Everything you need to know about the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in a short read! How did this contemplative, centrally-located monument come to be? Whose names are on the Salem Witch Trial Memorial benches? Where is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial? Let's dive in witches!
The Salem Witch Trials only officially lasted a few months in 1692. But those few months ended with the executions of 14 women and 6 men. The toll would have likely been far higher had the governor of Massachusetts intervened.
The victims were tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in all but one case (Giles Corey, who was pressed to death with stones after refusing to enter a plea of innocent or guilty thereby ensuring his land wouldn't be confiscated by the court). Most of the accused were women, though several men were accused as well, and a few were executed.
This memorial is the city's simple but dramatic homage to the 20 victims of that horrible era.
The principle thrust to create the memorial came from Salem's mayor in 1986. The design was selected from a pool of applicants after an international public competition. Two hundred and forty six design applications were submitted.
Ultimately, artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler, whose design was based on the Vietnam War Memorial, won the competition. Honestly, if you've seen the Vietnam War Memorial, the similarities are striking.
Both monuments utilize the simple etching of victims' names on stone. But, while the Vietnam Memorial employs sleek black tablets, Salem's memorial opts for roughly-etched hunks of gray stone. These tougher chunks of earth speak to the nature of America itself during the late 17th century.
They also remind this New Englander of the craggy hillsides you'll find on a hike in any particularly untouched part of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Connecticut. Perhaps the same roughly-graveled hillside is reminiscent even of the spot where 19 of the 20 victims in the Salem Witch Trials lost their lives at the end of a noose.
In August of 1992, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel dedicated the memorial to the victims. Also in attendance at the unveiling was Arthur Miller, creator of the most popular depiction of the Trials, The Crucible.
The memorial consists of 20 benches, one for each victim, surrounded by a low stone wall. Etched onto each bench is a name, the means of execution and the execution date. Black locust trees line the middle of the memorial. It's believed that the black locust was in fact the genus of tree that tethered the hangman's rope in 1692.
At the entrance to the memorial, you can read words of the accused directly from court transcript also etched into stone. And across the pathway from the memorial, a taller shelf commemorates the monument itself.
The names on the benches forever memorialize the twenty victims of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Their names are: Ann Pudeator, Mary Easty, Martha Corey, Giles Corey, Samuel Wardwell, John Willard, Sarah Wildes, Margaret Scott, Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs, Wilmot Redd, George Jacobs, Elizabeth Howe, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, John Proctor, Martha Carrier, and Susannah Martin.
Check out every single bench, as well as other images from the memorial on the Salem Images page.
The memorial serves as a quiet and peaceful place to pay respect to the 20 victims of the Salem Witch Trials. It's right in the middle of all the things to do in Salem, directly beside the Salem Witch Village and Charter Street (Old Burying Point) Cemetery.
It's actually perfect place for you to reflect on tolerance and understanding. This is only true, however, if you're visiting any other time of the year besides October. In that case, the memorial's central location actually works against it and tourists flood the entire area. In that case, you're better off going to the Proctor's Ledge Memorial. Proctor's Ledge is the only other real witch memorial in Salem, MA as it commemorates the believed site of the hangings themselves.
Another really cool aspect of this memorial are the tokens that visitors leave on the benches. This is an especially powerful gesture as most of the people whose names you'll find on these benches weren't afforded proper burials in the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. Instead, they were thrown into a burial pit near the site of the hangings.
There is some lore suggesting that some of the victims were dug up by loved ones (John Proctor perhaps most infamously), but it's hard to corroborate these claims. So, in very important ways, these benches actually serve as the graves the accused never got. As such, feel free to leave a flower, coin, or any token you feel especially resonant next time you're in Salem.
Address: 24 Liberty St, Salem, MA 01970
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial is entirely free thanks to the city. However, if you'd like a hands-on presentation, I'd suggest checking out some of the walking tours on offer in Salem. A personal favorite of mine is the Salem Witch Walk, which includes a ton of information about actual witchcraft in Salem both in 1692 and beyond. You'll begin that tour beside Crow Haven Corner and you can grab tickets here.
