Escape from Salem


Clayes House

(Area from the intersection of Salem End Road and Willowbrook Road west on Salem End Road to the border of Framingham and Ashland)

 In April 1692, three sisters from the north shore of Massachusetts found themselves locked in a cell in Salem Village, (Danvers) awaiting trial for witchcraft.  By September, two of the sisters had been hanged for the crime, the third barely escaping with her life to Framingham.  Seventy-one year old Rebecca Nurse and her sister Mary Esty were two of the twenty men and women (and two dogs!) put to death in Salem that year. Sarah Clayes was the sister who got away.  It’s unclear just how she was able to escape the noose and find refuge here in Framingham.  Some legends say that she and her family traveled here by night, hiding out in caves and hollowed out trees.  Others believe that Deputy Governor of the colony Thomas Danforth, who owned the land now known as Framingham, helped her escape.  Danforth had been one of the questioners at the hearing in Salem in which Sarah was first accused as a witch, but later spoke out publicly against the trials.  Could his guilty conscience have helped spare Sarah’s life?  More than 300 years later, people are still fascinated by the story, and many make Salem End a pilgrimage on their tour of “witchcraft sites.”  Some say they can feel a supernatural presence near her house, which is possible, given that one of the sisters- Mary Esty – is said to have appeared as a ghost before her accusers, still proclaiming her innocence.  Perhaps the trio of sisters gathers here in town to find solace in each other’s company.51JZM1D1K3L._SX342_

The hangings in September 1692 were the last in the colony, and the remaining accused people were eventually released from jail, as long as they paid their jail costs.  In 1711, the colony passed a bill, which restored the rights and good names of the accused, and granted restitution to the heirs of the victims.  Sarah Clayes was the central character in a 1986 television movie called “Three Sovereigns for Sarah,” starring Vanessa Redgrave.  In 1957, the state of Massachusetts issued a formal apology for the events in 1692.


Thomas Danforth

Ironically, back in Danforth’s hometown of Framlingham, England, witches had been tried and executed in large numbers about 50 years earlier. The pond in front of Framlingham castle was often the scene of a “witch ducking,” considered a foolproof way of identifying witches.  The accused was bound with rope and tossed into the pond.  If they floated, they were a witch.  If they sank, there was good news and bad news.  The good news was they were not a witch.  The bad news is…they sank.

There was another so-called witch who took up residence in Framingham for a short time.  Back in the mid-1930’s, actress Margaret Hamilton lived on Gilbert Street with her husband before taking on her signature role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

Before the heart study, Framingham looked at tuberculosis

BEFORE THE HEART STUDY You may have already heard about how a massive-scale public health study based in Framingham profoundly changed the body of research on a deadly and widespread disease.

But before the iconic Framingham Heart Study begin in 1948 and put the Massachusetts town’s focus on public health on the map, there was an earlier iteration: the Framingham Tuberculosis Study, which took place from 1916-1923 and, according to Framingham History Center executive director Anne Murphy, was the first community-based participatory health study in the world.

In honor of World TB Day on Thursday, March 24, the Framingham History Center presents “The Whole World is Watching Framingham,” with Dr. Alfred DeMaria Jr., medical director and state epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease, and Kathy Hursen, Framingham’s public health nurse and coordinator of the TB clinic from 1989-1995, discussing the far-reaching but little-known significance of this slice of local history.

“This was the first communitywide public health project ever conducted to prevent a disease,” Hursen said. “The entire community got involved. Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death at that time. This was the first study to prove that a major disease could be prevented and reduced in the United States. It was replicated around the world, and researchers used what they learned from this study and its success when they designed the Framingham Heart Study.”

The talk takes place Thursday, March 24, at 7 p.m. at Historic Village Hall, 2 Oak St., Framingham. Suggested donation is $5. For more information, go to 

One-woman play about Christa McAuliffe premieres in Framingham

By Brad Avery

March 06. 2016 7:15PM


Judith Kalaora presented the life of Christa McAuliffe as part of the History at Play series on Sunday afternoon at the Historic Village Hall in Framingham. Here she portrays Christa’s career as a teacher.

FRAMINGHAM – From inventors to suffragettes, actress Judith Kalaora has portrayed many historic women in her educational one-woman performances. But on Sunday, she premiered her riskiest show to date when she took on the role of Christa McAuliffe at the Framingham Village Hall.

Kalaora, herself a Framingham native, admitted she was nervous and afraid before beginning her self-written show, “CHALLENGER: Soaring with Christa,” for an audience consisting largely of people who knew and remembered McAuliffe, the teacher and astronaut who has become an iconic piece of Framingham and American history.

