With the arrival of autumn, our thoughts turn from the passion-filled days of summer to the ghosts and witches of Halloween. Perhaps no town in the United States has as rich a history of witchcraft and terror as Salem, Massachusetts. From early on, this New England town was home to sailors, smugglers, pirates, and other criminals. Yet, the days of its infamous witch trials in 1692 are perhaps most infamous. The moral panic that gripped this town was rooted in an intimate sense of the supernatural, tensions among a divided population, and local, family feuds. At the same time, the New England region was rife with belief in witchcraft as an ailment of horrible fits, violence, and physical pain. As such, it is hardly surprising that a moral panic spread like a virus through the town’s population – taking the lives of 20 innocents by the time it abated.
Salem is a much different place today, with a thriving community and tourist trade it is additionally home to the highest concentration of practicing witches in the country. Still, the landscape is dotted with buildings that remind Salem’s visitors and citizens alike of those dark days of American history. The women and men who perished still linger – seeking vengeance or possibly peace after a death they did not deserve. The following locations are the most haunted and haunting places in Witch City.
1. The Witch House
The Jonathan Corwin House, also known as the Witch House, can be found at 310 Essex Street. The last standing structure with direct ties to the Salem witch trials was home to Judge Jonathan Corwin. He was a local magistrate that became central to the trials. Taking over when Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall resigned in protest over the trying and sentencing Bridget Bishop to death. Far from abating the hysteria surrounding the trials, Corwin helped renew the panic – sending a further nineteen people to the gallows.
Corwin first acquired the structure from a Richard Davenport in 1675, though it may be a few decades older. The house remained in Corwin’s family until the mid-1800s, after which it received little attention beyond being moved in the 1940s to make space for a widened street. As a museum in the McIntire Historic District, the Corwin house was restored to its 17th-century appearance and today features guided and self-guided tours. In particular, ghost-hunters flock to this, the most haunted house in Salem, and visitors regularly encounter cold spots, disembodied voices, and experience the touch of spectral hands.
2. The Joshua Ward House
This 3-story, Federal-style brick house at 148 Washington Street was built in 1784 by retired sea captain Joshua Ward. As the first constructed with brick, it includes some of the oldest woodwork by local builder Samuel McIntire. George Washington even requested to stay in this austere home-turned-tavern and then hotel; however, its foundation was laid upon Sheriff George Corwin’s former homestead.
During the witch trials, Corwin was in charge of interrogating accused witches and used the most gruesome methods of the era, from hot pokers to pressing stones. Most infamously, he pressed Giles Gorey to death for refusing to plead guilty or not guilty. After a sudden death, Corwin’s body was temporarily interred beneath his home due to the winter’s frozen ground and fears of desecration. Both Corwin and Corey haunt the Joshua Ward House – along with an angry, raven-haired woman. Visitors often complain of a heavy feeling in the air, and ghost hunters regularly record high EMF readings within – showing that something still lingers here.
3. The Ghost of Giles Corey
Aside from haunting the Joshua Ward House, Giles Corey’s specter also lingers at his unmarked grave in Howard Cemetery. According to legend, he appears before terrible events, as an omen of the horrors to come. In 1914, several witnesses saw Corey wandering the cemetery just before the Great Salem Fire. Such sightings align with his final words, as he cursed both Sheriff Corwin and the city of Salem.
Corey’s death was no accident, as he owned a great deal of land that would pass to his sons-in-law. However, once accused of witchcraft, entering a plea would have made his land forfeit to local government and, in turn, the farmer’s enemies. Corey thus held fast; as the only example of a pressing in American history, the 80-year-old endured boulder after boulder being placed upon his naked body, with a single plank of wood in between. Although Corwin demanded a plea, Corey only ever replied ‘more weight’ before passing away after 3 days. His torture led to broader questioning of the trials, and his curse long plagued the office of Sheriff of Essex County with blood ailments – until the role was moved to Middleton.
