The eerie, silent hours between 3 and 5 a.m. are known in medieval folklore as the witching hours. This is the sliver of time between night and day when witches, demons and ghosts are thought to be at their most powerful, and the laws of reality quietly slip away and let all things paranormal take over. It was fitting that at 4:30 a.m., with the city of Plattsburgh still cloaked in the darkness of dawn, students began their trip to a small town notorious worldwide for its history with the supernatural: Salem, Massachusetts.
The early morning of Oct 17 saw the beginning of this year’s Student Association trip to Salem, as 51 students piled into one bus and started the five hour long journey. Most students spent the bus ride dozing off, as they had stayed up the whole night in preparation for the trip. Others huddled in the back of the bus, setting the mood for Salem by sharing creepy stories and paranormal experiences in the dark. Others explained the history of the town’s witch trials to those who weren’t familiar.
“We’ve done the Salem trip before, but this year’s was especially exciting,” Lisette Linares, senator of activities, said. “I was a little nervous at first because this is one of our first SA trips after COVID-19, and maybe students would be hesitant to join because they’re still worried about the pandemic. Since it’s early in the year and some people don’t really know a whole lot of other students yet. But luckily, a lot of people showed up, and tickets sold out pretty fast.”
Upon arriving in Salem, students were greeted by the sight of hundreds of people in costumes, even though it was half a month before Halloween. Townspeople flocked the streets dressed up as skeletons, vampires, werewolves, and even a giant fish with legs.
Some SUNY Plattsburgh students dressed up as well and joined the festivities. Junior Alex Borodin arrived in a police officer costume, and he recalled that many people in town – including actual policemen – were fooled.
“A woman thought I was a real cop and asked if she could park her car somewhere,” Borodin said, laughing. “One police officer said he liked my hat and that I looked sharp. And one time, a group of people were about to jaywalk, and then saw me and stopped because they thought I would fine them or something.”
One of the first stops on the trip was the 1692 Salem Witch Museum, an ominous Gothic castle showcasing the history of the witch trials and the legacy of the “largest witch hunt in the New World.” Lifelike dolls and mannequins with blank stares were propped up to represent the history of the town. In one room, an entire courtroom filled with such dolls, complete with reenacted a scene from the witch trials.
“The museum was my favorite part,” Linares said. “It was so cool and well-designed and informative. It was honestly kinda scary too. We all stood in a circle in this dark room and they brought in these creepy dolls to show scenes from the witch trials, like how victims were executed. It was definitely hard to forget.”
The museum was complete with a witch dungeon, which featured a whole graveyard with the names of the women and men executed for witchcraft.
For the next few hours, students were free to roam around the town independently and explore the gift shops, cemeteries, and festivals around Salem. Seeing the supernatural-themed decorations and props all around town led Freshman Siddharth Nadkarni to comment that it felt like Halloween was a whole month-long event there.
“We really had a lot of fun just walking around and talking about the town’s history and all the creepy stuff we saw,” Nadkarni said. “It was perfect timing too, because all the people were dressed in preparation for Halloween. All the costumes and decorations were so cool to see.”
Countless gift and specialty shops sold trinkets and souvenirs related to the town’s history. Students went home with pillowcases, mugs, sweatshirts and thigh-high socks all adorned with little witches, black cats, and smoking cauldrons. One store even sold witchcraft-themed skincare products.
“It’s incredible just how rich this town’s history is,” Senior Fernando Diaz said. “Sure, it’s disturbing and tragic, but the legacy that those witch trials left are really interesting to look back on. We can learn a lot from it too. They teach us a lot about mob mentality, paranoia, superstition and not being quick to blame others.”
As nighttime approached, students met at the Charter Street Burying Point Cemetery and started the Ghost Tour. This is the second oldest cemetery in the entire United States, established in 1637. There have been countless reports of spooky occurrences near the cemetery that are believed to be explained by the paranormal. Legend has it that the graveyard’s spirits, restless and energetic, sometimes rise out of their graves to remind the town they’re still there.
According to Ghost City Tours, “people who have visited Old Burying Point have reportedly become overwhelmed with the sensation of sadness and despair. The heavy feeling of depression descends. Over the years people have successfully captured EVP of voices from the beyond at Old Burying Point. Also captured at the cemetery via photographs are mysterious shadows, emanating lights, orbs, white mist and even apparitions.”
SUNY Plattsburgh students did not report feeling this inexplicable feeling of depression while passing through the graveyard, nor did any uninvited ghouls show up in the background of their pictures.
The students then took a tour of a local haunted house, where people have reported hearing unexplained banging, footsteps, and voices. The house was the location of a murder that took place decades ago.
“It was creepy for sure,” Diaz said. “We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary though, or at least I don’t think we did.”
Around 10 p.m., students headed back to the bus for another five hour trip to Plattsburgh. Tired but chatty, the trip back home was abuzz with discussions of everything they saw. Students talked about the witches, graveyards, ghosts showing up in photographs, and creepy disembodied voices – everything Salem was known for. Some expressed disappointment that they had not witnessed anything paranormal firsthand.
However, as they arrived at 3 a.m. and crept back to their dorms in the dead of night, with the whole campus being cloaked in darkness and the only sound being the quiet rustling of the leaves, many students reported that they couldn’t shake the feeling that something – or someone – had followed them home from Salem.