Recently, I had the joy of returning to Salem, Massachusetts for a short stay. Boston’s North Shore will always be home for me and it’s a pleasure to return. Witches of Salem and their history are so commonplace to the area that you don’t get a true appreciation for Salem’s magic until you step away for a time.
This trip, we stayed at The Merchant, an exquisitely renovated and lavishly decorated boutique hotel in Salem’s central historic district. In 2014, despite rumors of it being haunted, the place sold and was painstakingly refurbished. The place is stunning.
The Merchant hotel is the former home of mercantilist Joshua Ward, but prior to that, the home of George Corwin—High Sheriff during the Salem Witch Trials—sat on the property.
A Ghostly Legend Endures
Rumor has it the ghost of Mrs. Corwin haunts the property.
I saw no evidence during our stay. In fact, I asked the staff if there was any truth to the rumors: “Nothing more than strange noises that could be easily explained,” I was informed.
While the “ghost” may be questionable, its legend survives.
George Corwin, the man who signed warrants for the arrest and execution of the witches of Salem during the hysteria, was originally put to rest on the now hotel’s front lawn.
Why was Corwin buried there?
There was a lien for his body from a victim of the witch trials, who lost not only his reputation but a considerable amount of money—allegedly due to Corwin’s illicit collection practices.
Corwin’s corpse remained buried on the front of the property for some time until legal matters were cleared. It was then removed from the front lawn and placed into the cellar.
I know. Weird.
Apparently, the family feared the community would seek revenge and do something to the corpse.
Years later, with Mrs. Corwin remarried, George’s remains were removed to the Corwin Family tomb at the Broad Street Cemetery of Salem.
Quite a story.
Perhaps Mrs. Corwin’s spirit feels guilty for carrying on with a new man whilst her dead husband remained six feet under in the basement. No wonder the rumors.
Who knows. The Corwin ghost is just one of many haunted happenings alleged in Salem.
Hanging Site Revealed and Schiff’s Book
Scholars have now pinpointed the location where the witches of Salem were hanged—behind a Walgreens, go figure.
Pulitzer-Prize winner Stacy Schiff in her book The Witches: Salem, 1692, explains in excruciating detail how the village was influenced to believe in witchcraft. It was much more commonplace then to believe in the unexplained. The Witches: Salem, 1692 is an account of how a society can, “take that satisfying step from the righteous to the self-righteous [and] drown our private guilts in a public well,” according to Schiff and review in The Boston Globe.
As Schiff states in the beginning of her book, “No trace of a single session of the witchcraft court survives.” What’s left are personal notes and stories heard secondhand. The official court recorder at the time, Thomas Putnam, rewrote the village’s records and deleted any events that were “grievous” or could prove to be “unprofitable” in the town’s future.What foresight.
No wonder it took so long to pinpoint the hanging location.
Witches of Salem Alive and Well
I think Putnam would be disheartened to learn that the events he tried to erase have not only survived but thrived. His attempt at hiding has only spurred interest.
Tourists flock to pay respect to those accused.
Today, people celebrate their Wiccan religion in the open and accepting community of Salem. Walk down the cobblestone streets, and you’ll feel the magic.