This little town in Massachusetts typically needs no introduction. It has a larger than life reputation as “The Witch City” due to the infamous witchcraft hysteria that took place there in 1692. This has been referred to as the most notorious case of mass hysteria in Colonial American history, and is famously memorialized in the play “The Crucible” written by Arthur Miller in 1953 and adapted to film in 1996. This notorious dark history draws people from all over the world, especially in the month of October (the witching month), and the town of Salem does not disappoint, designating the entire month to “Haunted Happenings” for curious tourists. There are many witchcraft museums and modern-day witchcraft shops dotting the cobblestoned Essex Street, where tourists are free to wander in costume (or among costumed figures), sign up for psychic readings at any one of a variety of psychic fairs, go on various ghost tours, or attend a séance…
The pictures above clockwise from left to right: St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1733 on land donated by Phillip English, an accused witch who fled Salem during the witchcraft trials, only to return when the threat was over to find his rich properties had been pillaged. The land he donated to the Episcopal church was part of the restitution he received after holding the corrupt sheriff’s dead body hostage for payment, but he never received all of his riches back (there is also a haunted history associated with this church); the second picture is of the John Ward house, which was built in 1684 and is on the list of the oldest buildings in the US (along with several other buildings in Salem, including the Pickman house, which also has a haunted history); and the third picture is of the famous Salem Witch Museum (which is not the one I visited and talk about below).
Eating, Drinking and “Being Witchy”
There are some restaurants on Essex Street, but they don’t all have the most convenient hours, and can fill up quickly. The Village Tavern is advertised as having the best burger in Salem, but had a line at least twenty feet out the door at 1:00 pm so we opted out. We went across the street to the Olde Main Street Pub, but they close at 3:00 and re-open at 5:00 and were not taking any new patrons before their pre-mature closing. So we went around the corner to Bambolina’s on Derby Street and found the wait was only about 5 minutes and the service was great! They are mostly a pizza joint, but I wanted to try something different so I ordered the Arrostito appetizer (which was roasted eggplant, red onion, roasted pepper, and tomato) and was actually surprised by its incredibly unappetizing appearance when it was delivered to the table – its simple ingredients were so unrecognizable it actually caused us to pause before taking a bite. I can’t complain about the portion, it was a very large portion, and it had pretty good flavor, but it wasn’t delivered with enough flatbread on top of its questionable appearance, so once the bread was gone the rest of the dish was wasted. We were more pleased with our main dishes – the Bolognese and the sausage Fra Diavolo. Giant portions, mouthwatering presentation, and good flavor.
At night we attempted to dine at Rockafellas, but found their kitchen closes at 9:00 pm, so we walked on and found ourselves at Tavern on the Square, which had a bit of a wait, but a great outdoor patio space and good food. Though the grilled avocado and steak salad was small and expensive, the steak was tender and perfectly grilled. Food served to other tables appeared to come in much larger portions, so maybe we just ordered the wrong thing. The cocktails were well done. The lemon and berries in mine just so happened to fall in a way that looked like a skull, so I snapped a picture.
Witch History Museum
During the day, we visited the Witch History Museum on Essex Street. The entrance fee was $10, the line moved quickly, and the tour moved quickly once inside. Groups were led down a flight of stairs and through several staged scenes that, coupled with live tour guides and recorded narrations, provided an interesting summary of the town’s infamous past. The room where the tour started included pictures of historical sites that can be visited today.
The pictures in the bottom row above are of just a few of the scenes staged inside the museum. From left to right: Tituba telling stories of witchcraft to the Reverend’s niece and daughter (the start of the hysteria); capturing “The Devil” (authorities went two hours outside of Salem to make this arrest); accusations start to fly (once the panic started everyone took part in accusing others, fueled by personal vendettas, religious differences, etc.); Gallows Hill (where nineteen accused and convicted witches were hanged).
Now for my favorite part…
…The Ghost Tour…
First of all, let me say that I am not a ghost hunter and do not try to or purport to capture ghostly phenomenon ever. I love history, and haunted history is just another element of that, but the pictures I take are simply to remember where these events occurred. The pictures above are of a reportedly haunted square in Salem, which I thought would be pretty with the hanging lights above if nothing else. I found it very strange that my camera did not want to focus when I was in this square, because it had been focusing without a problem the entire rest of the time. I snapped a few pictures in a row to try to get one good photo, and I posted the trio above as well as a larger version of the second photo. It could just be a weird trick of light in a blurry photo, but I can’t explain what would have caused that light streak. It’s not in the other photos (one taken directly before and one taken directly after).
