by Shuan Butcher
When thoughts turn to ghosts and ghouls, there’s really no better place to visit and explore than Salem, Mass.
Infamous for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, this city has plenty to offer those wanting to explore the history and folklore of a trying period in Colonial America. But Salem also has unique architecture, maritime history, a world-class art museum and numerous dining options, among other features.
To begin, your visit should start at The Witch House, the only remaining building in Salem with direct ties to the Witch Trials. Built in 1642, it was the home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges from the trials. The house’s architecture and design is a must-see, as it is one of the only structures in the U.S. built prior to the 18th Century. The home’s interior is set up to represent typical living during that period as well as interpret the ideas and beliefs that led up to the breakdown in community and paranoia that led to the Witch Trials.
Next, travel to the Salem Witch Museum. Housed in a 1692 church, this museum allows visitors to experience a theatrical presentation through a series of dioramas that interpret the trials as well as the incidents leading up to them. Afterward, you can head downstairs to another exhibit that will challenge your perceptions of witches, witchcraft and stereotypes.
Another place worth a stop is the Witch Dungeon Museum. After viewing a live reenactment of a witch trial, which is based on a transcript from the 1692 event, you take a guided tour through a recreated dungeon.
No trip to Salem would be complete without partaking in one of the many ghost tours or similar experiences. Tours meander through nighttime streets to tell supernatural tales about folklore and voodoo. A popular stop is outside the Old Burying Point Cemetery. In 1637, it was the first place set aside in Salem for the burial of the dead. It contains the graves of Gov. Simon Bradstreet, Chief Justice Benjamin Lynde, Capt. Richard More (a passenger on the Mayflower), and individuals associated with the Salem Witch Trials.
If you are not interested in the lore of the witch trials, don’t fret. Salem has a lot more to offer, including unique architecture, maritime history and some great places to dine and shop.
A favorite stop is the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). Advertised as one of the nation’s largest museums, it features New England maritime art, Native American art, Asian art and quintessential American art. Painters of the Colonial and Revolutionary era including John Trumball and Gilbert Stuart as well as contemporary artists such as Norman Rockwell are part of the permanent collection. The museum also manages a number of historic houses and other structures, such as a 200-year-old Chinese house. Tours of these historic places may be arranged through the museum in advance.
Just outside the downtown area is the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Operated by the National Park Service, this site pays homage to the maritime history of the region. Walk down the wharf for a great view of Salem Harbor. The light station at the end of the wharf dates to 1871 and is the wharf’s only original surviving structure. Be sure to also check out the replica of the Friendship of Salem. The original ship was built in 1797 and made multiple voyages before it was captured during the War of 1812.
The House of the Seven Gables is a seaside mansion that is a must visit during your stay in Salem. Made famous as a result of the novel of the same name by New England author Nathaniel Hawthorne, the house dates back to 1668 and was built by a successful maritime merchant. Also on-site is the birthplace home of Hawthorne and other structures that have been moved to the property that is indicative of colonial New England architecture.
You may also enjoy a visit to Salem Willows, a seaside public park that reminds you of the small amusement parks of yesteryear. You can grab a meal or a snack, pop into the arcade and play games, or walk along the waterfront for scenic views of the ocean. For additional scenery, take a drive along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway. You can take it from Salem to Gloucester and the coastal New England vistas, lighthouses and additional amenities along the way.
Salem is a great place to visit any time of the year, but really comes to life in the fall. Destination Salem can provide you with other suggestions for places to stay, eat, and visit during your stay. For more information, check out salem.org.