Salem Before, During, and After the Witch Trials

James’s House (Sorry…the John Ward House)

I loved visiting Salem, Massachusetts while I was writing Her Loving Husband’s Curse, the second book in the Loving Husband Trilogy. Imagine my surprise when, behind the Peabody-Essex Museum, I encountered the John Ward House, which was built in 1684. Long, brown wooden slats. Diamond-paned casement windows. Steep, pitched gabled roof. Is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?

This is James’s house!

I felt like Sarah when she sees James’s house for the first time: I knew this house though I had never seen it before except in my dreams. This was one of those strange life-imitating-fiction moments I encountered a number of times while visiting Salem. And, like Sarah, I had to touch the scratchy wood for it to sink in that the house was really there. I took picture after picture so I could prove to myself later that James’s house was real and I had stood in front of it. I half-expected to see Sarah walk through the front door.

Pickering Wharf

From there I walked to Pickering Wharf, which also plays an important role in Her Dear & Loving Husband since that’s where Olivia’s shop, The Witches Lair, is located. The Witches Lair is the type of shop you see occasionally with psychic readings, tarot cards, amulets, crystals, and books of spells. While Olivia and her shop are fictional, there are many psychic shops in Salem, and there is at least one psychic with her own shop in Pickering Wharf alongside the boutiques and restaurants. Located at the edge of the bay, the gray-blue and beige-toned buildings look out into the stretch of water, and there’s the Friendship, the three-masted ship—just the way I described it, thank goodness. I ate lunch at Capn’s, wandered around the shops, watched others eating at the tables outside taking advantage of the sunny summer day, took pictures of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Pickering Wharf is peaceful, calm, and beautiful.

The garden at the House of the Seven Gables

I hung around Pickering Wharf for a while, then walked down the block (everything in Salem seems to be down the block from everything else) to the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by the novel from Salem’s favorite son, Nathaniel Hawthorne. From his cousin, Hawthorne learned the story of the old house, and from there came the inspiration for his story. The house is every bit as grand as you would expect. Larger than James’s house (excuse me, the John Ward House), the house has seen a lot of history since it’s one of the oldest buildings in the Salem area. Passed from one family to another, made bigger, rooms and gables added, along with that secret passage made famous in the novel, the house was turned from a personal residence into a museum. I felt myself pulled back in time as I toured the rooms and looked at the furniture, the wall hangings, and the clothing. Outside the house is the garden, a burst of pinks and purples, and as I admired the flowers I saw the sea stretching out to the horizon, one of the most scenic sights in Salem. I even met two friendly cats wandering about greeting visitors. There are other buildings on the grounds, too, including the red house where Hawthorne was born. Hawthorne was born a few blocks away, and the house was moved to its current location in the 1950s. It’s a humble house since the Hathornes (the original spelling) were not a wealthy family.

The cat at the House of the Seven Gables

I described the museum in Her Dear & Loving Husband. It’s an important moment for James and Sarah. They’re still tentative in their relationship at this point though they want to know each other better. On Halloween, James takes Sarah to see the house, and they see the gables, the garden, the Hawthorne House. He shares his knowledge (and James knows a lot about Salem in days gone by). They become more attracted and attached as they stand there together. I am glad I was able to stand there as well. Of all the sights I saw in Salem, I think the House of the Seven Gables was my favorite.

Salem State University

In Her Dear & Loving Husband, James Wentworth has inserted himself into the human world as much as he can. If he wants to seem human, I decided, then he would have a job. What job? English literature is the only subject I can discuss with any intelligence, so James became an English professor. An odd job for someone of James’s paranormal disposition, but, as James himself says, any job besides Grim Reaper would seem odd for him. I wanted his love interest, Sarah, to work at the college, too, since it’s easy for them to run into each other if they work together. She became a college librarian. I did a search for colleges in the area, and there was Salem State College.

While on the campus I stood in front of Meier Hall, the School of Arts and Sciences, where Sarah spies on James while he’s teaching his Romantic Poets class. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the novel. The university is larger than I imagined, or at least more spread out. It’s a beautiful campus, fresh-looking, clean, and the green of the grass and the new trees make it an inviting place to be. Of course, I wasn’t taking or teaching any classes, which may have led to the fact that I found the campus peaceful. The summer school students may not have found it as inviting as I did.

A settler’s house from 1630s Salem (then Naumkeag) in Pioneer Village

Right across Lafayette and down the block, in the state park near the bay, is Pioneer Village. More than any place in Salem, walking onto the grounds of Pioneer Village is like falling into a time warp to the 17th century. The Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum were interesting, but I didn’t feel the pull of the 1600s in the museums. I felt like a 21st century tourist looking at scenes from the 17th century. At Pioneer Village, you walk into meadow-like grounds of overgrown grass, weeds, trees, front yard gardens, and historically accurate replicas of the homes of the earliest settlers to the area. The costumed docents walk you around, explaining everything, answering questions. Pioneer Village was the closest to a complete immersion into the past I found in Salem.

I visited Boston too. I didn’t have a lot of time there, but I walked the Freedom Trail, led by a knowledgeable, costumed guide with a great sense of humor and more than a passing resemblance to George Washington. I ate lunch at Faneuil Hall and saw what was perhaps the highlight of my trip—the hotel where Charles Dickens stayed during his trip to Boston in 1842. I also snapped a picture of the building that housed Dickens’s U.S. publisher. Maybe not as exciting to non-Dickens fans, but I thought it was pretty cool.

How much did visiting Salem add to the Loving Husband Trilogy? Everything. It wasn’t necessary for me to visit since I wrote Her Dear & Loving Husband without setting foot in Massachusetts, but there was so much more depth in the descriptions of Salem in the last two books in the series because of my visit there.

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