In 1692, Salem, Massachusetts became the setting for a series of trials in which 19 people were hanged for the crime of witchcraft. Another was pressed under heavy stones until he died, and at least four others died in prison. Over 300 years later, Salem is a very different place. Although some of the very same buildings survive, the residents of the 17th century would not recognize the town it has become.
1. Beginning in the 1970s, Salem began to actively embrace its past as a draw for tourism. The TV series Bewitched recorded six episodes in the town in 1970. As tourists came, more businesses sprung up to accommodate their interest in witches and witchcraft. Practitioners of Wicca and Neo-Paganism moved to Salem, at first to open businesses and later to be among those who shared the same beliefs and lifestyle. A rift grew between the townspeople who wanted to emphasize the town's historic sites and those who wanted to make money by giving tourists what they want. The controversy came to a head in 2005 when TV Land erected a statue of Samantha Stevens, the lead character of Bewitched, in the town center.
2. Salem has historic sites that have nothing to do with the witch trials. The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, is an actual house built in 1668 that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his book The House of the Seven Gables. Salem was an important port in the trade with East India, and shipping merchants built lavish mansions in town. One, the Gardner Pingree House, is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum. Both buildings are among many in Salem that are open for tours.
3. Salem is home to several Wiccan and/or Pagan organizations, like the W.E.B., the Witches Education Bureau; P.R.A.N.C.E., The Pagan Resource and Network Council of Educators; the Witches' League for Public Awareness; and The Witches' Voice.
4. Salem has three museums in which you can learn the history of witchcraft and the famous trials: The Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Witch History Museum. These are in addition to several general history and art museums.
5. Salem takes advantage of its reputation with a dizzying schedule of Halloween events. You can watch a recreation of the events that led to the witch trials performed downtown, enjoy the festival of the dead, or listen to scary stories told at various locations everyday through the weeks leading up to Halloween. Every day in October is jammed with witchy events.
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