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Salem: America's Bewitching City
by Jan McDaniel

At first glance, it's a typical picturesque New England Seaport - colonial houses squeezed side-by-side with front steps touching the sidewalk, historic brick buildings, shops lining the wharf. But after three centuries, its supernatural legacy continues. Think Salem, Mass. and you still think witches.

An unfortunate episode in American history, the mass hysteria and ensuing witch trials ended back in 1692, after many of the accused lost their lives. Today Salem is known as America's Bewitching City. Attractions devoted to witches, ghosts, werewolves and pirates enchant tourists while local shops offer Tarot and palm readings. Even the neighborhood ice cream shop is called the "Dairy Witch."

On our way home from Maine on an overcast September afternoon, my husband and I explored downtown Salem in search of The Witch Museum.

We started off in the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, a shady red-bricked plaza sandwiched between rows of shops. The inventory of the corner bookstore spills onto tables out front, and trolleys occasionally pass by. Young women hand out coupons and ads for nearby shops. A stranger perched on one of the wrought iron benches volunteers to take our photo. A collared kitty ignores passersby as it stalks a bird in the terrace garden of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Beyond the mall, on Washington Square, we reach the expansive green and bandshell of Salem Common. From mid-intersection, a statue of Roger Conant, Salem's first settler in 1626, stands vigil. Across the street to his left sits The Witch Museum, a stone 19th century Romanesque-style building easily mistaken for a haunted castle. Ironically enough, it was originally a church.

We enter the museum's already-packed lobby just in time to catch the next presentation. As the guide prepares to lead us into the darkened auditorium, she glances through the open doorway and notes it's suddenly pouring rain outside.


But nothing scary happens. As a spotlight shifts to scenes depicted by wax figures, a half-hour recorded presentation describes the events surrounding the witch craze.

Outside the rain has stopped. As we walk back I strike a pose by sticking my face through a cutout wooden witch's, while my husband tries out the pillory. I buy a tee-shirt that says "I'll Get You My Pretty. . .And Your Little Dog Too. Halloween in Salem".

Not surprisingly, Salem's Halloween is a nearly month-long event. The Halloween Festival with costume balls, parades, psychic fairs and witch trial reenactments runs from early October through November 1. For an early start on the holiday, a Halloween Convention is set for August.

Other local attractions include: The Witch House, a 17th century structure once occupied by Judge Jonathan Corwin who presided over pretrial hearings of accused witches and condemned 20 to death; The Museum of Myths and Monsters, a high-tech theatrical encounter with vampires, ghosts and werewolves; Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers; The New England Pirate Museum; and The House of Seven Gables, the mansion believed to have inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name.

A city of many charms, Salem would be fun even without the witches.

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