My mother told me many years ago that I ought to visit Salem, home of my 6-X great grandmother, Rebecca Nurse, and sign my name in the book. Not the devil's book, I hasten to add, but the book of great-granny Nurse's descendants, who are as numerous as the sands of the sea. Harold and I finally had a chance to go there last week on our way home from Maine. It was… interesting.
The seaport town of Salem is something of a zoo nowadays. We encountered a wild-eyed, hairy docent leading a troop of quivering tourists from attraction to attraction, while he amazed them with a Pagan spiel. At one point he chased us out of the garden of one of the old houses, the Witch House, I think it was called. It was a lovely old garden with a pear tree laden with fruit. I don't know what his problem was, or even whether he was authorized to chase us. Surely the pagans aren't in charge of Salem now. Or maybe they are.
For myself, I'm a Christian, as was Rebecca Nurse. I shudder to think what she would make of all the witch kitsch in Salem. But I have no business professing to be shocked by all that, since I knew what to expect beforehand.
I did not realize that Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables was in Salem, right on the harbor. We found a caterer in possession and a wedding going on out behind under a big white tent. Have your wedding at the House of Seven Gables!
We had a delicious dinner at the Captain's Waterfront Grill, looking right out on the dock where the Friendship of Salem was moored. That's the same square-rigged ship depicted on my dinner plates. I was very pleased to see it, a little bit of home.
But all this was hours after we visited the actual home of Rebecca Nurse.
The Nurse homestead is not in Salem itself but in the town of Danvers, called Salem Village in 1692 to distinguish it from Salem Town. It is being maintained as an historic farmstead, an oasis of stillness in the middle of an ordinary suburban town. We went down a dirt driveway and parked in front of the fence, as the sign instructed. Then we walked on to the house. No one was there.
As luck would have it, the Nurse house closed at three every afternoon, and whatever docents we might have encountered had fled away by 3:05. All the same it was nice. Quiet. Dignified. The way I like things. It's not as if I didn't know the story, or needed someone to tell it to me. Here was the rolling, fertile acreage coveted by the evil, posession-shamming Putnam family. There was the upstairs window, the window of the very bedroom where the wicked bailiffs came and dragged that sweet old lady, and she not feeling well, off to the jail for refusing to confess that she was a witch.
We wandered all over, taking pictures. I had an odd feeling. No one knows where Rebecca Nurse's grave might be, for the family cut her down from the gallows and buried her secretly, perhaps somewhere on her own farm. The secret location was not passed down in my mother's family. I might have been walking over her remains. I didn't think to say a prayer for her. Surely she's at rest in the bosom of the Lord.
Since we couldn't get inside, the house being all locked up, I never did find out whether there was actually a book for me to sign.
© 2014 Kate Gallison