Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Deep Roots and Dark Storms in Salem

I was born with an artist's soul. My temperment is sensitive and emotional. I tend to feel things deeply and form connections quickly. I think being an artist at heart also provides one with a deep desire to analyze ourselves and others, to understand what lies just beneath the surface of every human being.

What does all this have to do with my holiday in Salem and Cape Ann, you may ask? Well, I have always had an abiding interest in my genealogy. Most of the family history seekers, it seems, are retirees or those entering into middle age, who are looking for a lasting place in this world. However, I took up the hobby when I was about 11 or 12. I was fascinated by it, entranced, really. I quickly gobbled up all the names and places that made up me. Being Mormon, I was blessed with much of my genealogy done long before I was born. Many of my lines stretch back into the middle ages and beyond and I found it all intoxicating. My hertiage is expansive. My roots are planted in many countries. My family tree looms over much of the earth, connected by all the varied roots and branches. I am a mutt, really. I loved that. I loved learning of all the different countries and imaging what my ancestors were like in these various cultures.

I now understand why genealogy became my drug of choice from such an early age. It is precisely because of my yearning to understand myself more. I am a believer that all of our experiences and memories imprint themselves onto our cells and are passed down from generation to generation. I really do believe that we are changed at a celluar level by experience. The stuff of which we are made is changed by life, and it is passed down. These are not my religious beliefs, but I feel it is true. Because of this belief, I feel my ancestors and their experiences, along with my own, literally make me who I am.

Not only was I blessed with charts and charts of my various lines, but we also had many life histories to read. I would devour these stories, imaging what it felt like to go through what they did, imaging myself there. One ancestral story, however, didn't make it down through the generations. I don't know if this story was some sort of shameful secret hushed through the years, but I never knew that I had a direct ancestor who was imprisoned as a witch in Salem in 1692. This seems like the sort of the story that would make the cut and become legend amongst the descendents, but it was lost to history. I was the one to discover this connection. After moving to New England, I wanted to search out my roots here. I saw Sarah Pease's name on my chart and I saw that she died in Salem in 1702. I knew that meant she had lived in Salem during the witch hysteria. On a whim, I looked up her name on the internet and, to my amazement, she had been accused of witchcraft and imprisoned in the dungeon for a year . She escaped death because the governor of Massachusetts had shut the trials down. She was a lucky one; though, that experience must have stayed with her forever. It must have altered her in ways unseen to the eye. I wondered if she had life-long nightmares after her life in chains in a dirty, drafty dungeon, fearing death may come any day. She lived only nine years after her imprisonment. Was her death hastened by her trauma?

Soon after discovering Sarah Pease, I took a day trip to search her out, to see where she lived, and I've been to Salem several more times. Luckily, I don't live too far. When we decided to take a quick, end-of-the-summer vacation, Salem made it to the top of my list. I always love it there. Besides, we are moving to the Boston area next year and this was a good excuse to explore north shore real estate.

We started at the Salem Witch Museum. I'd been to the museum before during the Halloween season last year, but I wanted my kids to go and hear the story of what happened to their grandmother. Thankfully, they enjoyed their time there and their ancestor's life became more real for them.

At the museum there is a large chart on the wall of all those who were accused of witchcraft in 1692. And there was Sarah. In the above photo, you see her about the eighth name down. It says she lived in Salem Town. Where she once lived is in modern-day Peabody, on a very busy street. A duplex stands where her home once stood and a tattoo parlor is across the street. I'm sure if she wandered down Central Street in Peabody today, it would be completely unrecognizable to her. In some ways, that makes me sad. Things change so quickly in our world.

The sight that greeted me as I stepped out of the museum. This is statue of the founder of Salem, Roger Conant. I've taken many photos of him, but not from this angle. I love the federal style building behind him, a sure sign of Salem's age.

