Sail through history in historic Salem
By Rhonda Briggs
Have you ever noticed how a place can make a season feel more enchanting? A tropical island during the summer. A snow covered mountain in winter. A trip to Salem, Massachusetts in October.
This small town in northern Massachusetts, with a name derived from the Hebrew word for peace, is best known for its witch trials. Founded in 1626, Salem is full of history, delicious food, and haunting entertainment to put you in the mood for Halloween. Stroll through the streets during a candlelit ghostly walking tour, explore one of three cemeteries with ties to the 1692 witch trials or wander through a community art display.
Salem truly has something for everyone. Of course, the top attraction on everyone’s agenda is a walking tour of the historic witch trial sites that made the town famous. Many different companies offer tours of the city, but one of the top-rated is by Hocus Pocus Tours. Settle in for a 90-minute walking tour where you will hear stories about the famous witch trials, see Salem’s old jail, the Witch Trial Memorial and the cemetery where the judge from the witch trials is buried.
Evening tours are available from Bewitched After Dark. Be prepared to spend up to two hours walking the streets of Salem learning the history of the town and the residents from centuries past.
Nature enthusiasts will enjoy a stroll along Dead Horse Beach. Aptly named because residents centuries ago thought it was far enough away from town to bury the dead horses. Today, the beautiful beach offers a place to stroll along the quiet waters of the Atlantic Ocean in Collins Cove. For a different
perspective, head over to the other side of the peninsula to Winter Island. There you will find RV and tent camping, a gift and camping store, the Historic Fort Pickering Lighthouse, a wedding venue and a public beach named Waikki Beach.
If you’re near the harbor, make a stop at the inspiration for one of American’s greatest pieces of literature, The House of Seven Gables. This historic home was built in 1668 for merchant and ship owner Captain John Turner. Over time, the property changed hands, was remodeled and eventually was purchased by a second cousin to Nathaniel Hawthorn. Hawthorn visited his family regularly while he lived in Salem, and in 1851 used the home as the basis for his classic novel, The House of Seven Gables.
Visitors to the almost 350-year-old home will be treated to a 30-40 minute guided tour through multi-levels of the house to view the architecture and historical value of the home. After visiting the main house, take a walk outside through the Seaside Garden. The gardens are maintained with the same attention to detail and long-standing techniques that were used back in 1909 when the current gardens were designed.
Wander through the rich mix of seasonal fall plants such as impatiens, begonia, chrysanthemums and dianthus. Pink roses and wisteria, along with a border of honeysuckle; add to the old-fashion feeling of the immaculate gardens. Before leaving the grounds, spend time at Nathaniel Hawthorn’s birthplace, which was moved to the grounds in the 1950’s to become a museum.
Another historical home, The Counting House, built around 1830 is also part of the museum complex. It stands as an example of the small buildings sea captains would use to sort out the money earned from a voyage. The home is now a kid-friendly environment called the Kid’s Cove at The Gables, a maritime discovery museum where children can imagine life on the open seas.
After a busy day exploring the city, settle in for dinner at Sea Level Oyster Bar. Relax with views of the harbor while dining on dishes such as Brown Butter Shrimp Scampi, Fried Octopus, Stuffed lobster or, of course, their namesake, oysters from the Raw Bar. Non-seafood loving guests will find plenty of options to enjoy as well.
History buffs with a sweet tooth will want to add Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie to their list of stops while in Salem. Open since 1806, this candy store is America’s oldest candy company and is now under the command of the fourth generation of candy makers. Sample delicious chocolate confections and handmade fudge. Bring home traditional saltwater taffy in a variety of mouth-watering flavors such as New England Maple Syrup, Maine Blueberry or Cape Cod Candy Kisses. Be sure to save room for the candies that started the company, the Gibralter (a diamond shaped hard candy) and Blackjacks (a molasses stick candy). Still made with the original recipe from 1806, these candies are simple confections with uncomplicated flavors.
Witches may be popular but pirates have their place in Salem history as well. Check out The New England Pirate Museum for a peek into the life of New England sea-robbers. Famous pirate captains such as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and many more sailed the Gold Coast, better known as Boston’s North Shore. The museum features artifacts, treasures, a cave, a ship, a 30-minute walking tour and an experience you won’t forget.
If you travel any time between June and October, plan your trip so you can experience 17th Century Saturdays. On the first Saturday of every month five Historic Salem homes open their doors to the public allowing visitors to explore the lives of early settlers in Essex County.
Tired from sightseeing? Settle in at the end of the day into your room at the Northey Street House B&B. Built in 1809, this historic bed and breakfast offers comfortable rooms near all the local attractions. Select one of the three guest rooms, each with antique furniture and modern amenities such as TV and a mini fridge. Enjoy a hearty breakfast the next morning that could include dishes such as Salem Smash Potatoes, baked scones, spinach frittata, and crab cake minis.
No matter what your reason for visiting, Salem is one of those places that warrants a return trip at some point. No matter what age you are, there’s so much history to see and experience. And in Salem, history comes alive every day.