In 1692, a wave of hysteria swept over Massachusetts, causing widespread panic and fear and leaving 25 or more people dead. The cause? Alleged witchcraft. It's hard to comprehend anyone being genuinely terrified of witches now (unless you've been watching too many scary movies with the lights off), but New England's religious strictness, and the nature of society in general back then (plus the fact that everyone may or may not have been tripping balls on a form of LSD) made the town prime for some sort of supernatural panic.
Long story short, several young girls in the town began to complain that they were being tormented by the spirits of townspeople who had "made pacts with the Devil" in exchange for witch powers-- overall, they accused over a hundred people of witchcraft. Nineteen innocents were hanged, one man was pressed to death by stones for refusing to plead, and countless others died in jail awaiting trial. Ironically, many who plead guilty to the accusations were saved.
Even though that was over 300 years ago, the town still has quite the reputation for being a settlement with supernatural significance. History buffs and new age, spiritual witches call Salem home, and make the town an interesting little place to visit.
Salem's most recent memorial to the dark events is the Proctor's Ledge Witch Execution Memorial. In 2016, it was confirmed that the hangings of the accused witches took place not on Gallows Hill as many thought, but on Proctor's Ledge, a rocky outcropping below the hill. In 2017, a new memorial was dedicated on the site. It has the names of the 19 hanged on a granite wall and an oak tree.
Take a tour of The Witch House, which was owned by Judge Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges during the trials. It's the only structure still standing in Salem that has direct ties to the trials, so it's the best picture you'll get of life at the time. It's more focused on straight history than the trials, but the historic home is an important stop nonetheless. Plus, the building is undeniably creepy looking!
Salem isn't all gloomy and dark and serious. See the city's lighter side at the Bewitched Statue, a memorial to the main character from the famed TV series, Samantha Stevens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery). The show's 7th season filmed several episodes on location in Salem, and many credit the show with helping the town reconcile its dark past with a kitschy and tourist-friendly attitude. It's thanks to the show that we have Salem as we know it today!
The Salem Witch Trials Memorials is a great place to take a moment to sit down and reflect on the weight of the whole witch panic. Seeing the names and death dates of the wrongfully convicted and executed really hammers home how heavy the Salem Witch Trials were.
Salem's spooky past has inspired many, from Arthur Miller (who wrote The Crucible, for anyone who didn't have to read the play in high school) to Ryan Murphy (Naturally, Salem plays a role in American Horror Story: Coven). Most famous of all, it inspired famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne. He wrote a Gothic novel called "The House of the Seven Gables", inspired by his ancestors, who lived in this very house and, who in earlier days, had played a role in the Salem Witch Trials (he was descended from one of the judges who presided over the trials.) Tour the house and soak in the dark, supernatural vibes.
For more fun in Salem, check out our guide to Hocus Pocus filming locations!