Modern Day Salem

photo by Massmatt via Flickr

The exploration of different houses original to Salem, Massachusetts during our recent field trip there served to enhance my understanding and appreciation of the things we discussed in class about Salem’s rich history. The three houses we toured existed during the town’s big events, like the witch trials, and are just a few hundred feet away from the bustling main street of the city that it is today. Our tour guide led us through the busiest part of the city only to completely change the feel of the place by bringing us into houses remade to appear as they were during the time period in which they were built. On top of that, each house we explored was built during a different time period, giving us a more complete history of the area, not just an image of the witch trials for which the city is better known. I was able to learn a lot of new things about what life in Salem was like in the past while still being submerged in the town’s present day lifestyle.

For each house my group toured, our guide provided us with a mystery item that was used during the time the house was built. In the first house, the item was a wooden pole that extended from the floor to the ceiling with a half circle sticking out of its side. A member of the group called out that it was for a baby, and I actually laughed out loud, thinking that it would be inhumane to put a baby in such a device. I was wrong. The guide told us that babies would be put in the half circle and the pole would rotate around. This was to let the baby walk around in circles to occupy them and keep them away from other dangerous objects in the house. Mr. Gladd and the guide brought our thoughts back to the present day when they joked about how their children had practically lived in a similar modern device in which the baby is placed in a circle containing a pouch where the baby can bounce up or down for amusement. I remembered watching old family videos and seeing my young self in the same contraption they described and recognized how life in the present can draw parallels to the past. The mystery item in another house stumped everyone in my tour group. The guide told us that it was an exercise machine of sorts. It was designed to be straddled and to simulate horseback riding. The connection to horseback riding reminded me that cars did not exist back in the 1800s when the house was built, and so, horses were a common form of transportation.

When I exited the first house we visited, I was once again exposed to the hustle and bustle of modern day life with cars, tourists and shops all around. The next house we visited was full of history, with strange and outdated things that helped me feel like I was in the Salem of the past. When we first walked in, there was a doorbell, normal enough for a modern house but surprising to me that such an old home should have one. We discovered it didn’t work after convincing the tour guided to let us ring it. After examining it from the inside, I was not surprised, because it was nothing like a doorbell of today. It was a large contraption with strings simply hooked up to a regular metal bell, another reminder of civilization of the past. Another interesting item in the house was a fancy box that one would open and pee into, if the need to go to the bathroom arose. What was really interesting is that it was placed in the corner of a room, meaning that if you had to go to the bathroom, you had to do so in front of whoever else was around. This gave me a new appreciation for the privacy and comforts of today’s bathrooms as separate rooms.

As I walked through these aging homes, I was brought back in time and felt as if I could walk outside and be greeted by a horse and carriage instead of a crowded street. I was able to return to reality because of some small details. In order to keep the house suitable for public showing, electricity is needed, so throughout the houses are outlets. Just outside the window of any of the houses we toured were shops, cars, and people dressed up in costumes to entertain the tourists. I was reminded that, although it felt like I was back in the days of The Salem Witch Trials, I was really still in present day Salem, a city that has transformed itself to make its long history come to life.

About Evan Ensslin 430 Articles

Evan Ensslin is a junior at Clayton A. Bouton High School.