By Samantha Corr
Salem, Massachusetts is a small town only about four and a half hours from Long Island with a rich history dating back to the pilgrims. Founded in 1626, the town is mostly known for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Today, Salem celebrates its “haunted” past during the month of October with a Haunted Happenings Festival where visitors come from across the country to celebrate Halloween at both the street fairs and tours.
In total, there were 20 deaths as a result of the trials: 19 hangings and one man pressed to death. The locals told of how Salem had originally tried to forget the panic it created and tore down the buildings and the gallows. Only recently has Salem been able to appreciate the history of this event — and are now making recreations of these places to remember the history, as well as to satisfy the tourists.
The city recognizes and shows its history of the witch trials through museums and exhibits via old houses and historical artifacts that survived from that time. One particular showpiece is the recreation of the dungeon where the accused had to wait their trial.
Different ghost tours take you through the city and show you the places which are supposedly haunted from the time of the witch trials on, including the burial grounds, the Inn and the Town Hall.
One of the ghost tours we went on brought us to the burial ground where our tour guide described how people had reported seeing a woman walking around after dark. They later decided this woman was the wife of someone killed during the trials. There are sightings of other victims throughout the town as well and these strange sightings usually coincide with tragedies, such as many of the buildings that were burned down.
The witch history has persisted throughout to modern times, such as in television and movies. Both the t.v. show Bewitched and the movie Hocus Pocus were filmed in parts of Salem. Witchcraft itself survives in Salem due to the population of practicing pagans. We saw plenty of witchcraft shops throughout the city selling everything from incense and candles to spell books and tarot cards.
Salem is also home to Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, both of which are based in Salem. We got to visit his home, which is currently being restored. It is in a beautiful location overlooking the water. The House of the Seven Gables is on the same street as his own home, and has been turned into a museum. During one of the tours, I learned how Hawthorne is related to John Hathorne, a judge of the witch trials. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name in order to distance himself from the horrors that his own family may have been responsible for during the time.
The amazing thing about Salem is that all of these historic houses are based in a real town, surrounded by banks, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. Salem is not only a cool place to go for Halloween, but a real city where everyday people live their lives.
For more information about the history of Salem, as well as events and tours, visit salem.org/learn/grid-history.