Hocus Pocus in Salem: Visiting the Film Locations 25 Years Later
When Hocus Pocus was released in 1993, it came out to critical and audience indifference. In the years since, the film has gained a cult status, to the point that in 2015, Walt Disney World added the Hocus Pocus Villains Spelltacular as the castle stage show during the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties. Since that time, there has been a steady stream of merchandise featuring the characters and continually resurfacing rumors of a sequel or reboot. The ongoing love for the film stems not only from its memorable characters and its humor, but also its attention to detail and authenticity unique to fantasy comedy movies. Hocus Pocus is a fictional story, but built on the rich backstory and history of the Salem Witch Trials, and used locations in the quaint New England city to bring its story to life.
Salem can often look like most other small coastal cities dotting the North Shore of Massachusetts, but around almost every corner you can find some reference to its witchy history. In 1692, a hysteria over witchcraft swept through the colony and resulted in over 200 trials and 20 executions. The real reasons behind it stem from religious fervor, personal vendettas and land grabbing by the accusers. Salem hid from this past for years, and it began to finally embrace it after shows like Bewitched visited the town in the later half of the 20th Century. Now, Haunted Happenings takes over the town for the entire month of October with street fairs. Ghost and witch tours, haunted houses, witch museums and Wiccan shops can be found year round. Amidst this chaos, there are people who come to town just to visit the filming locations of Hocus Pocus.
You can start your tour in Salem Center. Salem is easily accessible by car or by public transportation, with an easy 35 minute ride from Boston’s North Station. However, if you choose to drive, even the city’s main parking garage features Hocus Pocus with the sign in the stairwell:
There are several key filming locations in an easy walking distance from either the train station or most of the municipal parking lots. First, you can head over to the Salem Common, the city’s main park. Here you can find locations used in several scenes in the movie. First, on the southeast corner of park you can find Max and Allison’s high school, Jacob Bailey High School, in reality the Phillips Elementary School(50 South Washington Sq). Bailey, whom the fictional school was named after was a Massachusetts’ author in the late 1700s. The school which opened in 1883 closed permanently in 1992, making it an ideal location to film in. This was only used for the exterior shots, as most of the interior locations, and some of the exterior, were filmed in California. The building which features in a few scenes is now an apartment building.
Staying on the Common and just around the corner, you can see the location where Allison rejects Max and hands him back his phone number. The basketball court is still there but a playground would now be in the background of the shot. In the movie, the Common is relatively quiet on Halloween, but today it is home to rides, food stands and other carnival booths during the Haunted Happenings event throughout October. Hocus Pocus is also shown annually one Saturday night during the event on a screen set up on Salem Common.
The next stop on our Hocus Pocus tour is not a location from the movie, but the real The Salem Witch Trials Memorial(24 Liberty St). Dedicated in 1992, the memorial features a small grassy area surrounded by rockwork and benches, each bearing the name of one of the victims of the trials and the date of execution.
Next to the memorial is the Old Burying Ground, Salem’s central and oldest cemetery. Much smaller than the graveyard shown in the films (a combination of a cemetery in neighboring Marblehead for the day shots and a sound stage for the night scenes), it was not used as a filming location. None of the convicted witches are buried here, but it is America’s second oldest cemetery, and features several historic graves, including one of the Mayflower pilgrims and the judge who presided over the witch trials.
A block away from the memorial and Old Burying Ground you’ll find the Salem’s Old Town Hall(161 Essex Street). This iconic Federalist building features prominently in the films as the site of the Halloween Party the Sanderson Sisters “put a spell on.” It was used as the town hall from its construction in 1816 until 1837. It now features a performance space on the second floor (where the party was held) and a rotating museum exhibit space on the main floor.
Right next to the the Old Town Hall on Essex St is Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery. While not used in the film, it is a museum showcasing the history of horror cinema and feature a recreation of Bette Midler’s Winifred Sanderson.
Further west on Essex, you’ll come to our final location in downtown Salem, the Ropes Mansion(318 Essex Street), Allison’s home in the film. Built in the 1720s, and extensively modified through the 19th century, the Mansion and its surrounding gardens belong to the Peabody Essex Museum. You can visit the gardens freely, and tours of the house are offered at different times. Once again, the house was only used for the exterior shots.
Our next two locations are a little further from downtown. While walkable, it is recommended to drive to these two spots, which are located near each other. First it Max and Dani’s house, located at 4 Ocean Ave. While the address is well published, and during tourist season you’ll often see a line of people waiting to take pictures, please be respectful as this is a private home in a residential neighborhood.
Just south of Max’s house, in Forest River Park is Salem Pioneer Village (98 West Ave). This was used for the close up shots of Thackery Binx’s home in the opening of the film. The site is only open from June through September, so I could not get in to get any close up shots. The opening flyover of the village however was actually Plimouth Plantation (137 Warren Ave, Plymouth, MA) about two hours south of Salem.
Our final locations are located outside of Salem in the neighboring town of Marblehead. Driving from downtown Salem will take you about 20 minutes, and the locations are all within less than a mile of each other. All of these locations are featured in Max’s bike ride home from school. First is Old Burial Hill (Orne St and Pond St, Marblehead, MA), the site Max is accosted by two of the lamest film bullies of all time, Ice and Jay. This is another colonial era cemetery, and does have the grave of Wilmot Redd, one of the victims of the witch trials.
The shot of Max overlooking Salem is actually at another park in Marblehead, Crocker Park (Front St & Crocker Park Ln Marblehead, MA). The small park features beautiful views and overlooks the site of the commissioning area of what can be considered the first American Navy vessels for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
On your way between the cemetery shot locations you’ll pass Bus Stop (85 Washington St, Marblehead, MA) an iconic shop on a corner the Max rides past. I wasn’t even looking for this location, I just happened to pass it.
It’s amazing both how little and how much has changed in the 25 years since Hocus Pocus filmed in Salem. A truly historic city, Salem has adapted itself to its role as a Wiccan and Halloween Mecca. These locations made famous by Hocus Pocus are only a tiny part of what Salem has to offer to American, haunted and even literary history. If you are ever in the area, these sites, and the history behind them, are worth checking out for yourself.