The Salem Witch Museum illustrates a particularly memorable time in the history of Massachusetts. The commonwealth has a long and colorful past, and when planning a vacation to the state, a trip to the museum to learn about the Salem witch trials will provide visitors with a look at the history of witchcraft and the effects of the trials on the citizens. The name “Salem” is commonly associated with the event, though the original accusations were made in Salem Village, and significant events also took place in Ipswich, Andover, and Salem Town.
Between early spring and late fall in 1692, nearly 200 people were imprisoned and accused of witchcraft. This chapter in the history of Salem began with accusations from a young girl named Betty Parris and subsequently by other young women in the village. Information about Betty Parris and the proclamation by her uncle, who was a physician, that she was bewitched is available at the Salem Witch Museum. Over the course of the year, the trials continued, spurred on by superstition, suspicion, and fear of witches and the devil. By the end of the year, nineteen men and women had been hanged as witches, seven died in prison, and one was crushed to death.
Visitors to the Salem Witch Museum have the opportunity to take an in-depth tour of the museum, which lasts approximately one hour. Visitors learn about the trial proceedings through visual effects using life-size models and narratives to stage an overview of the trial process at the museum in Salem. It also provides an interpretive exhibit about witches using audio and visual prompts to explain the roles and believes of witches from the Celtic times through modern Wiccans.
The trials finally ended through a decree from the governor, but men and women convicted during the Salem witch trials and sentenced to death were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground once the sentence was carried out. There is little information or evidence from the history of Salem about where victims of the trials have been laid to rest, but common speculation from historians is that family members were allowed to claim relatives’ body and provide private burial services.
For those looking to bring home a souvenir, the Salem Witch Museum has a shop that sells teas, pendants, rings, charms, and assorted costumes, among other items. If you’re looking to bring home educational material from the museum in Salem, books on the trials and their significance are also available.
There are also sites of interest that go beyond the museum in Salem. In neighboring cities, many landmarks, homesteads, and gravesites of people who were involved in the Salem witch trials are open to the public. In some instances, the locations are marked with a placard denoting the history of the area if the original buildings are no longer standing.
For instance, the city of Beverly is very close to Salem and is the location of the John Hale House, the home of Reverend John Hale, who supported the witch hunts. The house is open to the public, and nearby is the ancient burial ground where Hale and both his wives are buried.
Danvers, which was in known as Salem Village in 1692, was the location where the original accusations of witchcraft were made, which started the spread of fear and blame throughout the area. The trials were moved to Salem Town once the official Courts of Oyer and Terminer were established, but Danvers is still worth a visit. Other areas relevant to the history of Salem, which include burial grounds, original participants of the trials, and landmarks include Marblehead, Peabody, Wenham, Haverhill, and Amesbury.
Salem is only about a half-hour's drive from Boston, making it an easy day trip for travelers staying in the city, but there are also plenty of hotels in Salem that are perfect for travelers who want to spend a lot of time exploring this historic city or are en route to Gloucester and points farther north, or who are looking to spend less on a hotel than they would likely pay in Boston.