Upon entering the Witch Dungeon Museum, you will go back in time to the Puritan town of Salem Village (which is now Danvers, Massachusetts), the original site of the witch trials of 1692. The building is actually a 19th century church, and the “dungeon” is in the dimly lit basement of the church, having been re-created to resemble the original dungeon. An original beam hangs in the dungeon, and is the only piece left from the original place.
Advertising itself to be “the most exciting experience in Salem,” the Witch Dungeon Museum features a live 10-minute performance of the re-enactment of part of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, followed by a guided tour of the dungeon. Professional actresses in repertory theatre perform, in period costume, and the dialog is taken from the original transcripts of the pre-trial hearings, as the actual trial transcripts have been lost in a fire.
The Salem witchcraft trials occurred from June to September, 1692 and a total of 19 men and women were convicted and hanged on Gallows Hill near Salem Village. One man, Giles Corey, refused to submit to trial, and suffered the penalty of Peine Forte Et Dure, being pressed to death. 156 people were accused of witchcraft and were imprisoned without trials, until witch hysteria subsided.
The dungeon was meant to hold 50 people, but frequently over 100 were in there together at one time. The dungeon also contained small rooms, where the accused might have room only to stand, and were sometimes shackled to the wall for months. Four of the accused died during imprisonment, and two dogs were executed as suspected accomplices, after children claimed the dogs had given them the “evil eye.”
The convictions occurred based on spectral evidence, which is based on dreams and visions, and no longer allowed in court. In October, 1692, Governor Phipps ordered that spectral evidence be eliminated from the witchcraft trials, prohibited additional arrests, and released many of the accused. In May of 1693, Phipps pardoned those still in prison, but it was not until 1957 that the state of Massachusetts publicly apologized for the 1692 events.
The Witch Dungeon Museum is not only entertaining, but educational. If you plan to go, the location is 16 Lynde Street in Salem. It is open daily from April – November starting at 10:00am, with the last performance at 5:00pm, with extended hours for October. Prices are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors 65+, and $6 for children 4-13. It may be frightening for very young children.
Note: The building is not wheelchair accessible, and has 28 steps up and down.