Between 1692 and 1693, 20 people were executed (19 hanged, and one pressed to death by heavy stones placed on a board atop his body) in Salem, Mass., after being convicted of witchcraft. Many others were arrested; another five of the accused died in prison. At the center of the trials (for which the transcripts can be read here) was a small group of young girls who, claiming "affliction" or supernatural possession, made the accusations in an escalating series of public fits.
A number of theories have been presented for the girls' behavior (including a type of poisoning caused by eating rye bread or sleep paralysis), but the events in Salem are most commonly understood as an episode of mass hysteria, or simply a delusion that quickly spread and lost control. The court that held the trials was dissolved shortly after the hangings.
Today, the city is home to a number of historical sites and museums related to the trials, as well as a number of Wiccan- and witchcraft-themed shops. Nearly 1 million tourists visit the city every year, many during Salem's annual Halloween celebration, Haunted Happenings.
It was late March, the quiet off-season, when I first visited Salem. Some (though not all) of the attractions were closed to the public, and the cobbled roads that become lined with vendors on Halloween were mostly empty. I have wanted to go there since I was 11, so I have had about 16 years to imagine what it would be like. I was wrong about some stuff (permanent full moon) but right about others (higher than average number of people wearing chokers). It is fascinating. Here is what I saw.
1. HEX Old World Witchery Store
2. Old Burying Point Cemetery
3. Salem Witch Trials Memorial
4. 3D Time Travel Machine
5. The Salem Witch Museum
6. Magic Parlor Tarot Readings
Correction: An earlier version of this post used a picture of mannequins in the Salem Wax Museum instead of the mannequins in the Salem Witch Museum; this post has been updated with the correct picture.