Posted on February 11, 2019
With neighborhoods named “Witchcraft Heights” and as the host of the ironically named “Satanic Temple” (which is actually a political activist group), Salem’s residents have certainly retained a good sense of humor concerning their macabre history. If you visit Salem, you may spot police cars with witch logos and even school teams named after witches.
But one of the darkest episodes in modern American history occurred in Salem during the late 17th century. Understanding what happened and why it happened gives us insight into the most haunted of Salem attractions, one of the most active hotspots for paranormal activity in the country.
Haunted Salem History
Colonists first settled Salem in 1626. Roger Conant is credited as the founder of Salem, along with several other nearby communities. He was a man of Puritan faith and somewhat of an extremist, violently opposing religious differences from other organized groups. This involved resistance to Catholics, Quakers, and other religions, including those rumored to be witches.
Puritanism characterized early Salem, so it was just a matter of time before accusations of witchcraft began to spread. Over 200 people were accused in the late 1600’s witchcraft trials (persecution that was now unique to America, as opposed to a more liberal Europe) but only 19 were executed by hanging.
Much of this “mass hysteria” was instigated by religious authors, such as clergyman Joseph Glanvill and minister Cotton Mather, both of whom attempted to rekindle the public’s fear of demons and ghosts, correlating them with the work of the Devil.
Many innocent people were tortured and or executed, but the aftermath directly led to a milestone in United States history. Relaxed laws and social acceptance of cultural differences eased the way toward what we now take for granted as modern religious freedom. In the words of historian George Lincoln Burr, “the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.”
Rumors of “witchcraft villages” persisted for years before the trials, especially under Cotton Mather’s leadership. Mathers claimed to have seen evidence of witchcraft and “curses” placed on children, including those of the well-known mason, John Goodwin. Not only were various “witches” accused of casting spells, but four out of six Goodwin children began to suffer from strange fits and exhibit bizarre behavior.
Salem’s Ghosts of the Past
In 1692, young village girls Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam began exhibiting bizarre behaviors. Though today some speculate the cause might have been poisonous mushrooms, the hysteria led to accusations of witchcraft against three older women. By name they were: Tituba, a slave from the Caribbean, a homeless woman named Sarah Good, and an elderly woman named Sarah Osborn. Tituba was the only one to admit to witchcraft and a confession was likely tortured out of her. As soon as she did confess, she began accusing others of the same crime.
Hysteria followed and eventually Bridget Bishop became the first woman tried and hung; the first of many to come.
However, the witch trials didn’t last as long as is commonly believed. By the dawn of the 1700s, and probably because of the shame associated with those trials, witch accusations ended, and financial restitution was paid to grieving families. In 1692, some religious leaders, including Reverend Increase Mather, condemned the trials because of faulty evidence. Even the governor, William Phips of Massachusetts, felt the touch of madness when the possessed girls accused his wife of casting spells!
While the trials were travesties of justice, some sanity did prevail, which explains why only a handful of men and women were condemned rather than the full number of 150-200 accused.
Haunted Attractions in Salem MA
Judge John Hawthorne’s name always comes up in a discussion of the trials, since he was the “hanging judge” who sentenced many of the accused to death. Not to be confused with William Hawthorne, his father and an early settler of Salem, John was far more vindictive and was one of the few figures who never recanted for his role in the trials.
Curses and the House of Seven Gables
Sarah Good reportedly placed a curse on the man present at her execution, one Reverend Nicholas Noyes. Ironically, Noyes did die of an aneurysm years later. Sarah’s reputation, however, was eventually cleared of any witchcraft.
Ironically, John Hawthorne’s grandson, Nathaniel, wrote a novel by the ame of The House of Seven Gables, loosely based on his experiences visiting the “haunted house” of the same name. John Turner first built it in 1668 and kept it alive for three generations.
Susanna Ingersoll, a relative of Nathaniel Hawthorne, later inherited the house and eventually turned it into a museum. Ingersoll’s ghost is said to still wander halls and look out windows at unsuspecting visitors. One hundred thousand visitors come to the museum every year, with many reporting cold spot and disturbing energy fields coming from the house.
Old Burying Point Cemetery
As for the original troublemaker, Judge John Hawthorne, he’s buried at Old Burying Point Cemetery (aka Charter Street Cemetery). According to some reports, Judge John Hawthorne’s ghost might still roam the area and has appeared in some photos and videos taken near headstones.
The Witch House
The Witch House is actually the last building standing used during the Salem Witch Trials, as it was once the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. Corwin was involved in the investigation and condemnation of the accused women.
The Joshua Ward House
The Joshua Ward House doesn’t connect to the Hawthorne-presided trials or Dr. Joshua Ward himself (8) but it was another building used for witch persecutions. Sheriff George Corwin was a well-known torturer of accused witches and lived inside the Joshua Ward Residence.
Sheriff Corwin, aka The Strangler, interrogated many accused women and men, brutalizing them into confessing their allegiance to Satan. His torture methods were legal at the time but unconscionable to those who knew him.