After our journey back in time to see life as it was for Grandmother Pease, we wandered around Salem Commons. Clouds began to form and large drops slowly landed on our heads. Hurricane Bill had come upon us. Though along the New England coast, it was only a tropical storm.

The thing I find fascinating about storms, particulary in New England, is the beauty and color that are displayed both before and after the storm has passed. The sky morphs into all sorts of colors and the light that surrounds you is more like a glow. As the storm rolled in it was at first a dark blue. As we passed by Saint Peter's, the sky was deep, yet bright blue.


Then we took a few steps in another direction and as we walked by another church, the sky was black and grey though there was a bright, purplish glow that surrounded us. I found it breathtaking.


We drove as the storm began to rage. The rain pounded so hard on the car, that we had to yell above the din to hear each other. As we explored the coastal towns, I began to fear. What if we turn onto a road that leads to the ocean and we lose control of the car? What if a massive wave overtakes us out of nowhere and we are swallowed into the depths of the sea?

Mercifully, the storm passed quickly and we found ourselves in Marblehead. We came to the end of a road and suddenly there was a lighthouse just as it cleared and the rain ceased. We didn't know this lighthouse was there. It was a happy accident.


The sky in Marblehead harbor after the storm was dark and deep with spots of calming light peaking through. All that was there reflected the blue of the ocean and the sky. We were all bathed in a cool-toned hue.


There was a comforting film of humidity hugging us, like a blanket, in the cool ocean breeze. The kids played in the metal web structure surrounding the lighthouse. Russ and I sat on the benches that looked out over the harbor. I reflected on the beauty that comes only after a storm has passed and I thought of my life and I thought of Sarah Pease's life. I wondered what her life was like after her storm had passed. I thought of the current storm that has created a whirlwind in my world lately and I knew, as I pondered, that after it has passed, there will be a beauty that could have only been witnessed by enduring the storm.

All I have to do is find my lighthouse.

I wonder if Sarah ever found her's.

(more on our trip next time)


Barbaloot said...

I love the way you write and see things---it makes everything so fascinating!

I love family history as well---I love hearing about my ancestors and thinking about their lives. I've been to a few of their homelands and I wish SO much that I could just get a glimpse of what it was like for them! When I get to heaven, I'm totally watching some of their movies:)

New England Girl said...

I agree with Barbaloot: I love your perception, your point of view and the way you view everything. It is so endlessly fascinating and encouraging. I love your enthusiasm!

I also loved reading about your trip and connections to Salem. I still have not been to this area, but I need to go! Hopefully sometime soon. :) And when I do, I will be sure to visit all the spots you spoke of. I know little of my family history, so it is always interesting to learn about others. :)

Sandi said...

Beautiful post! you will make it through your storm, and be stronger for it, of this I am certain :)

wesley's mom (sue) said...

I wish I were related to a witch (it would explain a lot!).

This is a great post (it gave me goosebumps-the good kind). I love your pictures and they are even better with your words.

Can't wait to hear about the rest of the trip.

Bee said...

I read this post just after looking at my pictures from our Norfolk trip this past weekend. The last picture reminds me so much of where I've just been . . . and also makes me think about all of the people who moved from England to settle "New" England. The connections between past and present are fascinating, and it is comforting to think that they aren't lost.

It gives me chills to think of you "discovering" Sarah hundreds of years after her death.

Heather of the EO said...

This post and the pictures were breathtaking!

I too believe we're carrying the experiences of those before us. It's one of those beliefs that paints my life and it's actions, knowing that I'm passing on either a blessing or a curse. Generations will reap what I sow, so to speak. That can be daunting and also a complete honor.

Beautiful post!

Susan B. at warmchocmilk said...

Beautiful photos, and I think that's what I have too "an artists soul" I thought I was just moody ;)

Kaci said...

Gorgeous pictures!! Makes me fall in love with the East Coast all over again. *Man my husband would be pissed at me if I made him move again but...ugh soooo pretty!!*

Maggie May said...