4. The Hawthorne Hotel
This hotel takes its name from Salem resident and author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is most famous for The Scarlet Letter. In life, the renowned writer was haunted by the witch trials, as his uncle Jonathon Hathorne was the only judge involved who never recanted his actions. Hawthorne even changed his last name to avoid being associated with the man but was haunted by his relative’s actions for the rest of his life. The hotel, too, is haunted by the past, as it stands upon the former orchard of the witch trials’ first victim – Bridget Bishop.
To this day, visitors to the Hawthorne report the smell of apples from this phantom orchard. Mists, spectral sounds, and poltergeists are also encountered, though most activity occurs in Rooms 325 and 612. Visitors to the former report an unseen hand and a ghostly baby’s cries, while those staying in 612 awake to an undead woman’s stare. Meanwhile, the connected Turner’s Seafood is home to the spirit of a woman in white who appears in mirrors and messes with electrical equipment.
5. The House of the Seven Gables
This colonial mansion started as a 2-room, 2.5 story house in 1667 for Captain John Turner, but it achieved fame with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. After Captain John Turner died at sea the house was passed on to his children. Over three generations of the Turner family went on to live in the house, remodeling and adding to the structure until John Turner III eventually lost the family fortune and sold the mansion in the early 1900s to the Ingersoll’s. Who soon set about removing much of the Turner’s previous work – including the gables and porches.
By the time Hawthorne came to visit his cousin Susanna Ingersoll, who inherited the mansion from her father, little remained of the original structure. Thanks to the popularity of its fictional counterpart, the House of the Seven Gables became a local landmark and later museum and settlement house. Even with several programs for children, the mansion’s inhabitants linger, with many visitors spotting Susanna walking the halls and peering from windows. Other phenomenon includes odd sounds and a cheerful child’s spirit is said to haunt the attic.
6. Old Salem Jail
The reputably haunted correctional facility played host to an estimated 50 hangings and enjoys a long and dark history. The Old Salem Jail was built in 1813, located next to the Howard Street Cemetery, where accused witch Giles Corey was crushed to death. Among the many inmates to be incarcerated in the prison, Albert DeSalvo, more commonly known as the Boston Strangler, was famously confined here. By 1984 conditions in the prison had deteriorated to such a level that a federal judge ordered the jail’s closure, which eventually took place in 1991, until then, it had been the oldest operating prison in America. And there it sat abandoned, crumbling into ruin and collecting ghost stories as the years passed.
Visitors to the Old Salem Jail reported sightings of dark apparitions wandering the empty corridors and rooms of the prison. Mysterious lights were sometimes spotted shinning from within, and unearthly screams were heard echoing from the thick granite walls. Today, after an extensive renovation the structure has been turned into luxury apartments and the spirits of Old Salem Jail appear to be at rest, for the time being, that is.
7. Danvers State Hospital
This gothic-style, psychiatric hospital was built in 1874 and opened its doors 4 years later. It has had many names – State Lunatic Hospital, Danvers State Insane Asylum, and finally Danvers State Hospital. The campus was set just 10 miles from Salem in Danvers, Massachusetts and sprawls over 77 acres, with the central facilities atop Hathorne Hill, which takes its name from the land’s former owner, notorious Judge Jonathon Hathorne. The hospital’s reliance upon barbaric and often lethal treatments led to a terrifying reputation, and it inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham Asylum and DC Comics Arkham Asylum in the Batman mythos.
Little remains of the hospital today, as a residential company purchased and demolished almost the entire campus – including the historic Kirkbride Building. After removing several buildings, though, its construction trailers strangely caught fire – destroying the new developments and the Kirkbride in a blaze that could be seen as far away as Boston. Only the administration building’s brick shell remained, along with the hospital’s cemeteries and blocked network of tunnels. After completing much of their development, the company oddly put the property up for sale – giving credence to a potential curse upon the property.
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