Disney+ answered the dreams of countless millennials last month with the release of “Hocus Pocus 2,” the long-awaited sequel to the beloved 1993 Halloween-themed cult classic “Hocus Pocus.” Boasting countless nods to the original, part two sees Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker stepping back into the pointy-toed shoes of witches Winifred, Mary and Sarah, aka the Sanderson Sisters, who are conjured anew to modern-day Salem, where they run amok (Amok! Amok, amok, amok, amok, amok!) once again on a hilariously tumultuous Halloween night.
Directed by Anne Fletcher, of “27 Dresses,” “The Proposal” and “Dumplin’” fame, the flick hit Disney+ on September 30, promptly breaking records as the streamer’s “strongest domestic debut to date,” according to MovieWeb. Though social media response has been hugely positive, with images of viewing parties popping up all over Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter (at least across my feeds), not everyone is singing its accolades. Still, the movie is quickly shaping up to become a Halloween classic and its locations virtually guaranteed must-see sites for fans, much like those of the original.
While the OG film was primarily captured in the Salem area (with some scenes lensed in Los Angeles), for the sequel, cast and crew headed south to Rhode Island, where the towns of Newport, Providence and Lincoln stood in for Witch City. Sadly, many of the spots featured were sets crafted by production designer Nelson Coates solely for the shoot and dismantled once filming wrapped. The 1650s-era Salem village, for example, where the Sanderson Sisters are shown in their childhood years, was an elaborate streetscape constructed at Chase Farm in Lincoln. The Salem Magic Shoppe run by Gilbert the Great (Sam Richardson) was also just a façade created in the Newport Restoration Foundation parking lot at 51 Touro St.
The Walgreens where the Sanderson Sisters are introduced to fluorescent lighting, youth-preserving facial elixirs and modern cleaning supplies is a real place that can be found at 333 Atwells Ave. in Providence. However, quite a bit of witchcraft (aka CGI) was employed to alter its exterior for the scene, while the inside of a different Walgreens outpost located a good two and a half miles away at 135 Pitman St. was used for interiors.
Fans hoping for a more authentic and immersive “Hocus Pocus” experience should instead head to Salem, where many of the locales from the first film still stand and remain fully accessible to the public almost three decades later, including Pioneer Village, Salem Common, Old Town Hall and Ropes Mansion.
The latter, a spellbindingly attractive Colonial Revival at 318 Essex St. in the McIntire Historic District, portrays the home of Allison (Vinessa Shaw), where Max Denison (Omri Katz), and his younger sister, Dani (Thora Birch), stumble upon a Halloween party at the start of the film. Decked out in gorgeous autumn décor with jack-o’-lanterns lighting every perfectly-shuttered window, the residence awes Max and Dani at first glance and instantly became the dream house of viewers worldwide. In fact, mention “Hocus Pocus” to any fan and the conversation will invariably lead back to Allison’s pad. Owned and operated by the Peabody Essex Museum today, the property currently serves as a public museum, open for self-guided tours of both the interior and the stunning rear gardens.
Erected in 1727, the Ropes Mansion boasts quite a dramatic history. The two-and-a-half-story dwelling was originally built for prosperous and frequently married local merchant Samuel Bernard, who tied the knot four times before passing away in 1762. While a 1909 Boston Globe article reported that the residence’s “design was by a famous architect in England,” more specific details were not provided.
Essex County probate judge/onetime superior court justice Nathaniel Ropes acquired the property in 1768. A member of the Loyalist party, Ropes was not especially loved by his neighbors and just six years after moving in, a mob descended upon his home, throwing sticks and rocks through windows before eventually gaining entry. The Globe detailed, “He was ill in the house with smallpox, and when the mob entered the house March 17, 1774, they found him half conscious upon his deathbed. He died the next day.”
Ropes’ heirs continued to live on the premises for the next 130 years, with four generations ultimately calling the place home. During their tenure, the family suffered several devastating events, most notably the death of Nathaniel’s granddaughter Abigail, who passed away from severe burns in 1839 after her dress was set aflame while standing next to one of the property’s fireplaces. Legend has it her spirit still inhabits the structure today. As the Ghost City Tours website asserts, “Superstition says that the Ropes Mansion is unquestionably haunted. Visitors to the Ropes Mansion claim that they can hear the sounds of Abigail’s agonized screams . . . Some say that they can even see her ghost. Others say that Nathaniel Ropes haunts the house alongside her.”
Caretakers Rick and Georgette Stafford even allege to have once captured a picture of Nathaniel’s spirit hanging out in the entry. Ghost City reveals, “The image was taken during an insurance appraisal, and reveals two hands of a man seated on a couch. It’s a ghastly snap of an otherwise unseen specter. Robert Cahill published the photo in ‘Ghostly Haunts,’ writing that, ‘Here the judge sits for a spell on the front hall couch. After all, if you were wandering around this mansion for over 200 years, you’d want to sit for a while, wouldn’t you?’”
Ropes Mansion has also been the site of several fires throughout its nearly 300-year history, the most recent of which occurred in 2009. The frequent blazes had Ghost City wondering if Abigail was somehow responsible, calling the infernos “an appropriate ‘bite back’ from a woman set aflame.”
In 1893, the structure was deeded to three unmarried Ropes sisters, who moved in with the intention of one day turning the place into a museum. As such, the vast majority of their furnishings and everyday ephemera were pristinely preserved until finally being turned over to the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial in 1907. The residence opened to the public five years later and is still brimming with what the Salem Gazette cataloged as “four generations of the Ropes family’s furniture and collectibles, including . . . the largest surviving collection of Chinese export porcelain in the country — more than 300 pieces in all.”
Tours of the estate, which are offered seasonally, are free of charge. As the Peabody Essex Museum website details, “Visitors are invited to freely circulate throughout 15 rooms of the home, exploring the property at their own pace. Hands-on interactive experiences encourage guests to explore the house’s stories layer by layer.”
The manse’s gorgeous one-acre rear garden, designed by botanist John Robinson in 1912, is a glorious retreat awash with rhododendrons, 42 flower beds, a lily-pad-dotted pond, a massive copper beech tree and meandering pathways. With over 5,000 annuals planted yearly, the grounds are still “maintained according to Robinson’s original notes” and, per the Essex website, are “open to the public 365 days a year, from dawn to dusk, at no charge.”
Even though the property is featured only briefly in “Hocus Pocus,” barely making up 20 seconds of screen time, it is one of the film’s most beloved locations, with fans still regularly popping by to snap selfies out front, 29 years after the movie initially debuted. As Steven Mallory, Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes for the Peabody Essex Museum, stated in a PEM Walks episode about the dwelling and its famed 1993 role, “Many people come to Salem just to see it!”
Don’t go looking for Allison’s opulent staircase, where she makes her grand entrance at her family’s Halloween party mid-film, anywhere on the premises, though. Only the exterior of the Ropes Mansion appears in “Hocus Pocus.” All scenes involving the interior of Allison’s house were shot about 3,000 miles away at the historic Crank Estate located at 2186 E. Crary St. in Altadena, Calif. One of the area’s most oft-filmed abodes, the pad has been featured countless times onscreen, including as the Omega Beta Zeta house in “Scream 2,” the Trunchbull residence in “Matilda” and the home of medical examiner Donald Horatio “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum) on “NCIS.” So prolific is the property’s film and television career, in fact, that it has played Martin Sheen’s dwelling twice – first on “The West Wing” as President Josiah Barlet’s New Hampshire abode and then as the New Orleans home of his Roger Strong character in “Catch Me If You Can.” It’s certainly a spot that has cast a spell on Hollywood!