Spellbound in Salem; Exploring the History & Spirits of Witch City

Just the name Salem conjures up imagery of witches, whether they are flying on broomsticks, sinking in a river, or burning at the stake.

Salem is known for its history of early American witch hunts and subsequent psychological case studies on mass hysteria.

It is synonymous with the persecution, torture, and murder of anyone who was accused of having a special understanding of the Universe, forbidden knowledge, or as a woman, just being alive.


White people first settled into Salem in the 1600s but prior to that it had been the home of the Naumkeag Native Americans.

Roger Conant, the man in the monument above, is credited for early settlement of Salem. He is often assumed to be one of the notorious witch hunters of Salem’s past but alas, he was just its colonizer.

Salem is a northern suburb of greater Boston, with about thirty miles between the two cities’ respective downtown districts. Like Boston, Salem is a coastal city that embraces the Massachusetts Bay of the Atlantic Ocean, so it quickly became a major trading port.

Main Square

One can not write about Salem without mentioning its witch history and legends, and there is probably not a single thing I could tell you about it that someone else has not written, but my goal is to help guide you to the more genuine places.

I also want to share what we loved about the rest of Salem and the non-witchy experiences it has to offer.

Just hang in, we will get there.


If you have been living under a rock, I can’t blame you there, but check out this short video for a TLDR of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials.

The Witch House at Salem, aka the Corwin House, was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin.

He was one of the judges who presided over the witch trials, and his former home is the only non-residential structure to survive with direct ties to them.


Salem Village & Danvers
Make a mental note: Salem Village and the Salem Witch Village are not the same.

Historic Salem Village is about five miles north of downtown Salem. Salem Village was a former farming community where the witch hysteria began in 1692.

The community was renamed to Danvers in the 1750s, and while it does get some traffic for its connections to the witch trials, this is not where the majority of tourists end up.


Salem Witch Village
Downtown Salem is also called Salem Town and has a shopping/entertainment district called the Salem Witch Village. This is where many of the actual trials took place, and the draw for most tourists.

The Salem Witch Village is home to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, the Old Burying Point Cemetery, and dozens of metaphysical and Occult shops.


Salem Witch Trials Memorial
There is a three-sided open square with granite walls and plaques that detail the names, birth/death dates, and cause of death for victims of the 1692 Witch Trials.

Among them is Giles Corey, horrifically “pressed to death” for refusing to falsely testify in court, and his wife Martha who was hanged three days later.



Twenty three additional victims were murdered as a result of the mass hysteria and witch trials of 1692.

Eighteen of those were hanged and five died in jail, including a pregnant woman and her baby. Most of the victims were women, of course.


In Salem, burning witches at the stake and “swimming” a witch was not practiced. Those methods were commonly deployed in Europe for the crime of heresy against the church, while witchcraft was considered a crime against the government.

Hanging was the preferred method of execution in Salem.


The victims’ bodies are not actually buried here at the memorial. Many of them were dumped near Gallows Hill after being hanged so that family members could collect them and bury them away from public access.


The memorial courtyard is surrounded by quotes from some of the victims’ last words. Many are symbolically cut short, halfway through the sentence.


Just beyond the memorial is the backside of the Burying Point Cemetery. This is said to signify the public indifference to all of the death and destruction during the witch trials and hangings.


Burying Point Cemetery is on Charter Street, and is also called the Charter Street Cemetery.

One of its most notoriously interred is the late Reverend Nicholas Noyes, who played a part in the persecution and murders of witch trial victims.

Noyes allegedly sought penance afterward, but was not spared from victim Sarah Good’s prophecy that “God will give you blood to drink!”

He suffered internal bleeding and choked to death on his own blood in 1717.

Salem Witch Museum

Aside from the Witch House at Salem and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, the 1692 Salem Witch Museum comes pretty close to authenticity.

The Witch History Museum also contains a large collection of genuine artifacts and historical data versus the tacky memorabilia found in some of the other places.

Witch History Museum

More than two centuries after the witch trials ended, practicing witches still flock to Salem each day to revel in an environment that resonates with their beliefs and lifestyles, and sometimes to pay respects to their ancestors.

There is a heavy presence of modern witches and followers of other misunderstood beliefs in Salem.

Spiritualism (especially of the Universalist sort) and TST Satanism are two movements close to my heart so I want to take a moment to clear up what actual followers believe, in order to create distance from the sensationalized stories and animal-sacrificing antics that you hear on the news.


