Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts

Study History in Salem, Massachusetts

ADD AN IMPACT!
In 1692, Salem was gripped by witch hysteria, and numerous women were persecuted and stood trial, often based solely on their gender and independence. Over two years, 20 people were executed. Gender disparity remains a problem today, and you can add an impact by volunteering at a women’s shelter while visiting Massachusetts.

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Itinerary

Salem is only 16 miles north of Boston, making it easy to access via car, train, or ferry. Once you arrive in Salem, get settled into your hotel and then head to the Salem Regional Visitor Center. At the center, catch screenings of two films, “Where Past is Present” and “Salem Witch Hunt,” to begin your journey into the history of the town. After the movies, join one of the center’s “Myths and Misconceptions” walking tours, which takes you on a one-mile walk around downtown Salem while sharing the true story of the Salem Witch Trials.

Begin your day with a visit to the Salem Witch Museum. Enjoy a presentation based on actual documents from the 1692 trials and an exhibit devoted to the perceptions of witches and witchcraft over the centuries. 

After the Witch Museum and lunch, spend some time visiting exploring Salem on your own before joining the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Walk. During this 90-minute walking tour, you’ll visit many of the confirmed locations associated with the trials, including the sites of the former First Church, Town Well, and Prison Lane.

Now that you’ve learned more about the witch trials pay your respects to the victims and those involved in the persecution at the Salem Witch Memorial. Although none of the actual victims are buried here, the memorial park features 20 granite benches inscribed with the names of the victims and the dates of their execution. Adjacent to the Memorial is the Old Burying Point Cemetery, where several key figures from the trials are buried, including Judge Jonathan Corwin. Spend some time reading the headstones, many of which date back to the 1600s. 

After lunch, make your way to the Old Town Hall, the oldest surviving municipal building in Salem. Here you’ll catch a performance of the interactive reenactment “Cry Innocent: The People Vs. Bridget Bishop,” in which you will play the role of the jury in a famous witchcraft case. After the performance, walk to the Witch House, the former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. Your self-guided tour of this 17th-century home will give you more insight into life during the time of the Witch Trials.

Although the witch hysteria of 1692 is typically associated with Salem, many of the people and places involved were actually in nearby villages and towns. Today you’ll explore one of those towns, the neighboring Danvers, formerly known as Salem Village. 

 Begin your exploration of Danvers at Nurse Homestead, the former home of Rebecca Nurse, the oldest of the 19 people executed during the Witch Trials. Here you can explore the 17th-century farmhouse, as well as a replica of the Salem Village Meeting House. The Nurse Homestead is also the final resting place of Rebecca Nurse, as well as victim George Jacobs.

After visiting the Nurse Homestead, your tour takes you to the Salem Village Parsonage site. Although the building no longer stands, the foundation of Reverend Samuel Parris’ home still remains. The house is where Parris’ daughter, 9-year-old Betty, and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams first showed signs of being “afflicted.” 

 Two more stops will complete your visit to Danvers: Wadsworth Cemetery, and Putnam Pantry.  Wadsworth is one of the oldest cemeteries in the U.S., dating back to the 17th-century, and the site of an anonymous grave where many accused witches were buried. Before heading back to Salem, stop at Putnam Pantry. Although it appears to be a general store and ice cream shop today, this site is believed to be the final resting place of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death during the trials.

Today’s activities center around the theme of the imprisonment and execution of accused witches during the Salem Witch Trials. Begin by visiting the site of the Old Salem Jail Grounds on Prison Way, and make your way to the Witch Dungeon Museum. At the Witch Dungeon Museum, explore reenactments and settings recreating the Witch Trials and the conditions of the jail for the accused. 

 After visiting the Dungeon, make your way to Gallows Hill and Proctor’s Ledge, where the actual executions took place. The actual site of the gallows in the lower portion of Gallows Hill Park was recently uncovered, allowing you to see where many of the accused met their demise.

A world-renowned collection of art and artifacts awaits you at the Peabody-Essex Museum. Plan to spend the day exploring the galleries and historic homes and gardens of the museum, which provide a glimpse into life in historic Salem as well as one of the finest collections of Asian art in the world. As part of your visit, you’ll have access to the Phillips Research Library, where you can view actual documents from the Salem Witch Trials, including letters and testimony from victims and witnesses.

Before departing for Boston and your trip home, you have the choice to explore some of the other aspects of Salem’s history. To gain insight into Salem’s rich literary heritage, visit the House of the Seven Gables, which inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same title. Here you can explore the restored home, as well as the birthplace of Hawthorne, which was moved here from its original location in downtown Salem.

 Or, take a stroll along Derby Wharf to visit the Derby Wharf Light Station, or explore the Customs House and Friendship of Salem to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of Salem’s role as a seaport throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The drive, or catch a train or ferry back to Boston for your trip home. 

With a history dating back nearly four centuries, Salem, Massachusetts is best known for the Witch Trials of 1692, one of the earliest and most notorious examples of hysteria in U.S. history. The story of the Salem Witch Trials, viewed through the modern lens, can be taken as a cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, and what happens when the rules of due process aren’t followed. Through in-depth exploration of the sites, people, and stories of the Witch Trials, you gain a better understanding of how to support justice – and the importance of historic and cultural preservation. 

With museum visits, walking tours, re-enactments, and educational student tours, your visit to Salem is guaranteed to change your perspective on a dark chapter of American history. Come on this journey with us, and immerse yourself in the world of the Salem Witch Trials.

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