Want to experience Halloween at its spookiest? Visit Salem in October.
Coming from Estonia and living my whole life in Europe, I’ve never truly celebrated Halloween, nor have I understood the fascination with it. If anything, it has seemed like an excuse for people to wear questionable ‘costumes’ and get drunk. Perhaps it’s true for many, but definitely not for people celebrating Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts.
People who come to Salem in October (and many who live there) actually believe in witchcraft and magic, alongside with many supernatural beings. No joke. Witches and warlocks wandering the dark streets and graveyards, attending events related to magic and horror, receiving readings from witches, and spending time with like-minded people – that’s Salem in October.
I won’t dig too deep into the history of the place, but Salem, settled in 1626, is located in the Northeast of US, in the state of Massachusetts. An easy 30 min train ride from Boston North Station. It was once one of the most important seaports in North America and one of the first settlements of Puritans from England.
Much of the city’s cultural history and fame derives from the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Back in the day, the religious and conservative Puritans explained most of the world by magical rituals and supernatural occurrences. So, when in 1692, two young girls started to exhibit strange behavior – screaming, throwing things around the room and uttering strange sounds – witchcraft seemed like the most logical explanation. Many people were accused, tried and executed in this year-long mass-hysteria.
Here are some facts about the Salem Witch Trials:
– Between 1692 and 1693, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft in Salem, MA
– 19 were found guilty and hanged
– at least 5 died in jail
– Giles Gorey, who refused to plead, was pressed to death. This means that he was stripped naked, with a heavy board laid on his chest. Then, rocks were laid on the board, adding more weight, until his death on the third day.
– The youngest person accused of witchcraft and forced into a confession of being a witch was Dorothy Good, she was four years old at the time
– People developed all sorts of tricks and tests to identify the witches, such as the cake test. The person who was tortured by witchcraft gave his or her urine which was baked into a cake and fed to a dog, who would then lead to the witch. Of course, the dog was executed as well. Dogs were chosen because they were seen to have a close relationship with the devil.
Of course, these people tried and executed were victims of mass-hysteria. If anything, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, wore out of the ordinary style of clothes, picked plants, spent too much time alone in nature, or seemed strange in some other way. It is an unfortunate and dark piece of Salem’s history.
Nevertheless, it is what has made it famous. And today, people who believe that they are real witches move to Salem from all over the US and even abroad. Salem is home to countless witch museums, houses, stores, galleries, you name it. Salem has it all.
We also visited the oldest witch store in the United States and went on a modern Witch Tour. Salem has countless tours to choose from and I highly recommend to choose at least one. It’s a fun and educational way of spending time in this old and mysterious city.
Our Witch Walk tour focused mostly on the lives of witches in Salem today. The tour guide stated at the very start that he is a Wickard and very happy with this life. He explained how people still practice magic in the form of blowing out birthday candles or wishing on a star without even realizing it. He also described how witchcraft is nothing else but an ancient study of science – in the form of medicine, herbs etc. It was fascinating to hear him break the stereotypes of witches that we have today. E.g. black cats are associated with witches because they could discreetly carry messages strapped under their stomach or around the collar without nobody seeing them at night.
All in all, if you are ever in Massachusetts in October, I highly recommend taking a day tour to Salem to experience a piece of that Halloween magic and dark history of New England.
Happy Halloween, folks!