By far one of the most iconic towns in the United States, Salem, Massachusetts played a pivotal role in America’s story. Of course, I’m talking about the infamous Salem Witch Trials, a dark stain on our country’s history. The witch trials were birthed from mass hysteria and ignorance, leading to very little thought and irrational behavior. 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. Between February of 1692 and May of 1693, more than 200 people were accused of being a witch, with 30 found guilty – 19 of them were hanged, 1 pressed to death, and 5 died in jail. Nonetheless, Salem has firmly gripped its witchy past to this very day.
For those unaware, 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 comparable to their actions 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.
While driving into Salem, we came from the north, through the New Hampshire/Maine area. Be advised – getting there from the interstate is no easy task. You must travel along multiple 2-lane highways, turning onto random streets and driving through various towns. Once we arrived, we ate at 99 Restaurants, an East Coast restaurant chain. Located at 15 Bridge Street, it was good, albeit not great, but somewhere I’d recommend. They have both seafood and non-seafood options with average prices. I’d compare it to Red Lobster or Chili’s.
We stayed at the Clipper Ship Inn, and it was… alright. It wasn’t the worst hotel I’ve ever encountered (that honor goes to a motel in Oklahoma with wet carpet and cigarette stains), but it certainly wasn’t the best. An “exterior corridor” hotel, the outside looked okay and the inside was decent, yet plain and simple. However, my travel partner swears 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 in the bed. So please be advised and maybe pick a different hotel!
We had only a short amount of time to explore Salem, so we were up bright and early the next morning. Luckily most of the hotspots in Salem are near one another and can be easily walked to. Big warning – most places (including 99% of all the shops) do not open until 10am.
The Burying Point
Out first stop was the famous 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 Street, directly next to the Witch Trial Memorial, which consists of a huge plaque and sitting area with flowers. It’s free to enter and is open daily from 10am to 5:45pm.
Some of the more prominent people buried there are Governor Bradstreet, who was governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1679 to 1686; Mary Corey, the 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, and who served as Chief Justice from 1769 to 1771; Samuel McIntire, an architect of Salem; Captain Richard Moore, a Mayflower pilgrim; Reverend John Higginson, a well-known Salem minister; and the most infamous and evil of them all – John Hathorne, one of the notorious Witch Trial judges. 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 about. However, 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 are buried in The Burying Point, it’s still very much worth a visit since, as mentioned, it’s the 2nd oldest cemetery in the U.S., with most of the graves dating between the 1600s and 1800s. 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. 🪦
After leaving the cemetery, we eventually came upon a striking black house. Officially known as the Jonathan Corwin House, it’s more commonly referred to as the Witch House. It was my favorite structure in all of 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 Street, it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm. We unfortunately couldn’t go inside, but we did get some nice pictures on the outside, unencumbered by others.
First Church of Salem
Built in the “Gothic Revival” style in 1635, the First Church of Salem is 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 currently a Unitarian Universalist church, which is “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 Street and is still very much an active church, so touring is not available and it’s not open to the general public (although you could always go to an official service).
Built in 2005, the Bewitched statue is open 24/7 and is completely free to visit. It’s located at the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, smack dab in the heart of downtown. While attempting to take a selfie picture together (and very clearly 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 as her one day. While it’s 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
Due to everything opening at 10am, it was difficult to find an open store, but luckily we came across 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). To this day, I have still not lit them due to major superstitions and the fear of opening a door I cannot close. 🙃
Lastly, there are many other things to do in Salem that we sadly did not get to. These include the House of the Seven Gables, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem Witch Museum, Salem Witch Village (shown here), 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.
Overall, Salem is one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, mainly due to its unparalleled history, weird witchy-ness, and the fact that I’ve learned so much stuff about it ever since I was young. I feel like we were shortchanged and robbed of a proper visit, as this was during our East Coast road-trip, where time was extremely limited. I learned a lot from that road trip, mainly that places like Salem require, at least, one full day, if not more. I hated leaving the bewitching town of Salem behind us, but I will be back! 💫🔮