What Do You Know About The Salem Witch Trials?

From American Horror Story: Coven to Witches of East End to The Secret Circle, witches are having a pop culture moment. Vampires and werewolves are so last year. And since my favorite holiday (Halloween) is fast approaching, and we’re reveling in all things spooky and creepy, I thought it would be a perfect time to conjure up some witch-specific travel finds.

Here’s a fun fact about me: I’m kind of obsessed with the Salem witch trials. It’s a period of history I’ve studied and read a lot about. When it comes to Salem, I’m more interested in the terrifying real-life facts than in tall tales and tacky gift shop witch souvenirs. So before I get to the Salem travel tips, here are some witchy facts you might not know about the hysteria that gripped New England over 300 years ago:

  1. Present-day Salem, Massachusetts is actually not where the witch trials started. In the 1690’s there was a small community known as Salem Village and a larger neighboring town called Salem Town. Modern-day Salem is what was known as Salem Town. Salem Village, where the accusers and (most of) the accused lived, is now called Danvers.
  2. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, while it’s an awesome play, was more a commentary on McCarthyism in the 1950’s than a 100% accurate representation of the witch hysteria. For instance, Abigail Williams was only about 11 at the time of the trials, rather than the lovesick, jealous older teenager depicted in Miller’s play.
  3. Salem may be the most well-known witch hunt in American history, but it wasn’t the first (or the last). Accusations of witchcraft abound in early court records. It’s a fascinating subject to explore.

Ok, so now that you have some background, let’s talk Salem spots. Beyond the tourist traps, a few places still exist that have actual ties to the trials of 1692. If you like your witch tourism with a side of history, these places are for you.

The Rebecca Nurse Homestead: Rebecca Nurse was accused of witchcraft and executed during the hysteria. Her house still stands in Danvers and it is open to the public. This is the original house, not a replica, and that’s what makes it so amazing. The property also has a reproduction of the Salem Village Meeting House. Stroll the grounds and visit the Nurse Family Cemetery, where Rebecca Nurse is rumored to have been buried. Also resting there is George Jacobs, who was also accused and executed during the trials.

Witch House: Known as The Witch House, this building is the only one in modern-day Salem with direct ties to the trials of 1692. This was the house of Witch Trial Judge Jonathan Corwin. The house is now a museum, and visitors can tour the property and get a sense of how a wealthy family lived in 17th century Salem.

Peabody Essex Museum: The PEM has many excellent exhibits, but their library collection is the focus here. They have the original, hand-written records from the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692, also known as the Salem Witch Trials.

Witch Trial Memorials: There are two memorials, one in Danvers and one in Salem. The Danvers memorial was dedicated in 1992, and is across the street from the site of the original meeting house. The Salem memorial is also in a special location; it’s behind the Old Burying Point, one of the oldest cemeteries in the country and the final resting place of some key figures involved in the trials, like Judge John Hathorne. Both of the memorials feature the words of the victims, and both are worth a visit to pay your respects.

Have you ever been to Salem?

Let’s talk about all things Salem! Tweet me @StephSpitler

Featured image via Shutterstock

Filed Under