For those of you who like to live it up every Halloween, there’s probably no better place to visit in October than Salem, Massachusetts. For those of you who have been following my blog, or just know your history, Salem was the site of the 1692 witch trials. In 1692, Salem was actually split between Salem Village (now Danvers) and Salem Town (modern day Salem). The latter is where the trials were held, the accused were imprisoned, and the condemned were hanged. With the passage of more than three hundred years, Salem has gone from shunning those who practiced the dark arts to embracing people of all faiths and practices. It’s been dubbed “The Witch City” and there isn’t a gift shop that doesn’t feature a cute, kitschy witch figurine or t-shirt. Admittedly, I’m a bit on the fence. On the one hand, I’m all for the spooky, witchy vibe, but at the same time I can’t help but find it a bit disrespectful to be making money off the memory of several innocent people who were wrongly executed. Regardless, I still love Salem and here are a few places you should check out if you choose to go.
(Cover image: Statue of Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched at the corner of Washington St. and Essex St.)
Salem Witch Museum
Located at 19 1/2 Washington Square, this museum is a good first stop if you plan on learning all about the Salem Witch Trials. Housed in a former Gothic Revival style church building, the façade of the museum has become one of the most iconic in Salem. Inside, you sit in a large auditorium with lighted dioramas while a narrator tells you what occurred in 1692. Then, a tour guide takes you to an adjacent room to explain how the perception of witches has changed throughout history. The museum also has good educational resources for anyone seeking additional information about the witch trials.
Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery
This is a pretty cool location at 217 Essex St. that pays tribute to the monsters of movies. Inside the halls of this gallery you will find figures of famous monsters from the early years of horror films like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Some of the more recent icons of horror include Elvira, Hannibal Lector, It, and Sam from Trick r Treat. There are plenty more monsters to discover and they sell all sorts of horror merchandise.
Salem Witch Dungeon
Like the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon museum, located at 16 Lynde St., is also housed in a former church and serves to explain the type of imprisonment accused witches faced. Unfortunately, the original colonial jail, which was located only a few blocks away, was torn down in the 1950s. The museum however more than makes up for it by providing you with a reenactment of one of the trials before you are lead down to the dungeon below. In the basement of the museum is a recreation of the jail where the accused witches were kept. This area really builds up the creepy vibe as it is nearly pitch black and you get to see the horrid conditions the accused were kept in.
Peabody Essex Museum
This one is more of what you would think of as a typical museum and is reminiscent of the Met. Located at East India Square, 161 Essex Street, this museum houses a large collection of artifacts from all over the world. Their main collections contain ceramics, paintings, furniture, and maritime artifacts. One of the most impressive rooms is the East India Marine Hall that features large ships’ figureheads. The museum also holds the Yin Yu Tang house, a historic Chinese house that features sixteen bedrooms and two fish ponds in the courtyard. The Phillips Library is also part of the PEM and they have extensive historic records.
The Witch House- AKA Jonathan Corwin’s House.
Located at 310 ½ Essex St., this is the only house still standing in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials. It is the former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin who served during the witch trials. The house features typical colonial architecture, furniture, and other artifacts. It also provides information on what life would have been like for people during that period.
New England Pirate Museum
This museum at 274 Derby Street takes you through the other side of Salem’s history. Outside of witches, Salem was also a bustling seaport and it has a rich history when it comes to all sorts of seafarers. Here you will learn about the pirates that roamed New England’s shores. The dioramas are well set up, although a bit hard to see in the dim lighting, and the tour guide we had was an excellent story teller. After the tour, you walk through a cave to exit where more pirates await you.
Salem Witch Trials Memorials
There are several memorials to the victims of the witch trials in and around Salem. The latest one is at Proctor’s Ledge, which was recently confirmed to have been the site of the hangings of the convicted witches, not Gallows Hill. The memorial is located at 7 Pope St. behind the Walgreens and has the names of those hanged. Another memorial is located on Liberty St., adjacent to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, and features stone benches set into a granite wall. Each bench has the name of someone put to death in 1692. After visiting the memorial, the cemetery itself makes for an interesting visit as it dates back to 1637 and contains the graves of many notable Salem residents. Danvers also has a witch trials memorial at 172 Hobart St. that has a granite wall with the names of the victims and quotes from the court records. It also has a large granite block with a bible and recreated chains, which the accused were kept in during their imprisonment.
The House of the Seven Gables
One of the more iconic structures in Salem, the House of the Seven Gables located at 115 Derby St. was built in 1668 by Salem merchant John Turner. The house served as the inspiration for writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s eponymous novel. In fact, the grounds of the house also include the home that served as Hawthorne’s birthplace. If you visit the Gables, be prepared for a bit of a fun house like experience. Not only do you have to go up the tiny secret staircase beside the chimney, but then you have to go through a short side door in the attic and then make your way through the house in a series of twists and turns. Regardless, it is an interesting look at the history of American architecture. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house when I visited, but according to their website, personal photography is now allowed.
Rev. John Hale’s House and the Rebecca Nurse Homestead
Okay, so these two homes are not actually located in Salem, but are both connected to the witch trials and so bear mentioning. Rev. Hale’s house is located at 39 Hale St. in Beverly, which is only a short drive from Salem, and is open for tours by appointment. Hale was involved with many aspects of the witch trials and wrote his book A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft about the trials in the house. Hale’s grave is a few blocks down in the cemetery adjacent to the fire house. Rebecca Nurse’s house is at 149 Pine St. in Danvers. Nurse, who was hanged in 1692, lived in the home and it is a long held tradition that she was secretly buried on the property after her execution. The Nurse Homestead contains the family graveyard and a recreated colonial meeting house. The body of another one of the executed, George Jacobs, is also buried in the graveyard after his remains were found on his former property.
Other Points of Interest
I could go on and on about the places in Salem, but I’ll keep it short here.
A fun ocean front park at 165 Fort Ave. with an arcade, food stands, bumper cars, carousel, and kiddie rides. It also features a pier with a view of the Bakers Island Lighthouse across the water.
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie
Located at 122 Derby St., this company dubbed “America’s oldest candy company” features Gibralters and Black Jacks, candies that both originated in Salem. It also has plenty of other candies and chocolates for sale.
I have yet to visit this place, but it is a living history museum located in Forest River Park that was built in 1930 and features reconstructed