The memorial is right in the middle of town, so listing everything that's nearby would be a bit of a challenge. The closest attractions are the Salem Wax Museum, Salem Witch Village, and the Peabody Essex Museum. As previously mentioned, the Charter Street Cemetery is right next door. As for places to eat, head south a block on Liberty Street to find plenty of options including Bambolina (wood fired pizza), Cilantro (Mexican), or Brothers Taverna (Portuguese). There's also a super secret barbecue place nearby, but I'm not telling you anything about it.
by Salem Joel
Everything you need to know about the Witch Dungeon Museum in a short read.
This museum has been sharing a particularly interesting recounting of the Salem Witch Trials since 1979. The building was initially designed as a chapel for the East Church and you can still see the resemblance to a church today. After a fire in 1902, the East Church's congregation relocated elsewhere in Salem. The building was then passed on to the Church of Christ Scientist. The new owners began holding their services in the building in 1908 and continued until 1979. Then, the Witch Dungeon Museum purchased the building. It's been running as one of the many Salem Witch Trials attractions in the Witch City ever since.
An eerie mood is set before you even enter the building. On the outside of the structure a pillory awaits any Salem visitor eager for a photo op. Behind it, a strange tableau of a Witch Trials hanging rests in the bottom of the main building.
The entrance to the Witch Dungeon Museum involves a slight ascent up a flight of stairs to the gift shop, where you'll purchase tickets. You will not be exiting from the gift shop, so be sure to grab any trinkets you'd like while you're in line to purchase your tickets.
Once you begin the tour, you'll feel like you're back in time, in 1692, in Salem Village. While other Salem tours attempt to replicate this experience, no one does it to such an extensive and ultimately eerie effect. But we'll get back to that momentarily.
To start, you'll watch a brief recreation of a witchcraft trial that doesn't go so well for the accused. Another distinction from other Salem Witch Trials attractions is to be found here. You will not find a live experience with live actors very many places in Salem, certainly not ones centered on the trials.
This experience takes place in the old chapel room where you'll sit on long, old church pews. This setting only adds to the overall effect of watching a real trial take place after which someone will really be sent to the dungeons and, ultimately, the gallows.
Once the live show is over, you'll head into the basement for the truly chilling part of the tour. You'll walk through a recreated 17th century dungeon, complete with intense scenes that show you the conditions the accused endured while imprisoned.
There are plenty of wax attractions, but this one has got a little special something to it. The figures are unsettling, their positions eerie, and the whole thing just has a strange, off-kilter vibe to it. Take a look for yourself.
This museum is definitely one of the best ways to experience the Salem Witch Trials. Seeing it is eye-opening and, after touring, you'll certainly have a different appreciation for the horrors the accused suffered in 1692
You can visit the museum everyday, from 10 AM to 5 PM, between April and November. The hours may vary in October, due to the Haunted Happenings in town.
You can save up to $8 per person if you choose to visit aside this museum, another two: the Witch History Museum and the New England Pirate Museum. Tickets are available at the door.
Address: 16 Lynde St, Salem, MA 01970
Everything you need to know about the Proctor's Ledge Memorial in a minute-long video! Keep scrolling past the video for a full transcript and much more information.
Welcome to the Salem Spotlight, a series in which I tell you everything you need to know about attractions, restaurants, hotels, witch shops, tours, and a bunch of other locations in Salem, Massachusetts. Today we're having a look at the Proctor's Ledge Memorial.
The Proctor's Ledge Memorial is a simple monument dedicated to the 19 people who were hanged during the Salem Witch Trials. For centuries, historians believed that the executions of the accused took place at the summit of Gallows Hill. However, seventeenth century Salemites didn't list the exact site of the hangings. So for years, the exact spot where the hangings occurred remained a mystery. In 1921, a local historian - Sidney Perley - determined that the spot of the executions must have near the base of the hill on Proctor's Ledge. So, considering his conclusion, the city purchased a part of the hill and called it "Witch Memorial Land".
Proctor's Ledge wasn't officially confirmed as the location of the hangings until January, 2016 when a group of academics made the determination after nearly six years of research. One year later, the city erected the memorial, a full 325 years after the end of the Salem Witch Trials.
