In late fall, 1620, English religious separatists known as Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor, present-day Massachusetts, on a small ship called the Mayflower. There were 102 Pilgrims in December, but only 50 by the following spring. They interred their dead on a hill above the settlement, which became known as Cole’s Hill.
Over time, the settlement grew and they began burying their dead on the appropriately named Burial Hill, which was also the original location of a small wooden fort. Erosion and excavation exposed bones on Cole’s Hill, and some were stolen, while others were collected under the roof of a stone canopy over Plymouth Rock. After more than three centuries, the bones were placed in a large sarcophagus, which sits on the hill to this day.
Plimoth Plantation, founded in 1947, is a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, featuring a replica of a 1627 Pilgrim village. It is located at 137 Warren Avenue, a few miles southeast of the actual site of the Plymouth Colony. The museum also owns and operates a replica of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower, but it was undergoing repairs when I visited in the spring.
The museum offers an impressive variety of things to see and do, including a large visitor center, Wampanoag Homesite, Craft Center, Maxwell and Nye Barns, Plimoth Grist Mill, and of course, the village itself. The visitor center has a large gift shop and even a movie theater, although it was playing two random, nonhistorical movies when I visited.
Christina Ricci stars in this made-for-TV dramatization of the 1893 trial of Lizzie Andrew Borden for the murder of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. The highly-stylized production recounts events immediately surrounding the murders and subsequent trial. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014) was later developed into a TV Mini-Series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015). It blends a modern soundtrack with historic events to create an oddly entertaining take on the controversial case.
At 11:10 a.m. on August 4, 1892, Lizzy Borden (Christina Ricci), 32, yelled for the family maid, Bridget Sullivan (Hannah Anderson), to quickly come downstairs. She discovered her father, Andrew (Stephen McHattie), slumped over the sofa. His head had been bashed in. Abby (Sara Botsford), Lizzy’s stepmother, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, her head and face smashed. Lizzy gave police strange and often conflicting information, and she quickly became the chief suspect.
Her New Bedford trial, beginning in June 1893, was a national sensation, widely reported in the newspapers. It took the jury 90 minutes to acquit her, and with her inheritance, she purchased a new home and lived there with her sister Emma (Clea DuVall). Despite efforts to start a new life, Lizzy Borden was ostracized from Fall River society, since many people believed she was the murderer.
There are several alternative theories about “who done it,” but Lizzie Borden Took an Ax doesn’t entertain any of them. It openly implies Lizzie was the murderer, even going so far as to imagine Lizzie confessing the crime to her sister, causing her to flee their home in disgust. In fact, the two sisters split in an argument over a party in 1905, 12 years after the trial. We’ll never know what the sisters said to each other in private conversation, so this is creative license at work.
I completely overlooked the Witch History Museum on my first trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Located at 197-201 Essex Street on the pedestrian mall, this is not the same as the Salem Witch Museum, located on Washington Square. Like a half dozen other museums in Salem, this also features dioramas/wax figures, though of a slightly higher quality.
An actress in period costume gives a short introduction to the Salem Witch Trials before taking you down into the museum. I came in early spring, just before the tourist season started, so I was the only one in the audience that day. My host was gracious enough to show me around anyway.
The New England Grimpendium: A Guide to Macabre and Ghostly Sites by J.W. Ocker is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read in this genre. More than just the usual collection of haunted sites, it contains a listing of homes and birthplaces of authors and entertainers, infamous crimes and criminals, horror movie filming locations, and even creepy plants. This book has everything the eclectic tourist could ask for.
J.W. Ocker was originally from Maryland, but has lived in New Hampshire since 2008. He’s authored several books, including Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe (2014) and A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (2016), all of which look fascinating. At his blog, Odd Things I’ve Seen (OTIS), he chronicles his visits to hundreds of cultural, artistic, natural, and historical oddities across the country and world.
Although some reviewers found Ocker’s writing style in The New England Grimpendium slightly off-putting (he leans on the snarky, skeptical side), I enjoyed every page of it. The writing is relaxed, focusing not just on the history but also on his experiences visiting the location. The fact visited most if not all the locations in this book also sets it apart from other travel guides that often rely on secondhand sources.
I picked it up in a gift shop in Salem, Massachusetts. I’m always looking for new places to visit, and although most of these are outside my usual diving radius, I couldn’t pass it up. “Grimpendium,” the author’s invention, is a fitting description for the eclectic contents. “Ghostly sites” represent a small portion of the places in this book. Most are related to celebrities and infamous people, but all are wonderfully unique.
The Witch Dungeon Museum is one of many diorama/wax museums in Salem, Massachusetts, with the added twist of a live performance. I didn’t get a chance to see it on my first trip to Salem, so I made sure to check it out on my second.
The museum appears to occupy an old church, but instead of the stations of the cross, numbered plaques bearing facts about the Salem Witch Trials line the auditorium’s back wall in sequential order. The tour’s highlight is a live performance of a dramatic moment from the trials, with lines drawn from an eyewitness account.
“The Minuteman,” sculpture by Daniel Chester French. Minute Man National Historical Park, Monument St. Concord, Massachusetts 01742. (978) 369-6993.