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Salem Witch Museum

Salem Witch Museum

The Salem Witch Museum, also known as The Witch House, is dedicated to the events of a case of mass hysteria in the year 1692, known as the Salem Witch Trials. That happened to the people of Salem, Massachusetts and how over the years society has perceived and treated those that were accused of being witches. In the year 1692, many people were accused of witchcraft, and therefore trials were conducted to determine if they were involved in such dark arts or not, with those found guilty being punished in many ways.

The Museum is operated by the city of Salem and is open all year round, except for the holiday seasons (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day) and when they close down for a two week maintenance period in January each year.

Background:
The museum is made to deliver information regarding one of the most emotional and terrifying incidents in American history. The late 17th-century region of New England in Massachusetts, U.S.A. experienced a large number of accusations and accounts of acts witchcraft being performed on the locals. This did coincide with many illnesses and other symptoms that plagued the population and made them suspect curses and charms cast by witches. Bodily problems included pain in the neck and back, tongues being drawn from the throats of victims and loud random outcries and fits. Other symptoms included loss of control over the body, flapping one’s arms like the wings of birds and/or people trying to harm others as well as themselves. These symptoms caused the mass hysteria followed. Many people were imprisoned out of fear that they were conspiring with the devil.

The entire atmosphere of fear that had built up the lead to a special court being established in 1692 to determine the true nature of the accused. The trials that were conducted were known as the Salem Witch Trials. Many were found to be guilty and executed by hanging till death, while others died in prisons. The evidence (of spectral nature) taken into account was viewed with skepticism outside the affected region, and later a court was established that took into account more tangible evidence replacing the previous court in the same year it was established.

The museum provides insight into the events that took place during that took place that dreaded year and dispels many rumors and misconceptions regarding the Salem Witch Trials through the exhibits it has on display and tour guides that take visitors through them. The museum’s exhibits are based on the actual documents of the era about the trials.

History:
Towards the end of the 17th century, there was a large number of accusations regarding witchcraft that caused mass hysteria in the community of Salem village and its surroundings. With fears growing rampant and the likes of local magistrate Judge Jonathan Corwin (1640 –1718) were called to investigate these accusations of these evil acts. Corwin was one of the magistrates that made the first inquiries into the reports of witchcraft filed at the time. He was also one of the first magistrates that gathered testimonies from the first three accused women: Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne

He later served on the Court of Oyer and Terminer, established in February 1692, in place of Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall, who resigned after the execution of Bridget Bishop (the first in a series of executions in the trials). The court ended up executing all nineteen of the accused by hanging to death. All of the accused people maintained their innocence and denied any act of witchcraft.

The court was disbanded in October of 1692, by the then Governor William Phipps. The Superior Court of Judicature, formed to replace the “witchcraft” court, was now given the task to carry out any such trials and it did not allow spectral evidence, it was such supernatural beliefs that lead to the deaths of the nineteen executed accused people.

While most of the accused were women, men were also accused and executed. Also, a man was crushed to death, seven people died in prison, and many lives were changed forever.

Some rumors suggest that some of the accused were even brought to the house for interrogations and trials. However, there are no records or documents that verify this claims, so it may as well be a fabrication.

There is a difference in opinion regarding when the building was made. It is said to have been built sometime between 1620 and 1642, with the Corwin family claiming it to have been built in 1642 while Victorian scholars believe that it was probably built between 1620 and 1630. It did remain under the occupation of the Corwin family until mid-19th century. It was restored in the 1940’s to what it would have appeared as in the 17th century, at the time it was built, with its roof being altered.

Building:
The Jonathan Corwin House was used for as museum’s building. It used to be the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin who bought it in 1675, when he was 35 years old, and lived for a little over 40 years in the building. His house was chosen to be the sight of the museum. The house is also the only standing structure in Salem that has direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials.

The house itself is a great example of the type of architecture and design of buildings that was prevalent in the region of New England during the 17th century.

Location:
The museum is located in the small coastal city of Salem in Essex County, Massachusetts, U.S.A. The house is built on 310 Essex Street, in the McIntire Historic District and is at the cross streets of Summer and North streets.

In the 1940’s, due to the widening of the adjacent street, the building was moved 35 feet (11 m) to where is stands now.

Exhibits:
The museum provides the actual information regarding the witch trail based on actual accounts and documents from the trails. The museum has two exhibits up for display that captures the drama and the terror of the time long gone. These are:

  • The main presentation consisting of thirteen life-sized figure sets that are lit up and narrated in a way that helps the visitors witness the mystique and deception of the Salem Witch Trials. It helps tell the tale of what happened during that troubled time.
  • An exhibit titled “Witches: Evolving Perception.” The exhibit is designed to show how the perception of witches has changed over the years; there are live guides that take the visitors through the evolution of and the truth behind the stereotypes of regarding witches, the witchcraft practices of the current times and the practice of witch hunting.

To cater to international visitors and tourists, the museum offers its presentations in various languages on request: French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Museum Timings:
The museum operates between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM local time. Presentations are given every half hour between 10:00 AM and 4:30 PM. The visiting hours are extended to between 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM in July, August, and October.

The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving and closes at 3:00 PM on New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve. Also, each year the museum also closes for any two weeks in January for maintenance purposes. The museum may also be closed during the winter season due to inclement weather.