Nineteen engraved stones embedded in a semi-circular granite wall make up the memorial. On each of these stones, you'll find an engraved name and the date of the execution. The memorial doesn't list victim Giles Corey. Unlike the other 19 victims, the Court of Oyer and Terminer pressed Corey to death much closer to the middle of present-day downtown Salem.
An oak tree in the center of the memorial reminds visitors of the endurance and dignity of the accused.
The place is a beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives during the Salem Witch Trials. As the site of the hangings, the memorial is a must-see in the city. Also, it's the perfect place to pause, reflect and remember. Many visitors to the memorial claim to have felt a real connection with the events of 1692.
You may visit the memorial everyday, from 8 AM to 8 PM.
Address: 7 Pope Street, Salem, MA
Everything you need to know about the Burying Point Cemetery in a minute-long video! Keep scrolling past the video for a full transcript and much more information.
Welcome to the Salem Spotlight, a series in which I tell you everything you need to know about attractions, restaurants, hotels, witch shops, tours, and a bunch of other locations in Salem, Massachusetts. Today we’re having a look at the Burying Point Cemetery (also known as the Charter Street Cemetery).
The Old Burying Point (Charter Street) Cemetery is the city’s first graveyard. It opened for business in 1637, just 55 years before the Salem Witch Trials, and is the second oldest cemetery in the country. Additionally, winged “death heads” decorate the graves, which were popular motifs in the 17th century. The symbol represents the ascension into heaven or the flight of the soul. Even after years of tourist bombardment, the old tombstones are mostly intact and supremely carved.
There are about 300 individuals resting in Burying Point Cemetery, including two Witch Trials judges. Unfortunately, none of the accused were interred here. Sadly, most of them weren’t given graves at all. But, just next door you can visit the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which features the names of each of the hysteria’s twenty victims.
One of the principle magistrates of the witchcraft trials, John Hathorne, lies in a grave on the left of the cemetery. Also, in the center of the graveyard, you will find a red sandstone tabletop tomb. There are the remains of another judge from the trials – Bartholomew Gedney.
To put in plainly, if you’re in Salem, you must see this cemetery. At the entrance of the graveyard, you will find a map of the location. There are also several tour companies that make the cemetery a central stop.
The cemetery is open everyday from 9 AM to 5 Pm and it’s free to visit.
Address: Charter St, Salem, MA 01970
Everything you need to know about Howard Street Cemetery in a minute and a half! Keep scrolling past the video for a full transcript and much more information.
Welcome to the Salem Spotlight, a series in which I tell you everything you need to know about attractions, restaurants, hotels, witch shops, tours, and a bunch of other locations in Salem, Massachusetts. Today we’re having a look at the Howard Street Cemetery.
The cemetery is one of the three significant to the Salem Witch Trials. Even if it doesn’t seem to get the same foot traffic as the Burying Point Cemetery, this graveyard has a much darker history. It was officially established in 1801, and it is located next to the old Salem Jail.
Nowadays, the cemetery is famous for being the location of the remains of one of the most notable of the accused. Giles Corey refused to plead either guilty or innocent during the Salem Witch Trials in an effort to avoid having his land confiscated by the court. To try and coerce a confession, the court punished Corey by crushing him with heavy stones. He refused all the way to his last breath. Giles Corey’s remains rest beneath an unmarked grave in the Howard Street Cemetery to this day.
As Corey was dying, he reportedly placed a curse on Salem, so it’s believed that the cemetery is haunted by his ghost.
The cemetery is definitely a little more out-of-the-way than other prominent ones in Salem. Many of the gravestones are faded, so you can barely read the inscriptions.
But there has been a ton of ghost sitings in this place, so if spooky is your things, this is a good place to check out. You can visit it by yourself at any time before dusk or with an organized tour.
You may visit the cemetery everyday, from dawn till dusk.
Address: Howard St, Salem, MA 01970
Everything you need to know about the Salem Jail of 1692 in a minute-long video! Keep scrolling past the video for a full transcript and much more information.
Welcome to the Salem Spotlight, a series in which I tell you everything you need to know about attractions, restaurants, hotels, witch shops, tours, and a bunch of other locations in Salem, Massachusetts. Today we're having a look at the jail used to house the accused during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.
