Hidden History – Bewitched Statue (Lappin Park, Salem, MA)

Date Of Visit: Countless times (photo provided was taken Oct. 14, 2018)

Location: Lappin Park, 235 Essex St (corner of Essex and Washington St), Salem, MA

Summary: One of the most popular attractions in Salem, MA was once a divisive topic of debate.  The Bewitched statue in Salem, MA, a seemingly innocuous statue, has a hidden history you may not be aware of.

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When one thinks of the most controversial witch in the history of Salem, the name that comes to mind, or at least used to come to mind, may not be the one you think of.

Dedicated June 15, 2005, the Bewitched statue shows Samantha Stephens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery) riding a broom (did she ever do that on the show?) with a crescent moon behind her (not even a full moon, jeepers).  This statue would prove to be a hotly debated attraction that would create almost as much drama as the trials itself.

While the statue is not exactly hidden, in fact it is one of the most visited attractions in Salem, MA, the history behind the statue may be hidden to many.

Browsing old articles and viewing old videos, which I will attach at the bottom of this post, many people claimed the statue “trivialized” the witch trials.  Some protesters claimed it was a tacky kitschy tribute.  Clearly, they had never  been to Salem before.  In fairness, though, it was mostly Salem residents who protested.  What I did find to be interesting is that some of the stronger supporters of the statue in the videos I watched were witches.  Modern day witches.  But witches nevertheless.  As an aside, there is a store that has been in Salem for some time that does psychic readings.  What’s the name of the store you might ask?  Bewitched In Salem.  So, there already was a connection albeit loosely with the show.

The “kitschy” and trivialization arguments are specious at best.  During the Halloween season, or really all year long, you can go to a “haunted house”, buy a shirt with a tasteless phrase or get your photo taken with a ghost, goblin or, ahem, witch just steps away from the burial ground and memorial to victims of the witch hunt.  It almost seems out of left field to choose this one statue to target as being offensive or a device to promote the trivialization of the witch trials.  Trust me, there’s lots of things to complain about in this regard in the city of Salem.

It almost seems like people wanted something to vent about and it became a convenient target.  As I mentioned above, you can buy tshirts with such phrases as, “I got stoned in Salem.”  Besides being tasteless it is inaccurate (witches were never stoned, at least not as a form of punishment by the city).  This is just one of the many attempts at humor that you will find on any given day in Salem.  It also makes me think of and  even yearn for the “salad days” when a statue in a historic city was our biggest concern.

While I do appreciate that we shouldn’t trivialize the witch trials and it’s important to remember this tragedy, it would also be hypocritical of me to say I am in any way above the fray.  I love to visit Salem, as my posts probably indicate, and I visit every chance I get. Not just during Halloween.  So, this is by no means a “hit job piece” on the city of Salem itself.

I also think, in  weird way, it’s okay to offer some entertainment and distraction from the all too real tragedy.  And, the city does a good job of remembering and honoring the victims.  You could even argue those affected by the witch hunt would rather we celebrate in the city than wallow in the obvious sadness of the history attached it.

There are several misconceptions about the witch trials in Salem which are important to consider when thinking about Salem’s role in the witch trials and peripherally Elizabeth Montgomery and the TV show Bewitched.  For one, most of the witch trial drama occurred outside of Salem’s current city limits (a lot of it occurred it what is now known as Danvers).  There is actually a memorial dedicated to where the witch trials occurred in Danvers, MA.

Another little known fact that I wasn’t aware of either until after I posted this, Bewitched did film some episodes in Salem.  But, Elizabeth Montgomery herself never lived in the area.

Also, as an aside, there really isn’t any correlation in the timeline of events of the witch trials and Halloween chronologically.  While many people visit the memorials to the alleged witches during Halloween, the witch hysteria began when Abigail Williams and Betty Parris experienced fits of convulsions in February, 1692.  By Halloween the hysteria would have been in full swing and many people would have already been accused and even jailed.  It is off putting to think the only connection is that Halloween is considered a scary time, albeit a fake scary time.  The Salem witch trials were a very real scary time, though.  Before I get too far off track, what would drive the city to promote this pseudo holiday?  See paragraph below.

So, why was the statue erected in the city of Salem?  Hmmm, let’s think about this.  If the words “money grab” come to mind pat yourself on the back.  TV Land spent a cool $75,000 to install the 9 foot bronze statue.  While that may seem like a pretty big chunk of change to put down for a statue it was a bargain for their marketing purposes.  Also, some of the money was spent to revitalize and “spruce up” the Lappin Park area where the statue was installed.  “Spruced up” may be in the eye of the beholder.  I think they mowed the lawn.  They also very subtly (cough cough) put their stamp on the property.  This is only one example of how the city profits off the tragedy.

Now, it seems the victor is clear.  You’ll be hard pressed to be able to take a photograph at the statue at least during Halloween season.   Trust me.  I know this first hand.  Kids climb the statue.  Older folks look fondly on the statue as a tribute to their past.  And, perhaps most funny, very young people and tourists can be heard asking “Who is this a statue of?”  You’ll rarely, if ever, see anyone protesting the statue (they protest other things but not the statue).  It seems the city of Salem has indeed become bewitched.

