Storytelling in Salem
by Evana Tamayo
As an enthusiastic student of history, I seek to travel to places that are passionate about telling their stories. I have been fortunate enough to have visited many such destinations, but Salem holds a special place in my heart. Salem’s magic, for me, lies in the inspired way locals preserve and share the compelling voices of past centuries and the dedication they bring to continuing its story.
In 2019, an interest in visiting Rebecca Nurse’s Homestead drew me to Danvers, a town that neighbors Salem. Walking through the lovingly maintained Nurse home and ambling down the grassy path toward her family’s resting place, I heard echoes of Rebecca’s wisdom and courage. Her spirit lives on at the homestead, and to be on the property is to connect with it. After that brief excursion, I returned to Salem, where meditating at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, I so clearly heard echoes of strength and courage from many of the 20 victims honored there. And walking the city, I discovered many spoken and unspoken ways that Salem keeps the witch crisis victims close to its heart.
I’ve long been able to connect emotionally to the places I visit, and for me, another site teeming with life is The House of the Seven Gables. Visiting it, I got a glimpse into Salem’s rich maritime history through the stories the docent shared about the Turners and the Ingersolls. I also learned about Salem’s legacy of historical preservation through the story of Caroline Emmerton, who worked not only to maintain The Gables property, but also to serve immigrant populations, aiming to improve their social and economic standing. There are echoes of Emmerton’s progressive spirit in today’s inclusive Salem. I especially cherish the Seven Gables’ connection to Nathaniel Hawthorne. The home is a symbol of the author’s dazzling imagination and is an homage to a man whose works so poignantly challenge readers to reflect on what it means to be human. The property is the embodiment of Salem’s history, revealing centuries of stories if one stops to listen.
The magic of Salem can be found in present-day storytellers like Kenneth Glover of Sinister Stories of Salem and Vijay Joyce of Rekindled History. Kenneth brings his gift for storytelling to his walking tour guests, who are treated to four centuries of Salem’s stories, told in such a way that guests can imagine the past as if it were happening right before their eyes. Equally inspired is Vijay, who transforms hours of reading and research into captivating Salem stories that he shares in the places they happened. I count myself fortunate to have been able to visit the charming Daniels House Bed and Breakfast and learn the home’s story while sitting in front of a cozy fire.
Part of Salem’s magic lies is its association with Halloween and all things occult. I relish Salem’s tongue-in-cheek and light-hearted offerings, but I am inspired by the more serious ones. Two passionate locals, David Newman and Dr. Maria Carles, owners of the Hermetic Arts Learning Center, bring decades of occult knowledge and their professional connections to Essex Street with the aim of offering visitors a high-level, academic study of the occult. Salem has always been a place where locals do remarkable things, and I’m grateful to this couple for continuing that legacy.
The Salem I love is a place where locals honor the people of Salem’s past and put their hearts into keeping Salem’s stories alive. Indeed, the many special institutions and people I’ve come to know are making history by imbuing the city with their magic.
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Evana Tamayo is a curriculum coordinator in South Florida. Her love for Salem sprung from my studies of Arthur Miller and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and it was in Salem that she reconnected with her desire to write. Her first novel, a gothic horror, is in revision. She is a member of Historic Salem, Inc. and The House of Seven Gables.