Thursday, October 1, 2015

Witch Way to Newburyport?

Today’s itinerary included Salem, site of the famous witch trials of 1692, and Newburyport, the last town where the famous itinerant evangelist George Whitefield preached and where he died and is buried. We had planned on a few hours in Salem, but ended up quite disillusioned after a very short time. The history is sad – it was a period of mass hysteria where people denounced other townspeople as witches in order to get off being hanged as witches themselves. If one confessed to being a witch and named someone else who had led them astray, then one would be exonerated and the other would be pulled in for questioning. In the end 20 people were killed (19 hanged, one died in prison), probably most of them innocent of any witchcraft. Since then the whole town has turned into a massive commercialized exploitation of the idea of witchery, in all its variations. It really made us kind of ill. I suppose it was worse being there in October, in the lead-up to Halloween, than it would be any other time of year. But we were ready to move on after we’d seen just a sampling.

However, we didn’t leave town before stopping in for a quick visit to the Peabody Essex Museum, a really fine museum which houses (among other things) collections of porcelain from the China trade, which my great-great grandfather Francis Blackwell Forbes was involved in. I didn’t see any mention of his name, but I did see a piece of china that had been donated by a Dr. and Mrs. H. A. [Henry Ashton] Crosby Forbes, founder of the China Trade Museum (which merged with the Peabody Essex), a distant cousin. I also saw one lent by Mrs. Frederick Winthrop, another cousin.

The big treat for me was seeing that the PEM had an exhibit of Theo Jansen’s fabulous “Strandbeests” – wind-propelled animal-like walking machines that he designed to perambulate along the beach (“strand” in Dutch). I had seen one on a viral YouTube video before, and was fascinated by the concept. The video they had showing in the museum was amusing, because Jansen had to drag the machine back in the other direction after the wind helped it walk along one way. These “beests” don’t walk in reverse!

We left Salem and drove north to Rowley, where we stopped to see Pulpit Rock, an outcropping of rock in the woods from which George Whitefield had preached to some 2000 listeners (evidently the trees had grown up since his time; it probably would have been an open field back then). We tried out the acoustics and could see why Pulpit Rock was such a great place to preach from. I spied a toad listening to our impromptu sermon.

We continued on from there to Newburyport, a lovely seaside town where Whitefield spent his last days. He preached at Old South Church there, died in the parsonage, and is buried in the crypt under the pulpit. The church was closed, and anyway it wasn’t the original building he preached in. But we did see the house next door that was the birthplace (in 1805) of William Lloyd Garrison, the prominent abolitionist and social reformer.

As we meandered around town looking for a place to eat, we met a friendly man (named Mark, it turned out) who was doing some work outside a house. We asked him for a recommendation. He told us about a really good casual place called Angie’s (where we ended up eating) and also raved about Cider Hill Farm a few miles away, from which he’d just gotten some fresh-made cinnamon donuts the day before. He said in fact he still had some of them left, and would we like to try them. I said “Sure!” and he went to get the bag. They were the most delicious cinnamon donuts I’ve ever tasted. I’m just finishing off the last one now.

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