North of Boston, Massachusetts there's a place once haunted by evil memories where all visitors can now have a good time and study the past.
While other places may try to hide a grim or particularly incriminating reputation, Salem, Massachusetts makes it a point to preserve its past and take heed of valuable lessons learned. Because of this endeavor to learn from mistakes, the town’s efforts to promote tolerance, and its natural seaside-like serenity, Salem is a perfect place for families to spend a few days enjoying the city’s educational, historical and simply beautiful attractions.
Salem is located north of Boston, next to the town of Marblehead, and is approximately a 30-minute drive up the East coast along Route 1 and Route 107. Founded in 1626, the “City of Peace” is probably best known for the infamous witch trials of 1692. It was also, however, an important overseas trading destination and its wharves were once busy with successful captains and sea merchants bringing home money and goods from all over. Visitors may also recognize the destination for being the muse of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter while in Salem.
A truly remarkable historical attraction that should be on any visitor’s list of to-sees is the First Church In Salem, located off the intersection of Essex and Summer Street. The church, one of the oldest Protestant churches in continuous operation in North America, was founded in 1629, and was actually involved in the witch hysteria in Salem Village in 1692. Today, however, the church is much different and accepts congregation members of all ages, religious backgrounds, races and even sexual orientation.
Salem’s Maritime Attractions
On the way down to Salem’s wharves, visitors can stop in at the National Park Service Salem Visitor Center. Here, amicable park officials entertain questions from guests and several maritime-themed exhibits are on display as well as an educational film. Next door, the Peabody Essex Museum houses a collection of culturally diverse artwork done by 1700s artists as well as intricate ship models.
Closer to the waters of the Salem Sound, you’ll happen upon the Salem Maritime National Historic Site Orientation Center, where you can grab some informative pamphlets and trek out on the spit of land known as the Long Wharf. Along the way, you’ll pass by the replica of the fully operational 171-foot three-masted Friendship, which takes on passengers during the warmer months. (The original ship was built by an East Indiaman in 1797.) It’s a long walk out, but at the edge of the Long Wharf sits the stout Derby Wharf Lighthouse, built in 1871. It’s a mere 20 feet tall but offers a beautiful view of the water to accommodate visitors.
Imagining the town for what it used to be is no difficult feat: looking back from the very tip of the wharf by the lighthouse, the large brick houses lining the street along the bay transform back into warehouses, maritime equipment storage and cargo-holding facilities. Sitting in the now defunct port, the replica of the Friendship remains as a symbol of the trading vessels that once crowded this busy Salem wharf.
Salem for Junk & Food
In a building that was initially home to the London Coffee House in the 1700s, Reds Sandwich Shop is the local hot spot for scrumptious, unbelievably inexpensive meals and friendly waitresses. While your food is digesting, there are a number of interesting stores to be explored throughout the town only a short walk away.
Located on Essex Street next to the Salem Witch House and First Church In Salem, the Witch City Consignment & Thrift store is a collection of oddities and maritime-themed decorations. Upon walking through the maze of another-man’s-junk-is-another-man’s-treasures, it’s hard to imagine how every item big or small is catalogued by the two shop owners. Take some time perusing through the packed aisles and you may just find something unique and purely you.
Not far from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the Pyramid Books shop wafts strong odors of burning incense out onto the busy Derby Street. New Age books, precious stones with mystical powers and fore-telling astrological charts can be found here, and there are even private booths in the back for pre-arranged psychic readings.
Located down along the shops lining the wharves, Antiques & Collectibles (781/639-1023) has a hidden treasure trove of books detailing the history of Salem. Find your way toward the back of the store to discover a nook with sections labeled “Alice and Wonderland,” “Hitler,” “Death,” and other unexpected titles.
Keep in mind that it’s not unusual to be greeted warmly upon entering the town shops or for residents to randomly stop and ask if you need help finding anything.
Just as this particular antiques store made it a point to name sections after a notorious genocidal leader and a young girl lost in a realm of uncertainty and madness, Salem makes certain to preserve the dark memories of its infamous witch trials as a reminder to practice tolerance and acceptance. Knowing this during your visit will truly put into perspective the humble attitude of the small town, coupled with the serenity it pulls off so well during any of the four seasons.
Throughout the winter months, all of the witch museums and attractions close down, but once the summer season starts up and throughout the fall, the area becomes packed with ghost hunters, pagan worshippers and the weirdest of the weird.
Offbeat attractions that kids will most likely enjoy include the Salem Witch Museum, located on the southwest corner of the Salem Commons and the New England Pirate Museum and Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, both a short walk south toward the wharves.
A truly humbling point of interest in Salem is the Old Burying Ground. Here in the 1700s, a number of civilians were accused of witchcraft and hanged, while one was crushed to death. Atop the wall lining the front of the cemetery, the victims’ last pleas are written out, most halted mid-sentence when they were interrupted by death.
Even for its grim past, the cemetery exudes a peaceful mood and simply strolling through the small patch of burial ground to observe the fading dates on the deteriorating gravestones is an enjoyable, if not meaningful way to spend an afternoon together.
Walking around Salem is easy because of its small size, but visitors also have the option of riding the Salem Trolley. The eight-mile ride, narrated by a local expert guide, will pass by the most notable attractions including along the beautiful Chestnut Street and past the House of the Seven Gables. Passengers may also disembark at any of the 13 stops along the way.
Getting to Salem is also made easy by way of the Massachusetts Commuter Rail. Tickets can be purchased online at the MBTA website or at Boston’s North Station, South Station, or Back Bay Station. Visitors can also receive information on schedules and rates by calling at 800/392-6100.
For an overnight stay in Salem, there are a number of hotels located in downtown Salem, including the Salem Waterfront Hotel-Suites, the Hawthorne Hotel and the Salem Inn. There are also numerous bed and breakfasts in the area, such as the Amelia Payson Guest House and Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast. Check the hotel and B&B websites for more details on accommodation rates, amenities and special offers. Also, look at Boston Hotels for more ideas on lodging in the area.
For more information on Salem and its attractions throughout the year, visit the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau website or call at 978/977-7760.
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