As autumn approaches and the few maple trees around town begin to slowly change color I start day dreaming about the immense beauty of New England in the fall. About this time last year was my first time leaf peeping throughout the East Coast. While I was in New England I made sure to set aside a day to explore the town of Salem, Massachusetts, the epicenter of the gruesome witch trials that took place in 1692. I found witches there alright, both real and fictional.
The Salem Witch Museum
I remember learning about Salem and how some people had been accused of witchcraft. But I had forgotten many details such as had they been burned at the stake? Or did that only happen in Europe? Wow, realizing my history was very fuzzy I decided to help clear things up by paying for a tour at the Salem Witch Museum. This brownstone and brick building built between 1844 and 1846 operated as a church for most of its years. Then in 1972 it was remodeled and converted into a museum dedicated to educate patrons on the true history of the witch trials that occurred in Salem in 1692.
To be totally honest I was a little underwhelmed by the museum experience itself. We all entered a large room that was surrounded by staged exhibits of life-sized wax figures each depicting a portion of the story of the witch trials. As an automated narrator recounted the history, the matching exhibit would be lit up so we could focus our attention on that part of the story. I guess I just expected this to be presented in a more modern exciting way. I blame Disneyland for spoiling me with fancy style special effects. The saving grace though was that the history was spot on and of course very informative.
The Witch Trials of 1692
If you’re slightly unfamiliar with Salem’s history I’ll give you a quick refresher. It all started when a few young girls began publicly exhibiting fits and outbursts described by witnesses as unnatural or even epileptic in appearance. Doctors couldn’t find a reason for the girls odd behavior and so the highly superstitious town began pointing to witchcraft as the reason. Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and a South American Indian slave named Tituba were the first three women to be accused of being witches in Salem in 1692. They were jailed along with many more. Each of the accused went before a grueling trial to suffer sometimes long and relentless interrogations. Finally they were convicted of being witches or dealing in witchcraft and most were sentenced to death by hanging. Some met a much worse fate.
The crazy thing is that of course all of them were innocent! Can you believe that in 2001, after more than 300 years, all the victims of the Salem witch trials were officially proclaimed innocent in a bill signed by the Governor of Salem. Bout damn time I say! Yeah and the bill was signed on October 31st…Halloween. How strangely fitting!
The Witch House
As we walked around the town we happened upon one of the spookiest houses I’ve ever seen appropriately called The Witch House. No, there are no witches living there. However, it’s the only building still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. The now museum was the former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin who incidentally served on the court that eventually sent 19 unfortunate victims to be hung on Gallows Hill.
I found a few of the artifacts inside the museum very interesting. The first was an odd black shoe that had been found in the wall of an old home. Apparently concealed shoes in the walls of a home was a common practice to help ward off evil or witchcraft. The second artifact that caught my eye in the museum was a doll often used in witchcraft called a poppet. The poppet, often found lodged in chimneys, had been found in the wall of another home. Super spooky! I’d probably have to move if I found a shoe or doll lodged in the walls of my house!
The Burying Point Cemetery
What’s a spooky town without a spooky graveyard, right? The Old Burying Point Cemetery (also known as the Charter Street Cemetery) is the oldest burying ground in Salem and among the oldest in the United States. It opened in 1637 and it’s amazing that after all these years you can still read the engravings on most of the stones. Sure, the tombstones look like they’ve been set up for a Halloween graveyard display. But friends, this is the real thing! Most of the stones have weathered and chipped and lie uneven after years of settling within the earth.
Just next to the cemetery is The Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park. Stone slab benches were inserted in the stone wall of the park for each of the victims executed in 1692. People will often lay flowers or other trinkets on the benches around the engraved name of the victim. Remember Sarah Good? The picture above is her bench. It reads ” Sarah Good Hanged July 19, 1962.
Are there real witches in Salem?
Yes and no. I guess it all depends in what you believe to be a real witch. I found lots of people dressed up in witch Halloween costumes parading around Salem. Women who were dressed in gothic styles could pass as modern witches. However, I found no real evidence of people with magical powers beyond that of a normal human. We were told that many people who practice modern day witchcraft, Wicca, white magic or whatever it is most commonly called flock to Salem. Some of these people consider themselves witches. Many have opened their own shops throughout town that offer goods, books, or even tarot card readings. If you have an interest in any of this you most definitely can find it in Salem.
Other Salem Attractions
You really could spend a good amount of time enjoying all the attractions in Salem. With more time I could have visited The Pirate Museum, some of the famous 17th century homes, and maybe even have take the Hocus Pocus tour (since I love that movie so much). I was only there for one day so I decided to set aside time to visit The House of the Seven Gables. It was the home of author Nathanial Hawthorne’s cousin and inspiration for his novel of the same name.
One of my favorite attractions in Salem was Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery Monster Museum. This place has nothing to do with witches but is awesome! The museum hosts one of the greatest collections I’ve ever seen of monsters from famous horror films. The Exorcist, Salem’s Lot, Pumpkinhead, A Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tales From The Crypt, It, and Halloween were just some full size creature creations on display. The detail in the exhibits are out of this world! I had so much fun walking from set to set and guessing each horror film or character. This is an amazing museum that should not be missed!
Well hope you guys had as much fun reading this post as I had writing it. It was a blast for me to go back and remember the history and my trip to Salem all over again. Have you been to Salem? What did you like or not like about it? Please share in the comments!