Salem, Massachusetts Is The Real-Life Scary Story You Need To Experience This October
When you think of witches, what do you picture? “Charmed” (heyyy, upcoming reboot)? Amazing Halloween costume ideas (because you can totally rock a hat and broom)? Or do you think of our very real history of witch hunts right in the middle of Massachusetts during colonial times?
If you answered historically, then Salem, Massachusetts is calling to you for a fall trip this year. The city hosts events for the spooky months around Halloween and has historical attractions all year round in remembrance of the Salem Witch Trials. Salem is located less than an hour away from Boston, Massachusetts, meaning it’s an easy weekend venture from the East Coast city.
But fair warning: A visit to Salem can get dark. The city has some seriously bad juju from centuries-old ghosts. It’s a history-meets-hocus-pocus kind of trip, so get ready for a weekend full of paranormal activity.
Now, before you hit up Witch City, let’s clear up a couple of Salem myths. First off, no witches were burned in Salem. That’s a very medieval Europe image. In Salem, the witch trials ended with hangings. The infamous trials lasted about a year from 1692 to 1693 and sentenced dozens of “witches” to the gallows to be hanged. You can learn all about the brutal details at the Salem Witch Museum. If you want your history to come with a little more haunted edge, try a nighttime tour of Salem like the Bewitched After Dark or Haunted Footsteps walking tours.
If the history tour isn’t gruesome enough for you, head to Howard Street Cemetary, the site of the stuff of true nightmares. This is where accused witch Giles Corey was killed because he wouldn’t plead guilty or not guilty to witchcraft. He was crushed to death with rocks and planks of wood. Since the 1800s, more than 300 graves were added to the site. You won’t be short on scary stories here.
The actual site where many accused witches were buried was a mystery from the 17th century all the way up until 2016. Until then, it was known as Gallows Hill, but now, historians know the exact place the murders took place: Proctor’s Ledge. And during October, you can hear witch stories and local folklore at the Gallows Hills Museum.
For those who are drawn to the macabre, you can witness a reenactment of the trials at Imprisoned! 1692. It’s located on the real site of the Old Witch Gaol, the jail where accused witches were locked up.
There’s also the Old Burying Point Cemetary, where one of the judges from the actual Salem Witch Trials is buried (along with one of the original passengers from the Mayflower). If you’re intrigued by the men behind the trials, make sure to visit the Witch House, AKA the Jonathan Corwin House. Corwin was a witch trial judge and had played a large role in fueling the mass witch panic of the 17th century. He personally had a hand in sentencing nearly 20 witches and never apologized for his actions.
But Salem’s spooky aura comes from more than just the witch trials. More than 100 years later, Victorian spiritualists brought magical thinking back to Salem with seances to summon and speak to the dead. (In case you’re rusty on your factional 1800s religious sects, Spiritualists believed in the spirit world and used mediums to communicate with those on the “other side.”) Traveling supernatural enthusiasts can watch a reenactment of one of these spectacles at The Spirits Speak: Magic, Mediums and Mentalism, performed just as it would have been in the 19th century. Think stage magic, illusions and possible otherwordly appearances.
Around the same time that the Spiritualists were holding seances in Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne — you might recognize that name from your high school required reading list as the author of “The Scarlet Letter” — wrote a Gothic novel set in and named after The House of the Seven Gables in Salem. You can visit the house and hear all of its 350 years’ worth of scary stories.
When you need a break from the supernatural, we’d suggest taking a walk along the coast to spot one of Salem’s stately lighthouses. We can’t promise cheery weather, especially in October, but you can find seafood restaurants and shopping along the pier.
Searching for more spells than nautical-chic outfits? Shops like HausWitch and Omen: Psychic Parlor and Witchcraft Emporium have everything you need for your own witchy practices, from books to herbs to crystals. And there’s never been a better time to take up witchcraft. It’s trendy. It’s spooky. And honestly, it’s kind of necessary. The world could use some more good witches out there.
Your last Salem outing is fortune telling. You can find everything from tarot card readings to palm readings in Salem. There’s even a fortune-telling licensing process through the town government. It is Witch City, after all.
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