Located about half an hour north of Boston, the coastal town of Salem, Massachusetts seems to give off a spooky vibe all year long. To those of us who grew up here in the eastern part of the Bay State, it is practically part of our DNA to not only visit the Witch City as much as possible, but to help educate the masses that make a pilgrimage here year after year.
For those looking to not only explore the rich and sordid history of Salem’s infamous 1692 Witch Trials, but to learn about and from its large Neopagan, Wiccan and Witch community through its many shops, a visit any time of year is welcomed and encouraged. October is prime tourist season in Salem, and as you will see, this local is more than delighted to offer her picks for what sights are a must for both first-time and repeat visitors.
Salem Witch Museum
As the name suggests, this attraction is dedicated to educating visitors on the events that transpired during the Salem Witch Trials, and it also includes a second exhibit that, according to its website, “explores the meaning behind the word witch and evolution of the image of the witch over time.” Easily one of the most recognizable buildings in town, this dark brown structure adds a gothic touch which certainly contributes to the town’s mysterious and macabre air.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park
In Salem and in nearby towns, there are a few memorials dedicated to the 20 people who were executed during the Witch Trials, where 19 were hanged, and one lone man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death as a form of torture. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park is the most powerful, though. A stone wall creates a periphery around the serene tree-lined patch, with slab benches bearing the name, date and method of death of each victim jutting out from the wall. What makes this memorial even more moving and haunting is that etched onto the stone on the floor of the entrance are recorded statements from some of the accused, proclaiming their innocence. Many leave flowers, candles, and other items on each marker to honor them, particularly around Oct. 31, in observance of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which is celebrated by many Wiccans, Neopagans, and Witches, as well as Halloween.
Proctor’s Ledge Memorial
A mountainous area located away from downtown called Gallows Hill has long been considered the site of where the executions occurred. However, whether this was true or not and the exact location of where these events took place recently came into question. Following research conducted in the early 20th century by historian Sidney Perley, the team of authors, professors, and historians that were members of the Gallows Hill Project worked diligently for several years to pinpoint that definitive spot. Using existing records dating back to the 1690s along with certain technological advancements, that mystery was finally solved in 2016. Not far from Gallows Hill and located on a residential street near the bordering town of Peabody, Proctor’s Ledge (named for the descendant of one of the executed, John Proctor) was officially dedicated in 2017.
House of the Seven Gables
From Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to Shirley Jackson’s The Witchcraft of Salem Village countless works of literature have been set in Salem or depicted the Witch Trials. However, no writer is considered more synonymous with Salem than Nathaniel Hawthorne. The author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables was born here and had deep familial connections to the town, including one of the judges that presided over the Witch Trials. Located on Derby Street and overlooking Salem Harbor, you can visit the home, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, which inspired the novel written in 1851.
Friendship of Salem
In case you’re spent on all things Witch, you can explore another avenue that Salem is known for: its maritime history. Take a stroll down to Derby Wharf and feast your eyes on the Friendship of Salem. Owned and maintained by the National Park Service, the Friendship of Salem is a full-size replica of the original Friendship, a merchant vessel built in the late 1790s involved in trading to the West Indies. I got the opportunity to explore the Friendship of Salem several years ago and was in awe of the craftsmanship, from the beautifully built exterior down to the captain’s quarters and the hammocks each sailor would have laid their head on.
Planning a trip to Salem in October? Here are a few things to know!
October’s tourism boom usually means that even getting to town can be difficult. If you are traveling by car, not only is there plenty of traffic both coming and going, but much of the street parking that is normally free for the remainder of the year is closed off for the month to accommodate residents. Metered parking spots are snapped up quickly, as well. Several public and private lots are available, however they also fill up very fast and the costs can get expensive. If you would rather take public transportation, the MBTA, Metro Boston’s transit system, does offer bus and train services to Salem, however you should expect delays throughout the entire month.
Most attractions require advance ticketing and you will certainly experience ample wait times before entering. Be sure to check out the websites of each attraction you are interested in for their guidelines as to both ticketing and COVID-19 protocols. This can also apply to shops and restaurants downtown.
A Massachusetts native and ‘80s kid through and through, Katy Kostakis writes about Arts and Entertainment, Lifestyle, Food and Beverage, Consumer and Culture. Her work has appeared in Turner Classic Movies, Film Inquiry, YourTango, Wicked Local, and Patch. Check out her quips and rants on Twitter @KatyKostakis on Instagram @katykostakis, and on her website, katykostakis.com.