Modern Salem (and Bikes)

Essay by Maeve Connolly

Photo by S. on Unsplash

Bam! I turned my head, and my classmate was tangled up in a mess on the streets of Salem, intertwined with what looked like a person and what looked like a mess of metal. That is when I realized that Salem was not at all how I imagined it. Throughout the last month, my American Studies class focused on the early years of America, specifically the infamous Salem witch trials. During this study, the class analyzed The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, and the article “To the Farthest Port of the Rich East,” by Charles H.P. Copeland. Both readings helped develop a particular view of Salem, that helped me visualize what Salem was like several hundred years ago. However, I hadn’t focused on what modern-day Salem would be like, surprising me after a bike plowed my classmate over. After visiting Salem, and witnessing the modernization of the town, I was struck as my preconceived notion of the town widely differentiated from reality.

The image of Salem that I developed based on the analysis of the city over the reality differs greatly, especially considering the modernization. From reading The Crucible, the image that I had developed made up a small, isolated farming town. I imagined dirt roads, with establishments separated by miles of land, with the “center of town” indicated by a courthouse with an attached jail. This simplistic visualization was altered after the reading by Charles H.C. Copeland. The scene set within his article takes place a century after the last witch was hanged, in the 1800s. His portrayal of Salem displayed it as a rich, bustling, coastal port. This slightly changed my perspective as, when I read about Salem, I still imagined the same thing, except it bordered the Atlantic.

Now, after I have actually visited Salem, nearly four hundred years past the time The Crucible was set, my preconceived notion of Salem is proven to greatly differ from reality. The difference in my initial image of Salem and the reality of modern-day Salem is best seen within two specific instances in my time at Salem.  The first of these experiences took place when I visited the first historic house with my tour group. Because there was ongoing construction, the road was blocked off forcing the group to walk in the middle of the road to get to the first house. On the left side of the road was a magnificent historic building that had previously belonged to a wealthy tradesman. It was constituted of old brick with impressive stone pillars at the steps and was surrounded by a black gate that was very ornate. However, on the other side of the road were several shops, the majority of them being tourist attractions that sold witch-related memorabilia and souvenirs. I snapped back to reality as a cyclist crashed into my classmate as we remained in the center of the road. In that instance, I really saw the difference in my initial image compared to the reality: the modernization of Salem. I had not imagined that I would find so many cars, shops, people on their phones, and cyclists driven by “road rage.” In other words, I had not guessed that we would run into such modern aspects of Salem intertwined with historic aspects. 

Visualizations developed within the last month from my close study of historic Salem were proved inaccurate, specifically in the interest of modernization, when I visited Salem. From Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible, I visualized a simple, inland town with a small population of farmers. This was changed to the idea of a bustling coastal port that still remained simple with the reading of Copeland’s “To the Farthest Port of the Rich East.” Despite the images of Salem that both readings helped me develop, I was very surprised when I arrived at the jam-packed city of Salem. What really struck me, or rather my classmate, was the modernization of the city, shown through the number of inhabitants and the rate of urbanization.

About Maeve Connolly 325 Articles

Maeve Connolly is a junior at Clayton A. Bouton High School.