In the 1840s, Spiritualism started up in the United States. The movement first sprouted roots in Hydesville, New York but it quickly consumed Boston, Salem, and various cities around the world. Many temples are still active and growing today.

Spiritualism is based on the belief that one’s Spirit is still part of our world after they pass, and we have the ability to communicate with them. So many gifted mediums have emerged from this movement, using their gifts to bring comfort and closure to the living.

There are Nine Principles that followers of Spiritualism adhere to:

  1. We believe in Infinite Intelligence.
  2. We believe that the phenomena of Nature, both physical and spiritual, are the expression of Infinite Intelligence.
  3. We affirm that a correct understanding of such expression and living in accordance therewith, constitute true religion.
  4. We affirm that the existence and personal identity of the the individual continue after the change called death.
  5. We affirm that communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of Spiritualism.
  6. We believe that the highest morality is contained in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
  7. We affirm the moral responsibility of individuals, and that we make our own happiness or unhappiness as we obey or disobey Nature’s physical and spiritual laws.
  8. We affirm that the doorway to reformation is never closed against any soul here or hereafter.
  9. We affirm that the precepts of Prophecy and Healing are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship.

Some followers incorporate Christian principles into their practice, some view it as a social club with a shared moral code, and others just believe in the principles without any connection to a deity or doctrine.

Unfortunately there are always fraudulent people who jump on the latest trends and stake their claims in the Spirit world, but their deceit only brings suspicion and discredits those with true abilities.

Visit the First Spiritualist Church of Salem at 34 Warren Street, then stop by Wicked Good Books to pick up your copy of A History of Spiritualism & the Occult in Salem: The Rise of Witch City to learn more.


The Satanic Temple (TST)
Salem is also the home of one branch of  The Satanic Temple, a movement that started in 2012 and whose principles can basically be summed up as “think for yourself, and don’t be an asshole.”

TST is not part of  Anton LaVey’s kooky Church of Satan of the 1960s and 1970s that incites mental images of oversized capes, having orgies, and drinking blood.


One of the primary goals of TST is to fight for separation of church and state, and when that is impossible, to ensure equality for all beliefs. Members are passionate and sometimes known for trolling, but not violent.

Basically, if Christian prayer is mandatory in school, let’s have mass too. If after-school Baptist clubs are pushed onto students, let’s have one for Satanists too. If we have to look at giant monuments of the Ten Commandments at every civic and municipal building, let’s post up our pal Baphomet as well.

It is about freedom of ALL religions, right?


A common misconception of Satanists is that they actually believe in or worship Satan. Nope.

Satan is viewed as a literary and metaphorical figure; a light-bringer  representing knowledge and enlightenment. I mean really, what is Satan actually cited as having done or said in the bible besides trying to show Eve the light?

Everything else is hearsay. Even that.


Satanists of The Satanic Temple do not condone the sacrifice or torture of any living creature, and they are not the teenagers you see out in public seeking attention based on shock value.

Let’s get past that already, okay?

TST members adhere to the moral code of the following Seven Tenets:

I. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
II. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
III. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
IV. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
V. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
VI. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
VII. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

So again, think for yourself, and don’t be an asshole.


The Salem TST is located in a lovely old Victorian house in a residential neighbourhood away from downtown. Members enter for free, and others pay $5. Employees double as members, and are available to engage in respectful and educational discourse.

Members of the Satanic Temple are typically Atheist, though you will find varying views like Agnostics, Humanists, Deists, Pagans, Universal Spiritualists, and good old heathens.

The more you converse with different members, the more perspective you will gain.


There is a library to brush up on your basics, and the temple frequently hosts cultural and educational events.


Salem’s real history is so interesting that visitors come in from around the globe, but many entrepreneurs have successfully capitalized on the whole witch/horror/ghost/spooky gestalt.

Witch Dungeon Museum, Frankenstein’s Castle, Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre, Salem Witch Board Museum, Salem Halloween Museum, Monster Museum are all pretty silly, but fun to visit.

Salem WitchBoard Museum

Witch City Mall is gleefully outdated, full of creepy shops, boutiques, and some really good pizza.


Shopping is NOT my favourite thing to do, but Salem shops have all the things I like; Occult stuff, books, crystals, natural products, gem/mineral jewelry, candles, and most of all, herbs.


I really could not help myself from fawning all over everything. The weirder, the better.


