My informant is 87 years old and has lived in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts for his entire life. He attended a nearby boarding school and Harvard University, where he studied history under famed professor Samuel Eliot Morrison. He has taken a lifelong interest in local history, artwork, and lore.
For context, Beverly Farms is a small village within the larger city of Beverly. Beverly is adjacent to Salem, and was a part of the original settlement until 1668. Beverly Farms is much more rural than Beverly proper, and is closer to the neighboring town of Manchester-by-the-Sea than it is Salem. With the exception of the Witch Woods story, Beverly Farms has very little folklore or history that relates to the Salem Witch Trials.
“My parents weren’t from here so I heard this from the other kids at school. Some of their families have been in town for, oh, I don’t…hundreds of years, I suppose….you know, the Hale’s, the Conant’s, the Cabot’s…Mostly I just heard that the witches were coming to take us from our beds but as we got older the story got more complex…So as you know, back in the 1600’s, Beverly was still a part of Salem. But since it didn’t have a church, it wasn’t quite as inhabited as it was over in Salem…well, everyone knows this part, but people over in Salem got it in their heads that there were witches in town and started hunting them down and killing them. Stoning, hanging, all of that. Soon as the witches realized they were being hunted, most of them…well, most of them were smart enough to get out of there…so they took off in the middle of the night, all of them, and crossed the river to come over here. They ran until they hit the woods and then kept going…all of the way up here, right down on Common Lane. It’s why you get the shivers when you drive down there at night…you know, roll your windows up and such. They’re all still there, you know. All the witches.”
Growing up in the area, this was a common ghost story in my household. I remember asking if the witches were real and my grandfather telling me that, yes of course they were, and if I knew what was good for me I’d lock my windows at night. Unlike many scary stories told to children, I don’t recall their being any lesson or imperative behind it. This story seemed to be more about local pride than reinforcing or discouraging certain behaviors.