I will be doing a series of posts highlighting some of my favorites sights and things to do when I visited Salem, Massachusetts last October. Salem was an experience unlike any other town. The macabre history of the hysteria and horror that was that was the Salem Witch Trials seems to be ever present throughout the town. It’s incredible to think an event like that is what helped to set the civility and due processes we have today. As you stroll among the quaint shops and streets you also feel that you, yourself have stepped back into time and are looking upon the same structures, buildings, trees and seaside that settlers before also looked upon. It’s a true connection to history – and a haunting one at that.
Welcome to Salem…I’ve highlighted some of the sights I recommend in no particular order!
Sight 1: The Old Burying Point
The Burying Point Cemetery off Charter street is truly a sight to see – especially around Halloween. I have never seen more folks gathered in a cemetery (and gathered in costumes in a cemetery at that) than at the Burying Point in October. I’ve not even seen that many people at my family’s cemetery for decoration. The Burying Point is the oldest cemetery in the city where witch trial judge, Justice John Hathorne (great-great grandfather to the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne) is laid to rest. If you actually want to look around, I would recommend visiting before October 28-31 or after October 31 for less crowded conditions.
Sight 2: Salem Witch Trial Memorial
It has been nearly 326 years since the Salem With Trials occurred. Just last year, on the 325th anniversary date of the executions, a memorial was placed in Salem at the site of the hangings. The Witch Trial memorial (not the newest one built at the hanging site) was built in 1992 and is a square shaped park-let with a stone wall around the perimeter. On the wall, you can find 20 benches identifying the 20 victims of the Witch Trials engraved with their final protests and execution method. Something I learned during my visit, was that despite popular tales and legends – none of the accused were actually burned to death.
The day before and on Halloween the memorial is full of visitors. As you can see from my photo above, when I visited it on November 2 of last year, it was eerily silent. It allowed me to walk among the markers and read each of their protests. Something that I often forget to realize is that these innocent souls are ancestors of people who are living today and their history is still alive through them. I was touched to see letters left on the victim’s benches from great-great-great-great grandchildren (not sure how far “great”, but a lot can happen in 326 years – my math skills are embarrassing).
Sight 3: Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody Essex Museum (also known as the PEM by locals) has seem to have separated itself from the creepy and strange that the majority of the city embraces (however it is rumored that they have some of the most important Salem Witch Trials artifacts in their possession that are not on display).
Located right off Essex street, the PEM breaks up the architecture and theme of the cobblestone street. It’s linear, modern look is an unexpected treat and I recommend that any art enthusiast spend some time admiring their collection.
The curators and staff have done an excellent job making art an interactive and engaging experience for all which some museums struggle to do.
Sight 4: Hocus Pocus Filming Locations
I stumbled upon the first Hocus Pocus filming location on Essex (161 Essex St.) on accident. I looked to my right and was like “OMG – we’ll never find mom and dad in there” (Dani says to Max or vice versa??) . The Old Town Hall is where the adults were put under Bette Midler’s spell along with the rest of the Sanderson sisters. It is currently home to Cry Innocent, an interactive theatrical performance for tourists and guests to be a part of Salem Witch Trials to better understand what Salem was like in 1692.
And of course, I had to stop to see Allison’s house (318 Essex St.) – you know, the gal with the “yabos” that Max likes (Ohhhh Allison). The Ropes Mansion, now owned and operated by the PEM, was the filming spot of the exterior of Allison’s house in Hocus Pocus. Was anyone else jealous of all the awesome pumpkins that were in front of this house in the movie? My pumpkins never turn out that good! The gardens at the house are free for guests to visits and tours of the home are also available with admission.
Sight 5: Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour
Salem offers lots of different historical and haunted walking tours of the city. One of my absolute favorite experiences when I was there was going on the Salem Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour! This fun and easy nighttime walking tour stops at many locations that are haunted in Salem. Our tour guide was so entertaining and lively and provided me with some interesting facts I don’t think I would have been able to easily google otherwise.
Want to know how the game “Clue” was inspired? Take this tour and find out!
Sight 6: Salem Witch Museum
If you do not know too much about the With Trials of 1692, definitely visit the Salem Witch Museum. The museum has an “in-the-round” diorama and scenes depicting different historical moments during Salem’s with hysteria. What I enjoyed about this presentation is that a guide takes you through what Paganism/Witchcraft is today and what it was throughout history in addition to learning about Salem’s past.
Before embarking on my journey to Salem, I picked up a copy of J.W. Ocker’s, “A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts”. I highly recommend this read as it truly gives you a deeper insight into Salem and it’s history. Ocker writes about his experience in such a way that it becomes easy to visualize what your trip will be like and help you decide what things you’ll want to see!
I’ll feature some of my favorite eateries and libations found in the city in a later Salem series post!