During this time, Corwin tortured Giles Corey, an accused “warlock”, by crushing him to death with large stones. Some believe Corey might have received his retribution on Corwin from beyond the grave since Corwin died in the same building years later due to a mysterious blood ailment. Giles Corey’s ghost, as well as Corwin’s, still supposedly haunts the site.
Another unnamed female apparition has been spotted by ghost hunters and is believed to have been yet another victim of Corwin’s. Her creepy photograph was accidentally captured by a realtor who was taking pictures of the property. It’s safe to say that realtor passed! (Wouldn’t you?)
The spirits inside the building might be physically dangerous, considering multiple witnesses have suffered burning scratches on their arms or even the feeling of being strangled by Corwin’s ghost from behind.
Haunted Salem Hotel: The Hawthorne Hotel
The Hawthorne Hotel is another well-known site for paranormal activity, though it doesn’t have a connection to the trials. First built in 1923, the hotel has a history linked to hauntings that predate its construction. The land on which the Hawthorne Hotel now stands is believed to have been an apple orchard owned by Bridget Bishop, as you might recall, the first woman executed for practicing witchcraft.
The Bridget Bishop Ghost
Bishop was accused and executed in 1692. Many believe that her spirit remained on the land afterward, the same spot where her apple orchard was once located. According to the legend, she occupies the Hawthorne Hotel and is commonly seen on the sixth floor, materializing in front of rooms 612 and 325, before quickly disappearing.
Many guests report feelings of uneasiness and all the more so in Rooms 325 and 612, which supposedly have strange plumbing and lighting problems, not to mention disembodied voices that wake people during the night. Visitors also report curious phantom smells of apples baking, one final tribute to Bridget.
Other Salem Witch Hauntings
Wicked Good Books: A Haunted Bookstore?
Do ghosts enjoy reading? Apparently, if you ask some of the eyewitnesses from “Wicked Good Books”. The owner, Denise Kent, reached out to paranormal investigators, curious to know about the tunnels that were discovered during the building’s renovation. After an excavation, ghost hunters found human remains in the tunnels, possibly explaining the presence of spirits with unfinished business. Kent adds that books might randomly fly off the shelves as if an invisible entity is present.
Haunted Derby District
The Derby Historic District of old was once considered a “red light district” for the seaport area. Sex and drinking increased dramatically after the witch hunts faded, as traveling sea captains sought solace on land. Eventually Derby Street developed a shanghai problem. Shanghai refers to the act of kidnapping boys and forcing them to go to work at sea. “In a Pig’s Eye” was a popular restaurant at the time and lasted until the modern age. The business recently closed and then reopened under new management with the name “Mercy Tavern.”
Spirits in this haunted neighborhood in Salem, MA are sea bound and moans of pirate ghosts are sometimes reported around the port area, not to mention pirate apparitions.
Bunghole Liquors: Haunted?
The audaciously named Bunghole Liquors used to be a funeral home with a secret underground liquor joint during the prohibition era. Assistant manager Brandon O’Shea says that spirits still roam the premises and that cat noises and female voices can still be heard around the wine racks. The company even states on its official website a few “ancestors” of the old funeral home still haunt the downstairs area around the embalming tubes where they used to drink.
Murphy’s: Haunted Restaurant!
Murphy’s is located near the Old Burying Point Cemetery and could be a haunted restaurant visited by Victorian Era spirits. Some claimed to have seen a woman in a blue dress carrying a picnic basket. The previous owner claims to have seen a female ghost around the bar area.
Adding to the notoriety of the location, urban legend has it that the casket of a toddler-aged corpse once crashed through the walls of the building after a road accident. Paranormal investigators claim that photographic evidence has surfaced showing the crash, including a casket and small corpse. The building may have been built over unmarked graves thereby activating a curse.
Turner’s Seafood used to be known as the Lyceum Bar and Grill. This is where many historical figures once dined, including the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. What’s particularly interesting about this site, however, is that this is where Bridget Bishop cultivated her apple orchard. Her spirit might still linger around the place of execution as well as the former orchard that she loved.
Visitors occasionally report seeing a woman in a long white Victorian-Era gown walking by the main staircase or sometimes appearing in nearby mirrors or windows.
Salem is one of the most haunted locations in the country and it has the dark history to back those strange sightings up. Whether you want to investigate haunted Salem MA hotels or take haunted tours in Salem, MA among the cemeteries, there is always a feeling of awe and dare we say a little magic when you hear the stories that changed a nation.
Phippen, George D. “Old Planters of Salem”Hist. Coll. of the Essex Institute Vol. 1, 97 et seq.
Rogers, Horatio, 2009.Mary Dyer of Rhode Island: The Quaker Martyr That Was Hanged on BostonArchived 15 January 2016 at theWayback Machine pp.1–2. BiblioBazaar, LLC
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials Adams, G. (2009), The Specter of Salem: Remembering the Witch Trials in Nineteenth-Century America, University of Chicago Press