Salem, Massachusetts is perhaps the most famous haunted town of all – and it’s not even be haunted! Sure, the city has more than its fair share of ghost stories, but ultimately its fame comes from its grisly real-world history, not sightings of the long-dead victims of its crimes.
More than three hundred years ago, Salem hosted the now-infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The “evidence” presented at these trials included the sighting of devils roughly shaped like the accused. Most famously, locals used the “witch cake” test, in which a cake made of oats and the urine of an afflicted person are hardened and then fed to a particularly undiscerning dog – as the dog munches, the witch who cast the affliction was said to be hurt. If a woman cried out for any reason while the dog ate, she was deemed a suspected witch. The trial proceedings were so iconically nonsensical and unfair that they inspired the most beloved Monty Python sketch of all time.
As you might imagine, Halloween is something of an event in Salem, and it take a binary course. The family friendly Salem is the majority, and kept separate from the darker content which focuses on the gory historical details and kitschy group séances. Salem has reclaimed the witch as an icon and turned it into a cute Halloween mascot. In 2007 the ‘Haunted Passport’ initiative offered visitors discounts at witch-related tourist attractions. New-age shops and wiccan boutiques are common stops for tourists in the area.
Far from denying the past, however, Salem operates two museums on the bloody segment of history that gave it its international reputation, the Witch History Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum. Its official slogan, “Still making history,” seems almost unnecessarily dark; Salem is undeniably a city with an identity.
Halloween is a good time to visit Salem, of course, and will feature plenty of parades and events, parties and bar-house specials. Still, the city is eager to attract travellers year-round, offering discounted packages and working partnerships with