Disclaimer: I’m not entirely complaining this week. I love Salem (I’m from Massachusetts, so I feel like that’s in my blood) and it’s a good place for a quick afternoon of light exploring. That being said, most visitors show up during the last two weeks of October to experience some kind of spooky happenings, and the crowds kind of ruin it for everyone else.
If you’re a movie buff, you can visit lots of “Hocus Pocus” filming locations in Salem, Mass.: Both Max and Allison’s houses are right in town, and you can recreate Bette Midler’s “I Put a Spell on You” at the Old Town Hall. Being the filming location of one of our most beloved Halloween movies (its 25th anniversary is this year, BTW), you would think that you’d get a little spook out of Salem.
But that’s only if you want to pay the $35 entrance fee to a five-minute amateur haunted house off of Essex Street.
Salem is famed for the Salem Witch Trials back in 1692, when a hysteria hit and 20 men and women were hanged after being accused of practicing witchcraft that caused irrational behavior in the town’s young girls. It was the deadliest witch hunt in United States history and inspired tons of pop culture references to this day, most notably Arthur Miller’s 1953 play “The Crucible.”
And the town capitalizes on that.
Starting anywhere from early- to mid-October, Salem turns into a Halloween party, and while this sounds exciting, the reality is that there are only a few worthwhile things to do in Salem, and they’ll be inundated with crying children and Comic Con-esque costumes for all of October.
If you’re there for the history, I would encourage a tour (maybe one by the moonlight to take advantage of what spook there is), but they’ll likely be a bit kitschy and practiced, if not on the pricier side.
Truth be told, the best things out of Salem include the Witch Trials Memorial, where you can walk along a path adjacent to the Old Burying Point Cemetery. John Hathorne, one of the judges responsible for the sentencings during the witch trials, is buried there along with other Salem residents. The memorial, where benches engraved with the victims’ names are built, exists in part because of the fact that no one knows for sure where the hanged were buried.
I would also take a trip to the Salem Witch Museum, which is nearby the site of the pressing of Giles Corey (the only “witch” not sentenced to hanging). It’s less of a museum and more of a “show” (albeit a slightly creepy one) where robotic-ish statues tell the story of the hysteria that overtook Salem in 1692. The presentation is based on actual documents and is the best source to gain an understanding of the sequence of events during the witch trials. That, and it’ll only cost you a sweet $12.
But again, you’ll be standing in line for hours if you go during October.
Other than that, what you’ll get out of a trip to Salem is an hour or two of strolling the town (which is actually fairly aesthetically pleasing and exactly what you’d expect out of a New England town) and bumping into costumed folk. Local vendors line the streets with (sometimes) cute little trinkets, and if you’re superstitious, you can get your fortunes told and buy calming crystals.