticized and do not take action to stop future tragedies.
If you are going to Salem this Halloween, do not fail to remember and reflect upon the remarkable history that likely encouraged your trip in the first place.
Better yet, visit Salem during another month. Residents of Salem and its surrounding cities become frustrated with the number of tourists their home suddenly attracts in October. Suddenly their 10-minute commutes turn into hours, and there is nowhere to park.
It is a beautiful oceanside location to visit all 12 months of the year.
The Peabody Essex Museum holds one of the largest collections of Asian art in the United States.
Such attractions are part of the reason why Salem is the third most visited city in Massachusetts. The hype of touring Salem is not exclusive to October.
But whenever you decide to tour the city, remember that it is more than Halloween.
Remember the people were never witches, they were just people.