The accused in Salem were actually held in four separate jails, but this one, built in 1684, hosted the majority of them. To call the building's conditions inhumane would be an understatement. The lower level dungeon was even used to torture the accused as they awaited trial.
This jail was abandoned after a new one was built and, after that, in 1863, Abner Cheney Goodall used the old jail's timbers to construct a residence. In the 1930s, the family recreated the jail and opened one of the very first witch city attractions in Salem.
Shortly after, in 1956, the New England Telephone Company destroyed that building to construct their new headquarters. So unfortunately, the jail structure no longer exists, but there is a bronze plaque displayed at the Federal Street location where it once stood.
The jail is well-known due to its connection to the Witch Trials. The jail was dirty, dark and dismal. Quarters were absurdly tight, illness was everywhere, and some of the accounts of the time spent in the jail are absolutely horrifying.
It was also from this Salem Jail that Giles Corey was taken to an open field and pressed to death. It was here that Margaret Jacobs accused several others of witchcraft, including her grandfather. And this is, honestly, just a slice of the horrors that occurred within these dank, ugly walls. So perhaps it's not such a bad thing that the building is gone?
The site of the Salem Jail is right in the middle of downtown at 4 Federal Street, Salem, MA. Again, only a plaque remains to commemorate the site. But you can see an original timber used in the construction at the Witch Dungeon Museum.
by Cristiana L.
Everything you need to know about the Salem Courthouse of 1692 in a minute-long video! Keep scrolling past the video for a full transcript and much more information.
Welcome to the Salem Spotlight, a series in which I tell you everything you need to know about attractions, restaurants, hotels, witch shops, tours, and a bunch of other locations in Salem, Massachusetts. Today we're having a look at the Salem Court house from 1692.
The Salem Courthouse that would go on to gain so much infamy came into being in 1677. It stood in the middle of Washington Street for forty years.
Of course, 1692 brought what was likely the building's darkest days: the Salem Witch Trials. During that time, the courthouse was located on the second floor of the Town House.
In May of 1692, Governor William Phips created The Court of Oyer and Terminer. Phips would go on to be largely uninvolved with the Trials until they neared their end. But by the time the court was established, the hysteria was already well underway. The court initially consisted of Chief Justice William Stoughton and other eight prominent citizens. Among the most noted were Jonathan Corwin (owner of The Witch House), Bartholomew Gedney, and John Hathorne.
The original Salem Witch Trials Courthouse building unfortunately no longer exists. However at its location, you will find a plaque that memorializes where the old courthouse once stood.
This was the place were those accused of witchcraft were tried and condemned to death. There's way more information on the Salem Witch Trials on the site page if you're interested in the full story.
To sum up, a sudden outbreak of witchcraft accusations sprang forth in Salem Village, an adjacent agrarian community that had been taking steps prior to the trials to gain more independence from the urban Salem Town (where modern-day Salem is located). This was only the second such outbreak (that we know of) in American history up to that point. A smaller, but no less violent surge of witchcraft hangings occurred in Connecticut a few decades prior.
In Salem, nineteen people sentenced to death by hanging by the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Many enigmatic Salemites lost their lives during the trials or in the wake of its carnage. Some of the more memorable are Giles Corey, who refused to enter a guilty or innocent plea and was crushed to death for it. Rebecca Nurse, who had been among the church's most loyal servants and was condemned to death largely because old age prevented her from being able to hear the questions thrust upon her during her hearing. And of course there's Sarah Goode, who's daughter was only four years old when she was sent to prison alongside her mother. While the daughter survived, she was badly mentally deranged by the affair and spent the rest of her life in torment.
The executions ended in September of 1692. Shortly after, Governor Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer. However, as more than 50 of the accused were still in jail, additional trials were held during 1693. Three of the convicted were actually still found guilty but all of them were reprieved by Phips.
The early hearings were actually held in a number of locations in and around present-day Salem. Such shifts were primarily due to a few key factors. The first is that the Salem Witch Trials largely broke out in an area outside of modern-day downtown Salem. The earliest accusations and hearings were held much closer to the homes of the infamous teenage girls who set off what would become the trials because it was far easier than traveling into town.
The second reason there were multiple locales is that a courthouse wasn't really viewed as necessary for the early hearings. Many times the accused were questioned in taverns, meeting houses, etc. It wasn't until things got formal that the courthouse was established as the primary location for the Salem Witch Trials.