Below is a video that shows some of the controversy  surrounding the statue

 

 

Hidden History – Almshouse (Hingham, MA)

Date Of Visit: March 30, 2019

Location: Bare Cove Park, 45 Bare Cove Dr, Hingham, MA

Summary: Bare Cove Park was once home to one of the first charitable groups in the colonies and states.  “Town Farm” at Bare Cove was one of the many almshouses in the states.

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New England has a long history of helping others.  One of the ways the people of New England have reached out to help others is with the creation of Almshouses..  In Christian tradition, alms are money or services donated to support the poor and indigent.

In short, Almshouses were charitable housing units designed to help the indigent, particularly widows, the elderly and those unable to pay their rent.  They were maintained by a community or charitable group.  Originally, they were attached to churches and other religious groups.  They were later adopted by local officials and governing bodies.

Although they have a short history in the colonies and states, they have a much longer history in Europe.  In fact, Almshouses are a tradition that was brought over from England.  The first recorded almshouse is said to have been built in 1132 at the Hospital of Saint Cross in Winchester, England. It is still in existence today.

The almshouse in Hingham, MA, (“Town Farm”) which once stood in the area in the photograph below was built  in 1832 and it lasted just over 100 years. It was the third almshouse in the city.  Although the sign doesn’t say specifically where the almshouse was, it was in this general area.  Trees, a few condos just out of view behind the trees and access roads now stand where the almshouse once stood.  This sign, where the defunct almshouse once stood, is located on Bare Cove Path at Bare Cove Park.

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Almshouses in the colonies and states were not just a product of Hingham, MA, though.  In fact, almshouses were abundant throughout the colonies and United States way before Hingham erected “Town Farm.”

The first almshouse in the United States was founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1622. The original Almshouse was burned down in 1682. When they decided to rebuild it they chose a different location.  But, these alhouses also dotted the Northeast in such places as Pennsylvania.

However, almshouses weren’t just used for altruistic purposes.  In addition to providing a needed home for the poor, mentally ill and physically impaired, the homes were also used by some as a place to drop off vagrants, criminals and addicts.  This made some of the almshouses unsafe.  Allegations of neglect and unsanitary conditions were also rampant at some of the homes.

By the late 1800s and part of the 1900s, almshouses were largely gone.  This was in part because the Social Security Act prohibited federally aided old-age assistance to residents of public institutions.  This was because the creation Social Security was thought to make these types of homes unnecessary.  Little did they realize how healthcare costs would sky rocket in the ensuing years.  The prohibition of legally funded almshouses also paved the way for privatized elderly care homes.

 

Hidden History – Naumkeag (Salem, MA)

Date Of Visit: February 2, 2019

Location: Salem, MA (formerly Naumkeag)

Summary: The area now known as Salem, MA, was once known for so much more than the venue of the witch hysteria.

Although much is made of the Salem witch trials, there is much more to Salem’s history than this dark spot on the city’s past.

Long before Roger Conant settled in what is now Salem, MA, in the 1620s, the Naumkeag tribe had settled in what is now considered Essex County, comprising essentially the northeast corner of MA.  Although the area originally kept the name Naumkeag, the settlers would decide to change the name.  Naumkeag would eventually become known by its current name of Salem, a name derived from the Hebrew word for peace.

What is interesting is Salem is not the only area which bears the name Naumkeag.  Some areas of western Massachusetts, specifically an estate in Stockbridge bears this name.  If it is named after the same tribe that would be quite a distance to travel (well over 100 miles).  It’s not clear if the same tribe once lived there.  But, it’s more likely the name was derived from the Algonkian name for “fish” which I will touch on later in this post.

Salem keeps ties to the Naumkeag name with some businesses bearing the name and this building on Essex St that some people may never have noticed also bears the name of the area.  Most prominently, the building houses the liquor store Pamplemousse (185 Essex St) in addition to other shops.

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The name is not listed prominently.  So it could be easy to miss.  But, if you look up you can’t miss it.

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The name Naumkeag is most likely derived from the Algonkian root “Namas” meaning “fish.”  As the waterways of Salem were once plentiful with fish and fish was such a major food source this is a logical conclusion. In fact, after a quick search of restaurants in Salem it is evident it still relies on fish and other seafood for its economy.

The native Naumkeag was settled some 4,000 years ago as a seasonal fishing settlement.  Eventually, it became part of  a colonial settlement, as was the case with many former Native American settlements.  Roger Conant would settle that area and a much larger area in 1629.  Now, it is a mere footprint on a city which is rich in many aspects of American history.  In fact, it is plausible to write more hidden histories on Salem as it has played an essential role in many historical events other than the witch trials.  And it all started in a place called Naumkeag.

So, the next time you’re shopping on Essex St or photographing the Halloween revelers, take a look up and note that you’re actually at Naumkeag Block.

 

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