What It’s Like To Be A Salem Witch Trials Tour Guide

  • Kristin Harris works as a tour guide in Salem, Massachusetts during the month of October.
  • She gives historically accurate walking tours of the Salem Witch Trials that last two hours.
  • Harris said she loves meeting guests, but needs a security guard nearby in case there are rowdies.

This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Kristin Harris, a 33-year-old Salem Witch Trial tour guide. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I moved to Salem for graduate school in 2013. I first got a job doing tours at the Witch House which is the only remaining structure you can visit in Salem with ties to the Trials of the Witches. witches of Salem. This is a historic house that belonged to one of the judges. When I moved here, most Salem tourism was between March and November.

I myself have been studying the Salem Witch Trials since I was 15, and I first came to Salem at that age. I picked up a book by Marilynne K. Roach, which is like the definitive book on the Salem witch trials, and started learning about it from there.

The company I currently work for does purely historical tours

We point out historic sites, we talk about cemeteries and things like that, but we use primary sources a lot. By showing people how to watch the right sources, they can begin to piece together history much better than watching a special on the History Channel.

For the company Bewitched After Dark, I only tour in October. Even then, I only work one or two days a week since I have a full-time job as a research coordinator. Last year, I did two tours on Saturdays, a bit back to back. I usually do the 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. tours.

There is certainly a friendly competition between tour guides

We all know the etiquette on the street and we work very well with each other. But then you have the out-of-state tour operators who hire newer guides or aren’t well trained to run tours while navigating the crowds in Salem during Halloween.

Sometimes these people bring their whole tour group on my tour while I’m talking. They will bring 50 people into my party of 50 instead of trying to follow the bypass etiquette we all normally do.

You must be a tourist guide and a manager at the same time

There are guests on my visits who have never been to Salem and don’t know that in October they are basically surrounded by Halloween town. They have no idea what they’re doing, so you have to be very clear and tell them where to stand, where not to stand, and just give them instructions.

Usually, tours last about two hours. We try not to go over that because it might ruin the pacing and you might run into someone else. You need to know the routes through the city; which roads we can take and which roads we cannot take. We cannot take groups down small residential streets that can easily be blocked, through historic cemeteries at night, or onto private property.

I have 12 stops on my tour including the Salem Witch Trials Memorial where we end our tours. We talk about each person in the memorial to try to humanize them.

Demographics for my tours are everywhere

I’ve had people as young as 11 or 12 on the tour. It’s definitely 18+ content, because we’re talking about things like execution. We don’t do it for the shock factor. I think this is very important to note. I tell people these things not for shock, but because they happened.

Most of the time my groups are made up of people who are on the tour for the first time and want to know the true story of the Salem Witch Trials from start to finish. These are people who may have read “The Crucible” and were interested in learning more. Other times they are descendants; these are people who have done their family genealogy and want to know more.

A big misconception about trials is that it only happened to women

Disproportionately, the executions that took place were of women, but men were also executed. It’s just that witchcraft accusations tended to be more female-oriented due to the belief in what witchcraft was.

I think that’s why a lot of people are interested in his story. Other than quarrels or grudges between neighbors, there’s really no rhyme or reason – at least towards the end. Anyone could be charged. It could be your neighbor, it could be your sister, it could be anyone.

As a young woman on tour, I sometimes have to list my references. This is especially true if it’s a historical tour, as I feel like female tour guides make history people “chest beat” a lot more than male tour guides. I think that’s the hardest part for me. As a tour guide, you will always meet that person who has read and wants to engage with you, and sometimes they don’t do it in a pleasant way.

Coping with the October wilderness can be tough

You need to make sure that you don’t get criticized by a store owner for stopping too long in front of his store or making sure that people aren’t heckling your visits too much. Luckily I had a great security guard with me last year, and he really took care of it all. I was able to just be in the area and do my rounds.

One of the reasons we have security is that there are people who are local or people who have just been in town for the season, and they sometimes get drunk and really approach your tour and shout things. I’ve never had a belligerent guest, though.

What I appreciate the most is knowing that I am in contact with guests

When I get an 11-year-old girl coming up to me afterwards and telling me she wants to do what I’m doing, that’s the coolest thing.

I once had a group of 12 ladies who were on a girls trip to Salem that one of them had planned. They were on my tour and were a little tipsy, but productive. They all wore witch hats and were in full dress. Several of them hugged me at the end of the tour and said things like, “It was so amazing and I learned so much.

There was this guy who heckled me at the end of the tour that my security guard was dealing with, and I had this group of 12 ladies dressed as witches ready to jump in to defend me.

The only reason I threw myself into the crowds of thousands in October to drag 50 people on my party street tour is because I like to take an interest in the history of Salem. That’s the best part for me, knowing that I’m clicking with my guests and they’re interested.