Salem, Massachusetts is known as the Halloween capital due to its history with the Salem Witch Trials. Growing up, the trials were always a source of fascination for my siblings and me since we were obsessed with movies such as Halloweentown, Twitches, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Recently, on a family trip to Massachusetts, we were able to visit this town right before the Halloween season started. The crisp fall weather, decorations, and people in costumes were the perfect way to start the fall season.
The town’s connection with the holiday began in 1692 when 19 women were convicted and killed under the ruling that they were witches. These women were innocent and believed to not actually be witches, but were accused as so due to the Puritan beliefs at the time. The story of these trials has been commemorated in Arthur Miller’s 1953 work The Crucible — something I am sure we all remember having to read in high school. With Disney’s release of Hocus Pocus, which was filmed in Salem, the town has become a place of Halloween celebration, bringing in tens of thousands of tourists each year.
Despite these common beliefs about Salem, the trials actually occurred in the next town over: Danvers, Massachusetts. It was known as Salem Village at the time, hence the confusion. But there is a lot of cross-over between the two towns, as many of the “witches” were kept in holding and previously lived in modern-day Salem. Since Danvers had a history as a struggling town that faced grim period after grim period while Salem saw success in the maritime industry, Salem was always the main attraction.
In 1982, Salem began celebrating their month-long Salem Haunted Happenings celebration, which includes family-friendly magic shows, costume balls, psychic readings, haunted harbor cruises, ghost tours, and more. The possibility of seeing a ghost or spirit entices many people to visit, since history suggests the town is haunted. Many spiritual groups, psychics, and modern-day witches are part of the tourists that visit every year in October.
At the suggestion of my sister Alexis who has been Salem-obsessed since childhood, my family and I visited. Although we went in September, we were able to experience fall in Salem. Walking around town, I saw many Halloween costumes and signs for psychic readings, and just about everywhere you looked, there was a sign for “haunted” anything. My sister and some of my cousins watched a reenactment of the trials and were impressed at the actors’ dedication when they wouldn’t even break character to recommend a lunch spot. We also played into the Halloween side of things by going through a haunted house attraction, as well as a real haunted house where one of the witches had lived.
What surprised me was the memorial for the 19 women who lost their lives. Their graves were covered in flowers, crystals, notes, and jewelry people left to honor them. Looking back, I realized the trials are more than just a tourist attraction. It’s a story of misogyny gone too far. These women were innocent, never having committed any kind of spell or act of witchcraft. They simply existed freely in a time when Puritans would not allow it. Their memory should not just be a spooky tale to make money off of, but it should be remembered with empathy and respect.