This was a mighty interesting post.
Just think how it must have felt for Sarah to have been locked up like that and unsure if she would be allowed to live or not. Just think how it would have affected the family line if she had been hanged or burned at the stake.
It is surprising what is in our family tree when we delve into it and these people who have had a tragic life seem to be emotionally tied up with us once we know more about them.
Fascinating reading. You are a very good writer.

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

I love it that u take us r own tour thru ur gorgeous pictures!

I also love genealogy but haven't done anything on my own about it.

Beautifully written!

Sarah Laurence said...

Genealogy is all about understanding yourself – I can see the attraction. The Salem witch connection would have been especially fascinating to a child.

Ancestors and lighthouses in one day – you must have been delighted. Good analogy about the storm and the lighthouse. The photos work well with your words.

Barrie said...

I am a huge lover of lighthouses! So, I particularly enjoyed those photos.

Not The Rockefellers said...

New England Coastal storms are both breathtakingly beautiful and dangerous.

This was a wonderful tour, Alyson!

Peace - Rene

Transparent Mama said...

I love this post. I love the idea of researching our roots. Thank you for all of your support during the fire.

Charlotte said...

I've often gotten comfort during my trials by remembering the beauty that invariably comes after the storm. Beautifully put.

How wonderful to find a relative where you can hear they're story and stand where they've stood. I like what you said about our connections to our ancestors. I often ponder about the same sort of things.

I think I'm adding Salem to my list of places I want to visit in New England.

April said...

Ahhhh....but you already have found your lighthouse. You mentioned it in your last post. ;)

Heidi Ashworth said...

This is so very lovely--you and I have a lot in common, (other than our ancestors, that is!)

Tink said...

Well now I'm curious what Sarah did to be accused of witchery? That era has always fascinated me. I love family history too and we have a very rich LDS heritage and my father's line goes back to the high kinds of Ireland. I love reading about stories I find to fit with a name! It's fascinating. Thanks for sharing a bit of your heritage with us.

The Things We Carried said...

Frightening times to live in those were!

Miss B. said...

I am so happy that I found your blog! What a great New England blog :)

I love, love Salem. We go every fall. It's so full of history and is so pretty!

Steve B said...

Very interesting piece and much more meaningful than what usually is posted about Salem. Salem is a beautiful town and I'm happy that you were able to find what you were looking for.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Lovely post, but ohhhh... that last photo. Beautiful.

Annette Lyon said...

Absolutely beautiful--and haunting--post. I'll be thinking of Sarah today and wondering what her life was like.

Heather said...

what an amazing trip! I cant wait to do Sarah's portrait. We will make sure she is never lost again!~

Shawn said...

What a great post----your words and descriptions are beautiful....

My family history is pretty much done by my Mom---so I don't have a lot to do----how cool that you are related to someone that had so much happen to her!!

Blue said...

i love that you have gotten to know yourself so well. i've never felt that connected to my present OR my past. in fact, i've kind of had an aversion to my family history...but perhaps that is the key to me feeling any kind of connection at all with my family of origin (excepting my sisters).

i have a good relationship with everyone in my "downline", but a pretty negative one with the living "upline" and nothing much to speak of at all for those who have already gone beyond the great beyond. it's easy for me to forget them. but perhaps i need to start to remember.

i was also thinking about your feeling of how experiences imprint into our cells. my first, raw reaction is "my God I hope not!" and i mean that in the most reverent way possible.

but then, as i ponder why we're here and what has been endured by people from the dawn of time, people like your dear Sarah, if it's true, then it must not be a bad thing. i have, after all, learned a few things from the assaholic people i've dealt with.

sorry i haven't responded properly yet. you will hear from me as soon as i can! ♥

Emily Anne Leyland ( Art-n-Sewl) said...

