Salem, Massachusetts - When you visit this town you realize that Salem, despite its turbulent history, is simply home to those who reside here.
"Salem" actually comes from the Hebrew word "shalom," meaning peace. Thus Salem is still known as "the city of peace."
Though its exquisite architecture, first-rate museums and interesting literary heritage are undeniably impressive, it's the witch trials that inspire tourists to come here. We're still fascinated by the details of the Salem witch hunt and definitely have a lot to learn from this vile period in American history.
The city's most visited attraction, the Salem Witch Museum, strives to tell the true story of the terrible events of 1692, when innocent people were accused, jailed, tried and executed. Exhibits debunk myths, examine our societal obsession with witches and explain modern Wiccan religion.
A creepy tour herds a group into a large, dark, barn-like room, where a recording tells the tale of the witch hunt in a scary Vincent Price voice. Different areas above our heads light up, revealing mannequins set up to illustrate scenes from the story.
The second part of the tour features an exhibit called Witches: An Evolving Perception. The concept of witches came from the ancient Celtic midwife, a respected healer and guardian of the community. In medieval villages, wise women whose pagan beliefs centred on nature and Mother Earth treated the sick with herbs and acted as midwives.
A model of a green-faced hag dressed in black with a pointed hat who flies across the moon on her broom shows how the strong Celtic woman was transformed, diminished and demonized by church fathers in the Middle Ages. Our guide explains that her social role is that of troublemaker and scapegoat for all evil events. Photos of witches from films and plays like The Wizard Of Oz and Macbeth hang in the gallery.
Finally, a third section of the exhibit explains Wicca, the modern pagan religion. Participants in this earth-based form of spirituality believe in both male and female creators. The museum tries to dispel the myths that Wiccans worship the devil or use black magic. Rather, modern witches try to work with nature to bring positive forces into the world. I'm surprised to hear that the male witches are called just that not warlocks.
The exhibit ends with an analysis of how witch hunts start. The simple formula is fear + a trigger = scapegoat.
Of course, despite the exhibits' seriousness, the museum still sells Halloween-type paraphernalia in its gift shop.
Salem is a natural draw for people who love all things Halloween. Now a self-proclaimed Witch City, Salem offers a multitude of events and shopping experiences for those who enjoy traditional Halloween celebrations.
If you want a break from all things witchy, check out the town's beautiful historic homes and buildings, some dating to the 17th century. Many of these remarkably well-preserved structures are still in use as private homes. While the city is best know for its First Period and Federal architecture, wonderful examples of styles from other periods can be seen, including Greek Revival, Queen Anne and Victorian Gothic.
Salem is the place for an intense Halloween celebration. You will surely leave bewitched.