SALEM/ DANVERS, Mass. — Three centuries after America’s first recorded witch hunt, Salem no longer hangs its witches; it applauds them as a mainstay of the local economy.
In the last two weeks of October alone, Salem businesses selling palmistry and “Bewitched” memorabilia will make 80 percent of their annual income in what has become a $100 million a year — and rapidly growing — industry, according to local tourism authorities. While many of the Witch City’s neighbors are mostly commuter cities for those working in Boston, Salem has established a tourism industry that employs over 700 Witch City residents.
That’s all thanks, of course, to the legacy of 24 accused witches who died amid the hysteria of 1692. But not many tourists to Salem are aware that there are more homes, graves and artifacts of the witch trials in the next town over — sleepy, relatively conservative Danvers, known until more than half a century after the trials as Salem Village.
There is no direct public transportation line from Boston or Salem to Danvers. With the exception of a few special events, none of the Salem tours go there, even if it’s only a 15-minute drive away.
Descendants of accused witches in Danvers said that many of those who were murdered were deeply Christian and would have strongly disapproved of the annual Haunted Happenings events throughout October that draw American and international tourists for a celebration of the occult.
“I don’t think the other communities want” witch trial tourism, said Kate Fox, director of tourism authority Destination Salem, referring not only to Danvers but other neighboring cities linked to the trials, like Andover and Beverly.
Scores of Andover residents were accused during the trials after Danvers residents were asked to identify witches believed to be living secretly in their community. Six years after the conclusion of the trials, Beverly’s pastor Jonathan Hale penned “A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft,” which blamed Satan for causing hysteria that led to the death of innocents. But like Danvers, neither community appears to be cashing in on its history, some say out of shame.
“That’s why Danvers changed its name,” Fox said. Roughly 60 years after the trials, what had been Salem Village changed its name to Danvers, after a long bid by the village’s farming community to not share taxes with the culturally and socioeconomically distant fishermen and maritime merchants of Salem Town, now Salem.
Danvers historians say residents had also hoped to forget the witch trials.
“They were trying to get rid of the legacy,” said Richard Trask, Danvers’ archivist. He said that just a few decades later, Salem started selling its connection to the trials — largely nominal, with the exception of the only space still standing that is directly related to the incident, the so-called Witch House, which belonged to one of the judges in the trials.
Salem Town “metamorphosed the witchcraft. You began to get the idea that a witch is a cutesy character on a broom with a conical hat,” Trask said. The Witch House now sells chocolate lollipops shaped like witch heads.
Fox said that in 1891, a Salem jeweler, Daniel Low, made the first souvenir "witch spoon" and other witch-related novelties. Danvers’ disavowing its legacy and Salem’s starting to cash in on its role in the trials created what Fox called a “perfect storm.”
Nowadays in Salem, taxis, local government offices and even the local newspaper are adorned with witch silhouettes and pointy hat insignia. In Danvers, even as people decorate their homes for Halloween, one finds ghouls, goblins and ghosts — but few witches.