Salem is a small coastal town in Massachusetts, a town like you can only find in New England. It is packed with history, historic buildings, museums, a harbor, wooden houses and craft shops. Visiting Salem MA had been on my list for a while and a few weeks ago I finally went. Of course, the main reason I wanted to visit was to learn more about the witch hunt that took place there several hundreds of years ago. And while I did learn a lot during my visit, I didn’t care for the extreme commercialization of those events. What I liked most was the typical lively atmosphere of a New England town.
Visiting Salem MA
As usual I started my visit at the tourist information center, which is located on the cozy pedestrian Essex Street Shopping Mall. I picked up a map and began walking. The cool thing was that a red line on the sidewalk resembled the walking tour on my map. It was an incredibly convenient way of getting around and seeing all highlights.
I visited the Salem Witch Museum, which has a guided tour and presentation on the witch hunt and trials that took place there in 1692. The information provided was sufficient, but the museum store was a real anticlimax. It sold everything from fake vampire teeth, to carved pumpkins and witch masks. In fact, all over Salem you can see witch ‘museums’, shops and stores, and you can take part in nightly witch walks and ghost tours. It was so over-the-top commercialized it was almost embarrassing.
On the positive side, there is in fact a lot of history in Salem, something that I always love about a town or city. It used to be one of the largest harbors in the colonies at one point. Its seafaring past is shown in the well-preserved harbor quarter (Old Port) and docks.
Another real highlight of visiting Salem MA is the famous Turner-Ingersoll Mansion. This house was built by a wealthy sea captain and businessman during Salem’s so-called Golden Age of Sail. Later on, it was the house were the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne spent a part of his youth. In fact, it played such a big part in his upbringing that it inspired him to write his novel ‘The House of the Seven Gables’. The site of the historic house and now a National Historic Landmark and also contains other old buildings. The birth house of Hawthorne was moved there as well. I visited this impressive house with a guide and loved it.
I’ll take a good chunk of history over kitschy commerce any time.
I continued my walk around Salem and visited the historic cemetery where a Pilgrim and one of the witch trial judges are buried.
My visit to Salem only lasted one day, but there are a few more fascinating historic sites and a great art museum to check out. Therefore, I would suggest booking a hotel and taking some more time to take a look around. One day wasn’t really enough.
Fun fact: John Hathorne was one of Nathaniel Hawthorne ancestors and the only witch trial judge who never regretted the consequences of his decisions. Nathaniel later added a ‘w’ to his last name to try and cover up his family history.