SALEM — The National Park Service released a study this week showing the number of visitors and the economic impact of its parks and historic sites around the country.
The numbers for the Salem Maritime National Historic Site are impressive: 756,038 visitors and $40 million contributed to the area economy in 2012, the most recent year for which figures were available.
So is the historic waterfront, with tall ship Friendship and the Custom House, the city’s No. 1 attraction? Is that what brings visitors and dollars to Salem?
The answer, it seems, depends on who is asked. And the truth, it appears, is nobody knows.
If there is a consensus, it is that Salem is called The Witch City for a reason.
“By the numbers, the witch trials are still the largest draw,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office.
Few could argue, especially in October, when Halloween hordes descend on the city for Haunted Happenings. On Halloween day alone, crowd estimates have approached 100,000.
Of course, witch-related tourism takes in a lot of territory, from historic sites and memorials, to museums and, arguably, psychics and haunted houses. Figuring out the number of “witch visitors” is virtually impossible because so many patronize for-profit businesses that don’t release figures.
For a single attraction, however, most agree the Salem Witch Museum is still the city’s No. 1 draw — at least, in terms of attendance.
Annual attendance is more than 300,000, according to Biff Michaud of the Witch Museum.
“We’re still the biggest draw in town,” he said.
The Salem Witch House, a city-operated nonprofit and the only attraction with a real tie to the Witch Trials, is another barometer. Attendance jumped in recent years from 18,000 to 27,000 as it displayed more documents and historic information related to the tragedy.