I was Tituba. Or at least, everyone thought I was. During my freshman year at a small liberal arts Christian college in Wenham, Massachusetts, my lifelong fascination with the Salem Witch Trials and an empty bank account prompted me to apply for a job as a historical reenactor. For nine dolllars an hour, I dressed in heavy cloaks, long skirts, and leather boots with golden buckles. I revived the past as a member of the street cast for Cry Innocent, a dramatized play recounting the trail of Bridget Bishop, the first citizen of Salem to be executed as a witch. Somewhere between the excitement of make-believe and a steady paycheck, I forgot the historical implications of something I couldn’t change: the color of my skin.
As part of the required training, my fellow street cast members and I toured the cobbled streets of Salem guided by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. We stood in the shadow of the Custom House and filed past the House of Seven Gables as she told us of her husband’s inspiration for The Scarlet Letter. She showed us the graves of his forefathers, briefly mentioning his family’s involvement in the witch trials and Hawthorne’s resulting guilt. We traveled to the nearby Plymouth Plantation, a “living museum” depicting the daily grind of 17th-century colonists. Women in bonnets, with names like “Prudence” and “Constance,” demonstrated how to spin wool and make candles. Then we returned to downtown Salem for a costume fitting and dinner.
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