See the masked men in blood-spattered clothing, walk the dimly lit cobblestone streets, hear the piercing screams if you dare. Salem, Massachusetts surely isn’t a trip for the faint of heart. What is it about this historical town that ranks it as one of the top tourist attractions in New England?
Perhaps it could be the fact that the witch trials of 1692 occurred here. During the 1600’s, Salem Village, which is now present-day Danvers, Massachusetts, was located just on the northern edge of Salem Town, which is what we know today as Salem, Massachusetts. The earliest accounts of witchcraft occurred in Salem Village, where Reverend Samuel Parris’ home was located.
During this time, Salem Village was a lower-class agricultural area, while Salem Town was an upper-class fishing and shipbuilding community. As the class distinction between the two towns became apparent, Salem Village tried to gain independence from Salem Town. Although the two towns relied on each other for commerce and trade, Salem Village became a separate parish in 1672 when they built their own church and eventually elected Reverend Samuel Parris as their new minister. While the holding cell for the accused witches was located in Salem Town, most of the accused witches resided in Salem Village. Salem Town, the Salem we now know, has embraced the witchcraft hysteria and created a bustling tourist attraction.
You won’t need to look far to find the fun in Salem. Here are some suggestions for your visit:
The Witch Dungeon Museum
Located on 16 Lynde Street, this interactive visit is a must-see. The building itself is a representation of the witch dungeon of the late 1600’s. It's built with dark mahogany siding, lined with bricks and gothic-inspired windows— you can’t miss it. Once you arrive inside and purchase your $9 entry ticket, you'll be seated in the “church” where you will await a live reenactment of a witch trial adapted directly from the 1692 transcripts. Professional actresses will recreate the horrifying scene. They’ll take you back in time, where Reverend Parris’ daughter, Betty and his niece, Abigail were the first to be afflicted. Watch as the girls recount their strange and disturbing actions; see minister Dr. Griggs diagnose them with witchcraft afflictions. You’ll feel as though the Devil has returned to Salem.
After this chilling experience, you'll be led to the basement of the dungeon, where the accused witches and their families were once held. As you enter the first dungeon area, peer into the cells to see wax “prisoners” dressed in traditional garb. You’ll notice the cells will vary in size. Your guide will then mention that the accused witches had to pay “rent” to live in a holding cell. Those with more money could afford a larger cell, while those who were poor could afford no more than an enclosed standing space. Before you leave the first corridor, be sure to admire the beam placed on the wall— it's the only piece salvaged from the original witch dungeon.
As you round the corner, you’ll walk through a narrow hallway. You'll then make your way into the next corridor, but beware— you may have some prisoners awaiting you. When you round the corner into the next room, you’ll notice a blue-tinted light illuminating a scene in the far corner. This is of Giles Corey, a man accused for practicing witchcraft. Once he was arrested, Corey refused to plea guilty, nor not guilty. He was then pressed with heavy stones to force him to plea, but instead, died after two days. Caution: you’ll walk by this scene and see a mangled corpse pressed into the ground.
Still not frightened? Make your way into the last room, which represents the horrifying Gallows Hill. In 1692, 19 witches were hanged to death. Here, you’ll see a large, crimson-colored tree with several bodies hanging from its' branches. Whether you pose for a photo op or run for the exit, this scene completes your Witch Dungeon experience. Be sure to browse the gift shop for a souvenir.
After the Witch Dungeon Museum, you’ll need some comfort food to “save” your soul. Voted the "Best of Northshore Dining," Opus is an experience you can’t miss. It’s located on 87 Washington Street, a convenient short walk from the Witch Dungeon Museum. Walk through the double doors and find yourself in a sleek restaurant. The brightly lit bar immediately grabs your attention, contrasted beautifully with the blue lights that hang from the open concept ceiling. The atmosphere is modern and hip, while the brick wall backdrop keeps it homey. Tables and booths of varying sizes line the floor, making Opus an ideal choice for all ages.
I decided to sit on the high-top stools at the bar, where Opus serves the full course menu. I arrived around 1:30 pm and was pleasantly surprised to learn the restaurant still served brunch throughout the day. On a cool Sunday afternoon, this is just what I was looking for. I first perused the drink menu, which offered a variety of craft and bottled beers, an array of wines, and funky cocktails. Drink prices ranged from approximately $8-$13. I opted for a glass of the Napa Valley’s Cabernet Sauvignon, which was absolutely delicious. With everything from sweet to sultry, classic to adventurous, you’ll be sure to find a drink to your liking.
The menu proved to be just as satisfying. The prices may seem a bit high for my college student budget ($8-$24), but the quality is impeccable. With a variety of salads, breakfast dishes, sandwiches, burgers, sushi, and dinner entrees, you can’t go wrong. After debating between the “BLTA” (thick-sliced bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, basil aioli served on a toasted ciabatta) and the “Mezze Platter” (garlic lemon hummus, quinoa tabouli, curry feta, marinated olives, and toasted naan bread) I opted for the variety platter. The Greek appetizers paired perfectly with the red wine, and I found myself devouring most of the platter. Bon appétit!
New England Magic: A Shop & School of Witchcraft & Wizardry
After wining and dining, you’ll want to catch some fresh air and peruse the array of shops surrounding Salem Village Square. Located on 131 Essex Street, New England Magic is a must-stop shop. Floor to ceiling windows line the front of the store, where an eclectic array of goods are displayed. The shop itself is quaint, comprised of two rooms filled with magical souvenirs. The employees are helpful and knowledgable— be sure to see them for any assistance.
Ranked as "Salem’s Best Witch Shop," this magic store is known for its warm and friendly atmosphere. The show offers everything a witch or wizard needs, including jewelry items, stone crystals, incense, spell kits, books, candles, tarot card decks, and much, much more. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even have your tarot cards read.
Once you enter the shop, the first room houses a large, clear case of jewelry and stones, as well as a variety of incense, props, and wall souvenirs. Be sure to check out the broom sticks in the far corner. The connecting room houses more of the witchcraft goods, including books and spell kits. Even if you can’t find anything to your liking, New England Magic embodies the true essence of Salem, Massachusetts.
When to Visit
The month of October, especially around the time of Halloween, is a bustling time in Salem, Massachusetts. The town offers a variety of free and low-cost events, including haunted tours, carnivals, live music, and magic shows. If you want to experience all the “spookiness” that Salem offers, be sure to plan your trip during this time. If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds, any time of the year will do. The summertime heat might not be enjoyable, so an early fall, winter, or springtime trip would be recommended.
Whenever you decide to go, you won’t be disappointed.