Oh my... This post gave me goosebumps for soo many reasons. You are such a fantastic writer, the words flow so easily and beautifully from your head. I wish I could express myself like that. Also-perspective on certain situations is very important and I feel even though it is hard to see, you have the right perspective. You are such an example to me and girl, you will find your lighthouse, just don't let go of the things you know.
I fully 100% agree about the cell imprinting too. I soooo need to come up there one day.
Stay strong my dear friend, my kindred spirit!
Love ya
em xx

~Kristen~ said...

Oh Alyson!!! You were in my little area of New England!!! I live in Peabody....not all that far from where your ancestor once lived! I have lived here my entire life so I do sometimes take Salem for granted, and tend to look at what parts of the town have become and forget the rich history there. Really, when you strip away all the ways Salem has changed there is so much to see and learn. I need to make it a point to go there more often...with open eyes, and open mind, and an open heart!

How exciting that you are moving to the Boston area! I may be biased but I love this area!!!!!

Pease Porridge said...

Oh what a wonderful post!! I love that the weather played such a beautiful part in your day. That is so interesting about Sarah Pease. I would love to research our Pease name further. This is of course my Husband's name and their family has since lost contact to that side do to an untimely death. I can just imagine how perfect this day must have been. I can't wait to be able to see that part of the country.


Adrian LaRoque said...

I am a believer like you and for many years that our memories from past experiences are transmitted from cell to cell. I also believe that in some people is more relevant, for other not so much. The hardest thing to explain is how a past experience arises from someone not related. Are we indeed all related? From dust to dust, right? So what maybe on that dust?

Blogging Mama Andrea said...

I finally had a chance to finish reading your post (my kids kept interrupting). What a wonderful discovery to make about your family. Not that she was imprisoned but to be able to even know about your family is great. I've been trying to research my family that hails from Glasgow, Scotland and came to America via Ellis Island in the late 1800's but there really aren't many records to be found.

Family history is so fascinating to me. I wonder who they were and what their life was like. I'm glad you have such a good record of yours and that you were able to go and see where they once lived is amazing.

As always - your pictures are stunning!

Future Mama said...

Wow, beautiful post! You have truly inspired me to want to do geneology!

Well written, and refreshing! Love your photos too! Can't wait to read about more of your trip!

Owen said...

When one sees how a mother cat takes care of it's newborns, having had no training, one can't help but believe that knowledge and experience are passed down along generations in our genes... although what exactly is passed along in humans is less clear. In any case, a beautiful post... and many thanks for your visit over at my place, I thought you might like the cemetery photos...

Life is good! said...

we went to salem for part of our vacation this year, it's a fun town. would be really fun at halloween! love your photos!

Ashley said...

Wow, gorgeous! I just want to come LIVE with you for a year and travel with you! :)

Please stop by my blog and enter some fun giveaways. I've got a really great one that's ending today for a kid's outfit valued at $113! I really need to get some more entries for it, so I'd really appreciate your help! And you have a good chance of winning too!!! :)

Sandy said...

I have an ancestor who was tried and convicted during the Salem witch trials, too. But because of her advanced age of 82 the judge didn't imprison her.

Nice post, well done.

sheila said...

Beautiful Aly! I too started my quest around 11 and have been hooked since. And many times WISHED I were Mormon! lol.

Great post!

Donna said...

This is so well-written and well-done. You truly are a talented artist.

Sunshine said...

I have just stumbled upon your blog. You make comments over at Blue's blog and I followed your link here. You are an incredible writer and that is a fascinating story. Those photos are incredible! I might become a regular here...

Laura said...

I'm so glad I found your blog!

I live in Finland and can't wait for my first USA trip next year. My late grandmother was born in Salem to a family of Finnish immigrants and I would love to visit the place where she lived.

I have her old photo album, where I found a picture of the house she lived in and the address! Here's more about it:
I'm looking forward to seeing what that street looks like now.

I can't wait to visit New England and will surely familiarize myself with your blog for some tips!