By far one of the most iconic towns in the U.S.A., Salem, Massachusetts played a pivotal role in America’s story. Of course, I’m talking about the famous Salem Witch Trials, a dark stain on our history. The witch trials were when mass hysteria took over, leading to very little thought and extremely irrational behavior. Between February of 1692 and May of 1693, more than 200 people were accused of being a witch and 30 found guilty; with 19 of them hanged, 1 pressed to death, and 5 dying in jail. These were the days of the Puritans, a group of English Protestants known to be feverishly religious. Hysteria ruled their lives and given that it was the late 1600’s, logic evaded them in many matters.
The Witch Trials were the result of a group of girls, aged 12 to 20, who indiscriminately began accusing random people of witchcraft. These girls also began to act “strange”, as if they were “bewitched”. The ailment best to compare their actions to is epilepsy. The main accuser was 17-year-old Elizabeth Hubbard, with the other key players being Ann Putnam Jr., Mary Walcott, Elizabeth “Betty” Parris, Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Booth, Mercy Lewis, and Mary Warren. They started off with accusing Tituba, a slave owed by Samuel Parris, and it immediately snowballed from there. In a little over a year, 25 innocent people were brutally executed because of these girls. Of course, nowadays we would understand this to be a hoax or attention-grabbing stunt.
While driving into Salem, we came from the north, through the New Hampshire/Maine area. And let me tell you, getting there from the interstate is no easy feat. We had to travel along many 2-lane highways, turning on random streets through various towns. We eventually arrived in Salem, found our hotel, checked in, and headed to dinner. We ate at 99 Restaurants, a restaurant chain on the east coast. It’s located at 15 Bridge Street, Salem, MA 01970. It was good; not great and nothing fancy, but I’d recommend it. They have seafood and non-seafood options, and the prices are average. I’d compare it to a Red Lobster or Chili’s.
We didn’t attempt to see any of the iconic Salem sights that night, heading straight back to our hotel. We stayed at the Clipper Ship Inn, and it was… alright. It wasn’t the worst hotel I’ve ever encountered, but it certainly wasn’t the best. The outside looked nice – it’s an “exterior corridor” hotel – and the inside was decent, albeit plain and simple. However… Kristi swears on her life that she found and killed a bedbug in one of the beds, which meant neither of us were sleeping in that bed that night. I cannot confirm if what she squashed was an actual bedbug, but she did, in fact, kill something.
We had only a short amount of time to explore Salem, so we were up bright and early the next morning, ready to go. We packed up, loaded the car, and drove the very short distance (less than a mile) into downtown. We easily found parking on the street (you must pay a meter) and headed off to walk around the downtown area. Luckily most of the hotspots in Salem are near one another and can be easily walked to.
The Burying Point
We were given a map of downtown by the hotel, and our first stop was the centuries-old cemetery, known as The Burying Point. It was the first space set aside in 1637 for burying Salem’s dead. It is therefore Salem’s oldest cemetery and one of the first cemeteries in the United States (beaten only by King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, founded seven years earlier in 1630). The oldest known gravestone in the cemetery dates to 1673. It’s located at 51 Charter St, Salem, MA 01970, open from 10am to 5:45pm.
Some of the more prominent people buried there are Governor Bradstreet (governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1679 to 1686), Mary Corey (wife of Giles Corey, the one person pressed to death during the Witch Trials), Chief Justice Lynde (a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1745 to 1771, serving as Chief Justice from 1769 to 1771), Samuel McIntire (an architect of Salem), Capt. Richard Moore (a Mayflower pilgrim), Reverend John Higginson (a well-known Salem minister), and the most infamous of them all – John Hathorne (a notorious Witch Trial judge). None of the accused “witches” are buried here, as they did not receive proper, “Christian” burials. They were cast into shallow graves elsewhere, to be forgotten (some believe that relatives snuck back late at night, dug them up, and reburied them quietly in unmarked graves at their homes).
Although none of the 19 accused and murdered are buried there, the cemetery is still obviously worth the visit since most of the graves date from the 1600s to 1800s. It’s free to enter and is located directly next to the Witch Trial Memorial, which consists of a huge plaque and sitting area with flowers. All the walking tours of Salem go to this cemetery, so I strongly suggest getting there as early as possible, before the large tour groups begin to arrive. We were there around 8am and there was only one other couple, but when we walked past it again at around 10am, there were full-on, 20+ people tour groups going through. Lastly, gravestone rubbing is not allowed here – or in any of Salem’s historic cemeteries.
We left The Burying Point and continued our self-guided walking tour of downtown Salem. Unfortunately, most places (including 99% of all the shops) don’t open until 10am, so we were a full two hours early for anything. We eventually came upon a striking black house, known as the Witch House. It’s also known as the Jonathan Corwin House. It was my favorite structure in Salem.
Built sometime between 1620 and 1642, it’s approximately 401 to 379 years old. As the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (a judge in the Witch Trials), it’s the only structure in the city of Salem still standing with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials. Corwin purchased the home in 1675 and was still living there 17 years later when the witch accusin’ hysteria commenced. Located at 310 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970, it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm. We unfortunately couldn’t go inside, although we did get some nice pictures on the outside, unencumbered by others, since nobody was there yet.
First Church of Salem
We also got to see the First Church of Salem, built in the “Gothic Revival” style in 1635, making it 386 years old and one of the oldest churches in North America. Its official name is the First Church in Salem, Unitarian Universalist. It’s a Unitarian Universalist church (“a liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning“’), although it was a Puritan church when built. The congregation of the church claims to be “one of the oldest continuing Protestant churches in North America”. It’s located at 316 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970 and is still very much an active church, so touring hours are not available (although you can go to an official service, if you choose).
Next up was the Bewitched statue. Built in 2005, it’s open 24 hours a day and is completely free to visit. It’s located at the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, in the heart of downtown. While attempting to take a selfie picture together (and failing), a kind lady walking by smoking a joint stopped and took it for us, while continuing to puff away. I aspire to be as carefree and self-assured as her one day 🤟🏼. While it is a nice statue, and fans of Bewitched will surely love it, I’d really like to have a talk with the architect. 🥴
Officially called “Salem’s Gateway to the Far East”, this fountain was designed by John Collins and built in 1976. It’s dedicated to showing the difference in the topography of Salem’s waterfront as the city began to be dredged and filled in. The fountains top “layer” shows the city’s shoreline before any digging began. The bottom layer shows the shoreline as it is today.
Crow Haven Corner
We continued to walk around, trying to find a store that was open to the public. We found only a couple, including a very cool store called Crow Haven Corner located at 125 Essex Street in an all-black house, which I loved. I was able to purchase two awesome “spell candles” (one for money and one for good mojo), that I have still not lit due to major superstitions and the fear of opening a door I cannot close. 🙃
There are many other things to do in Salem that we sadly did not get to do. These include the House of the Seven Gables, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem Witch Museum, Salem Witch Village, Witch History Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum (so many witch things), Pickering Wharf, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Ropes Mansion and Garden, Salem Pioneer Village, New England Pirate Museum, Salem Wax Museum, and many of the filming locations for the movie Hocus Pocus. There is much, much more, but these are the main attractions.
Salem was one of my favorite places to visit – period – mainly due to its unparalleled history, epic eeriness, and the fact that I’ve read and watched stuff about this place since I was a small child. I do feel like we were shortchanged a proper visit, as this was during our East Coast road-trip, where time was extremely limited. I fully intend to come back for at least 3 to 4 days. I hated leaving, but alas, off we went, leaving the bewitching town of Salem behind us. 💫🔮