DANVERS (CBS) — It happens here in Danvers. This North Shore town is home to The Endicott Pear, the oldest living fruit tree in America.
Local farmers developed their own varieties of vegetables including The Danvers yellow globe onion. In fact, Danvers grew so many onions it was soon known as ‘Oniontown,’ and the high school football team “The Oniontowners.”
And off Route 1 tucked away from the hustle and bustle of shopping malls, sits the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, the only home of a person executed during the witch trials, open to the public.
“She was like a matriarch for the area, everyone respected her. So, when she was accused people really started to question what’s happening? Because here’s this woman who does all the right things, has a good family, goes to church all the time. Why is this woman being accused?” Kathryn Rutkowski, president and curator of The Rebecca Nurse Homestead, told WBZ-TV.
While Salem gets all the attention as ‘The Witch City,” it was actually Danvers that was ground zero for accusations. At the time, Danvers was a part of Salem Village, and many of its residents, including 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse, were charged with witchcraft.
“The accusations started here, the first examinations started here. It wasn’t until Salem town found out that they were starting to do examinations that they were like, ‘Uh-uh, you guys are not a fully functioning court system, you need to go to Boston, you need to come to Salem, that’s where the legal courts are,” Rutkowski explained.
Nurse was a grandmother when she was accused. Appalled, 40 of her neighbors signed a petition attesting her innocence. But it was too late, hysteria had already set in.
“You can see why they reacted in such a way because witches were scary to them. It wasn’t someone drawing potions and going hocus pocus, it was really people selling their souls to the devil to create mischief and drag other people down and not allow them to enter Heaven in their mind which was crazy, but it was real for them,” said Rutkowski.
Every October, visits to the homestead ramp up, but Rutkowski says about 90 percent of visitors are Nurse’s ancestors.
“For them, it’s like, ‘My great-grandmother was here, this is where she was dragged, from this is where she was taken to jail. I think it finally hits them that there’s something physical they can react to,” she told WBZ.
The accused were not given proper burials, but legend has it Nurse’s husband and son secretly retrieved her body from the gallows of Salem and buried her in the family cemetery.
“One of the things she declared was, ‘I am innocent, and God will clear my innocence,’ so at that point, she didn’t care the courts were going to name her guilty. She said all that matters is that God knows I’m innocent,” Rutkowski explained.
Rebecca Nurse was eventually exonerated in 1711. There are markers for her at both the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and the Proctors Ledge Memorial. The Homestead is doing special guided Twilight Tours on Friday and Saturday nights.