Salem, Massachusetts– also commonly referred to as “Witch City”– is the notorious grounds for a lot of awful American history, including the infamous Salem Witch trials in the 1600s. Thankfully, this now quaint town has turned its painful past into America’s ultimate Halloween town, while simultaneously honoring the victims from its historical events that left many dead and/or imprisoned. I recently traveled again to this lovely New England town for some early October fun, and have come up with a list of recommend activities and locations for those who are making their way there during this Halloween season.
1. Salem Horror Fest: What initially brought me to Salem once again this year was a very special version of its annual Horror Fest, which included a special anniversary screening of Elvira’s 1988 film, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, as well as a Q&A session with Cassandra Peterson, hosted by Blumhouse V.P. and Shockwaves Podcaster, Ryan Turek. The Fest showcases world premieres of new horror films, as well as screenings for the genre’s classics, meet and greets with horror celebrities, and general networking events for people who are passionate about horror. This year, the Fest showcased its #KnowFear portion, which explored our understandings of fear within the horror genre.
2. Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery: Ever horror film history lover (and those who at least can bravely face life-like replicas of classic horror movie villains, up close and personal) needs to make his or her way to this newly-revamped wax figurine museum which showcases dozens of wax figurines of our favorite horror icons of all time. Everything from the Universal monsters, to Alfred Hitchcock, to Pennywise, to the modern slasher killers like Michael Myers and Chucky, will be staring at you as you make your way through the various rooms. This is truly a horror lover’s dream (or nightmare, depending.) The owner, who is often right out front of the building as you enter, is also just as personable as he is passionate for his museum, so he will happily answer your questions and chat about horror history with you. (Just please no picture taking, as the experience should be only viewed in person.)
3. Historical Cemeteries/Memorial: Salem contains a few cemeteries that are significant to the Salem witch trials. Old Burying Point Cemetery is located right at the heart of downtown Salem, and is home to the grave of Justice John Hathorne, who was notoriously unapologetic for his involvement of the persecution of those who were accused of witchcraft. Adjacent to the graveyard is a chilling memorial for the 14 women and 6 men who were accused of witchcraft– including Mary Eastey, Giles Corey, and Rebecca Nurse– where you can pay your respects.
4. The Witch House: The large house where Justice John Hathorne resided, now referred to as “The Witch House,” is an informative museum that remains the only structure still standing in Salem that has direct ties to the witch trials. It’s a self-guided tour with intriguing insight into common witchcraft practices of the past and facts about the members of the Hathorne family, as well as eye-catching period furniture.
5. The House of the Seven Gables: Truly breathtaking in person, this beautiful waterfront house-turned-museum is the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic novel The House of the Seven Gables. Surrounded by lush gardens, this massive, seven-gabled black building has a guided tour where you are taught all things relating to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his affection for this now-iconic house, as well as the history behind the making of the house, its several reconstructions, and its multiple (in)famous owners who each gave it its special touches it possesses today.
6. The Satanic Temple: What is it about the darkness that sucks us in? I can’t say for certain, but I will say that this art gallery (yes, not just a place of worship for Satanists) is a jaw-dropping, intriguing exhibit run by some of the kindest people. (And no, Satanism is not devil-worshipping and sacrificing goats, according to practicing Satanists.) One room is entirely dedicated to Ouija boards, another is dedicated to various articles about misconceptions of Satanism and the “Satanic Panic” of past years, and another is filled with offensive and overtly sexual (and also, hilarious) statues of Satan getting his privates…umm…touched. And the best part of your trip to the Satanic Temple? You get taken to the “Temple” and admire the 8-foot tall hand-carved statue of Baphomet, and even sit on his lap and whisper evil nothings into his ear like I did.
7. Ropes Mansion (Hocus Pocus filming location): This beautiful 18th-century Georgian colonial mansion was inherited by three sisters (the Ropes sisters) who had wished to turn the grounds into a museum after their deaths. Hocus Pocus fans will recognize this mansion in the exterior shots of character Allison’s house in the beloved 1993 film– and the mansion’s interior is just as gorgeous. You’ll learn all about the history of the lavish Ropes family, as well as get a glimpse of their decadent china collection that will rival anything that your grandma has in her home, that’s for sure. Be sure to also take a walk through its backyard gardens that are extremely picture-worthy.
8. Salem Witch Museum: This fun interactive museum will teach you anything you need to know about the history of witchery, from its deep-rooted past to its current practices. Animatronic figures will play out scenes directly inspired from the events of the witch trials, before a second section that will take you on a brief journey of modern witchcraft– including how it is portrayed in film and television, and what it means to be a practicing Wiccan “witch” today. It also contains a very tempting gift shop with all things witch-related, so be sure to bring some extra cash.
9. Salem Wax Museum: The Wax Museum contains eerie wax figurines of important players within the Salem witch trials, including the accused woman Tituba, who was believed to be the very first person to inflict “witchcraft” before the witch hysteria that immediately followed. The wax figurines are not necessarily the most realistically life-like, but it’s definitely worth checking out at least once during your stay.
10. Witch Dungeon Museum: This live reenactment museum is performed by professional actors who portray scenes taken directly from the transcripts of the witch trials– particularly one involving the young Parris daughters, who were one of the first families to accuse Tituba of witchcraft, thus fueling the beginning of the witch accusations. The Parris girls claimed that Tituba told them stories about black magic, which caused them to start acting strangely. After the performance, you are taken downstairs to the “dungeon” where you see firsthand how claustrophobic and awful the prison conditions were for the women and men that were accused.
11. Frankenstein’s Castle & other quick haunts: Many of Salem’s greatest daytime museums turn into haunted houses during the evening hours, including Count Orlock’s Nightmare Gallery and the Salem Wax Museum. I experienced Frankenstein’s Castle, a quick 5-minute or so haunt that will make you laugh, jump, and/or scream, located in the basement of the Salem Wax Museum. Along with entrance to the Frankenstein’s Castle, I also did a ticketed package deal for entrance to a brief “Spell Casting” with a real Wiccan witch, where she takes you through the journey of casting a personal “spell” for something you desire. (Felt very reminiscent of the witchcraft scenes from The Craft.) You can find out more information about the package deals once you arrive to the locations.
12. Walking tours: Salem offers many daytime and nighttime walking tours, in which a guide takes you to various locations around downtown Salem and narrates to you the stories and dark history behind each location. Some of the tour guides will give everyone a candle to hold; some are more imaginative and tell haunted tales about vampires and ghosts; others are dedicated to filming locations for Hocus Pocus. There’s a little something for everyone’s tastes.
13. Horror movie screenings at CinemaSalem movie theater: As part of Salem Horror Fest, I was able to view an early screening of the upcoming Halloween sequel at this old-fashioned, quaint movie theater. However, you can also check out various classic horror film screenings all throughout October, including screenings of Rosemary’s Baby, Suspiria, and The House of the Devil, as well as various mainstream and art-house films all year round.
For more information, you can visit the Salem Haunted Happenings website, which is an excellent source for all things Salem-related. Run amuck, amuck, amuck to Salem, MA this Halloween season. ~