There is no spookier and more spirited place in America to spend the week of Halloween than in Salem, Massachusetts. Located about 30 minutes north of the state’s capital, Salem is most well known as the location of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 (though most of the actual “witches” lived in nearby ‘Salem Village’, now known as Danvers) and much of the town’s identity is wrapped-up in the legend and lore of that time, with police cars sporting witch logos, a local high school football team named The Witches and the Disney movie Hocus Pocus filming on location.
When you first arrive in Salem, head to the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. From there you can begin to follow the Heritage Trail, which takes you through the city past the popular tourist sites. Nearby the beginning of the trail, you’ll find the Peabody Essex Museum, founded in 1799, which features art from the contemporary to the ancient.
Your next stop will be the Salem Witch Museum, which retells the story of the trials through life-size dioramas. And if you can stomach it, head to the Witch Dungeon Museum, which retells the story with live actors.
Salem doesn’t only have a long history of witches it also had pirates. The New England Pirate Museum has a collection of memorabilia from real life pirates Blackbeard and Captain Kidd who terrorized the waters off Boston’s North Shore; they also hold reenactments. Close to here, is the Salem Maritime National Historic Site which includes three wharves, the U.S. Custom House complex (where Nathaniel Hawthorne opens his novel, The Scarlet Letter), the Derby House, the Narbonne House and the West India Goods Store. You can also see The Friendship, Salem’s Tall Ship, reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman built in 1797 here.
One of the most popular spots in Salem doesn’t have to do with witches at all, but rather the author Nathanial Hawthorne who immortalized the House of the Seven Gables in his book of the same name. The house is one of the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansions in New England and it’s been said that the ghost of a small boy haunts the garden here. The house where the author was born is also here, moved to the spot from another street.
Next is the Corwin House, or Witch House. This is the only building still standing in Salem that has direct links with the trials. It is the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, a local magistrate and civic leader who was called upon to investigate the claims of diabolical activity when a surge of witchcraft accusations arose in Salem and neighboring communities.
Though there are many other interesting sites in Salem, which can be explored on foot, the final two most popular sites is the Pickering House, the oldest, continuously lived-in house by the same family and The Old Burying Point, Salem’s oldest cemetery containing the graves of a Mayflower pilgrim and witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne, ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Salem Visitor Center
2 New Liberty Street, Salem, MA – 978 740-1650.
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