Salem: More to see than witches and ghosts

Salem may be renowned for the notorious Witch Trials of 1692, but there is more to see and learn from this inaugural New England city. It was also the birthplace and home to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the renowned author and a major shipping port that contributed to the growth of America. Salem is steeped in history as one of the first colonies in New England that formed the structure of the USA. It is now a bustling tourist city, especially during October when Haunted Happenings—a month of events with additional street vendors takes over the city. Essex Street is lined with psychic shops, Salem memorabilia, as staff in costumes parade the street offering tours and readings as you wander down the cobbled streets. The streets that have remained the same since some of the first settlers arrived over 350 years ago, Salem has more to offer than being the location of one the most notorious injustices society has served to its citizens. Here are a few tips when visiting one of the oldest cities in America:

  • Find The National Park Service Visitor Center, on New Liberty Street at the end of Essex and opposite the Peabody Essex Museum. Here you will find numerous maps and guides as well as individual flyers (often with discounts) for the attractions and also for the surrounding area. There are some well documented historical facts of the area and photos on display, including a facsimile of Bridget Bishop’s death warrant and information of the winners of the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice. Salem has few public restrooms, but here is an official one. In addition. Book a free tour of Custom House or the Friendship here, since the budget cuts they are now limited during peak hours only or on request if a ranger is available. To keep this service going, donations are gratefully received.
  • Visit the Old Burying Point and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.  The cemetery has two entrances, the main on Charter and a small gate on Liberty. Don’t worry, you can’t get locked in as the wall surrounding it is only a couple of feet in height and many people go on evening ghost tours. Here lie some of the renowned and infamous Salem residents and the first families to settle in New England. The Witch Trial memorial is adjacent with 20 benches etched with the name of each victim and the date.  Many of their ancestors visit and flowers are always left on the benches.  Do not sit on them and have lunch as some tourists have done. They are a mark of respect as many of the bodies have never been found, as they were not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground. A brief history board is poorly located directly opposite, outlining how Salem today, is attempting to make amends with the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice. The foundation serves to remind society of the suffering injustice causes and that continues today.
  • Get your fortune read. There are numerous psychics offering readings an all have to have a license, but that does not mean to say they are gifted. If you choose to have a reading there are several types, those who favor the angelic realm and those who use witchcraft, either way take it with a pinch of salt. You can have a 15 minute reading or longer ones up to an hour. Most people dress to look the part in Salem and some even do the readings in the shop windows. A reading should be done in private and many places have consultation rooms, just ask!
  • Hold on to your ticket stub, many businesses piggyback each other and your ticket may give you discounts in Cinema Salem, a reading, a cafe or another tour. There are numerous types of tours and many will sell you tickets in the street. It depends on what you are interested in and how much time and walking you wish to do, so ask the questions before parting with any money. There are witch, ghost, trolley or history tours to choose from. All the guides have to take an annual test and have a license to make sure they know the facts of Salem. A tour is useful if you have time constraints and many will offer group deals or discounts in conjunction with another venue, especially the museums. Look in the visitor center for flyers with discounts and observe some of the guides in action around town. Often you can’t miss them, wearing elaborate costumes and microphones!
  • Visit Nathaniel Hawthorne’s place of birth. He was born on Herbert Street, the back of Union Street near Derby Wharf; walk the streets and see the view he had whilst he worked at the Custom House and where he wrote The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne had an interest in the supernatural, which comes across in his novels. You can find a self-guided tour to download from the visitor center of the places he used to live in. The House of Seven Gables is nearby at the end of Derby Street and his statue stands in the middle of Hawthorne Boulevard.
  • Where to eat?  For those who want to buy a sandwich or grab a bite to takeout, currently the choice is limited, but places open and close quickly and can open only for the season. You can grab a hot dog on Washington, donuts on Derby or Washington and there are a few taco places (the one on Essex is good value). Many people opt to stock up on refreshments in the local CVS in the center of Essex, not because the restaurants aren’t good, but if you are there for the day you don’t have that much time to wait to get a table then served and there is so much to see and do! There is also a 7-Eleven on Norman, which can be handy for emergency supplies, especially late at night as many places close by 10.30 p.m. There are a few pizza places where you can buy a slice and get a meal deal. Flying Saucer Pizza near the bewitched statue is a favorite among locals and also has vegan options.
  • How to get there? The train from Boston is very quick and is only a few minutes walk into the city, buses also go from Boston and drop off in the city or there is a ferry during the peak season, weather permitting. The walk from the ferry into the main hub is a little longer, about 15 minutes, but check the times for the last sailing as they can be infrequent.
  • Salem Common and the square often hold musical events that the local council organizes. Usually these are on a Saturday by the fountain or there maybe a fair on the Common. This is also where there is a fairground during October and is still after all these years a meeting place for locals to meet for rallies or memorials.
  • The weather in Salem can be unpredictable being on the coast. During the summer it can be hot and humid, but liable for torrential rain. Winter time is a typical New England scene of a foot of snow, where cars are regularly banned from driving or being parked on the main roads. If you visit out of season, many places maybe closed, so it’s worth calling as many will close or not even open up when the weather is bad.
  • Where to stay? There are numerous bed and breakfasts and hotels, but there are no chains here. The two larger hotels are the Hawthorne and the Waterfront have car parking and some other places may have one or two spots, but there is no guarantee as parking can be expensive. You can easily do a day trip from Boston or neighboring towns by train instead and the Salem Willows on Winter Island has a campground where RVs can also park.

Even if you can only spend a few hours in Salem, it’s worth visiting one of the first ports in American history, so wear comfy shoes as some of the streets are cobbled. Whatever reason you go, for history, witches, fun or to see the ships, Salem is still an important city that reminds humanity of the injustice it is capable of.

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