The town of Salem, Massachusetts, is best known for its role in American History as the site of the Witch Trials of 1692. Today, visitors from near and far head to Salem—including the Salem Witch Museum—to experience this piece of history and learn about witchcraft and the events that took place.
Back in 1692, a young girl became ill and was diagnosed with bewitchment by the village doctor, William Griggs. This happened during a time of extreme stress in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, during which a small pox epidemic struck an area where many people believed in the devil. Ultimately, all of this led to the hanging of 19 innocent men and women, along with the deaths of several others.
June of 1692 was when the trials took place, after more than 150 people from the Salem area were sent to prisons because young girls in pain named them as the reason. At the time, practicing witchcraft was punishable by death. Despite being difficult to actually prove, 13 women and five men were declared guilty and hanged.
By October of that same year, the “witchcraft court” was disbanded, and the large group of individuals awaiting trials were pardoned, bringing an end to the Salem Witch Trials.
The Salem Witch Museum aims to tell the story of this complicated time in history, while also bringing light to the fact that witchcraft was not real, and these innocent people were accused of impossible crimes. What many do not realize is witch-hunts still exist today. You’ll learn all about that at the Salem Witch Museum.
There are two exhibits at the Salem Witch Museum. First, there’s the main presentation where you’ll experience an audio-visual history of the Salem Witch Trials, including actual documents from the trials and several different sets that narrate the stories behind the Salem Witch Hunt.
The second exhibit is "Witches: Evolving Perceptions," which is a guided tour that goes through the history of witch-hunting in more depth, including witchcraft of today. While many are familiar with the events of 1692, it's less common that those visiting Salem have a full understanding of how witchcraft (or rather, its alleged existence) continues to live on in society today.
If you prefer to explore on your own, check out the Salem Witch Trials self-guided tour, which includes sites in and around Salem. If you opt for this, be sure to plan ahead and ensure the attractions you want to visit are open.
How to Visit
The Salem Witch Museum is open year-round (with a few exceptions for holidays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours in July and August when it’s open until 7 p.m. and throughout October with hours varying by day (full schedule here). The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, and on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, it closes early at 3 p.m.
Tickets, which can be purchased at the door, are $13 for adults, $11.50 for senior citizens, and $10 for children ages 6 to 14 years old.
Driving is, of course, an option with parking garages at the South Harbor Garage on Congress Street and the Salem East India Square Garage on New Liberty Street. You can also get to Salem by the MBTA Commuter Rail or the Salem Ferry.
Tips for Visiting
It’s recommended that you make the Salem Witch Museum your first stop in Salem, especially if you’re visiting during October, as it can get quite busy.
The museum also typically closes for two weeks during the month of January, as that’s the time they reserve for maintenance. If you plan to visit Salem in January, be sure to call ahead to confirm when exactly that will take place.
Another reason to visit the Salem Witch Museum first is that you can grab a discount card with your admission sticker, which will get you over $125 in savings in Salem and even in Boston and other areas north of the city. There are more than 20 participating businesses with discounts, including other tours, museums, and more (though some are seasonal deals, so check before you visit).
Things to Do Nearby
There are two big festivals in Salem each year: the Salem Haunted Happenings in October, and more recently, the Holiday Happenings in late November and December. For nearly 40 years, the Haunted Happenings has brought in more than 250,000 people annually and is a full-blown celebration of Halloween all month long, with a parade and all sorts of spooky activities. The Holiday Happenings is a similar concept, sans witches and goblins but adding Santa’s arrival, the tree lighting, and more.
If you’re familiar with Boston’s Freedom Trail—a red brick line that takes you on a walk along many of the city’s attractions—the Salem Heritage Trail is a similar concept. Also known as the Salem Red Line, the Heritage Trail, has three different loops that will take you to 127 different attractions including the Peabody Essex Museum, House of Seven Gables, Witch History Museum, and much more. If you’re looking for a good overview of the history of Salem, start at the National Park Service Salem Regional Visitor Center at 2 New Liberty Street, where you can watch 27 minutes of just that before heading out on the Trail.
With Salem being a waterfront town, take advantage of local beaches during the summer months. One nearby option is Dead Horse Beach at the Salem Willows, which has free parking and a large sandy beach open year-round.
For access to the city of Boston without a car, you can take the Salem Ferry, which is run by Boston Harbor Cruises. The boat ride is less than an hour and is particularly nice during the warm weather seasons, as you can sit up top to get some sun and avoid the traffic.