Bewitching Salem, Massachusetts
No American town is more tightly tied to spookiness than Salem, Massachusetts. Since the famous Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 put this quiet seaport on the map, people have been flocking to Salem to explore its colorful history. With a range of specialty museums, a maritime heritage, green city parks, and superb seafood, Salem has everything for the modern visitor, as well as ghostly chills galore.
Begin your tour of the city by heading to the National Park Service Salem Visitor Center on New Liberty Street and following the Heritage Trail, marked with a red line. This will guide you past many of the city’s most famous sights, and it also gives you the chance to explore on foot without the danger of getting lost. Nearby the Visitor Center, on Essex Street, you’ll find the incredible Peabody Essex Museum, which houses a collection of over 1,000,000 rare curiosities from around the world. The museum was founded in 1799 as the Salem East India Society. Today it houses the Phillips Library, one of the finest maritime art collections in the nation, and a collection of genealogical information that dates back to Salem’s founding.
Essex Street also contains the Old Town Hall, built in 1816, and the must-see Witch History Museum. You can catch a live presentation depicting Salem’s untold stories, then head to The Witch Dungeon, where professional actors give a dramatized rendition of the events of 1692. This adaptation is based on actual manuscripts from the original trial, and is said to be absolutely chilling. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to 17th-century Salem as you take part in this unique performance.
Many of the sights and shops along the Heritage Trail put on special events during Salem’s Haunted Happenings, an annual Halloween celebration that runs almost the whole month of October. The festivities include parades, costume balls, haunted houses, psychic fairs, and tours of the great historic sites.
To take a break from history, head to Salem Common, a large park that’s right in the heart of the city. This land was originally common pastureland that was too swampy to farm. Today, it’s a public gathering and playing spot, and a perfect place to enjoy a take-out lunch or a picnic.
Other fun sights make Salem a memorable destination. Sailing buffs will enjoy a trip to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site at the wharf, stopping to see The Friendship, a reconstructed 171-foot three-masted East Indiaman. You can explore Pickering Wharf, touring the harborside village restaurants and boutique shops and taking in the sounds of the sea. The whole family will love the New England Pirate Museum, where you can learn about local pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd. For a trip on the high seas, take the 1.5 hour Lobstering and Lighthouse Cruise around the harbor, touring Salem’s lighthouses and islands. You can also take a sail aboard the schooner Fame of Salem, a replica of a privateer that sailed during the War of 1812.
For a few more creepy thrills, head to Corwin House, the only structure still standing from the witch-trial era. Also called “Witch House,” Corwin House is decorated in 17th-century style, offering a view into the way people lived and worked during the witch trials. You can swing by the Burying Point, the oldest cemetery in Salem, and the burial place of some Mayflower pilgrims and a witch trial judge.
The writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was a famous resident of Salem, and he wrote about his hometown in his novel The House of the Seven Gables. Today, you can see the actual house on Turner Street that provided the inspiration for the book. Tour this spooky site, then get ready for the fun at the Salem Wax Museum or a scary horror flick at Count Orlock’s Nightmare Gallery.
To get into the great outdoors, pay a visit to Forest River Park. The kids can play on the playground or swim off the twin beaches, then the whole family can visit Pioneer Village, a living history replica of a 17th-century fishing village.
History truly comes to life in Salem. With its stunning fall foliage and all the colorful attractions of the Haunted Happenings, there’s no better place to visit in October—or any time of year.