Salem is a uniquely fascinating city unparalleled in historical and supernatural lore. From the outset it looks like just about any New England town: a mish-mash of architecture dating from the 1700s and onwards, small art galleries, tree-lined streets, a healthy harbor and friendly mom and pop eateries. Maybe a suspicious number of New Age boutiques, but who doesn’t love quirks? But then one begins to look closer at the names of certain establishments, like Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, or the witch logos on the police officer badges. The old houses look a little eerier, and the people looking for them seem particularly keen on digging up information on the elusive spectral inhabitants of the long-abandoned Federal buildings.
This is what happens when a town’s biggest claim to fame happens to be that they hanged 20 people for practicing witchcraft 300 years ago, but it’s hard to argue the air of mystery amidst its almost-too-kitschy ever-autumnal atmosphere.
Located less than an hour north from Boston, Salem is a perfect break from the normal into the somewhat paranormal. After all, underneath the layer of witch-themed tourism is just a small town with beautiful buildings, friendly people and homey restaurants ready to introduce you to their world.
The Peabody Essex Museum, or PEM, is notable for a variety of reasons beyond the educational experience it offers. The origins of the Peabody Essex Museum can be traced back to 1799, making it the oldest continuously operating museum in the United States. It stores one of the largest collections of East Asian artifacts in America, holding about 1.3 million pieces. In 2003, internationally-acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie designed and directed the expansion and reorganization of the museum, confirming it as a leading national cultural institution. A mix of new glass and old brick allow the maximum amount of natural light into its modern atrium, between classic brick house-like galleries. Inside and out, the PEM is a visually striking cultural magnet.
Perhaps Salem’s most famous and historically significant house, the House of the Seven Gables, a somewhat macabre black Colonial-style house built in 1668, is a must-see with any visitor, young or old. This house is where many aspects of Salem history intersect, and mainly through Nathaniel Hawthorne, who immortalized the name in his The House of the Seven Gables. His novel touches on Salem’s maritime history and the Salem witch trials (Hawthorne’s father was a sea captain and his grandfather a judge presiding over the Salem Witch Trials) and the house has been somewhat altered to accommodate his writings. And it’s eerie. It’s eerie as hell. There’s a secret staircase that leads to the creaky attic. Dark wood panelling and unsmiling portraits of men wearing ascots, surrounded by Witch Trial lore. History and literature buffs and, really, anyone who enjoys getting a shiver once in a while would be utterly remiss not to stop at the House of the Seven Gables while in Salem.
Learn all about the Salem Witch Trials, by far the most interesting and notable historical event in the town of Salem, at the Salem Witch Museum. Located in an old church, the museum takes its visitors through creepy light-up exhibits featuring wax figures of the Salem Witch Trials characters behind glass and the narrated tale of all the 20 victims of the trials. The second half of the exhibits focus on the historical perception of witches, from medieval impressions of hooded hags to modern Wiccans.
Fifty years isn’t a long time in the grand scope of Salem’s notable history, but for the 50 years that Red’s Sandwich Hub has been serving their famous omelets and sandwiches, locals have been able to have a central food-hub. Located in the London Coffee House (built in 1698), Red’s serves affordable, delicious and insanely large platters of classic American fare. Find real Salem in a massive sandwich and a bottomless cup of coffee at Red’s.
With impeccable reviews by anyone who has ever decided to publicize their opinion online, Morning Glory has checked off every box for what makes a great bed and breakfast. Location? This 1808 Georgian Federal building is situated literally a minute’s walk from House of the Seven Gables, the Salem Trolley Car Stop and Salem Harbor; three minutes from Derby Wharf and five from the Peabody Essex Museum. The innkeepers are friendly and welcoming, the rooms are kitschy and cozy and common spaces include a 675-square-foot roof deck with ocean views and relaxing chaises lounges.