The site of the Salem Courthouse: 70 Washington St, Salem, MA 01970. This is right in the middle of present-day downtown Salem. Unfortunately, there is little resemblance between what an accused with would have seen on this spot in 1692 and what a tourist sees today. One does get a sense of the past, however, by turning around to face the other side of Washington Street. There, the seat of Salem's government rests in resplendent, albeit non-spooky, glory.
This location would have been prime during the Salem Witch Trials as well. Not terribly far from this spot, you can still walk to Derby Wharf which would have been teeming with seafarers and tradespeople in the lead-up to and for sometime after the Trials. The courthouse was a stone's throw from the prison. And both are about a twenty-five minute walk from the spot were the condemned were hanged.
One easily imagines the final days of the accused's lives. They must have been spent in a state of abject suffering. The nights chilly and breathless, the mornings stale and unnerving. Until one day a rickety cart came and hauled away the woman across the jail from you. Or perhaps her husband. Or perhaps on this day it came for you. From the prison, the accused were carted to Gallow's Hill (present-day Proctor's Ledge). There they were hanged, most likely from a tree branch, until dead. The ropes likely were not long enough to break their necks. So it's highly likely that most of them strangled to death.
The Witch House is one of the only remaining structures in town with direct ties to The Salem Witch Trials. You may also hear it referred to as "The Witch House," or "The Jonathan Corwin House." Here's a short video introduction to the building. Keep reading past the video for much more information.
This video is part of the Salem Spotlight series in which I tell you everything you need to know about attractions, restaurants, hotels, witch shops, tours, and a bunch of other locations in Salem, Massachusetts. Here's some more information on The Witch House.
The house is the only remaining structure that's directly related to the infamous Witch Trials in 1692. Originally built for Captain Richard Davenport, the Witch House became Jonathan Corwin's residence in 1674. The judge, who was on the court that ruled on the Salem Witch Trials, stayed in the house for 40 years, but the building remained in his family for several generations. Corwin also reportedly held meetings relating to the trials in the house. Throughout the years, The Witch House has undergone many renovations. In the 1850s, the house was sold to a local pharmacist who opened a pharmacy inside the building.
In 1944, the city decided to widen North Street. The house was set to be destroyed to make way, but the building survived thanks to a group of locals. They raised enough money to move the building about 35 feet to its current location. An added bit of interesting history about this house is that it wasn't the only "Witch House" in Salem. StreetsOfSalem has an excellent examination of Salem's other no-longer-existing witch house, complete with fascinating historical images.
The house is also quite haunted, second perhaps only to The Hawthorne Hotel. In fact, Ghost Adventures did an episode there and ToSalem favorite AmysCrypt has also covered the locale. Visitors have reported a variety paranormal phenomena over the years, including seeing the ghost of Corwin himself. Guests also experience apparitions' touch, hear the untraceable laughter of children, and feel cold spots.
The Witch House tour is one of the best in Salem. You'll enter through the rear of the house. Inside, you'll find countless items from the 17th century, including some fairly disturbing illustrations of what life was actually like back in the 17th century. Additionally, there are fascinating placards that explore some pretty offbeat history. My favorites tend to explore the odd medicinal ingredients and practices of our puritan forebears.
There are, of course, plenty of relics related to puritan-era witchcraft. For example, in one display case, you'll find a simple black shoe. The shoe was supposedly found inside the wall of another house. According to puritan tradition, a shoe put inside the wall of a house effectively warded against witches. Another display case houses a poppet - a doll supposedly used to perform witchcraft. Such dolls were instrumental in accusing the likes of Bridget Bishop and others during the Salem Witch Trials.
The Witch House is a nearly unmatched example of its period's architecture. Only the John Ward and John Turner houses, both operated and with tours offered by the Peabody Essex Museum, competes for such pristine 17th century architecture in Salem. In addition the witchcraft items on display during the tour, you'll also find tools, textiles, pottery, artwork, instruments, and much more from the era. The house contains four large rooms: a kitchen, a parlor and two bedrooms. The tour begins in the kitchen, which has a brick fireplace that covers almost an entire wall. From there you wind upstairs, through the rest of the house.
