Witchcraft and Halloween are often closely associated. But back in 1600s Salem, witchcraft was a wild accusation that could easily lead to the death of the accused with little real evidence. This dark period in history is still remembered and preserved in the original Salem Massachusetts location. Here, you can practically walk through history.
Salem, Massachusetts is infamous for the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s. From 1692-1693, 20 people, mostly women, were executed after being accused, tried, and found guilty of witchcraft. Just 16 miles from the big city of Boston, Salem is a great place to go for a day trip (or more if you have time) to learn more about the history of the town and this sordid part of American history. It feels like a place out of time. The townspeople pride themselves in trying to preserve the history as much as possible.
If you are driving from Boston, you can take U.S. 1 N or 95 N. You can take bus 450 or 455 from Haymarket Square to downtown Salem. If you come by train, from North Station take the Rockport/Ipswich Line to the Salem Depot (about 30 minutes). For complete directions from any place, visit the Salem website. Be aware that most of the museums close by four, so an overnight stay is recommended.
What to Do
There are several museums so you can tailor the visit depending on the ages of the kids. Be sure to start at the Salem Visitor’s Center for maps and info. There is a course you can follow to make sure you see all the museums and landmarks. The course is marked on the concrete throughout the town, yellow brick road style. Kids might get a kick out of following the pavement to see the different landmarks.
We started off at the Witch History Museum at 197 Essex Street, which seemed to be a better place for older kids and adults. This museum had recorded and narrated segments of what lead to the trials, the trials themselves, and outcome. There are live sized presentations depicting aspects of life and the trials, and stories of people that were accused of being witches (or in one minister’s case, charged with being the devil). The museum is open daily from April-November and features some special Halloween tours. Admission is $9/person, but you can save money if you purchase a combo ticket for the Witch History Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the New England Pirate Museum (all within walking distance of each other). Check out this video of our experience at the Witch History Museum.
Be sure to take some time when you are walking on Essex to see all the unique lampposts that portray witches along with the stores filled with tarot cards, incense, and other magical artifacts.
Next, visit the Witch Dungeon Museum, at 16 Lynde Street. At this unique experience, there was a simulated mini-trial. Then we got to experience first hand the conditions the prisoners endured, including a standing only space cell for those who were poor. This one might be a little scary for younger children. This museum is open daily from April-November. Fact sheets are available in a variety of languages.
At this point, we had worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped for a delicious lunch at the Boston Hot Dog Company at 60 Washington Street. We got three different hot dogs: the Boston Club Dog (tomato, bacon bits, lettuce), Texas Dog (chili, sauteed onions, jalapeno peppers), and Chicago Dog (onion, tomato, peppers, shredded lettuce, green relish, grey poupon mustard, poppy seeds, celery salt and deli pickle).
Then we went to the Salem Witch Museum 19 1/2 N Washington Square, which is geared more towards middle school and high school kids. The museum is more educational, with a detailed historical background of the trials and then a mini exhibit that carries the theme to modern days explaining Wicca and how people today still face persecution in the U.S. because of beliefs, race, or sexual orientation. The Salem Witch Museum is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm, and tickets are $10.50 for adults, $7.50 for children (6-14 years).
We ended our day in Salem with the New England Pirate Museum that showed artifacts and explained how piracy was prevalent in the area. The tour is around 20-30 minutes, and the guides encourage participation and questions.
Autism Travel Tips:
- Be sure to prepare your kid with stories of what happened beforehand, so they know what to expect. Topics like death, witches or pirates can be scary or overwhelming.
- Keep in mind that most of Salem is a walking tour, and everything is nearby. It could be helpful to have a car for those who have a difficult time walking long distances.
- Most museums have a place to sit and listen or watch a presentation
- Wear comfortable shoes. Although walkable, it is spread out.
- Get a good map from the visitor’s center, because you can easily get lost.
- Be aware of the tour times in each museum, because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting there five or ten minutes after the start of the tour.
- Again, staying overnight is recommended, especially if you or your kid is an avid history fan. Our son was frustrated with the fact he could only see a few museums out of the many that are there.
Overall, if you are ever in Boston, do take time to see Salem. It’s a step back in time full of exciting information. Old and young visitors will enjoy seeing and learning about this preserved section of history.