I honestly couldn’t tell you how I came across Winter Island, but I’m glad I did. There’s a possibility that I saw it on the map when I was looking around, but likely it came from one of a million websites out there about visiting Salem and the surrounding areas. I hadn’t budgeted a lot of money for Salem, but I also didn’t want to make only a half hour stop before heading up to Portland, so Winter Island was perfect.
In season, you can take a boat out around the island get a closer look, but since it was downright chilly by the time we got there, all the boats were up on dry dock for the winter. There was plenty to see walking around the island, though, and we spent a solid hour-hour-and-a-half climbing around on the rocks, getting up close to the light house, and following the little paths around the beaches.
I really loved how close to the water we were able to get, it really felt like we were exploring without getting too far off the beaten path — it’s the perfect stopover for a day trip where you want to get a little “hike” in, but you don’t want to push yourself too hard or take too much time out of your day. There is a campground there, and as we came through they were starting renovations on the amenities and the store there by the docks, so I’d love to go back up and go camping in season!
I say all of that like I got all that close to the water, but my shoes were… inappropriate for climbing all over slightly unstable and at-times slick harbor rocks. So I mostly just stood back and watched the Peachy Keen Husband do his best mountain goat impression.
There was plenty else to see, including the tail end of the beautiful fall colors, the signs here and there about the bustling beginnings of Winter Island/Fort Pickering/Salem, and fun little rock stacks left behind by other adventurers. Before we headed back to town, we found a quiet little beach, called Waikiki Beach. A far cry from the sunny shores of Hawaii, it was still a lovely little cove and I’m sure would have been a refreshing dip in the heat of summer.
We drove the 15 minutes back in to Salem with the single goal to see The Witch House and the Bewitched statue. I am a fan of both historical research on the Salem Witch Trials AND Elizabeth Montgomery, so our limited time there was budgeted specifically for those goals. Unfortunately, I forgot to dig up the video of me attempting my best nose twitch, so you’ll have to get that in a bonus post on my Facebook page! It’s not much to write home about, and really I’m more of an I Dream of Jeannie gal, but man if I didn’t expect Endora to pop up any second…
The Witch House (Salem) is the home of Jonathan Corwin, who was one of the judges in Salem’s Witch Trials, and is the only structure in Salem still standing that has ties to the Trials. While there isn’t much in the house that actually ties to witches/witchcraft/the Trials, it’s worth the visit because of its in depth history of the times and a solid overview of the conditions that led to hysteria.
This was one of many displays around Salem warning of the lessons to be learned from the Salem Witch Trials. We know now that it wasn’t poisonous wheat or actual witchcraft, but an extreme reaction to a perceived threat in a time where there were plenty of scapegoats. Remember that this is a time where fresh human blood was thought to be a drinkable cure for epilepsy, and where an intense devotion to a very strict interpretation of religion reigned supreme. The belief in the spiritual and supernatural was extremely alive, and there was no reason for the spiritual and legal leaders of the city (read: older, land-owning white men) to not blame things going wrong on the disenfranchised among them. The first and primary targets were the slaves, mostly female, who came from Africa and the West Indies. Spurred on by a doctor’s diagnosis of “bewitchment” instead of epilepsy, young women throughout the city were encouraged to attribute their afflictions to the same cause.
I don’t want to get too far off base here, but if you haven’t read up on the Salem Trials since middle school, look up some of the recent updates on it. Turns out, Tituba wasn’t the mysterious witch that even my “factual” books made her out to be — she likely confessed to save herself from a worse fate. For now, back to the Witch House and 17th century life in Salem…
Honestly, there’s not much more to say — life in 17th century Salem was dull and strict and kind of depressing. The weather would have been brutal, moreso than today, and the houses were poorly insulated and starkly decorated. The children slept in the same room as the loom, there were no toys because playing wasn’t on the docket, and the house was lit by polished brass candle fixtures meant to reflect the flame around the room.
This particular house would have been one of the nicer spots in town since it belonged to a magistrate, and you could see the “luxury” of the time in the window panes, the second floor, and the two large fireplaces with sturdy mantles. Unfortunately, even with the bare-bones electrical lighting in the house, the insides were very dim and hard to photograph (hence the Winter Island heavy pictures), which makes you imagine that winter in that house would have been enough to make you jump off a cliff in to the sea. Seriously — those pictures above were taken at about 1PM, right around the sun being at its highest!
I have wanted to go back up to MA since I visited a friend years ago, and one day I’ll have a week where I can start in Salem and spend a couple of days seeing everything there is to see. Most things there cost money, the town thrives on tourism after all, but because of its history, it is also a haven for the oddballs and outcasts created by our society. The LGBTQIA community is thriving here, and we saw signs for Pride everywhere we went. The port is also full of history, with Salem once being the sixth largest port in the world, and there are a lot of great little bakeries and breakfast spots that I would love to get my fork and knife in to!
Save up your money for the museums, rent yourself a little car (ZipCar is available in Boston, OR you can rent a car if you want to do a Salem-Boston-Cape trip) and drive up the coast to a really lovely little town that takes its history and its duty to the future very seriously.
Next up, we reach our destination in Portland!
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