I visited iconic locations in Salem, Massachusetts, featured in the 1993 movie "Hocus Pocus."
I made a point to visit Salem Common, the Old Town Hall, and houses that provided the exterior shots for Allison Watts and Max Dennison's respective homes.
Each spot was accessible and looked almost exactly how it is featured in the movie.
A note that the city of Salem is discouraging tourists from visiting Salem this Halloween because of the coronavirus pandemic. Please refer to CDC guidelines for safety guidelines involving travel.
There are some light spoilers in this post.
"Hocus Pocus" is a campy 1993 movie that I love rewatching every Halloween.
"Hocus Pocus" centers on the Sanderson sisters, played by the iconic Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who are tried and executed as witches in 1693 only to make a comeback 300 years later after a young boy accidentally lights the forbidden candle.
I'm not alone in my love for the movie. In the 27 years since it was first released, the movie has grown to become a cult classic. While the movie was never particularly favored by critics (it has only a 37% critics' approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) audiences have enjoyed it time and again.
In October 2020, NY Daily News reported that for five years straight, the film has been a top choice to watch in the lead up to Halloween. "Hocus Pocus" has even inspired a milkshake by Carvel and a makeup line at Ulta.
In September, I decided to visit Salem, Massachusetts, which is where the plot of "Hocus Pocus" unfolds.
The movie takes place in Salem, first briefly in the 1600s when the Sanderson sisters are put on trial and then again 300 years later.
I visited Salem in the last week of September during the coronavirus pandemic. When choosing where to travel, I zeroed in on states which wouldn't require me to quarantine for two weeks once I was back in New York City. Taking that into consideration, Salem seemed like a good fit.
I was meticulous about washing my hands, having a copious amount of hand sanitizer with me everywhere I went, and I wore a mask whenever I was out in public.
Salem is about five hours away from New York City by train. I took an Amtrak train up to Boston and then an Uber to Salem.
Door-to-door, it took up almost half a day, but it was an uneventful trip.
I deliberately booked a train that left around midday on a Tuesday to avoid a big crowd and it ended up working out as I had hoped.
Salem is best known for the infamous "witch trials" that took place in the 1690s.
A total of 19 people were put to death on suspicions of "witchcraft" in Salem Village.
It started in early 1692 with a group of young girls accusing older, mostly middle-aged, women of bewitching them and ended less than a year later, in October 1692, when the governor's wife became one of the accused.
As Stacy Schiff wrote for the New Yorker in 2015, the people of the colony were deeply pious, and "lived very much in the dark, where one listens more acutely, feels most passionately, and imagines most vividly, where the sacred and the occult thrive."
Salem today acknowledges and pays respects to the victims of the trials, who have all been declared innocent, with somber memorials around the city.
My first Airbnb during the trip was about a five-minute walk from a memorial to the victims of the witch trials.
The memorial, located in a leafy garden, is open to the public and is free to enter at all times. It contains stone slabs with each victim's name and people leave flowers.
The spot where the hangings took place at Proctor's Ledge in Salem is also a memorial.
In 2019, Travel + Leisure's Alison Fox noted that during Halloween, the city sometimes sees three times as many tourists as its total population of 40,000 — something the city is trying to avoid this year due to the pandemic.
October is usually Salem's busiest month, especially in the lead up to Halloween. But this year, Kim Driscoll, the mayor of Salem, is asking tourists to avoid visiting Salem for the holiday.
"Our message to those planning a trip to Salem this October at this point is to postpone your visit. This is not the year to come to Salem," Shannon McMahon reports for The Washington Post.
The Post's McMahon reports that the city is requiring visitors to make reservations ahead of time and limiting waiting lines for businesses, as well as public transportation to the city.
I visited the city over a month before Halloween and in the middle of the week, so I was able to avoid all pedestrian gridlocks. Before engaging in any travel during the coronavirus pandemic, please refer to safety precautions outlined on the Centers for Disease Control website.
"Hocus Pocus" was filmed in Salem and there are a few locations fans can visit.
There are a few must-visit spots in Salem for every die-hard "Hocus Pocus" fan — Allison's house, Max's house, the Old Town Hall, and Salem Common.
The events in the movie take the six main characters — the three Sanderson sisters, Max and Dani Dennison, and Allison Watts — all over town.
Max and Dani's home is featured fairly prominently while the Old Town Hall and Allison's house make brief yet memorable appearances.
I booked an Airbnb in downtown Salem close to the Old Town Hall, which is featured in the movie. I walked by the building several times on my trip.
The building is located in a fairly busy part of town. I saw people sitting on the steps leading up to the building, enjoying the fall weather.
It wasn't open to the public when I visited, possibly because of the coronavirus pandemic, but TripAdvisor reviews suggest you can usually take a donation-based self-guided tour.
I made a trip to the stately red building on my very first night and then the following day during a historical walking tour where I learned that it is one of the oldest government buildings in the city.
In "Hocus Pocus," Bette Midler's character casts a spell on guests at a Halloween party at the Old Town Hall.
Max and Dani's parents attend a Halloween party at the Old Town Hall in the movie where Winnie Sanderson, played by Bette Midler, casts a spell on all the guests that causes them to dance through the night without stopping.
Fittingly, Midler's character sings a cover of Nina Simone's classic song "I Put A Spell On You" to do so.