Kalaora’s play comes 30 years after McAuliffe died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and coincides with the opening of the new Christa McAuliffe Branch Library building in Nobscot. In writing the show, Kalaora wanted to make sure the focus was on McAuliffe’s life and not her death, showcasing who she was as a person as she lived her childhood and college years in Framingham and her life as a teacher in Maryland and New Hampshire.

“When you’re portraying someone so close to people’s hearts you have an immense responsibility to uphold their memory in a way that represents who they were and what they were trying to achieve,” Kalaora said. “Even though it’s recent history, it’s old enough now and has to be revisited. This is an important woman and her death should not be what marks her legacy, it should be her life.”

“CHALLENGER” begins with McAuliffe as a 15-year-old Girl Scout and moves through her life in stages – from her politically active college years during the late ‘1960s to her time as an inner-city school teacher in Maryland and finally her months with NASA training to become the first teacher in space. Using multimedia, news clips and recordings of McAuliffe underline the most iconic moments of her story.

The show was well-received by the audience, many of whom were former classmates, teachers or friends of McAuliffe or her family.

“We went to church with her family, Christa was my daughter’s Girl Scout leader,” said Framingham resident Ceil Wohler. “It was very well done, very well researched.”

Others said the play was marvelous, although bittersweet. Former Framingham teacher Quent Sewell, who said he knew McAuliffe’s mother Grace Corrigan, called it fantastic and was taken with Kalaora’s performance.

“Not only did she present it so you believe she was Christa, but I learned things I didn’t know,” Sewell said.

It was important to premiere the show in Framingham, Kalaora said. With both a library and a middle school named for McAuliffe, Kalaora wants young kids to know more about the person behind the name.

“My goal is to ensure this wonderful person is not just remembered, but that she is known,” Kalaora said.

“CHALLENGER: Soaring with Christa” will play again at the Amazing Things Arts Center on April 3. Tickets are available at For more information on Kalaora’s one-woman shows, visit her website

Brad Avery can be reached at 508-626-4449 or Follow him on Twitter @BradAvery_MW. 

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Christa McAuliffe’s Life and Legacy Focus of Framingham History Center Program

Judith Kalaora, of History at Play, celebrates Christa McAuliffe’s legacy with a journey through her life on Sunday, March 6.

Historic interpreter to portray Christa McAuliffe in Framingham show

Christa - JudithBy Danielle Ameden
Daily News Staff
Posted Feb. 25, 2016 at 9:02 PM

FRAMINGHAM – Thirty years after her death in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Christa McAuliffe’s story is coming alive thanks to a performance by historical interpreter Judith Kalaora.

Kalaora, a character actress who, like McAuliffe, grew up in Framingham, takes the stage at historic Village Hall on Sunday, March 6. The show, “CHALLENGER: Soaring with Christa,” celebrates McAuliffe’s lasting legacy as a teacher, explorer and educational pioneer.

“We’re very excited because it’s the debut of this woman’s program and she’s a wonderful actress and we always love reenactments and living history,” said Annie Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center.

Murphy said people are always impressed to learn that McAuliffe, whose maiden name is Corrigan, grew up in Framingham and attended local schools.

“We’re all going to learn a lot more about who she was through this program, her teaching methods and her spirit,” Murphy said. “She went to Framingham State, she went to Marian, her mom is still in town, so deep roots in Framingham.”

The performance starts at 2:30 p.m. in the hall at 2 Oak St., Framingham. The snow date is March 20.

Kalaora, of History at Play, is known for taking on many roles, including 19th century women’s rights activist Lucy Stone at a recent performance at the Ashland Historical Society.

Murphy said she hopes for a large audience to hear McAuliffe’s story.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to come and see this teacher and what she was hoping to accomplish with her mission,” Murphy said.

McAuliffe, who lived in Concord, N.H., was a schoolteacher. She was selected out of 11,000 applicants to participate in NASA’s Teacher in Space Project. After completing months of training, she died when the Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

Murphy said Kalaora’s performance will be educational for teachers, parents and kids. It is suitable for children 9 and up.

She said the tribute coincides with the opening of the town’s new Christa McAuliffe branch library on Water Street in Nobscot.

Tickets for the performance are $5 for Framingham History Center members, $10 for nonmembers and $5 for children ages 9 to 15.

Reservations are required. For more information, visit

Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-626-4416 or Follow her on Twitter @damedenMW.