Well, more accurately, it's famous for the witch trials of 169293, in which bizarre behavior amongst the town's children led to a massive outbreak of hysteria, which led to townspeople accusing their neighbors of being witches, which led to various arrests and trials, which led to a number of hangings. The episode is often held up as one of the greatest instances of mass hysteria and moral panic in American history, and the search for a reasonable explanation behind it has pointed to everything from an outbreak of ergotism to "People just be crazy, y'all."
At any rate, thanks to the trials, Salem has come to be associated with witches and witchcraft. These days, this means the city enjoys a renaissance amongst the neo-pagan community, who have set up shop there en masse. But in popular culture, it means that there are functional magic users, for good will or ill, who have been in Salem for quite a time, perhaps even dating back to the time of the witch trials.
If the author does not do any research about the trials, the people that were tried as witches will be shown as being burnt at the stakenote or only women will be depicted as the victims of the Witch Hunt.note
Use of this trope can be... messy. It can risk the Unfortunate Implications that the hysteria was actually justified. One or more of the following strategies are typically employed to ensure that the Salem witch-hunters will be portrayed as villainous even if witches are real:
- Witches are real, but it just so happens that there weren't any in Salem at the time of the witch trials.
- Witches are real and were in Salem at the time of the witch trials, but the story takes place in a universe in which witches are not necessarily evil.
- Real witches would easily be able to protect themselves with magic, so the witch-hunters were only ever a danger to falsely accused Muggles.
- The witch trials were actually orchestrated by the witches themselves, or at least a rogue faction of the witches, for some nefarious purpose.
A sub-trope of Hollywood New England. Some overlap with Lovecraft Country may occur; in fact, Lovecraft himself set some stories in Salem and in Arkham, a fictional town that's suspiciously like it (see below under Literature). Will often involve a New England Puritan, as these were the ones running the actual witch trials. Roswell That Ends Well is very similar, only with aliens instead of witches.
- In B.P.R.D. Dark Waters, three women were drowned in a lake by the intolerant priest in the Salem knock-off of Shiloh, Massachusetts. Centuries later, a similarly fundamentalist preacher goes running around causing trouble, and ends up dragged into the lake by their ghosts after their bodies are given a proper burial.
- The titular town of the Coffin Hill series published by Vertigo Comics was settled by Emma Coffin, a witch who had fled the Salem Trials leaving nineteen innocents to die in her stead.
- Salem is home to the Tower of Fate, sanctum of Doctor Fate, one of the most powerful magic users in DC canon.
- Marvel Comics examples:
- A strange storyarc in Marvel Team-Up involved Spider-Man, the Scarlet Witch, The Vision, Moondragon, and Doctor Doom time-traveling to Salem to fight a warlock who was involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Unfortunately, the heroes defeated the Warlock but could not stop innocent people from being hanged.
- The Hidden Elf Village of New Salem is inhabited by descendants of witches who fled Salem when the Witch Hunt started there. The protectors of the village are known as the Salem Seven. The leader of New Salem, Agatha Harkness has also worked as governess to Franklin Richards and magical tutor to Scarlet Witch. She is several centuries old and may be one of the original witches from the Witch Trials.
- Spellbinders is set around a fictional Salem high school called John Hawthorne High School where magic is accepted as a fact. A large part of the plot revolves around the rivalries between magical students (wicks) and non-magical students (blanks), and between the various covens.
- The Tomb of Dracula depicted the events in Salem as the result of the Lord of the Vampires manipulating the villagers into killing one another in order to avenge Drac's mistreated former love interest.
- In the first issue of the X-Men: Hellfire Club miniseries, Hiram Shaw (ancestor of Sebastian) is a minister in Salem who is hunting witches but is also a magic-user himself (and at one point claims to be the Sorcerer Supreme). It turns out Dormammu is behind the events, and Hiram is trying to stop it. Oh, and Hiram's son ends up running away with Abigail Harkness, from the same family as Agatha, and who is - of course - really a witch and burns the town down.
- Violet from the "Bride and Groom" arc of the Nightwing series is the daughter of Tituba, the slave girl accused of teaching witchcraft in Salem. Violet has several powers including the ability to drain the life forces of people to maintain her immortality.
- Salem: Queen of Thorns from Boom! Studios follows Elias Hooke, a former inquisitor for the Puritan Church who discovers that only innocent people were killed at the trials and the true supernatural evil in Salem was a manifestation of nature, the Queen of Thorns.
- The Salem's Daughter series published by Zenescope Entertainment is a supernatural western that features Anna Williams, a witch living in Salem who hides her inherited powers in the fear of sparking another Witch Hunt two hundred years after the original trials.
