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The Witch House in Salem

The Witch House in Salem

Few places are as ubiquitous as Salem, Massachusetts for tales of witches and the occult. When considering looking for an experience to encounter ghosts, spirits or to seek out other paranormal activity, finding a historical location with a rich past full of sightings, you can’t do better than the Witch House. For more information on doing a ghost story tour in Salem, go to our tour page. But for more about the Witch House Read on!

The notoriety of Salem is that Salem has drawn generations of daily visitors due to its history of holding the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where more than 200 everyday people were falsely accused of witchcraft and many were cruelly killed after their trials.

New England’s Creepy Past

Are you already planning on visiting Salem, Massachusetts? As you dive into the interesting region known as “broomstick county” and learn a bit about America’s more disturbing history, be sure to put the iconic Jonathan Corwin House – colloquially referred to as “Witch House” – on your bucket list. 

The Witch House is one of Salem’s top historic tourist locations and among Salem’s most famous homes and best places to visit. Why? Because the stately house, built in 1642, offers direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials. This distinction differentiates the house from any other existing structure in Salem.

Referred to as a “first-period house” because Witch House was built during the period of time when the first settlement of European people came to the United States – the early 1600s to the early 1700s. Among other characteristics, first-period houses have steeply pitched roofs

Simply put: No proper tour of historic Salem, Massachusetts would be complete without a visit to the renowned Witch House. The Witch House is now a museum operated by the city of Salem. You’ll find it at 310 Essex Street in the Historic Chestnut Street District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and a mere 16 miles north of Boston.

It’s important to note the Witch House never actually had any convicted or accused witches living there. The home’s fame is forever tied to the Salem Witch Trials because its then-owner, Judge Jonathan Corwin, was among several judges directly presiding over the notorious trials. Corwin resided in The Witch House during the warped-and-tarnished trials.

Corwin, along with his wife Elizabeth Gibbs and their 10 children, lived in the house for more than 40 years in total. The house has subsequently made an impact on generations of visitors as one of Salem’s must-visit locations ever since. 

And it’s rightfully became one of Salem’s most recognizable and photographed structures by architectural preservationists, historians, and tourists alike. As the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the infamous Witch Trials, The Witch House, otherwise known as the Jonathan Corwin House, is rumored to be haunted. 

Disturbing Accusations of Witchcraft

While it sounds completely ridiculous in today’s more enlightened times, in 17th-century Massachusetts, people thought the devil was trying to infiltrate their community. It’s such a well-known tale that American playwright Arthur Miller based his fictional play, The Crucible, on what happened in Salem in 1692 and 1693.

With only a single suspicion or rumor, a person could easily be accused of witchcraft in colonial America. The settlement of Salem, populated by Puritanical, intolerant people, was encompassed by a sense of fear. While some of the earliest individuals accused of witchcraft were social outcasts, over time the hysteria grew and more and more people stood trial. 

Unfortunately, the exact cause of these accusations of witchery are lost to history and will never be known. However, speculation about what actually caused the surge of witchery accusations includes such diseases as epilepsy, Lyme disease, Encephalitis, and even bacterial fungi from wheat called Ergot. 

Speculated environmental causes include economic hardship and unusually cold winter weather. Other hypotheses include finger-pointing due to growing family rivalries and even outright fraud to blacken the character of a person. Whatever the cause for the accusations, the talk of witchcraft ruined the lives of many individuals. 

The phrase “witch hunt” suggests the mob mentality of looking for someone to blame. In the case of the largest witch hunt in American history, the Salem Witch Hunt, baseless accusations quickly snowballed into mass community hysteria. It was easy in those days to simply point at innocent people and accuse them of being witches, which is a sobering thought.

Who Was Salem Witch Judge Jonathan Corwin?

Judge Corwin, considered an elite member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was one of four judges presiding over the examinations. His direct involvement with the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 is what made Judge Jonathan Corbin’s name famous. 

In his role as judge, Corwin assisted with “examining” the people accused of witchcraft in a series of trials. Not only was Judge Corwin a judge at the Salem Witch Trials, but he is also believed to be one of the primary reasons so many innocent people got killed at the trials. Corwin himself convicted 19 people to the gallows. 

It is Corwin’s lack of remorse that makes the Witch House such a compelling historical site to visit. At some point did he realize he was condemning innocent souls to their deaths? Did he recognize that children would be raised without their parents? There are no accounts of Corwin ever offering an apology, which is why his home is a hotbed for disgruntled souls. 

The Absurd “Examinations” at Witch House

Accusers could simply testify to the individual “behaving oddly” or of observing the accused bewitching people (in their view). And Salem citizens decided what behavior was “odd.” 

Poor and destitute? Not getting along with your neighbor? Outspoken? Spending time alone? The conclusion: It must be the dark arts of witchcraft to blame for the off behavior! Blame the behavior on witchcraft … and arrest them now!

The people accused of practicing witchcraft were separated and individually examined by people such as Judge Corwin. The rules of examinations during those dark days of the trials were loose, to put it mildly. So, what did “examining” actually entail?

