50 Years of the Salem Witch Museum

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, the Salem Witch Museum has told the story of the innocent victims of the Salem Witch Trials since its founding in 1972.

Salem Witch Museum

On May 6, 1972, the museum opened and became the first in the city to bring the full story of the Salem Witch Trials to visitors from around the block and around the world. The museum’s second exhibit, Witches: Evolving Perceptions was added in 1999.

The story of the Salem Witch Museum begins in 1692, when the site was home to the elder minister of Salem, Reverend John Higginson. Though he largely stayed out of the witchcraft turmoil, he was involved in several examinations. Also living here in 1692 was his daughter, Ann Dolliver, and her three children. In June of 1692, Dolliver was accused of witchcraft, arrested, jailed, and examined. Although she confessed, she never came to trial and returned to live here with her family on Salem Common.

View of the East Church, built between 1844 and 1846, on Brown Street (now part of Washington Square North)

The brick and brownstone Gothic Revival building was constructed by New York architect Minard Lafever between 1844-1846 for Salem’s East Church. The original bell towers were shortened after a fire in the earlier 1920s. The congregation continued to meet here until the late 1940s. After the First and Second Churches reunited in 1956, the building was sold. For a decade, it housed the Salem Antique Auto Museum and Americana Shops.

Today the Salem Witch Museum examines one of the most enduring and emotional events in American history through two presentations. The first provides an immersive look into the events of 1692. Visitors experience the drama of that dark time through 13 stage sets with life-sized figures, lighting, and narration as they are witnesses to the web of lies and the intrigue of the Salem witch-hunt. The second exhibit, Witches: Evolving Perceptions, explores the European witchcraft trials, the evolving image of the witch, and the larger issues of persecution and scapegoating in American history.

Salem Witch Museum painting
Painting by Racket Shreve

The Salem Witch Museum experience and its involvement in our local community go beyond its presentations and exhibits. On the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, the Salem Witch Museum was instrumental in overseeing the creation of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. Educational events are hosted by the museum year-round. They have also created descendant packets, available in the museum store.

And, if you love visiting Salem in October, you have the Salem Witch Museum to thank for some of the City’s most memorable festivities. In 1982, the Salem Witch Museum, in cooperation with the Salem Chamber of Commerce, launched Salem Haunted Happenings. What began as a local, one-weekend event has grown into the month-long Halloween celebration that it is today.

To learn more about the Salem Witch Museum and to access the museum’s Witch Trials Online Sites Tour, visit SalemWitchMuseum.com.

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