- Shade, the Changing Man "History Lesson": When Shade, Lenny and Kathy go back to the witch trials, they end up taking John Constantine along with them. The three land in trouble, of course, both because of Shade's powers and local prejudice against Lenny's Jewishness.
- Aramis Merrow from the Southern Knights is a teenage sorcerer from the days of the Salem Witch Trials. His parents put him into a magical sleep when their coven was attacked and he was accidentally revived by the Knights when they moved into his old house.
- Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose: The Black Rose Coven is based in Salem and several of its members were burnt at the stake during the trials.
- In the Zatanna comic, "Witch Hunt" Zatanna sends some witch hunters that attacked her back to the Salem trials where they are ironically mistaken for witches by the Salemites who prepare to burn them at the stake. As Zatanna watches them from afar, her narration reveals shell save them before they actually die.
- World's Finest #186 & #187 featured a two-part story in which Superman and Batman travel back in time to colonial New England (about a century after the Salem witch trials, but who's counting?) where they rescue a young woman falsely accused of witchcraft and then Batman is similarly accused (by Superman, who is revealed to be possessed by a demon and uses his powers to make the townsfolk believe that Batman is a warlock) and nearly burned at the stake.
- Grant Morrison's Batman run, which made a thing out of homaging and reconstructing wacky Silver Age concepts, did a more serious version of "time-displaced Batman + witch hunters in colonial New England" in the second issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne.
- The town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts in ParaNorman is an expy of Salem, one that has cashed in on its blood-soaked history by becoming a tourist trap. The plot revolves around the former townsfolk who led the witch hunt coming back as zombies thanks to Agatha, the girl they condemned as a witch, cursing them in retaliation.
- Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost uses a Salem stand-in named Oakhaven with its own witch trials that uses as a tourist trap, up to and including the entire town being in on the hoax of the day. However thing is though, witches are still real in this movie's universe (more specifically there are evil witches and good ones called "Wiccans", with a good helping of Artistic License Religion for good measure) and the titular witch's ghost even shows up for real in the climax. It's also best described as sort of the inverse of Paranorman's twist (see above), since she was presented as a misunderstood Wiccan at first...but that turns out to be a lie.
- Bell, Book and Candle stars Kim Novak as a Salem witch who has survived into the 1950s and uses her magic to romance Jimmy Stewart.
- When she was alive, Bathsheba from The Conjuring was a satanic witch descended from Mary Eastey, one of the women hanged at the trials.
- The main characters of The Covenant are the descendants of five witch-families that fled from the Salem Witch Trials to the nearby Ipswich. To protect themselves, the families formed a covenant of silence to hide their powers. One family lusted for more power and was banished, their bloodline disappearing without a trace.
- Hocus Pocus is about three witches, hanged in Salem, who are resurrected in The '90s. Their backstory really doesn't fit with the historical record at all, unless they were supposed to be some separate case of suspected witchcraft. The film implies a significant Alternate History, since the witches' house has become a museum and their names are centerpieces of the witch tourism industry.
- I Married a Witch starts off in the aftermath of father-and-daughter witches being executed in Salem. 250 years later, the spirit of the sexy daughter witch, having taken form as Veronica Lake, starts screwing with the descendant of the man that burned her.
- The Lords of Salem, where the titular Lords are a coven of infernal witches who date back to the Witch Trials and have been longing to get their revenge on Salem.
- The evil Split Personality that infects a past patient heard in recorded interviews and at least one of the cleanup crew in Session 9 may be of infernal origin. The abandoned mental hospital is located in Danvers, Mass, the former location of Salem Village.
- In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, one of Morgana's followers is Abigail Williams, one of the original accusers at the witch trials and herself a sorcerer.
- Assassination Nation uses this for Rule of Symbolism. It's set in a Stepford Suburbia called Salem, which experiences a moral panic reminiscent of the witch trials when a hacker leaks the personal photos and information of everybody in the town.
- The main character of A Discovery of Witches is Diana, the last witch in a long line of Bishop witches who can trace their history back to the first woman executed in Salem. Her father Stephen Proctor's ancestor John was also executed in Salem. Diana's aunt Emily Mather is a descendant of Cotton Mather, who played an influential role in the trials.
- Fear Street: The origin of the Fear Family curse started in Wickham Village during the Salem Witch Trials, when Benjamin and Matthew Fier had Susannah Goode and her mother burned at the stake. This was really an attempt to keep Susannah away from Benjamin's son, Edward. As it turned out, Susannah's father was the actual witch, and placed the curse on the Fiers for destroying his family.
