Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: October 2016
Hocus Pocus is one of my all-time favourite movies. Ever. Set in the historic town of Salem, the movie follows a group of kids who inadvertently awake the Sanderson Sisters – a trio of witches who wreaked havoc hundreds of years ago by sucking the souls out of little children. The kids, along with the help of a talking cat and a friendly zombie named Billy, must defeat the witches by sunrise to prevent the sisters’ powers from fully being restored.
We were pretty pumped to visit Salem (in October) to learn more about one of the largest cases of mass hysteria in the United States that triggered the infamous Salem witch trails in the late 1600s. And we were equally excited to go on a scavenger hunt for some of the locations used in filming Hocus Pocus.
We took a 30min train (on the Newburyport/Rockport Line) from Boston into Salem. We might have been a bit ambitious and arrived about an hour or so before many of the museums and attractions opened. But this gave us an opportunity to walk around the (near empty) town centre before the hoards arrive.
We first made our way over to the Salem Witch Trial Memorial which consists of twenty granite benches to commemorate the deaths of the twenty people who were tried, convicted and executed for being witches back in 1692. The names of the accused witches along with the date and method of execution are inscribed in the benches. All the victims were hung to death, with the exception of one pour soul who was pressed to death. Vicious.
After meandering through the Salem Witch Trial Memorial and the neighbouring Old Burying Point Cemetery we made our way over to the House of Seven Gables with about 15 minutes to spare prior to opening at 10a.m. Since tickets can only be purchased in person on the same day (there are some exceptions for larger groups) we figured we’d play it safe and just arrive first thing in the morning. That way, it wouldn’t be as crowded either since we’d essentially be on the first guided tour of the day.
Admission to the House of Seven Gables includes a 30 to 40 minute tour that takes you through the house that inspired the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne to write a book about it back in the 1850s. Neither of us have actually read the book or know what the book is based on. But we still enjoyed the references our guide made to the storyline as we weaved our way through the various rooms. Apparently the house was later modified to create/restore a secret staircase that leads to some hidden room to mirror a plot line in Hawthorne’s book.
A visit to Nathanial Hawthorne’s Birthplace is also included with admission. Hawthorne was born in this house back in 1804 and lived here for four years up until his father passed away. The house was initially located on Union Street but was eventually moved in this location by the House of Seven Gables in 1958.
On our way back to the town centre we stopped at the Custom House, which is part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. During the three years that Nathanial Hawthorne worked here he penned his most famous book – the Scarlet Letter.
From there we headed over to the Jonathan Corwin House, which is more commonly referred to as the Witch House. It is the only remaining structure today from the Salem witch trial fiasco in 1692. Jonathan Corwin served as a judge during that tumultuous time where he investigated the allegations and accusations of witchcraft by the local townspeople. The house has been converted into a museum. We waited in line for about 45 minutes. We were a little disappointed that the museum didn’t contain much in terms of any of Corwin’s witch trials that he tested, or any of the Salem witch trials for that matter. But instead the house was filled with little trinkets and a mismatch of information about life from the 17th century.
Hocus Pocus Self-Guided Tour
After finishing up inside the Witch House (which didn’t take long because there wasn’t much to see) we began our Hocus Pocus self-guided tour. The below map highlights the major areas in Salem that were used during filming:
Allison’s House – as part of Salem’s Haunted Happenings (a month long celebration in October with all things related to Halloween) Allison’s house, which is more formally referred to as the Ropes Mansion, is open to the public free of charge. While touring inside this colonial mansion, one of the staff members indicated that just the exterior of the house was used for filming Hocus Pocus. But because the space inside was too small, the interior shots where Max and Dani encounter Allison at her parent’s Halloween party while trick-or-treating were filmed at a different location.
Max & Dani’s House – is actually a real house. With real people living inside. Contrary to what we saw in Hocus Pocus when the Sanderson sisters bust through the top of the roof and make off with Dani towards the end of the film, the house itself is perfectly intact.
Thackery Binx’s House – The opening scenes to Hocus Pocus were filmed here in Forest River Park’s Pioneer Village. The village was actually built in 1930 as a set for play in the park. But due to its popularity, the city has continued to maintain it. During Halloween there are carved pumpkins strewn around the lawns and on select evenings in October tales from the 17th century are told by the light of jack-o-lanterns.
Old Town Hall – was where Max and Dani’s parents were partying it up for Halloween. While on the run from the Sanderson sisters, Max, Dani and Allison (and Binx) bust into the party to solicit help from their parents. But when Winnie Sanderson sings her famous “I put a spell on you” song, the guests are literally put under a spell to continue dancing throughout the night. And the Dennison kids are forced to find help elsewhere.
After finishing up our self-guided Hocus Pocus tour we made our way back to the Salem train station to get back home to Boston. It seemed rather fitting to re-watch Hocus Pocus after spending the day in Salem.
It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus,
L & K