Located in the very heart of Salem’s central tourist district is this “museum” that doesn’t so much educate visitors about the area’s history of witch hunts as it does walk them through a low-budget TV movie about it.
This aging attraction is just one of a number of tourist traps in Salem capitalizing on the witch hysteria of the 17th century that took the lives of 20 Salem residents. The tour through the facility begins with a live reenactment of a witch trial, acted out by local thespians. This kangaroo court is watched over by a jury of unblinking wax mannequins that are showing their age.
After the trial concludes, visitors are led into the basement which is said to be a recreation of an actual witch dungeon that supposedly existed nearby at one point. Should this be true, then the witches of the day probably had about as much to worry about as a teenage couple walking through a haunted house run by their local youth group.The dungeon is populated with sagging dummies who are flogged and pressed with all the realism of a puppet show while the previously convicted witch appears for some shrill jump scares along the way.
Throughout, the tour, the veracity of the events presented is assured, implying that many of the girls and women were faking. The general atmosphere seems to promote the concept of witches as those most regularly seen on Halloween candy wrappers, as opposed to the demonized victims of fear and superstition that actually lost their lives in the town.
All historical pedantry aside, the Witch Dungeon Museum could likely be a kitschy good time for fans of haunted houses, and moreover an interesting example of how history, no matter how dark or troubling, can be morphed and shifted into the popular entertainment of tomorrow.