Guided tours are around $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for kids. You can also just walk around the house without a guide for about 20% less. The entire experience takes about thirty minutes to an hour. There is also a gift shop on the way in and out of the house.
Address: 310 Essex Street, Salem, MA
The Salem Witch Museum is probably one of the most famous buildings in the Witch City. Salem hope owners frequently plaster it's visage on postcards, t-shirts, stickers, and so much more. Today we explore the history of this world-renowned landmark from the beginning of its storied history in 1718 to today. On this page, you'll find everything you need to know about The Salem Witch Museum.
For a very fast, general overview, check out this one minute overview of The Salem Witch Museum.
This video is part of the Salem Spotlight video series. This series aims to give you brief introductions to all of Salem's attractions, places to stay, and much more. You can check out the entire series here.
Below you'll find a much more comprehensive exploration of the history of The Salem Witch Museum. Continue past the video for transcripts from both of the videos on this page as well as some supplemental tourist and visitation information. This video features a bunch of research and fascinating photographs of the building throughout the ages as well. So if you're interested in seeing the Salem that was, watch the entire thing. And also see where The Salem Witch Museum placed in our Top 5 Things to Do in Salem Massachusetts video.
The Salem Witch Museum is one of the most iconic locations in Salem, Massachusetts. The structure originally functioned as a church built in 1718. In 1956, a fire nearly destroyed the structure. Soon after, the owners sold the building. Amazingly, the building housed a variety of congregations from 1718 until the sale in 1956. In 1958, it opened as an automobile museum and shop. Then, a decade later another fire destroyed that enterprise. In 1972, The Salem Witch Museum officially opened its doors. It went on to be pivotal in the beginning of Salem's October-long Haunted Happenings Festival a year after its opening. Learn more about the history of this fascinating building here.
The attraction features a primary presentation, secondary presentation, and gift shop. After entering the building, guests meet a hallway housing various artifacts relating to the witch trials. They are then led into the main chamber, within which the primary presentation occurs. Wax figure dioramas perch above and around guests.
Light cues and audio narration sequence the dioramas and detail the events that lead to and occurred within The Salem Witch Trials. The secondary presentation is led by a museum guide and it is in a much smaller back room. It has to do with the perception of witchcraft through the ages. Guests are led through the gift shop after this second presentation on their way out of the attraction.
The entire tour, including both collections, takes no more than 30-45 minutes. The second half of the tour, which takes place in the smaller back room in the building, varies in time depending on tour guide and audience size.
The attraction is open all year from 10am to 5pm. In July and August, they extend their closing by two hours to 7pm. October hours vary, so check here for those. The Museum closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas, at 3pm on New Year’s Day, and a couple weeks in January.
Adult tickets are $13, Senior Citizen $11.50, and Children $10. Tickets are available at the door. You can buy Salem Witch Museum tickets online for same-day visitation here.
The museum is located at 19 1/2 Washington Square North Salem, Massachusetts 01970. They are very near the Roger Conant statue, the Salem Commons, and The Hawthorne Hotel. There is on-street parking nearby or you can park at the Bridge Street garage at 1 New Liberty St. Salem, MA 01970.
The closest hotel to the Salem Witch Museum is The Hawthorne Hotel with its entrance roughly two blocks from the museum. Other nearby hotels are The Salem Waterfront Hotel and Hotel Salem. Both are about as far away from The Salem Witch Trials Museum. The Waterfront is in the Pickering Wharf area of the Witch City, which is slightly removed from the main Essex Street drag, but still well within walking distance of everything in Salem and on the Trolley line.
Hotel Salem is on the main Essex Street drag and is centrally-located to everything in downtown Salem.
You can reach The Salem Witch Museum at 978-744-1692 or at email@example.com.
Music used in the Spotlight video here.
Below you'll find the recording transcript for this video.
Hello witches and welcome To Salem, the weirdest place on earth. Today we’re having a look at one of the most iconic buildings in everyone’s favorite haunted locale, the Salem Witch Museum. If in your many wanderings you have ever Googled Salem, gotten a Witch City postcard from a friend, or just happen to have seen literally anything from the town, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already been exposed to this gothic landmark. But what’s the deal with this place? Was it built to be a spooky-looking museum? Does it double as a satanic church by chance? Are there blood sacrifices in the basement?
