6 Reason You Will Love Salem!
You’ve probably heard about our neighbors to the north, up in spooky Salem--home of the infamous 17th century witch-hunts. A town once gripped by superstition and rampant fears of alleged witchcraft, where innocent villagers faced punishment in stocks, dungeons, and in the gallows--Salem is now synonymous with colorful Halloween celebrations and playfully schlocky haunted houses, which at times seem to outshine the city’s rich history and charm. But as one of the world’s most powerful ports in its early days, the story of Salem is also that of a flourishing maritime center, home to merchants returning from across the world, with wares from as far as China and the Indonesian archipelago--their ships filling the harbor, stocked with everything from Chinese porcelain to African coffee beans and black pepper from the spice islands. During more prosperous days, prestigious New Englanders such as author Nathaniel Hawthorne called Salem home, and the much of the city’s worldly treasures have ended up in the fascinating Peabody Essex Museum. These days, Salem hosts a vibrant, multicultural community--part Bohemian, part Olde New Englander, and unmistakably part 21st century. The town has embraced its role as a quietly hip residence, as well as multi-faceted tourist destination, and accordingly has a wide area of activities for all ages, and a growing dining scene fit for all taste buds. So whether it’s the witchy kitsch or the elegant House of Seven Gables that draw you into Salem, there’s bound to be more hidden in this town than you imagined--as we discovered on a recent visit.
1.The House of Seven Gables-- Having not thumbed through a piece of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing since middle school, we’d often shrugged at the thought of the the House of Seven Gables, the historic home of one of New England’s foremost literary giants--but we can tell you that, to leave this off of your itinerary would be a mistake! Walking through the both humble and opulent home and listening to the excellent tour guides will take you on a trip through centuries of fascinating history: rooms within rooms, secret passages, reflecting the different eras during which they were designed--every single gives such a detailed story of of tumultuous times and prosperity--not just the story of the Hawthornes and subsequent owners, but of Salem and New England itself, brought to life by the site’s engaging tour guides. Don’t miss it!
2.Salem Harbor-- Salem has one of those quintessential New England waterfronts, that evokes images of whaling ships and trading vessels pulling in and out of the bustling harbor. You’ll be happy to find out you can even board the Friendship [currently under repair, mid-2017!], an old merchant ship dating back to 1797. Aside from beautiful historical landmarks like the Friendship and the old Custom House the waterfront also hosts quite a few great places to shop, dine, and caffeinate--don’t miss stylish Jaho Coffee, who roast their own blends on site!
3.Peabody Essex Museum--Not to be missed amongst the fortune-telling stalls, haunted houses, and gift shops of downtown’s main drag, sits the Peabody Essex Museum. The PEM offers fascinating exhibits, including not only the work of world-renowned artists, and artifacts collected from around the globe during the town’s maritime heyday, but also some particularly unique exhibits, including an extensive collection of art from indigenous American communities across the continent, and an authentic, completely reconstructed Chinese shophouse. The exhibits in this stunning and accessible museum will capture the imaginations of adults and children alike, and is one of our regional treasures.
4.Did I mention FOOD?--It’s easy to work up a bit of an appetite, crossing the compact town center on foot. Being an international port city of such high status in its day, it’s no wonder that Salem has attracted people from all over the world, and today you have many living relics of those times; take Ye Olde Pepper Company, for example. The country’s oldest candy store still offers up sweet delicacies--especially those turtles--that have been championed by locals, and celebrities alike, including a certain queen of daytime TV, Mrs. Oprah Winfrey herself. Salem still boasts a sizable population with Italian roots, tracing back to its days as a port, and yes, there’s a bevy of deliciously authentic Italian restaurants like Bella Verona. This being coastal New England, fresh seafood is a given at stalwarts like Turner's Seafood; but if you’re just in the mood for a good ol’ sandwich, you might want to check out the best reuben sandwich we’ve had in recent memory, at Brother’s Taverna!
5.Witches & Kitsch--Of course, in Salem, you can’t avoid encounters of the witchy kind.There’s no shortage of spooks, from the gaudy haunted houses that pop-up on every other corner come late September, to the various museums featuring historical witch trial reenactments, the enchanting old burial grounds, and the mysterious, infamous dungeons. The Halloween season sees Salem playing up this frightening facade--and perhaps that doesn’t appeal to everyone. However, you you might be quite surprised at what a moving experience it can be, to rediscover the very real stories behind these witch trials, which you might encounter at places such as the Witch Dungeon Museum. More than just grim wax figures and a few cheap chills, the museum consists of an engaging trial reenactment, before guests descend into the replica of the dark dungeon prison cells, where suspected “witches” once awaited their fates. It was an engrossing yet somber look at one of New England’s darkest chapters, providing a poignant cautionary tale about the dangers of letting mob-mentality and misunderstandings take over a community.
6.The Locals--With such an eclectic history, the town of Salem has attracted quite the cast of colorful characters over the years, from would-be-witches, literary greats, and even the occasional celebrity--and people-watching during the Halloween season is practically a local pastime. The city is still home to the descendents of the merchants and traders from its opulent maritime past, who now share the town with a multicultural populace as well as a free-spirited community of artists, writers, new age spiritualists and their novelty shops, self-proclaimed Italian witches, and recently, even Damien Echols, one of the subjects of the award winning documentary series Paradise Lost. Interesting, and maybe slightly ironic--that a man who was himself the center of a modern day witch-hunt, eventually had his conviction overturned, came to settle here. Perhaps you’ll begin to understand the towns enchanting allure once you see Salem for yourself...so let us get you there!