- Harry Potter:
- It is probably not a coincidence that the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was established officially in 1692, the same year that the Salem Trials started.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has a throwaway mention of a group of American witches attending the Quidditch World Cup. Their campsite has a sign reading "Salem Witches' Institute".
- According to History supplementary material written by J. K. Rowling for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there were at least two Scourers (rogue mercenary wizards) amongst the judges that instigated the Salem trials to settle their personal feuds. This led to several witches being killed alongside innocent No-Majs that were caught up in the hysteria.
- H. P. Lovecraft was fond of dropping references to the Salem Witch Trials into his works, implying that characters such as Richard Upton Pickman of Pickman's Model had familial connections to genuine Salem witches. The witch who features in the backstory of The Dreams in the Witch House, Keziah Mason, is said to have fled from Salem as well. Most of Lovecraft's works are set in the New England region, and he himself was from Rhode Island, but the original Lovecraft Country - his fictional towns of Innsmouth, Dunwich, and Arkham - was specifically in Massachussetts.
- Stephen King's Jerusalem's Lot (or Salem's Lot for short) also seems to be based on Salem, at least in name. The short story Jerusalem's Lot shows occult things going on in the town, while it's main appearance in Salem's Lot is more focused on vampires.
- In the YA Reincarnation Romance novel Reincarnation, one of the two lovers' lifetimes takes place in Salem during the witch trials. The girl is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, giving her a fear of fire throughout the rest of her lifetimes.
- In The Addams Family episode "HalloweenAddams Style", Wednesday is crushed to hear from a neighbor that witches aren't real. So the family holds a seance in an effort to summon the spirit of Aunt Singe, an ancestor and a real witch who was burned at Salem.
- The witches in American Horror Story: Coven are all descended from witches who fled Salem to escape the witch trials.
- Bewitched had "The Salem Saga", a series of Season 7 episodes which not only launched Salem's Witchcraft-as-Tourism industry, but a statue of Samantha graces one of the main squares in the city and the Hawthorne Hotel displays a page from the teleplay in the lobby.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
"So really it was only bad for the falsely accused, and, well, they never have a good time."
- According to Giles, the Salem Trials was caused by the malign influence of the Monster of the Week from the "Gingerbread" episode and it threatens to do the same thing to Sunnydale.
- Anya, who was actually there, makes the usual point that anyone with real magic powers could easily escape.
- The "The Witch is Back" episode of Charmed shows that one of the Halliwell ancestors was lined up to be burned at the stake in Salem.
- In the first episode of season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow, Sara Lance ends up in Salem due to a Time-Scattering. When the Legends track her down, an angry mob is seeking to hang her for witchcraft due to having slept with most if not all of the town's women. It doesn't go well for the mob, as Sara's combat training allows her to effortlessly beat them back and send them running.
- The Legends return to Salem in Season Four's "Witch Hunt", and witness some clearly magical goings-on. However, the source of the magic turns out not to be a witch but a Fairy Godmother.
- Motherland: Fort Salem: In the show, there really were at least some witches in Salem, many of whom were hung. The survivors made a pact with the Massachusetts Colony to end persecution, fighting with the militia. It then carried over with the USA, and now in modern times they serve with the US Army, their basic training being done at the titular fort.
- Mentioned in various Noodle Incidents on Sabrina the Teenage Witch including the name of the [warlock who's being punished by having been transformed into a] cat, Salem. Although ironically enough when Sabrina's high school has a Field Trip to the actual Salem in "The Crucible" episode, the fact that there were no witches in Salem is hammered home.
Sabrina: Ive been thinking about it and Salem sounds like a dangerous place for a witch.
Zelda: The Salem witch trials had nothing to do with real witches.
Hilda: Besides, that was three hundred years ago. Theres nothing to worry about now except for over priced souvenirs.
- And then it turned out that Sabrina got assigned the "witch" role amongst her field trip group (they were supposed to be part of a re-enactment, and Alpha Bitch Libby exploited the opportunity that Sabrina lost her assignment card and didn't knew her role to accuse Sabrina and have the rest of the class bully her); even when the tour guide explicitly said at the end of the re-enactment that nobody had the "witch" role (as an exposition that paranoia was the biggest enemy of the Salem people).
- Salem is very loose dramatisation of the witch trials, with a major change: witches are real, and they're pulling the strings behind the scenes to get the Puritans to kill innocent people.
- This sketch from Saturday Night Live plays the unfairness of the trials for laughs. Then at the end, the hand of the accused starts burning at the touch of a Bible and he starts throwing lightning bolts. He is quickly found not guilty as the court runs away in fear.
