Just 14 miles outside of Boston lies Salem, Massachusetts, a town with one of the most haunted histories in the U.S. Its place in history became firmly cemented in 1692 and 1693, when more than 300 people were accused by their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens of practicing witchcraft, and 19 people were executed. It’s a troubling chapter in the early history of America, one that’s well documented at many of the historical sites in Salem. Yet while the memorials to the witch trials are a reminder of the dangers of puritanical groupthink, the witchy spirit of Salem remains, and it can be found in the shops and galleries along Essex Street and in a new generation of more open-minded residents, for whom the black arts is woven into the fabric of the town.
Today, much of the town embraces all things witchy, taking a campy and good-humored approach to the supernatural, as well as being a one-stop shop for all your Wicca and new age needs. As such, thousands descend upon the town each year on Halloween, though if you’re thinking of an October visit, it’s probably best to plan for next year. For those seeking to soak in its spooky charms year-round, however, here are six chilling sites to add to your must-visit list.
Though a great many of the attractions in Salem embrace, with varying degrees of kitsch factor, the town’s infamous history, The Witch House is the only destination with a direct connection to the actual witch trials in the 17th century. The house is the former residence of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges who actually presided over the trials. Though the exhibits within the house mostly showcase what daily life was like in the late 1600s—including diet, daily chores and 17th century medicine—there’s an inescapable eerie feeling that comes from inhabiting the space belonging to a man who handed down such cruel punishments to innocent people.
The only museum in the world dedicated to the history of the ouija board is, naturally, located in Salem. Opened in 2018, the small but comprehensive gallery tells the story of the ouija board—also known as a “spirit board” or “talking board”—from its origins in the spiritualist movement of the 1800s on up to the present day. Its collection also highlights its connections to pop culture, including movies like The Exorcist and ouija boards as band merch (including boards sold by each of Glenn Danzig’s bands). Every aspect of the board’s history is covered, whether in its true crime associations or boards marketed to singles on cruise ships, and even the story of the ouija-shaped gravestone of Elijah Bond, who first patented ouija.
A different kind of gallery of horrors, Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is a celebration of the ghouls and goblins of the silver screen. Comprising a series of life-sized replicas of monsters from throughout horror cinema history, the Nightmare Gallery includes recreations of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, the Predator, Vincent Price in House of Wax, Nosferatu’s Count Orlok himself, and naturally, one of the vampires from Salem’s Lot. Though it’s a much more escapist kind of haunting, the realistic detail of the replicas is impressive, and well worth seeing up close.
It’s only fitting that disciples of Satan, himself, should make their home in Salem. More like a museum than a church (their website describes The Satanic Temple as a “non-theistic religious organization”), the temple is home to a library, art gallery, gift shop, historical artifacts and its crown jewel, a large statue of the demon Baphomet that serves as a popular site for photo-ops (you’re even allowed to sit in his lap!). It’s a surprisingly wholesome place to visit, despite the pentagrams and demonology.
It’s impossible to walk down a cobblestone street in Salem without stumbling into a purveyor of magic supplies, wands or souvenirs, but stepping into The Black Veil actually feels like getting an invite to the coven. A tattoo parlor and gift boutique, Black Veil specializes in dark art, books, and other miscellaneous, witchy necessities, but it’s the deeply unsettling decor of the shop that sets it apart—Victorian dresses sprouting dead flowers, artful masses of dripping candle wax, Haunted Mansion-style furniture and dry ice effects aplenty. Finding something cool to bring home won’t be a problem, but some of its most stunning finds are permanent installations.
There are a lot of historic cemeteries and graveyards in both Salem and neighboring Marblehead, though the centrally located Charter Street Cemetery, established in 1637, is the town’s oldest. The cemetery is the final resting place of several Salem residents, though none the actual victims of the witch trials, who never actually received proper burials. However, the adjacent Salem Witch Trial Memorial, just outside the cemetery walls, honors all of the victims. Staff are only onsite until sundown, but make sure to take a gander after dark, when the cemetery feels just a little bit spookier.
Jeff Terich is a Richmond, Virginia-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in SPIN, Bandcamp Daily, uDiscover Music, Grammy.com and San Diego Magazine. His Twitter is @1000TimesJeff.