It was around twelve o’clock and I was exhausted. The day had been going quite well, but the constant walking coupled with my having gone to sleep late the previous night had drained me. Fortunately, it was at this time that our tour of the cemetery finished, we hopped on the trolley, and I was able to sleep. It was due to the animated (and informative) shouting of the tour guide, not to mention my classmates’ teasing, that I awoke to the sight of a delightful looking camping area and, more importantly for the purposes of this essay, a tree. In order to contextualize the impact this event had on me, it must be noted that I am an avid camper, not of the Boy Scout sort who seeks to establish a dominance of nature but rather the type who camps to enjoy the beauty of an environment separate from humanity. Moreover, I have a particular affinity towards trees as a result of my seeing giant redwood trees when I was five years old. Knowing this, it is no surprise that the moment I saw the aforementioned tableaux the first thought that sprung to mind was a desire to spend a night hanging from the tree in my hammock, listening to music, watching the sky, enjoying my solitude. Then like a rambunctious toddler running through my china shop, the tour guide happily declared the site to be none other than that of the very last official hanging in the city of Salem. You might call me a fool, or at the very least lacking attention to detail, for surely there was a sign nearby dedicated to informing visitors of the importance of this location, but I swear the only sign in the vicinity was the one that labeled the lot as number three (possibly five). Regardless, the fact is, it jarred me to true consciousness as I considered how such an innocuous spot; such a peaceful, beautiful tree had been the scene of a grisly historical event. Needless to say, for the remainder of my time in Salem I was acutely aware of every detail, attempting even as we drove away to discern the story behind every object I encountered. I was certain that previous to the tour guide’s revelation many stories, similar only in their depth, had passed me by unseen. I was determined to not have it happen again.
Now consider the luxurious houses of the Crowninshield or the storied House of the Seven Gables, dragged to their current resting place by a desire to preserve history and attract tourists. They are what I would consider garish displays of antiquity, interesting at first glance but obtrusive when one realizes they are out of place. It is my belief that although these majestic monuments to the past, centerpieces which invite outsiders into Salem, are key to the experience, the job of making the venture worthwhile and enduring resides solely in the innocuous object that upon close observation brings history to life in the tourist’s imagination. Without these minute details, the site is comparable to the monstrosity of Las Vegas a project that transplants famous icons, attempting to capture their culture’s allure, but ultimately failing as a result of its neglecting the surrounding environment that makes the figure not only an object but a story capable of intriguing the curious individual.