October 27th 2020
Salem, Massachusetts, is known as Witch City because of the notorious witch trials that took place in Salem Village (present-day Danvers) in 1692. Nineteen people were hanged after refusing to confess to charges of witchcraft, and one man was pressed to death. More than 300 years later, the town has embraced its sordid past and turned it into a fall destination. Every year, the high school graduates a whole new class of "Salem Witches," and crowds descend on the historic seaport in search of both tricks and treats.
Salem's most recent memorial to the witch trials is the Proctor's Ledge Witch Execution Memorial. In 2016, it was confirmed that the hangings 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 featuring the names of those hanged.
This beautiful, Georgian-style home was built in 1727 and is currently owned by the Peabody Essex Museum. The exterior was used as a filming location for the 1993 Halloween classic Hocus Pocus and the garden is open to the public 365 days a year, from dawn to dusk, at no charge (dogs are welcome).
The Witch House is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the witchcraft trials. Jonathan Corwin was a local magistrate who served on the court that ultimately sent 19 people to the gallows. Corwin lived in this house, an excellent example of 17th-century architecture, for more than 40 years and it remained in the Corwin family until the mid-1800s. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of the house, which offers extended hours in October.
The 1960s sitcom Bewitched filmed several episodes on location in Salem and this statue pays tribute to everyone’s favorite housewife witch, Samantha Stephens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery). Featuring Montgomery on a broom and framed by a moon, the statue was donated by TV Land and dedicated in Lappin Park on June 15, 2005.
The Salem Wax Museum of Witches & Seafarers—in operation for more than 20 years—features 50 London-made wax figures depicting scenes from Salem's history. From the infamous 1692 witch trials to its days as a bustling seaport, the museum is full of dioramas populated with figures that will make you look twice—crossed eyes, missing fingers, and questionable wardrobe choices abound.
Also called the Charter Street Cemetery, the Old Burying Point was established in 1637 as the first cemetery in Salem. This is the final resting place of Judge John Hathorne, the great-great-grandfather of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a prominent judge in the witch trials. Richard More is the only passenger of the Mayflower with a known gravesite—he died the same year as the witch trials—and he's buried here beneath a stone labeling him as a Mayflower Pilgrim.
Located just outside of the Old Burying Point Cemetery is Salem’s memorial to the victims of the witch trials. Granite walls with benches representing each victim are etched with the names, means of execution, and execution date of the accused.
While it lacks the artifacts or fine art you might expect to find in a traditional museum, the Salem Witch Museum is worth a visit for the introductory show, a reenactment of the witchcraft trials featuring animatronic models (not unlike the ones you’ll find at the nearby wax museum). The gift shop is also well-stocked with a fun selection of spooky Witch City souvenirs.
Tour the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name, and pick up a copy in the gift shop. Hawthorne is a descendent of John Hathorne, the only judge involved in the Salem witch trials who never repented of his actions (the “w” was added later to distance the family from the trials). This is a popular place and tickets are limited, so arrive early to secure a spot—and don’t miss the secret staircase.
The Witch's Brew Cafe is conveniently located near the House of the Seven Gables in Salem’s historic downtown. If you’re not hungry, stop by to check out the cafe’s windows, which are often painted with spooky scenes.
“America’s oldest candy company” is stocked with old-timey treats, including Gibralters and Blackjacks, the first commercially-made candies in the U.S. The tiny shop is located across the street from The House of the Seven Gables, so stop by after your tour to grab some fudge, salt water taffy, or Blackjack, a black-strap molasses stick candy still made by hand from the original 1800s recipe.
When you walk into Ziggy’s, you might think you’ve made a mistake and accidentally walked into someone’s private kitchen. Located outside of the main tourist area, the bakery—with a small counter and a few stools—feels like a local secret. The freshly made donuts and coffee are cheap, delicious, and served with a smile.
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Upstateherd