Thursday, October 10, 2013

Road Trip: The haunts of Salem, MA

Massachusetts is one of the oldest states in the US and has a tremendous amount of history contained within it. Some of that history dates back to the colonial era, with many Revolutionary War battlefields and monuments to visit, making it a great place to go sightseeing on a motorcycle. But of course, not all of that history is quite so illustrious. Salem, MA is a town that has a dark history associated with the infamous Salem witch trials. These proceedings, which often were done out of fear of the unknown, rather than a desire for justice, brought many lives to premature ends. It is believed that the souls of these individuals who met an early death may still haunt several sites around the city. With such a rich history, I could not resist the urge to hop on the K1200S and tour around this most notorious of Massachusetts towns.

My first stop was the St. Mary's Cemetery, a rather broad expanse of burial plots set near the border between the towns of Peabody and Salem. This ordinary looking cemetery is supposedly home to numerous spirits, many of whom are the ghosts of the witches who perished during the trials, but also a number of more recent arrivals. Ghostly spirits are purported to have been seen walking the grounds, mysterious sounds have been heard at all odd hours of the day, and unusual circumstances are rumored to have taken place here. Pulling up to the gates, it was clear that this was still an active burial place because several families were just exiting the gate, likely having tended to the burial sites of their families or friend. Realizing this, I made sure to be respectful and keep things fairly quiet to avoid disturbing any other families that might be honoring their dead.

Pulling around a small mausoleum set on a high point in the grounds, I was able to survey my surroundings. The utter absence of noise quickly became eerie as even the sound of the cars on the nearby road had been completely muffled. Peering around, the well-manicured grounds, serene groves of trees, and generally peaceful environs make it easy to overlook that this place is the final resting place for so many souls. However, a sense of eeriness quickly seeded itself into my subconscious and grew larger the longer I stayed. Something just did not feel right, as I stood there, and pretty soon, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. Even if there are no ghosts, and even in the bright mid-day sun, there is something disconcerting about standing in the middle of a cemetery, especially one as old as this. While my rational mind knows that an encounter of any kind is unlikely, the irrational part of my psyche was having a panic attack. Rather than waiting around to see if anything would happen, I hopped back onto the bike and headed off to my next destination.

Winding through the back roads of Salem, I eventually arrived at Witch Hill Road, where I parked the bike in a lot at the base of the hill. Another rider had stopped at the other end of the lot and was on the phone. The rather nondescript parking lot, with a large water tower in the background and overlooking a baseball and softball diamond, is supposedly built on the site where many women tried and convicted as witches were put to death by hanging. Now, not even so much as a plaque adorns the site. According to local residents, however, many strange sightings take place here and odd occurrences continue to manifest here. I hopped off the bike and took out my camera, intent on capturing a panoramic shot of my surroundings. A man walking his dog happened to be strolling by, yes despite the fact that I aimed the camera right at him at least twice when panning for the shot, he managed not to appear in the final photo. Very weird.

The final stop on my brief tour of the haunts of Salem was the House of the Seven Gables. Considered among the most haunted places in New England, it is nestled up against the water, set back from the main roads in a rather quaint part of Salem. Given its history and the supposedly haunted status, it certainly looked peaceful enough from the outside. The dark planks that panel the outside of the building looked in surprisingly good shape, likely recently restored. The visitor center was open, but not a soul was visible anywhere. I briefly walked around the outside of the property, trying to make sense of its rather unusual layout, but knew that I was already running late for brunch. Without the time to stay and explore the property, which is now a museum to the history of the state of Massachusetts, I snapped a few quick photos and proceeded on my way. Still, as I departed, somehow I knew I would want to return to explore this area further. Haunted or now, the surrounding area is typical small New England town, with many tiny storefronts, occupied by local shops and not a single Starbucks in sight.

Unlike prior trips, the roads which pass between these locations were not particularly interesting for riding, but the many small shops and the proximity to sites such as the Peabody Essex Museum make it a great destination to visit. The history that abounds the area is reason enough to stop in and stay for a few days and the numerous bed and breakfasts make it a great location for couples. Combine that with the great motorcycling roads available just to the north in New Hampshire, the great seaside town of Rockport less than an hour away, and all of that great New England charm, Salem's grim history has now become one of its greatest attractions.

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