There’s nothing spookier than a gnarled dead tree huddling over an old, decrepit house at the corner of a colonial-era cemetery. Salem’s Old Burying Point Cemetery is eerie at any time of day (and closed to visitors at night), but at sunset slanting angles of illumination give it a preternatural creepiness as light and shadow do their gentle dance among centuries-old headstones.

What’s even spookier about the above picture of Salem’s Old Burying Point is that unbeknownst to me, I was standing within a literal stone’s throw of the grave of early American poet Anne Bradstreet as I snapped my shutter. Immediately behind where I stood to take this picture, there is an above-ground crypt where someone had stationed a pot of lively orange chrysanthemums. I even snapped a picture of those mums, but I didn’t check the name on the grave…and yesterday, before doing any research on Old Burying Point, I deleted that photo, not happy with the way the setting sun glinted off flower and grave.

The moral of this story? Never set foot into an old cemetery unless you’ve first done your homework. When I went to Salem on Saturday to visit the Peabody Essex Museum with Leslee, I wasn’t planning to go cemetery-stomping. But as Fate would have it, Old Burying Point is right behind the PEM. When Leslee and I strolled through the cemetery between Saturday afternoon’s museum-browsing and Saturday night’s margarita-swilling, I had no idea who was buried there. Yes, the cemetery is next to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, so I figured there were famous figures from that notorious time in history. But not remembering which famous folks were buried where, I spent my time at Old Burying Point looking for unusual gravesite iconography, such as this triple-hearted headstone mourning the death of three babies. (Click on the image for an enlarged version.) Focusing on how unusual it is to see hearts on colonial-era tombstones, which usually feature more somber symbols such as skulls and angels, I didn’t click to the fact that Samuel Bradstreet, Governor of Massachusetts and Anne Bradstreet’s husband, is buried in Salem.

Probably the most famous gravesite in Old Burying Point, though, is that of Col. John Hathorne, the so-called “witch-hanging judge” and great-great-grandfather to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who changed the spelling of his surname to obscure his ancestral connection with the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. Again oblivious to the fact that Hawthorne’s great-great-granddad would be buried in Salem’s oldest cemetery, I didn’t search for his grave. As spooky chance would have it, though, I took a picture of Judge Hathorne’s grave without knowing what it was. After Leslee had snapped a picture of me contorting myself to photograph a skylight at the PEM, I sneakily snapped this picture of her photographing a grave. Only now after doing some online research do I realize that she was photographing the grave of John Hathorne, as you can faintly discern if you click the image for a larger version.

After not one but two accidental grave spottings, I’m feeling a bit spooked by my stint of Salem cemetery strolling. As if to make matters worse, my nighttime photos of the darkened streets of Salem are filled with blurry, ghost-like figures, like this apparition of a semi-transparent, seemingly three-legged Leslee striding the downtown cobblestones. Do you think that Leslee found the grave of Judge Hathorne amongst all the others because she herself is possessing of witch-like supernatural powers? That would explain her ability to snap that photo of me in the PEM unaware, and is was her idea to go to Salem in October to begin with. Yes, there’s something spooky about Salem, and I think Leslee might have something to do with it. Either that, or Salem’s paranormal paranoia is as contagious today as it was in the 1600s.

    UPDATE! I sifted through my Recycle Bin and retrieved that photo of the chrysanthemum-bearing grave, which you can see here. Upon further inspection, I think the Bradstreets’ crypt is the one behind the one with the chrysanthemums, which I now realize were yellow, the ribbon around the pot being orange. Obviously I my fact-checking skills are weak, and my memory is even weaker. But one of those crypts belongs to Samuel and Anne Bradstreet, and you can bet I’ll be back to see them the next time I’m in Salem.