Let’s find out in this episode of What’s the Story With the Salem Witch Museum.
Let’s get the most obvious point out of the way right at the top. Yes, this used to be a church. Now, when you visit Salem, one of the more disappointing things you’ll likely learn is that there remain very few actual public artifacts from the Witch Hysteria of 1692. The Peabody Essex Museum houses some notable trinkets from the trials in its collection, but is not displaying them any time soon.
The town does its level best to work against this with interesting attractions that allude in an immersive way to its witchy history. The Salem Pioneer Village and Witch House are probably the best two examples of this. But, in general, most of the actual buildings connected to the Witch Trials no longer exist.
There are, however, some structures in town with interesting bits of anecdotal or peripheral witch trials history. And The Salem Witch Museum is one such place. In April 1718 a mere 26 years after the conclusion of the witch trials, Cotton Mather preached the first sermon at The East Church. This building is the present day Salem Witch Museum, albeit slightly modified - we’ll get to that later. You’ll remember Cotton Mather penned, among other things, the infamous account of the possession of the Goodwin children in Boston in 1684 titled Remarkable Providences.
This work outlined behaviors that were eerily similar to that of the Salem accusers’ during the witch trials and some speculate that that is no coincidence. Mather was not directly involved in the witch trials. But he did warn the court to be cautious when considering spectral evidence, an urging that, had it been heeded, might have kept the entire sordid affair from ever occurring. He was also instrumental in the makeup of the trial’s judges and he and his powerful father Increase Mather both seemed to justify the trials after they occurred.
Cotton was also directly involved in the execution of the only minister to be hanged in the witch hysteria, George Burroughs. So, Cotton was a lot like all of us: a bit of a good guy and a bit of a frightened mouse in a giant maze trying desperately to have some order in a disordered world and helping kill innocent people to do it. What? You don’t do that?
But there’s more to the East Church’s history than Cotton Mather. In 1897 the East Church and Barton Square Church combined forces to create the Second Unitarian Church. Five years later, a fire destroyed a good deal of the interior including the pipe organ, causing major renovations to occur. The beginning of the end of the church days for this building came in 1956 when another church merger caused the congregation to vacate the space. It was then put up for sale in 1958. A year later, the Salem Auto Museum and Americana Shops opened inside and housed vintage automobiles and 14 shops. This museum remained in the space until 1969 when another fire destroyed the interior of the building. Another remodeling followed this and in 1972 the Salem Witch Museum officially opened its gigantic doors.
Upon entering the museum, the lobby houses all the history you’d like to know before the presentation begins. We’re talking the names of the victims, some interesting period replicas, and even information on some cool media things like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the movie adaptation of it with Daniel Day Lewis and Wynona Rider. Inside the cavernous main area, a series of sets and life-size figures surround visitors. The presentation involves lighting the sets sequentially as a voiceover narration tells the tale of the Witch Hysteria.
After the main presentation, guests relocate to the back room. In this much smaller space waits an installation from 1999 titled “Witches: Evolving Perceptions.” This area attempts to talk about the western perception of witches throughout the ages and its correlation to the real witches of today. There’s a gift shop on your way out because of course there is, this is Salem after all.
The museum is owned by Biff Michaud, a Marblehead resident who comes from a prominent local family. Biff is responsible for helping turn Salem into Halloween central as he worked with the Salem Chamber of Commerce to create “Haunted Happenings” which was, initially, a one-day family celebration, but has evolved into a month-long October behemoth that draws in most of Salem’s tourist bucks and keeps a lot of the local businesses afloat.
The museum itself is touted as the most popular in Salem, a claim backed up by the Boston Business Journal. It was also heavily involved in the 300 year remembrance of the witch trials in 1992 as well as the dedication of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial by Elie Wiesel. It remains a must-visit for every Witch City tourist, although in my opinion it could definitely use some serious updating.
So there you go! That’s the story with the Salem Witch Museum. Please be sure to subscribe for all things Salem and check out all the videos linked to this one for more information on the Witch City. Stay weird witches! I’ll see ya next time.