The Salem Witch Museum is probably one of the most famous buildings in the Witch City. It’s visage is plastered 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.
The Salem Witch Museum Podcast Episode!!!
Constructing this episode has been absolutely fascinating. In fact, we did our first podcast about what it’s been like putting this one together, so be sure to check that out as well. In that podcast, you’ll hear about our surprise at discovering the peripheral connections The Salem Witch Museum shares with the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. You’ll also hear the host’s opinions about the museum’s strengths and where they could improve. If you’re into the history of Salem at all, it’s definitely worth a listen on iTunes.
More on The Salem Witch Museum
Our video on The Salem Witch Museum 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.
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Full Video Transcript:
Below you’ll find the recording transcript for this video. Some things might have been altered between scripting and the finished 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, none other than Cotton Mather preached the first sermon at The East Church which 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 himself was not directly involved in the witch trials themselves, 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. Once inside the cavernous main area, visitors are surrounded by a series of sets and life-size figures. The presentation involves lighting the sets sequentially as a voiceover narration tells the tale of the Witch Hysteria. After the main presentation, guests are lead to the back room where an installation from 1999 is set up called “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.