Witch Trip to the Past: Salem, MA

We entered the small town of Salem in search of witches and real life mentions of the characters from the Henry Miller play, The Crucible.

Scooter in the rain, Salem, MA (Allia)

Truth and Scooter explore Salem Harbor (Allia)

The day was appropriately rainy and gloomy, a perfect match for the mystery we were seeking.  How did this small town, in 1692, bring itself to hang 20 innocent people?  Why did mass hysteria combine with greed and zealous righteousness to allow the “establishment” to commit unthinkable crimes against the people they were suppose to be protecting?

Creatress surveys the marsh, Salem, MA (Allia)

We began our investigation at the birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne, author of (among other works) The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  The house was small and plain, like many old New England homes.  During his beginning forays into authorship, Hawthorne was a recluse within this home.  He was insecure and preferred to keep his attempts at writing a secret from his neighbors.  Local legend believes that Hawthorne, originally a Custom House official, was inspired to begin writing after an encounter with a ghost.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, MA (Allia)

The second home we visited was that of Nathanial Hawthorne’s cousin.  It is believed that this is the house he used as inspiration for the setting of his mystery novel, The House of the Seven Gables. This house has been restored to enhance its similarity to the Hawthorne’s novel.  It includes a secret staircase that winds around an interior chimney and allows characters (and tourists) to make surprise entrances into various rooms.

Salem graveyeard (Allia)

Hawthorne is the great-great grandson of John Hathorne, the judge who infamously presided over the Salem Witch Trials, condemning so many people to their deaths.  In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables Hawthorne asks if the evil deeds of one’s ancestors reverberate upon future generations.

Speaking in the third person, Hawthorne provides us this insight into his thinking: The author has provided himself with a moral – the truth, namely, that the wrong doing of one generation lives into the successive ones…he (Hawthorne) would feel it a singular gratification if this romance (novel) might effectually convince mankind – or, indeed, any one man – of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity. Preface from The House of the Seven Gables

It is probable that Hawthorne is referring to himself.  Hawthorne’s themes often “center on the inherent evil and sin of humanity, and his works often have moral messages and deep psychological complexity.”  The Scarlet Letter exposes the injustice of morality as it is applied to young women during the Puritan era.  We are now eager to read The House of the Seven Gables.

The grave tour was fascinating and creepy.

Salem graveyard (Allia)

Tomb of Mayflower Pilgrim, Salem, MA (Allia)

We enjoyed seeing John Hathorne’s grave as well as the gravestone of an original Mayflower Pilgrim.

We also saw the Salem Witch Memorial of the 20 men and women that were hanged in 1692.  Here is where we found the Crucible characters come to life (or death).

Lest Terror Be Forgotten

June 10, 1692

Bridget Bishop”I am no witch.
I am innocent.
I know nothing of it.”

July 19, 1692

Sarah Wildes Elizabeth Howe”If it was the last moment I was to live,
God knows I am innocent…”
Susannah Martin”I have no hand in witchcraft.” Sarah Good
Rebecca Nurse”Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in your hands….”

http://www.salemweb.com/memorial/

Salem gardens (Allia)

Happymess kids were fascinated with the idea that they could walk on the very same streets and visit the same homes where so many famous events occurred.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is visiting the past in the present.

History is the Study of Lives, not Events

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana, also invoked by Winston Churchill

Napoleon, Empereur de francais…

A typical history course is one which follows a fairly straight forward, chronological, path through a series of wars and various social and cultural upheavals. This approach to the subject of history can be uninspiring to the young student. When I first began homeschooling I searched for a good history curriculum and was surprised (not really) that the textbooks where dull and the "story" moved intractably from one violent event to the next with little human empathy or emotion being imparted to the reader.

Inevitably I found that I needed to create my own curriculum if I wanted to get my students' attention. In the past 6 years we have studied the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the history of China from 1000 b.c. through Mao and the Cultural Revolution to the present, the history of Japan, the American Revolution, slavery and the Underground Railroad, World War I, the inter-war years and World War II, and at least another dozen sub-topics.

I have found that the best approach is to start with a simple skeleton or outline of the basic facts. This is reinforced by having my students create their own timelines of the key events. For this we have used long rolls of paper that stretch across the room. The timeline can be marked with measurements reflecting the desired time intervals. The students then write draw and create a collage of events, images and accomplishments from that section of history. We have also used printed book timelines that allow multiple timelines to be created on the same page so that various events from around the globe can be compared and the student can appreciate the different events that were occurring simultaneously. We have also used digital timelines that create the same effect but allow for uploading images and films to create a newsreel effect.

I have found, not surprisingly, that the best materials are the primary sources. When we are able to read a first person account of an event then the moment truly becomes "alive." Suddenly it is apparent that real people have lived and thought and tasted these events. We care about the event because we care about the people. Wasn't that the whole point anyway?

We have also had great success reading literature, seeing theatrical pieces and visiting museums. All these resources give a sense of how the past is both similar to and different from the present. We always consider the questions, "How is this similar to today?" and "In what ways are these issues still affecting our society?" also, "Is our culture really different or have these driving forces just manifested themselves differently?"

Ultimately we still turn to respected historical resources for information and analysis. After doing so much of our own research these texts provide real benefit. The student can discern from what viewpoint the text has been written and can evaluate which information has the most value. The study of history becomes the study of our lives and our predecessors, and as such, the study of history becomes indispensable to our study of humanity.

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Lights Out after Irene

We are still in the dark one week after Hurricane Irene and the Happymess kids are surprised at how many things in our home require electricity:  everything!

Sometimes it is more fun without lights!

One question that the kids keep asking is, “When will the power come back?”  It leads one to wonder what people did in the days before electricity was invented, which, contrary to my childrens’ belief, really wasn’t too long ago.

And, speaking of kids and electricity, this website was created by a team of high schoolers for the National History Day competition: http://89716929.nhd.weebly.com/ This site explores the Rural Electrification Act and the process of electrifying America.

Once again I find myself inspired by what kids can create.