Salem - Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Salem
Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

Salem, Massachusetts, is called the “Witch City” and for good reason. Based on Hollywood movies and popular literature versions of witchcraft, one would think every witch came from Salem or had an ancestor that was burned there. One might even think that witchcraft hysteria began and ended in Salem, which is absolutely not true. In the scope of hundreds of years of witch hunting, Salem was not even unique: more people were killed in longer panics elsewhere. Nor was it uncommon for young girls claiming to be bewitched to accuse others of witchcraft both in Europe and elsewhere in the American colonies, just as occurred in Salem.

Be that as it may, the witchcraft panic in Salem has gripped the public imagination like no other witch panic. It is extensively taught in American schools, and is the subject of countless books and movies and an award-winning play—see CREATIVE ARTS: Literature: The Crucible.

Those who journey to Salem will discover that its witchcraft history is not ignored but is a crucial part of the local economy; many sites, both historical and entertainment-oriented, are devoted to various visions of witchcraft.

The first thing one must realize is that there are two Salems: Salem Village and Salem Town. The historical center of witchcraft hysteria was in Salem Village, a parish of Salem Town. Following the notoriety (and subsequent embarrassment) of the witch trials, Salem Village, changed its name to Danvers. Thus most of the surviving historical sites associated with the hysteria are really located in Danvers, approximately 17 miles north of Boston.

The Salem Village Historic District of Danvers has several properties related to the witch trials that are accessible to the public, including the home and burial place of Rebecca Nurse (who was among those executed) and of Ann Putnam (one of the “bewitched girls”), as well as the Salem Village Parsonage, where Salem’s witchcraft hysteria began. (This was home for Reverend Samuel Parris’ family and his slave Tituba, the first person in Salem to confess to witchcraft. Also living here at an earlier time was Reverend George Burroughs, Parris’ predecessor, who was convicted of witchcraft and hanged.)

Other sites of interest in Danvers include:


Image The Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial, dedicated in 1992 to commemorate those who died during the witchcraft hysteria. It sits opposite the site of the old Salem Village Meeting House, scene of many of the witchcraft examinations. The monument includes the names of those who died as well as final statements of eight of those executed.


Image The Ellerton J. Brehaut Witchcraft Collection, housed at the Danvers Archival Center, a department of the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers. This is a collection of printed materials, including many original documents, devoted to the Salem witch trials. The collection includes the signature mark of Giles Corey, pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea and stand trial.


Most people associate the township of Salem with the historic events that occurred at Salem Village. In addition, popular media used the name “Salem” in all kinds of explorations and exploitations of witchcraft, so that many people assumed that Salem remained a city filled with witches. Over the years, people flocked there for a variety of disparate, contradictory reasons including historical research, thrills, and pilgrimages. A substantial and growing Wiccan population is now also based in Salem.

Although historic sites are found in Danvers, locations geared for students and tourists are mainly in Salem, including the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, featuring a reenactment of a witch trial based on actual trial transcripts and a guided tour of a recreated dungeon, and the Witch History Museum, offering a guided tour of fifteen scenes recreating the panic of 1692. In addition, the Salem Witch Village offers a guided tour on the subject of witchcraft. Created in conjunction with contemporary witches, the Village hosts ongoing programs and events relating to themes magic, Paganism, and witchcraft that are open for public participation.

Halloween/Samhain in Salem is now a major tourist destination; hotels are reserved months in advance. Salem is filled with special seasonal activities:


Image Haunted Happenings is an annual three-week Halloween festival featuring many family-oriented activities (see www.hauntedhappenings.org).


Image The annual Festival of the Dead, founded by Salem witch elders Shawn Poirier and Christian Day, explores death’s mysteries through haunting events that investigate both the favored and forbidden ways in which cultures have revered, celebrated, and secretly divined the meaning of life’s inevitable destination. Events include a dumb supper, séances, psychic fair and witches’ exposition, and, for children, Ms. Firefly’s School of Spirit Conjuration (www.festivalofthedead.com).


Further information regarding the Witch City may be found at www.hauntedsalem.com.

Adjacent to Salem’s Old Burying Point is the Witch Trials Memorial erected in memory of those who suffered in Salem in 1692; it’s open to the public.