- The Secret Circle takes place in New Salem, a town founded on little island in the Boston Harbor by six witch families who were fleeing the witch trials. The main characters are descendants of the families and inherited magic powers from their forebears.
- Sleepy Hollow: In the "Spellcaster" episode, Katrina reveals that she is descended from a coven of witches that lived in Salem. The trials were started by a warlock who led the coven after he lied about killing one of witches in self-defense when he really murdered her by accident while professing his love for her.
- In the Season 3 episode, "Malleus Maleficarum", the Winchesters visit a town in Massachusetts that is near Salem as they investigate cases of murder committed via witchcraft.
- In the Tie-In Novel, One Year Gone, Dean discovers a journal by one of his ancestors from the time of the Witch Trials that reveals all the people hanged were innocent and that real witches instigated the trials as a cover for their evil activities. At the end of the book, while fighting the witches, Dean summons the ghosts of all those killed in the Trials and they kill the two evil witches responsible for their deaths.
- The Vampire Diaries: The Bennet family of witches originally lived in Salem but relocated to Mystic Falls after the trials started.
Bonnie: Was our family burned in the witch trials?
Sheila: No, the girls that were persecuted in Salem were entirely innocent. You have to have more than ignorance to trap a real witch.
Bonnie: How did we end up in Mystic Falls?
Sheila: Our family fled Salem in 1692 and relocated here. Our ancestors lived in secrecy for over a hundred years. It's important that we still do.
- Witches of East End: One of the many times that Freya and Ingrid were killed for using magic was at the Salem trials as shown in the "A Few Good Talisman" episode and the book it is based on. Also in the third book, Winds of Salem, Freya is sent back in time to 1962 and has to avoid getting killed at the trials for a second time.
- The episode "Chinga" of The X-Files takes place in Maine, New England. Jane Froelich thinks that Melissa Turner is a witch, descended from a cursed lineage of Hawthornes in Salem. She also thinks Melissa's autistic daughter Polly is cursed, too.
- Episode 8 of WandaVision begins in Salem in 1693 with the attempted execution of the witch Agatha Harkness. However, the twist is that she's being punished by her fellow witches for using forbidden dark magic. Agatha turns the tables on them by draining their life forces before escaping.
- The main character of A Discovery of Witches is Diana, the last witch in a long line of Bishop witches who can trace their history back to the first woman executed in Salem. Her father Stephen Proctor's ancestor John was also executed in Salem. In the TV series, Diana's aunt Emily Mather is a descendant of Cotton Mather, who played an influential role in the trials, and Tituba, an enslaved woman who worked for Rev. Parris's family, whose actions, along with those of Parris's daughter Betty and niece Abigail Williams, and other girls, triggered the trials.
- Mage: The Awakening uses Boston as its central city, and as such, the mages of the area are tied to Salem. While they stayed under the radar of the Trials, one of the leading cabals of the area saw it as a warning of what might happen in the mages stayed separate, and used it as a reason for the area's Awakened to organize into a unified body.
- The jury is still out on if there was any magic users at the trials in the Shadowrun setting but in the Sixth World, Salem has become a major centre for witches. This is mainly due to the number of followers of Wicca and other Neo Pagan religions that were living in Salem before the Awakening who gained powers when magic returned. The percentage of magic users in Salem is estimated to be about six times the national average.
- Salem was also the center of one of the biggest magical incidents that preluded the Awakening, when a Halloween celebration in 2011 went very wrong as The Wild Hunt showed up to the party.
- Unknown Armies: A cabal called the New Salem Coven is mentioned as being unexpectedly wiped out by The Freebusters.
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller, which is set during the actual Salem witch trails and uses the incident as a metaphor for McCarthyism and the Red Scare of the early 1950s.
- Witches! The Musical: At the very end, it is shown that without a doubt, Abigail really is a witch. She really did gain power from signing Satan's book, and she uses it to kill Mary Warren.
- In the Backstory of Murdered: Soul Suspect, the trials executed several mediums, falsely accused of gaining their powers from a Deal with the Devil. The Big Bad is the ghost of Abigail Williams, the girl who condemned several women to their death with her accusations during the trials, who is possessing people to kill mediums as the Bell Killer.
- Although the trials in Town of Salem largely exist to uncover and lynch members of the non-magical mafia, some setups may also include Witches that can control other players at night.
- And then there is the Coven expansion, with actual witches forming the coven. Some games even end up a Mêlée à Trois between the Town, the Coven, and the Mafia, with a few Neutral roles thrown in for good measure.
