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History and mystery await you in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem will forever be remembered for the witch trials of 1691-92. During that winter, a West Indian slave called Tituba, began telling strange tales and practicing magic with young girls from the village.
Soon, several of the girls began acting strangely, uttering strange sounds and weeping. A local doctor claimed the behavior was caused by "the spell of the evil hand." After repeated pressures, the girls began to point the finger of blame at their supposed tormentors. Others joined in accusing residents of Salem Village of practicing witchcraft. Now known as the Hysteria, by the time it had run its course, twenty people had been executed. The village would never be the same again.
There are various theories about why the girls accused others of witchcraft, although the full truth remains a mystery. One theory says the girls had eaten bread contaminated with a hallucinogenic fungus. The town did survive those tumultuous times and now capitalizes on their unusual past.
Attractions devoted to witches, ghosts, werewolves and pirates fascinate tourists, while local shops offer Tarot card and palm readings. The neighborhood ice cream shop is even called Dairy Witch.
Perhaps the most visited place in the village is the Salem Witch Museum, housed ironically, in what use to be a church. The museum takes you back to 1692, where you'll get a dramatic history lesson using stage sets with life-size figures, lighting and narration. The presentation takes about thirty minutes.
As you might guess, Halloween is big in Salem. While most of us celebrate this holiday on just one or two nights, Salem puts on a 24-day festival, called Haunted Happenings. Each year the fun and hoopla begins in early October and continues until October 31st. If you love this holiday, Salem is the place to be. They call themselves the ultimate Halloween destination, and they have the activities and events to prove it.
During this Halloween extravaganza, no less than seven ghostly tours are offered. On the Harrowing Ghost Tour, you'll walk by candle light through the streets of Salem, as costumed guides tell dramatic tales of spirits and specters. On the Witch Trial Trail (say that five times fast!) you'll see the sites and experience the horror of Salem's darkest hour. The Salem Trolley has a one-hour narrated tour of this bewitching seaport. The trolley ticket is good all day, so you can conveniently use it as a shuttle. Two other options are the Moby Duck Amphibious sightseeing tour and Boston Harbor Cruises.
If you love haunted houses, you're in luck, Salem has not one, but six! From Boris Karloff's Witch Mansion to the Hall of Illusions to Mayhem Manor, you can scare yourself silly. There's also, Terror on the Wharf, the Haunted Witch Village and Dracula's Castle, all ready and waiting to scare the boo out of you.
Other highlights during the festival include: the Fright Train ride from Boston, kid's day, craft fair, street fair, costume balls, psychic fairs and the Salem Haunted Happenings Parade.
Of course, there's more to Salem than witches. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the city was one of the busiest seaports in the country. Its fleet sailed around the world, generating great wealth for ship owners who returned to the village and built magnificent homes reflecting their seafaring success. That legacy survives today. From Colonial masterpieces to Federal mansions and exquisite gardens, the city's architecture provides an extraordinary glimpse of early American life.
The Peabody Essex Museum could easily fill an entire day. The museum campus, which includes 30 galleries, several period gardens, a cafe, shop and research library is located in historic downtown Salem. The museum owns nine historic homes, three of which are authentically restored and open to the public. House tours are available daily. The oldest of these, the John Ward House was built in 1684. A special tour encompassing all three homes, entitled: Three Centuries of Salem," presents a comprehensive view of American architecture through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
The famous House of Seven Gables is located in Salem, as part of a historic complex of six buildings and two seaside gardens. Guides take you through the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, (known as the House of Seven Gables), one of the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansions in New England. The mansion was constructed around 1668 and was believed to be the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel of the same name. Hawthorne was known to have visited the home several times. While in the mansion you can explore the secret staircase and hear about the past lives of its residents.
There's more history to enjoy at the 1630 Pioneer Village. It was established in 1930, making it one of the oldest living history museums in the country. This recreated 17th-century fishing village predates both Williamsburg and Plymouth. It depicts early settlement life as it would have been when Salem was the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. From a self-guided tour, you can learn about early crafts, period customs and food.