About half a mile from the Old Town Hall, you'll find the Ropes Mansion, which served as the exterior shot for Allison's home.
The Ropes Mansion is located in the thoroughfare of downtown Salem and is only a couple of houses down from the Witch House at Salem.
The Ropes Mansion is a two-story Georgian-style mansion owned and operated by the Peabody Essex Museum. It wasn't open for tours due to the coronavirus pandemic when I visited. Tours at the house are self-guided and free of cost.
The nearby Witch House is also worth checking out. It's a two-story house that claims to be "the only structure you can visit in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692." It is said to have served as the home of Jonathan Corwin, a judge in the trials. Today, it's a museum where visitors can get a snapshot of 17th-century life. You have to book a slot ahead of time and tickets cost $9.
Max and Dani trick-or-treat at the Ropes Mansion in "Hocus Pocus."
In "Hocus Pocus" Allison is Max's classmate. The movie starts off with Max developing a crush on Allison during a class conversation about Salem, the Sanderson sisters, and the city's Halloween traditions. The crush becomes mutual as the movie progresses.
We only see the house once when Max and Dani walk into it while trick-or-treating. Afterward, the duo, along with Allison, then make their way to the Sanderson sisters' cottage where the drama unfolds.
The Ropes Mansion also has a stunning garden in the back that you can visit for free.
Just to the right side of the house, there was a pebbled path that led to the garden.
While the front of the house was crowded, I had the big garden to myself. It was colorful and packed with beautiful flowers. While I was already excited to "visit" Allison's house, the garden left me speechless and is a must-visit for tourists.
In sharp contrast to Allison's house, Max Dennison's waterfront home is about two miles away in a mostly residential part of town.
A family lives in the house today so that's something to be aware of for anyone who is planning to visit.
The walk there was long but full of colorful graffiti and ghoul decorations. As I got closer, I noticed it was just a very regular-looking house on a non-descript street.
While I stopped for a picture and a selfie, I was very self-conscious the whole time because it was a residential neighborhood. Anyone visiting should be respectful to those living in this community.
Like Allison's house, the home looks very similar to how it does in "Hocus Pocus" — even almost 30 years later.
In the "Hocus Pocus" universe, Max and Dani live in the house with their parents. The first appearance of the house is innocuous as the siblings fight about trick-or-treating.
Later in the movie, it serves as the backdrop for a good chunk of the climax when Max, Dani, and Allison square off against the Sanderson sisters.
Whoever lives in Max and Dani's house today has a gorgeous view of the water.
Salem Harbor is across the street from the house, which makes for a pretty great view if you're standing right in front of it, as I was. The perfect blue water was dotted with white boats and yachts.
In "Hocus Pocus," there's a memorable scene of the Sanderson sisters riding their brooms in the night sky that I envisioned as I stood looking at the harbor.
I visited Salem Common a few times on my trip as well.
The Salem Common park is a public park which is about a 10-minute walk from the Old Town Hall. It's a lush green space with a gazebo in the middle. Per the city website, it sits on about eight acres of land.
The gorgeous fall colors from the movie were missing from the park during my trip.
In "Hocus Pocus," Max and Allison engage in flirty banter at Salem Common after arguing about the Sanderson sisters in class.
In the movie, Max and Allison talk about Halloween, Salem, and Max's big move to New England from Los Angeles.
Their banter is charming and set against some beautiful fall foliage.
There were a few places I didn't get to visit, like the school pictured below.
The children make their way to the school with the Sanderson sisters hot on their trail during one intense scene in the movie. In a nod to Hansel and Gretel, Allison comes up with a plan to trap the sisters in the school's furnace in an effort to kill them.
Phillips Elementary School, which shut down in the early '90s, served as the exterior shot for the school in the movie, per Salem.org. It is right next to Salem Common. Photos on Google Maps indicate it's now a residential building.
I also didn't get a chance to visit the pioneer village where Thackery Binx lived with his family.
Thackery Binx is the first "Hocus Pocus" character we see in the movie. He wakes up to find that his little sister, Emily, has been kidnapped by the Sanderson sisters for their youth potion. He tries to rescue her but fails, and the sisters turn him into an immortal black cat before they are sentenced to death.
You can visit Pioneer Village, which served as the set for the scene, for a $5 entry fee. It was built in 1930 and has the thatched roofs you see in the movie as well as other snapshots of life in the 1600s, per the official website.
Pioneer Village is fairly close to Max Dennison's house on the map.
Overall, Salem is very walkable and a nostalgia-trip for "Hocus Pocus" fans.
The city, overall, is very walkable and I walked to and from every spot. If you wanted, you could probably visit all the locations on the same day instead of spreading it out over several days as I did, especially if you're driving.
I went on Tuesday and left on Saturday. As it wasn't October, Halloween month, yet and it was in the middle of the week, I felt like I had the town to myself. It wasn't crowded and there was no wait time to get into any of the socially-distanced attractions like the Witch House. It did get more crowded as we got closer to the weekend, so that is something to keep in mind if you're trying to avoid that.
It was my first time visiting Salem or even taking a solo trip but I didn't feel out-of-place at all during my four-day vacation in the town. It felt like I was visiting a place I knew and other "Hocus Pocus" fans may feel the same way.
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