By Erin McQuilkin
Salem. Just the mention of its name stirs our consciousness. In 1692 this was ground zero for the most searing witch hunts in U.S. history. But there’s more to this culturally rich seaside town than its unnerving past. Yes, Salem has become a major Halloween destination for hundreds of thousands of revellers every October with an epic celebration.
Yes, the setting is full of old New England homes with haunted pasts and inspired the famous Arthur Miller play “The Crucible”. But beyond the spooky intrigue, lies the heart of a busy seaport borough with a killer food scene, historical buildings and spectacular foliage in autumn. Whether you come to Salem on a pilgrimage to the historical centre of the witch hunt trials or to simply soak up the New England coastal vibe, you will find yourself fascinated by this eccentric old port city.
Rich History And Artsy Ambiance
For history junkies and occult lovers, this is a fantasy vacation spot, and fortunately, Salem has carefully preserved many important artefacts, historical homes and memorials. If you’re looking for an in-depth study of the trials, your first stop will be the Salem Witch Museum, which gives a detailed look through trial documents, stage sets and narrations. Your next stop might be the Witch House, the 17th century home of Judge Jonathan Corwin and the last remaining building with a connection to the trials. The famous House of the Seven Gables or the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion is another historic home open for tours, where renowned American fiction author Nathaniel Hawthorne, set his book of the same title. Hawthorne based his tale on the legend of a curse put on his own family, for their role in the trials.
The oldest cemetery in Salem, the Burying Point, is worth a visit to witness the ancient graves of some Mayflower passengers and the witch trial Judge John Hathorne. Or if you’re looking for a way to honour the victims of these deadly trials, visit the Witch Trials Memorial, a physical reminder of those who lost their lives. For something unrelated to the occult, the Peabody-Essex Museum is an excellent place to spend an afternoon. This art hub has a unique collection from the 1700s onwards including maritime, Asian, African, American and Native American art. Once you’ve indulged yourself in ample artwork, take a walk through downtown Salem and soak up the colonial aura it still exudes.
The pinnacle of events in Salem is the massive Haunted Happenings Festival held every October. At the beginning of the month, the town begins throbbing with Halloween revellers looking for a grand All Hallows Eve celebration. Salem holds events including the Grand Parade, witch markets, psychic fairs, enactments, storytelling and street performances. The hotels and lodging are often booked out a year ahead, so make sure you plan in advance. If you’re there outside of October, one of the best evening activities is joining one of the haunted tours. Some of the best include Spellbound Tours, led by actual paranormal investigators, Imprisoned! 1692, which takes guests on an Old Witch Gaol experience in the haunted dungeon location and Bewitched After Dark. Salem is a walkable town where you can explore the colonial or portside neighbourhoods and revive yourself with a walk in nature while taking in the seasonally changing foliage.
Brine And Brews
Although most tourists come for the supernatural ambience, the food and cafe scene has some incredible seafood and cosy cafes to delight its visitors. Gulu Gulu Cafe is a European style cafe with live music and rare beers on tap that is excellent for any time of day. The Old Spot is a hip gastropub to relax at with friends, while the Sea Level Oyster Bar offers ultra-fresh New England style seafood with picturesque views of Salem Harbor. For dinner options, there is Adriatic, an intimate restaurant serving Italian Mediterranean cuisine and Turners Seafood, which delivers rustic seafood in a setting purportedly haunted by a lady in white. And if you’re searching for a sugar rush, there’s the gourmet Kakawa Chocolate House; dishing out premium chocolate, ice cream and divine drinking chocolates.
Salem, Massachusetts promises an interesting getaway that will cast a spell on you no matter what your purpose is for the journey. Not many towns in America, nor the planet, offer such a bewitching brew of historical intrigue, kitsch, and down to earth coastal charms. Come spend a night in a haunted hotel, like The Hawthorne Hotel, party it up in your Halloween costume or stuff yourself with buttery lobster rolls and fine art. Just make sure you grab some funky witch memorabilia to take home and leave a flower at the memorial of Salem’s ancient ancestors who experienced a tragedy that still lingers in the New England air today.