Salem, Massachusetts Travel Guide: History and Hauntings
Salem, Massachusetts embraces both the history and hauntings of its bygone days. In a walkable downtown, visitors are treated to experiences that celebrate the city’s colonial, witch-related, and maritime past. Things to do in Salem, Massachusetts include activities for the serious history buff, and those looking for family fun.
This article provides an overview of Salem, Massachusetts attractions including the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Maritime National Historic site, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables. Our Salem, Massachusetts travel guide also highlights many sites memorializing the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
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ALL ABOUT SALEM:
Salem, Massachusetts is a coastal city located about an hour north of Boston. The city is famous for the witch-hysteria that overtook an early Puritan community, resulting in the Witch Trials of 1692.
During this period, many residents were accused of practicing witchcraft. Of those accused; 19 were found guilty and hanged, 1 was pressed to death, and 5 died in jail. In later colonial times, the city developed into a major American seaport. Today, the city educates visitors about its past by preserving historical sites, supporting the Salem Heritage Trail, and with use of “Witch City” logos and emblems.
WHERE TO STAY: SALEM MA HOTELS
Salem has many inns and hotels for guests to utilize. Accommodations outside of the downtown area tend to decrease in price. If you want the convenience of parking the car and walking the downtown, waterfront, and McIntire historic districts try the Hampton Inn Salem Boston, The Hotel Salem, or The Salem Inn.
SALEM HERITAGE TRAIL AND TOURS
Salem Heritage Trail: The free self-guided Salem Heritage Trail takes visitors through 400 years of Salem history. The trail takes walkers past historical sites in the city’s Downtown, Waterfront, and McIntire Historic Districts (many of these locations were used in the film Hocus Pocus). It is designed to help visitors navigate the maze of Salem’s colonial-era streets, and can be walked from either end.
The trail was originally a painted red line along the sidewalk, but in 2022 was scheduled to be re-painted in a gold color. Grab a map of the trail at a Visitor Center, and use it to orient throughout your travels.
Salem Sightseeing Tours: Salem is a mecca for sightseeing tours. There are trolley, walking, harbor, and Hocus Pocus movie tours to enjoy. Tours highlight ghosts, haunted sites, witches, Salem’s history, lighthouses, and many more areas of interest. With a good guide, tours can be a great way to experience the local culture. In addition to tours that originate in Salem, there are many tours leaving from Boston.
SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS MUSEUMS
Here are some of our favorite museums in Salem, Massachusetts:
Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex Street): The Peabody Essex Museum was established in 1799. It claims the title of the USA’s oldest continuously operating museum. On two (huge) levels the museum displays exhibitions featuring authentic witch trial objects, maritime history, fashion, art, and special exhibits.
Ropes Mansion and Gardens (318 Essex Street): A part of the Peabody Essex Museum, the Ropes Mansion was built in 1727. Once a comfortable 15 room home, the mansion is now a museum that can be toured. The Georgian Colonial home is filled with furnishings and housewares from the 18th and 19th centuries. Be sure to save time to tour the beautiful gardens attached to the home.
Salem Witch Museum (19 ½ N Washington Square): The small atmospheric museum focuses on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. In one presentation 13 life-size stage sets recount the drama of the Salem witch hysteria including depictions of the pressing of Giles Corey and hanging of George Burrows (may not be suitable for young children). A visit also includes an exhibition on witches and a great gift shop.
The House of Seven Gables (115 Derby Street): Take a guided group tour of the setting of Nathanial Hawthorne’s novel by the same name. Built in 1668, this sprawling colonial estate sits on the edge of Salem Harbor. The beautiful and historic home is a National Historic Landmark.
The Witch House at Salem (310 Essex Street): The Witch House is also known as the Jonathon Corwin House. Judge Jonathon Corwin (1640 – 1718) was a magistrate at the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The house is the only remaining structure with direct ties to the trials.
SALEM MASSACHUSETTS CEMETERIES AND MEMORIALS
Charter Street Cemetery (51 Charter Street): Established in 1637, the Charter Street Cemetery (aka Old Burying Point) is the oldest cemetery in Salem. A judge at the witch trials, John Hawthorne, is laid to rest here. The oldest marker in the cemetery belongs to Doraty Cromall (1637). The cemetery sits in the middle of town adding atmosphere to the colonial houses and cobblestone streets.
Witch Trials Memorial (Liberty Street): Behind the Charter Street Cemetery a row of stone memorials honors the victims of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The names of those persecuted and executed are carved into slabs of stone along a shaded lane.
Howard Street Cemetery (Howard Street): A short walk from the Salem Witch Museum on the Salem Heritage Trail, visitors will find the Howard Street Cemetery. These grounds are said to be the location where accused witch Giles Corey was pressed to death because he refused to stand trial.
Roger Conant Statue (2 Brown Street): Founder of Salem.
Nathaniel Hawthorne Statue (20 Hawthorne Blvd.): Great American Novelist who penned The Scarlet Letter, and wrote The House of Seven Gables while residing in Salem.
Bewitched Statue (Corner of Essex and Washington): Tribute to well-known TV sitcom “Bewitched.”
SALEM MASSACHUSETTS WATERFRONT
The Salem waterfront district runs roughly between the blocks of Washington Street and the Salem Ferry. The district follows the waterfront along the South River and Salem Harbor.
Pickering Wharf and Wharf Street: Crossing over into the Waterfront District, visitors will enjoy a walkable area that includes a small village with shops, restaurants, and marina views.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Derby Street): The Salem Maritime site has the honor of being the first National Historic Site established in America (1938). The area consists of a nine-acre park with two wharfs (Central and Derby), 12 historic structures, the Friendship of Salem cargo ship, and the Derby Wharf Lighthouse. The park grounds are free to explore. Check in at the Visitors Center to see what historical house are giving tours. Generally, two decks of the Friendship of Salem can be toured.
SALEM MASSACHUSETTS SHOPPING & ATTRACTIONS
Salem has a great assortment of unique and locally owned shops to wander. The gift shops at the Peabody Essex and House of Seven Gables museums have quality merchandize. Scattered throughout the city’s side-streets there are crafting, houseware, and specialty food shops to browse.
Liberty Street and Salem Witch Village: The Liberty Street and Salem Witch Village area is a lively area to browse for witch- and occult-related gear. On Liberty Street visitors will find the Salem Wax Museum, Salem Witch Village shops, Pentagram Witchcraft and Magick Shoppe, tour operators, and restaurants.
Essex Street Pedestrian Mall: The fun pedestrian only mall runs along Essex Street (between Liberty and Washington). It is a non-stop parade of witch- and occult-themed shops, restaurants, psychics, cafes, and séance shops. Attractions and shops include the Witch History Museum, Covens Cottage, Wicked Good Books, and the Magic Parlor. The cobblestone and brick streets add to the unusual atmosphere.
Hope you have a wicked good time, Laura and Randy
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