Halloween Special: Salem, the Witch City

Today, when the world is celebrating Halloween to ward off ghosts, I would like to bring to you the story of a city. The story may help us ward off our inner ghosts which in turn may help the society as a whole. The story of Salem, the Witch City, in Danvers, Massachusetts, USA, is a reflective one. When we stand face to face with the brutal and haunting history of Salem, we know that ghosts reside within us humans. Though, the present day Salem stands for ‘Shalom’ meaning Peace. It is a symbol of love, peace, equality and women empowerment. Before I get into the things to see and do in Salem to understand its past and the present, I begin by thanking a dear friend, Roshni, from USA who has given me a whole new perspective of looking at the city. She has also helped me with the photos.

The Hysterical History of Salem, the Witch City:

Do you know why is it called Salem, the Witch City?  The shocking Witch Trials of 1692 have given Salem this title. Innocent people, mostly young ladies were afflicted as ‘witches’ and hanged. Officially 19 females and 4 males (one of them was a Harvard educated Minister)were hanged. There were numerous others who were jailed and tortured too. How did it all start and who were these witches? In 1962, Elizabeth Parris, aged 9 and Abigail Williams, aged 11, developed some marks in their skin which looked like bite-marks and blamed some women for doing those to them. It could be that these girls cooked up stories out of utter boredom or some manipulating adult conjured the whole storm up through these little girls. Whatever, the reason, these girls were listened to and trials were set up based on 1641’s Puritan Legal Code which banned witchcraft.

Start with Salem Witch Museum at Salem, the Witch City:

Beginning with Salem Witch Museum helps gather insights to the history of  Salem, the Witch City. The auditorium of the museum gives a narration of the trial and tries to explain the history. The first thing that we see in the auditorium is a red wheel with names of those innocent victims of witchcraft hysteria. The museum presentation depicts the tragic and brutal history, including a tableau of the Devil, the pressing and hanging scenes which may not be suitable for all audiences. Then there are statues, documents and artifacts and scenes explaining the trial too.

There stands a handsome statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, outside the Salem Witch Museum. Note that he lived way before the trial and has nothing to do with this dark bloody history.

Experience the vintage at Hawthorne Hotel, most significant to Salem, the Witch City:

1925’s Hawthorne Hotel at Downtown, the heart of the city is significant to present day  Salem, the Witch City. 1960’s popular TV show Bewitched was shot here. After that show, popularity of Salem started rising. A gala Halloween Ball is arranged at Hawthorne every year. Besides Bewitched, this luxury hotel’s list of reputed guests is endless. The ex-President, George W. Bush with his wife Laura were the hotel’s eminent guests. General Colin Powell and actresses Belle Davis and Vanessa Redgrave are in the list too. During the shooting of the movie, ‘Joy’, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Laurence and Bradley Cooper stayed here too. I must say, the old school decor with hanging chandeliers appropriately spooky.

Walk Around the Bewitching Downtown:

There’s a beautiful statue of Bewitched’s Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) at Lupin Park. This TV series is hugely responsible for changing the status of Salem, the Witch City, on the tourism map of America. The city is beautiful, casting spell with its old world charm. The architecture is remarkable. It is mostly run by women today, from ministry to witch shops. Speaking of witch shops, don’t forget to visit one, where they have ritual sessions which prove their closeness to mother earth and other wild and free elements of nature. There are some cool witch themed airbnb too. It is a different thing to behold, yet there’s so much of positive vibe and energy that it makes the space almost sacred. The place has risen from its dark past and has evolved into one of spirituality, oozing a sense of community, love and acceptance.

Take the Hocus Pocus Tour of Salem, the Witch City:

It is a 90 minutes walking tour with more than 15 stops and an amazing story teller as the guide. Salem’s old jail, Witch Dungeon Museum, the Witch House (the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin), Witch Trial Memorial and a cemetery with the judge’s grave. There are remains of Tituba’s House from where it all began. Tituba was a slave of Samuel Parris who was a Puritan Minister. She was the first witch pointed out by those young girls. It is believed that she was forcibly used by Parris to exploit the trials for sociopolitical gain. Gallow’s Hill, today a city park, is the darkest place in Salem’s history. It is here that the murders (hanging) took place and the bodies were not even offered proper burial.

Try out the Spooky Night Walking Tours at Salem, the Witch City:

There are several spooky night walking tours to be tried out at Salem, the Witch City. With paranormal investigators as guides, after sundown, walking around the city with its creepy history, is not as comfortable as one thinks. Some of these places seem haunted even today. For example, Bridget Bishop who was the first suspect and killed mercilessly, seems to return time and again. She owned an apple orchard which she was very fond of. People often get sweet fragrance of apples. Whether there is any ghost or not, Salem, the Witch City, is haunted by its dark history. Salem is ashamed and has evolved drastically. 1992’s Witch Trial Memorial Speech by Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, makes things clearer.

Don’t miss the Satanic Temple and the Salem Art Gallery:

The very existence of this temple shows present day Salem’s openness and acceptance to every cult, religious and cultural practices. Salem, the witch city has shifted from a place of hate to a place of love. It is home to the controversial 8.5 feet tall bronze Baphomet statue representing the Satanic symbol of pluralism and religious freedom. You may find it eerie initially, but it is popular among tourists to sit on the statue and click pictures. Explore the macabre and surreal art and an occult library. Don’t miss the ‘satanic’ gift shop.  

Visit some non Witchy places in Salem, the Witch City:

Peabody Essex Museum (Maritime National Site) is an amazing museum to visit together with the museums and memorials related to the Witch Trials. 171 ft replica of a merchant ship is central to the museum. This ship made Salem global leader in spice market in the 18th century. It is still operable and looked after by US Coast Guards.

As we speak of the Maritime sites, let me tell you, Salem, the Witch City, has a terrific harbour, and a historic Derby Wharf Lighthouse.

Try out confectionery from one of America’s oldest candy companies, Ye Olde Pepper Companie on Derby Street. They are so delicious that they can cast an everlasting spell.

Today’s Salem, the Witch City:

Women have been and are still being marginalized, institutionalized, bottomed and locked up in several places on earth. Present day Salem that has been a witness to such a wretched history, stands against the merciless victimization of women. Yes Salem, the Witch City, stands for the witches all over the world. Who are these witches? Witches are women who can manipulate space and time. The depiction of witch has also evolved from the 19th century cruel ‘Hansel and Gretel’ witch with a broom stick and cauldron preparing magical potions, to the 20th century good witch from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz . Bewitched in the 1960s made witches acceptable in pop culture and from 1990s the good witches were everywhere. Today’s educated, opinionated, free spirited and independent women are the ones who can manipulate space and time metaphorically. Salem prompts and stands for all witches. It stands open armed, welcoming everyone equally.

Happy Halloween!!

Dipannita Bhattacherya

7 thoughts on “Halloween Special: Salem, the Witch City”

  1. Poulomi Chatterjee

    Very nice article. It was a wonderful read. Was completely unaware of such a lovely city with such glorious past. Thanks Roshni and Dipannita for bringing this up 🙂 Completely impressed. Would definitely put it on my Go To List if we ever travel that part of the world 🙂 Quite thrilling! Hats Off on the Conclusion, “Today’s Salem, the Witch City”. Happy Halloween (Belated though)

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