15 October 2015

Top 5 Places to Visit in Salem, Massachusetts

When you visit the Witch City, there are many attractions, museums, tours, and events vying for your attention. I put together a list of five not-to-miss places that are worth the trip to Salem, Massachusetts, for people interested in the 1692 witch hunts in Essex county.

Site of the Salem Village Parsonage (behind 67 Centre Street, Danvers, MA).

The parsonage was built after February 1681, when Salem Village voted to build the parsonage for their second minister, George Burroughs (1650-1692). Here, strange fits first possessed nine-year-old Betty Parris and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams, causing a local doctor to declare the girls were under an evil hand. The first accused witches lived close by, including in the parsonage itself, but it quickly spread to Salem Town and around Essex county.

In 1734, a new house was added to the old parsonage. In 1784, the original parsonage was demolished and the 1734 addition was moved. In time, the foundation filled in. In 1970, Richard Trask and a team of archeologists uncovered the foundation stones. Artifacts discovered at the site are located at the Danvers Archival Center (15 Sylvan Street, Danvers).

The archeological site not only gives you an idea of how small the house was, it also puts into perspective where Rev. Samuel Parris (1653-1720) and his family lived in relation to the First Meeting House and Ingersoll’s Ordinary—just a quick walk around the corner—and how far away Salem Town was by foot, horseback, or wagon. 

While you’re in the area, visit the Danvers witch memorial on Hobart street.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead (149 Pine St., Danvers, MA)

Rebecca Nurse Homestead
In 1678, Francis and Rebecca Nurse leased this 300-acre parcel from Rev. Allen. Their farm was productive and the terms of their lease generous. In 1692, the afflicted girls accused Rebecca of being a witch, the jury failed to convict her, and the magistrate asked them to reconsider after the girls acted out in court. Even the villagers’ petition and the governor’s reprieve didn’t save her. She was hung on July 19, 1692.

The volunteers who give tours at the homestead are very knowledgeable, so you’ll get more out of your visit than a self-guided tour. The homestead includes the original house built about 1678, plus several additions; the 1681 Endecott barn; a 19th century shoemaker’s shed; and a replica of the 1672 Salem Village Meeting House that was used in the film Three Sovereigns for Sarah. The property now consists of 27 acres, including the Nurse graveyard. It’s likely that Rebecca Nurse was buried in the graveyard, though the location is unknown. There are two memorials, from 1885 and 1992, erected in her memory. You’ll also find a 17th-century-styled gravestone for George Jacobs, whose supposed body was reburied at the site.

Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop (Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Street, Salem, MA)

If you wander down Essex Street in Salem, you may come across a 17th century town crier and a band of similarly dressed townspeople. After several arguments, they arrest Bridget Bishop for being a witch and bring her to the Town Hall for questioning. Like other attractions in town, you will hear dialogue taken from the witch trial papers, but in this case, you—the audience—become the jury and vote to determine whether she should be held for trial. You also get a chance to ask questions of the witnesses and Bridget herself. The performances are well done and there are no poorly made mannequins sitting in for the afflicted girls—just quiet chairs—so, unlike 1692, you can listen to the words spoken instead of the distraction caused by the afflicted girls. 

The Salem Witch Trials Memorial (between Charter and Derby streets, adjacent to Old Burying Point, Salem, MA)

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Built 300 years after the witch trials, the memorial consists of 20 granite benches that float in the middle of a low stone wall. Each bench is inscribed with the victim’s name and date of execution. Unlike the cemetery next to the memorial, there are no bodies here (they are cenotaphs) and the benches hovering above the ground remind us of that fact.

Over the years, Salem tried to bury its witchcraft past, so we don’t know where the witch-hunt victims were hanged (though most people assume it’s somewhere on Gallows Hill) or buried. The memorial serves as a contemplative spot to honor these brave women and men who stood up for their religious beliefs and wouldn’t condemn their souls by lying to save their lives. At the threshold of the memorial, you’ll see some of their poignant words cut off, just like their lives were. 

While you’re in the area, stop by the repaired gravestone of Judge John Hathorne (1641-1717) at Old Burying Point. It’s hard to miss.

The Salem Witch Walk (Crow Haven Corner, 125 Essex Street, Salem)

Having been on a trolley tour and a historical 1692 walking tour, I’ve learned where Bridget Bishop’s house or apple orchard stood (43 Church Street) and where the 1684 jail once existed (corner of Federal Street and St. Peter’s Street, formerly known as Prison Lane). But much of the tour guides’ scripts have not kept up with current research and often repeat myths and misconceptions.

The Salem Witch Walk is different, right from the start. The walk begins with a magic circle, in which the tourists are invited to participate. As Tom, a practicing witch and our tour guide, explains during the ceremony, witches hold true to two words: “Harm none.” Tom says none of the accused in 1692 were witches, but 17th century cultural beliefs, superstitions, and magic came into play, turning neighbor against neighbor and ending in a land grab. He explains what some witch symbols mean, including the pentagram, and why Laurie Cabot and other witches came to Salem. There’s no scary hocus pocus. 

In the end, you may realize the juxtaposition of Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery and Elizabeth Montgomery’s Bewitched statue with the Salem Witch Museum, the maritime heyday of the Peabody Essex Museum, and Salem’s leather manufacturing history are not that strange. It’s how Salem survives its past and moves into the future.

NOTE: Some of these places have limited, seasonal hours. Check the web sites for details.

Want to read more about Salem and the witch trials? Click on the keyword "witch-hunt" on the right-hand column to see other articles, from a short genealogy of the victims and a timeline of the witch-hunt to books and tourist attractions. 


  1. Excellent choices and must-sees after the obvious sights.
    Salem has so much to offer that you could do a top 25 list and be just starting to scratch the surface.
    I love history and Salem sure has it.
    Can't wait to visit again.

    George Vreeland Hill

  2. It is hard to pick just five, but that's probably a day's worth. We go to Salem every year and never make it through my list of things to do, places to visit---all without repeats, except for the witch memorial. We pay our respects there every time we go. Salem is much more than the Witch City, of course, and I would recommend a visit to the 1630 Pioneer Village and to Jonathan Corwin's Witch House for the 17th century time frame. I enjoy just walking down Essex street or looking at the architecture, even the doorways of Salem.

  3. Thanks for the awesome list. I am planning our first trip to Salem and have five things to add to the list!

  4. Brenda, There's so much to see and experience in Salem. Follow the red painted line on the sidewalk and you'll see a slice of Salem, from the House of Seven Gables to the Haunted Neighborhood. I've written a bunch of articles about Salem and the witch hunt, so if you're interested, click on the "witch-hunt" keyword on the right to read more. I've also written about the tourist attractions there. I must admit I have not been to Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery or the 1819 Custom House where Hawthorne worked, but I've been to all the witch-related museums. Tom the tour guide says the Salem Witch Museum at Washington Square is the best. I'd probably agree, though the Witch History Museum on Essex has better mannequins. But don't take all you hear at face value. You'll hear some myths and misconceptions that have been debunked with recent research and by reading the most complete set of witch trial documents published. Enjoy your trip!