“Proving” allegations of witchcraft was an altogether arbitrary and unfair process. First, the various accusers were asked to talk about the effect the accused (or their specters) had on them. Spectral evidence, based on dreams and “visions” was actually admissible evidence of guilt. 

Then doctors or midwives would examine the accused’s body to see whether their flesh had the mark of a “witch’s teat,” or an oddly shaped mole/birthmark. Any unusual marks were thought to be the mark of the devil. Crowds would gather and those who were “afflicted” would yell, scream and throw belongings as they demonstrated how they were “harmed.” 

It’s said more than 150 people were wrongfully accused of witchcraft in the Salem trial area. The mass hysteria created by the accusations and resulting trials, and torture for the “guilty,” surrounded the town of Salem and is considered one of the dark times in America’s history.

The Salem-born judge died in Salem 1718 at age 44. And yet, his home remains over 300 years later, as a lynchpin of ghostly activity. Some have claimed to hear voices. Others who have taken a seemingly less-than-spooky tour have felt unknown presences near them after they’ve left. These souls are wandering about the area, begging the world to not forget them.

As a result of the trials, many people were accused of witchcraft and sent to the gallows to be hanged with baseless testimony and little-to-no actual evidence of guilt whatsoever. Several others died in jail while awaiting trials for something horrendous they simply did not do. Even dogs were killed as “accomplishes to the witches.”

Judge Corwin’s family remained living in the very house that still stands until the mid-1800s. As Corwin is buried close to the Witch House, it’s no wonder with his earthly remains nearby that his home has stood the test of time as a location to visit and experience as a ghostly haunt. 

Not only did Corwin send innocent people to the gallows, but he also helped shape the town of Salem’s notorious history. Even those who aren’t interested in the tales of ghosts and what lies beyond the grave can appreciate the horrible turmoil of a town that fed into hysteria as they were accusing people of witchcraft. 

The Salem Witch House

The Salem Witch House

Now a museum, the storied house is furnished with seventeenth-century furniture that will take you back in time to the lifestyle of yesterday. Immerse yourself in the added experience of taking all the relics of the 17th century the home features. There are even actual documents from the trial in the home’s kitchen. 

Due to the nature of The Witch House, many spirits have been encountered in the space. While no one convicted of witchcraft ever lived in the home, since there are no other locations that remain from Salem’s dark past, the spirits have chosen it as a key location to frequent. 

Just down the road from this historic home is the graveyard where the most infamous judge of 17th century Salem, John Hawthorne, is buried. Many visitors to Salem have recalled that his spirit has been noticed wandering the street between the Witch House and the graveyard. Avid and equipped ghost hunters would love to track his movements. 

You can take a self-guided tour of the Witch House during the day. As night falls then you can set up and wait for the possible electromagnetic changes or even record some electronic voice phenomenons outside. The street would be an excellent place to catch potential thermographic changes as well. With so much ghost potential, from the innocently accused, or the guilty souls of crooked judges, Salem is a hotbed of paranormal activity. 

In fact, it’s noteworthy that it’s the ONLY structure with direct ties in Salem that’s still standing. Whether you dare to enter this spooky abode on your own during regular business hours or you’d rather feel the ghostly energy from afar, the house will give you the chills just remembering it’s terrible history. 

Take a tour and learn about the dark, mysterious past of the house. While you’re inside, check out some of the replica poppets of the time. Long associated with dark magic, poppets were used much like a voodoo doll, witches would curse the dolls and expect similar results for the human represented by the doll. 

History buffs will appreciate the nature of Witch House, the spooky and mystical location is an excellent example of the architecture at the time. With it’s fully restored gambrel, or symmetrical two-sided, roof and unpainted timber construction, the house is historically sound. 

While many of the records of Corwin’s time have been destroyed, because of the secrecy of the accusations made, and a lack of community spaces available it is not unreasonable to believe that Corwin used his home to interrogate those he eventually sentenced to death. Have their spirits revisited one of their last living memories? Come see for yourself. 

The City of Salem

Paranormal activity that it’s thought to be the most paranormal place in Salem, which is thought to be one of the most haunted places in the world. Salem’s unique history is unlike any other U.S. city and a worthy way to spend a bit of leisure time. 

Salem doesn’t shy away from sharing its storied past with visitors. In fact, the athletic teams at Salem High School are named the “Witches.” Take a compelling journey back in time to the old Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts – you’ll be bewitched. 

The town of Salem’s reputation is forever tied up with witchcraft and the trials that claimed the lives of so many. Because it’s hallowed ground, the potential for spirits is great. Even now, unexplainable images show up in visitor’s photographs.  

Salem and the Witch House have become a destination of distinction. To not only go back in time and history to a troublesome period in American history but as a place where the unknown beyond feels closer than ever before. 

The WItch House may be a small building compared to modern times, but it packs a big punch with its history and ghostly potential. A trip to Salem would be incomplete without stopping by the Witch House, the only remaining link from the storied past to our future. Let the Witch House serve as the ultimate reminder and perhaps offer you a chance to see a spirit or ghost as well.

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