By Caroline Eddy
Reader, blogger at American Caffeine, historian, wardrobe architect
The town of Salem is often remembered for one thing: witches. Most people have heard of the infamous 1692 trials, or know even a little something about them. So it’s no surprise that the place is hopping come Halloween season.
Even if you can’t make it to Salem for October 31st, this magical city is still worth the visit. It’s a quaint New England town full of history, hidden gems, and a little something for every member of the family.
In the winter of 1692, the Massachusetts colony began a year-long fight against a force they could not see or understand. Young women and girls all over town were dropping into “fits” – the umbrella term for everything from seizure-like thrashing and full-body paralysis to hallucinations and coughing up needles. The ailment they all claimed to suffer from? Bewitchment and curses cast on them by the Devil’s handmaidens–witches.
Society has come a long way from witchcraft, and historians have spent years devising various theories to explain the fear that gripped Salem that year. The witch trials are considered one of the darker points in history, stamping Salem firmly on the map and in the wider expanse of American History. Nowadays, Salem has come to celebrate and honor the past in a number of ways.
If you’re looking for a good haunted tale, there are plenty of “witch-walks” and ghost tours at all hours. The old Meeting House – think town hall and church combined – and historic cemeteries are sure to give you goosebumps whatever the season. The walk to Gallows Hill is good exercise, has a pretty view of the changing leaves, and is the spot of many a ghost sighting.
Got a few historians in the family? Salem is the perfect spot for them too. There are no less than three museums to learn about the trials, monuments honoring the accused, and historic walking tours through the whole town. There is plenty to explore beyond the witches too. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlet Letter, was born in Salem and his childhood home still stands. Old Town Hall, the Phillips House, and a reconstructed pioneer village are great for getting a feel of what Salem’s – and the United States’ – early days were like.
Off the main drag, Salem boasts a gorgeous waterfront. While you shouldn’t go expecting the Atlantic City boardwalk or San Francisco’s teeming piers, it is still worth seeing. The coast of Massachusetts is littered with old, still-functioning lighthouses, and Salem is no exception. The Winter Island, Derby Wharf, and Bakers Island lighthouses sit close to town proper or just a boat ride out. The harbor is home to the Schooner Fame and the Friendship, a tall ship that would have been used for trading after the Revolution. The boats’ home is considered a National Park.
If being on the water is more your speed, seek out the shuttle to Misery Island. It’s Salem’s answer to cute beachfront shops and restaurants. Despite the doom and gloom the name suggests, the island offers a nice time and sports a pretty view back to the mainland.
Vacations always have one rainy day. It’s inevitable. The answer (if you’ve already hit up the witch museums, art museums, and the Peabody outposts) is the Salem Pirate Museum. I myself have never been to this particular spot, but believe it to be exactly what the name suggests.
If you ever find yourself in Massachusetts, Salem will be happy to have you. To find more information – and plan a vacation itinerary based on your family’s interests – the town website is a gold mine. Search the website, the internet at large, even Instagram hashtags. Salem is as unique as they come and should not be missed!
About the Author
Caroline Eddy is a student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying journalism, history and Russian. When not at school, she’s at home in Valley Forge, cuddling with her dog. She is an avid reader, loves the quiet of Carnegie Library and lives for wild places. She enjoys exploring, learning, gardening, design and making her own clothing. You can follow her on Instagram (@fieldreporter). Her blog is American Caffeine.