Due to the town’s age and infamous past there is an element of the paranormal to be explored, so we signed up for a ghost tour and started at the Pickman house, built in 1664. This was once the home of a family who owned an indentured servant. The servant contracted small pox and died quarantined to the attic. The father of the next family that moved in set up a workshop in the attic and was so tormented by visions of the dead girl that he went mad and murdered his wife and daughter before killing himself on the property. Below is an up close picture of the attic window, where people claim to see the spirit of the indentured servant girl. I took several pictures of this window and nothing strange appeared…
It’s worth noting that the Pickman house is situated next to two interesting landmarks: the Witch Trials Memorial and Old Burying Point Cemetery. The Witch Trials Memorial was created in remembrance of the twenty people who were put to death as witches in 1692, and is surrounded by a granite wall that has twenty granite stones jutting from it, each inscribed with a name. There is much more symbolism used in the design, so please click on the link to the memorial to learn more about it, it’s very interesting. The Old Burying Point Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Salem and final resting place for at least one hanged witch, Martha Corey, as well as the hanging judge John Hawthorne and his family (except Nathaniel Hawthorne, the famous writer of The Scarlet Letter). There is also an interesting story about one of the graves in this cemetery. Apparently, someone was laid to rest there who was killed by a lightning strike. A tree started to grow from his grave that has a tear in its back side because it has also been struck by lightning. I don’t have a picture of the tree because by the time I learned about it the cemetery was closed.
Another of the stops on the ghost tour was the witch dungeon, where we learned a little more about the dark underbelly of the witch trials. Some of the cells inside this dungeon were known as coffin cells, because they were no larger then a coffin. People couldn’t sit or lay but could only stand with hands by their sides. There were no bathrooms in these cells, and people weren’t taken out, so they had to use the bathroom where they stood and stand in their own excrement. The youngest person to be kept in the dungeon was only 4 years old.
The 4-year-old Dorothy (or Dorcas) Good was arrested along with her mother on charges of witchcraft. She was forced to testify against her mother, which lead to her execution. Dorothy was kept in a coffin cell for nine months after her mother was put to death. She survived, but the conditions were detrimental to her development, and she died in her teens due to complications from her time in there. Her mother, Sarah Good, was also pregnant at the time of her arrest, and gave birth in her jail cell to an infant who died before she was hanged.
We also learned elements of the town’s past that weren’t related to the witchcraft trials. For instance, we discovered that the Parker Brothers used to live in Salem, and the murder house that inspired them to bring the game Clue to the US is in Salem, too, right on Essex Street. The once owner of the home was a rich sea Captain who used to brag about the chest of gold he kept at the foot of his bed. His housekeeper found his dead body face down in bed, his head bludgeoned in with a heavy object, and the police assumed the motive was the gold. However, the gold at the foot of his bed was untouched and, when they turned his body over, they discovered that he had also been stabbed seven times, so they were no longer sure which weapon had delivered the fatal blow.
The captain had only one living relative, a niece, that he wasn’t that close to. He left only a portion of his riches to her in his will and the rest was to go to charity. His niece thought that if she killed him and destroyed his will she would get all of his riches, so she hired two men to kill him and destroy the will that he kept in the chest of gold. It turned out the captain’s real will was on file at his attorney’s office, though, so she didn’t benefit from her crime. The poor captain died for nothing, and his estate is now the property of Salem.
The pictures below were all taken outside of his home around the same time. Again, I’m not claiming to be a ghost hunter or to have captured anything ghostly; but this is supposedly the most active location for paranormal photos, and it’s interesting to me that orbs appear all around the same tree in the first two pictures, while in the third picture there isn’t even one.
Salem History – Witch Hysteria
It started in 1692, with Reverend Samuel Parris, his slave Tituba, his 9-year-old daughter Betty Parris, and 11-year-old niece, Abigail Williams. The story goes that Tituba shared stories of witchcraft and enchantment with the girls, who then started re-enacting these stories by having “fits” that included screaming, throwing objects, and contorting into unnatural positions (among other bizarre things). A doctor was called to examine them, and when he found no physical ailment to explain what they were experiencing, he diagnosed them with being afflicted by the devil. Soon other girls in the village started exhibiting similar behaviors.
Tituba was the first person accused. She confessed and named others, which spurred the hysteria on. Due to her confession and naming others, she was spared trial and the gallows, and she may well have known that this was her best chance of surviving.
This hysteria took place just as a wider spread witch trial phenomenon in Europe was waning – one that started when the summis desiderantes affectibus was issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 in response to a request to prosecute witchcraft in Germany.
Those convicted of witchcraft and killed in Salem, MA in 1692:
- Bridget Bishop, hanged June 10, 1692
- Rebecca Nurse, hanged July 19, 1692
- Sarah Good, hanged July 19, 1692
- Elizabeth Howe, hanged July 19, 1692
- Susannah Martin, hanged July 19, 1692
- Sarah Wildes, hanged July 19, 1692
- George Burroughs, hanged August 19, 1692
- George Jacobs Sr., hanged August 19, 1692
- Martha Carrier, hanged August 19, 1692
- John Proctor, hanged August 19, 1692
- John Willard, hanged August 19, 1692
- Martha Corey, hanged September 22, 1692; wife of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death September 19, 1692
- Mary Eastey, hanged September 22, 1692
- Mary Parker, hanged September 22, 1692
- Alice Parker, hanged September 22, 1692
- Ann Pudeator, hanged September 22, 1692
- Wilmot Redd, hanged September 22, 1692
- Margaret Scott, hanged September 22, 1692
- Samuel Wardwell Sr, hanged September 22, 1692