- This shows up in a racing game, of all places. The Crew features Salem, Massachusetts as one of the many small American towns you can visit (taking place in a Wide-Open Sandbox rendition of the entire United States), and appropriately, the place is all decked out for a Halloween celebration, with jack o'lanterns and other decorations lining the streets.
- Fallout 4, taking place in and around Boston and eastern Massachusetts, has Salem as a location on the map, and the local witch trial museum is the subject of one of the scariest sidequests in the game. At one point the quest there would have been even witchier: it was supposed to concern mutants with powers like fireballs or ice magic, because in early development the Fallout 4 game engine was exactly the same as the Skyrim engine. The Skyrim spells got Dummied Out, so the questline changed.
- Fate/Grand Order: The final Pseudo-Singularity takes place in Salem; specifically modern-day Salem has suddenly been swallowed up by a dark void that has re-created 17th century Salem right down to the year the infamous witch-hunts started. Once Chaldea Rayshifts inside, however, they begin to notice various discrepancies between the actual events of and persons involved in the trials and what's going on in the singularity. And then the undead and ghouls start showing up... It eventually turns out that the Demon God Pillar Raum was using the hysteria and horrors of the trials to break Abigail Williams, a copy of the original from history, and turn her into the vessel of an Outer God to overrun the world with Lovecraftian horrors.
- Averted in Something*Positive: a girl from a Wiccan coven claims to remember her past life of being burned at the stake at Salem. Davan calls her out on it (except for the burning part, which has already been mentioned here).
- Times Like This: Cassie's reaction to a song - mentioning that she escaped being burned alive due to witchcraft accusations - was "it was a trip to Salem gone horribly wrong".
- Hearthbrook is a coastal Massachusetts town set in Lovecraft Country in the comic Dear Children. Guess what the main characters are looking for at the beginning of the story? Yep, witches.
- J. M. McNab of Cracked wrote an article about this, particularly how the world (including the modern town of Salem) has treated the history of the witch trials. He views it as carrying massive Unfortunate Implications, a celebration of the breakdown of law and order in the face of religious fanaticism, paranoia, and petty property disputes. In particular, he sees works of fiction that portray actual witches in Salem as validating the hysteria that fueled the witch trials, comparing it to a world where Nazi Germany tried to justify The Holocaust by accusing Jews of being vampires (which wouldn't have been far off from real anti-Semitic conspiracy theories), and then, years later, Twilight gave the Cullens a backstory about fleeing the Nazis.
- Atun-Shei Films: When the Witchfinder General travels to modern-day Salem, he sees it overtaken with occultism and neo-pagantry(as it is in real life), which shocks and horrifies him. He also winds up learning that all his friends and family are dead in the modern-day. The episode culminates when he storms the Satanic Temple HQnote , only to be greeted warmly and told to check out the gift shop.
- In The Scooby-Doo Show episode "To Switch a Witch", there is a (fake) witch running around Salem. Not only do the townspeople instantly form a Torches and Pitchforks mob, they also use the witchcraft museum exhibits like the dunking stool on the captured witch (Scooby-Doo in a dress).
- The Simpsons: The "Treehouse of Horror VIII" segment "Easy-Bake Coven" parodies The Crucible, with Marge being accused of witchcraft in 17th-century Springfield and thrown off a cliff... revealing that she actually is a witch.
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu". A group of aliens with magical powers comes to Earth and is persecuted by human beings. They take refuge in Salem but are found out and harassed even there. Their situation was the basis of the Salem witch trials.
- Ironically subverted by the Real Life Salem, Massachusetts, in that the historical Salem Witch Trials did not take place there. They happened in Salem Village, now called Danvers, which is about 14 miles from the city of Salem (it hasn't stopped Salem from cashing in on its "witchy" reputation's tourist value, though).
- Danvers would still gain some spooky history to undeniably call its own, though. Namely, it's the site of the Danvers State Hospital, a mental hospital that was designed to not be a Bedlam House but, due to lack of funding and overcrowding, degenerated into one anyway. It's said to have been the birthplace of the lobotomy, as well as the inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft's Arkham Sanatorium (which in turn inspired Arkham Asylum from the Batman comics), and it has a very storied reputation for being haunted (the film Session 9 was set there). Incidentally, it was built on the hill where John Hathorne, the judge of the Salem witch trials, had once lived. The place was progressively shut down between 1969 and 1992; what's left has since been renovated into an apartment complex.
- In May 1878, a civil case was held in Salem that is sometimes called the second Salem witch trial. The plaintiff was Lucretia L. S. Brown, an adherent of the Christian Science religion, who accused fellow Christian Scientist Daniel H. Spofford of attempting to harm her through his "mesmeric" mental powers.