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City made famous for witchcraft history

Part of the excitement of the month of October is filling the calendar with plenty of autumn-inspired activities that are full of thrills and some chills. Visiting places that have spooky histories or tales of murder and mayhem are particularly attractive around Halloween. One such place may people enjoy seeing is Salem, Massachusetts.

Many historical places evoke feelings of mystery and horror, including Salem. In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials took place, and Salem has since become synonymous with a dark time in American history. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, which went against the colonial and puritanical beliefs of Massachusetts settlers at the time. Nineteen people were ultimately executed as witches, while others died in prison.

Why the trials came to be or how the frenzy over witchcraft became so prevalent in and around Salem remains something of a mystery. Some historians surmise that origins of the trials may lie in immigrants bringing their beliefs from Europe, which had seen its own witchcraft craze beginning in the 1300s. In 1689, the King William's War drove refugees from areas of New York, Canada and Novia Scotia into Salem Village, creating unrest and diminished resources. The conservative Reverend Samuel Parris, who was Salem's first ordained minister,  thought that the quarreling was the work of the Devil.

When children began having "fits," the supernatural was blamed and implicated women were brought in for trial. A steady stream of accusations all around Salem soon ensued, and paranoia was widespread. Although judges and courts eventually admitted wrongdoing and error in the Salem trials, many still believe that the innocent souls may still haunt the area looking for justice.

Many places around Salem continue to mark this dark time. The Witch House is a home where Magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne examined the accused for signs of witchcraft, while local museums boast memorabilia and specimens associated with the trials. The 552 original documents pertaining to the witchcraft trials have been preserved and are still stored by the Peabody Essex Museum. Burying Point is the oldest cemetery in Salem and contains the graves of pilgrims and even Judge Hathorne himself.

Salem has become known as The Witch City not only for its storied past but also because the area has become home to many modern-day witches. There are a number of people educating others about witchcraft. The Witches Education Bureau and The Pagan Resource and Network Council of Educators are just two organizations working to provide accurate information about wiccan and pagan history and happenings.

In addition to the normal activities available for tourists, specialized Halloween tours and "haunted" happenings also take place throughout the month of October, helping to make Salem a popular place to visit this time of year.

Those who cannot visit Salem but are interested in the hysteria surrounding the witch trials can read  Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," a play based on the accounts of the Salem Witch Trials.