Coven’s Cottage was the most impressive store, with a numbered line to get in and a no-photo policy.

If you only have time for one metaphysical shop, aim for that one. It looks like a dreamy faerie garden inside with each item strategically and perfectly placed.


I started having a sensory overload meltdown after like the fifteenth store and had to sit it out for a bit.


Black Veil Shoppe of Drear and Wonder, Salem Séance, Pentagram, The Cauldron Black, Omen Psychic Parlor & Witchcraft Emporium, Crow Haven Corner (Salem’s oldest witch shop), Marble Faun Books & Gifts, Pyramid Books, Hermetic Arts, Hex: Old World Witchery, The Witchery: Broom Making, Bookbinding, & Tarot, Die W/ Your Boots On, Black Craft, Artemisia Botanicals, and HausWitch Home & Healing are just a short list of other awesome shops in Salem.


We stopped by VampFangs where my friends looked into getting a new bite, and I spent about twenty minutes talking to an employee that nearly had me eloping before an intervention came. I believe I had been bewitched.


Speaking of Bewitched, just outside the door of VampFangs, there is a 9-feet tall statue on the corner of Washington and Essex stands in tribute to Elizabeth Montgomery and the Bewitched series.

It has been in place since 2005 and was installed by the TV Land production company.


You will see an assortment of creeps and costumed creeps alike, walking around Salem, just trying to earn a buck.


As promised, there is so much more to Salem than witches and spooky stuff.

Salem Common is a historic village green with monuments, gazebos, and the Salem Common Playground within the spacious Washington Square.

Salem Common

Salem’s 1816 Old Town Hall is the oldest original municipal building in the city, and now doubles as a history museum and event venue for rent.

This giant building dominates Derby Square and famously appeared in the film Hocus Pocus as the Halloween party scene. It is allegedly haunted, and is a stop on any number of the guided ghost walks in Salem.


Old Town Hall is not known to have suffered many tragedies that would explain its hauntings, but locals believe its concealment of “smuggler tunnels” for brothels, slave trades, murders, and other secret sins once conducted underneath it explain the presence of tortured souls still wandering its rooms.


Salem has a series of public squares that are great for patio beers and witch watching.

The main street through downtown Salem is Essex Street, where it runs between Summer Street to the west and Hawthorn Boulevard at Salem Common to the east.


Washington Street at Essex Street appears to be the central intersection, right by the Bewitched statue.

Most of what I am writing about in this blog can be found within a few blocks of Essex Street.


The Peabody Essex Museum is a world-renowned art museum and offshoot of the 1799 East India Marine Society.


PEM also owns and maintains the Ropes Mansion & Gardens.


The Salem Custom House, House of the Seven Gables, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and the Salem Armory Regional Visitor Center are all close by.


We had a great meal at Rockafellas, inside the historic Daniel Low & Co. building.


Caesar salad on point. My friends had herbed and dry-rubbed chicken wings, and a few other items.


They also have a crab cake BLT and it was bangin’.


We had another meal at Engine House Pizza, right next to the actual downtown fire station. We hollered a little at the buff firemen doing their jobs and they ate it right up.


We also shared a slice from Essex’s NY Pizza & Deli in the Witch City Mall and it was delicious.


One of my favourite parts about Salem was tracking down all twelve of the Ladies of Salem.



This sculpture project debuted in 2012 to honour Salem’s maritime history and some of its lovely nautical figures that led the way.



Each bust is modeled after those mounted on the front of ships, and each artist was encouraged to create their own personality.



The exhibition is part of Salem’s ongoing Maritime Festival.


Salem has quite a few unique murals, if you are inclined to wander down alleys and side streets. Here are a few that we liked best.


Also for your viewing pleasure, be sure to wander down some of Salem’s residential streets to admire the historic architecture and intricate brick work. Some of these are just truly lovely.


Getting around Salem is easy and guided tour options are plentiful. You will see Trolley Depot trolleys at every turn, and they also have a great gift and souvenir shop.


Two self-guided tour options include the Salem On Your Own Self-Guided Mobile Walking Tour and the Salem Witch Trials Self-Guided Mobile Walking Tour. I am looking forward to many returns to Salem!


In the area for a while? Follow me to Boston’s North End, Chinatown, Back Bay/Bay Village, and Faneuil Hall.

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One thought on “Spellbound in Salem; Exploring the History & Spirits of Witch City

  1. Pingback: Following our Noses Around Boston’s Historic Chinatown | Fernweh

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