You have to admire the chutzpah of a city that became infamous for executing suspected witches, but which now has the silhouette of a flying witch on the side of its police cars (not to mention a statue of the TV witch Samantha in its downtown). With its stores selling spell kits and tarot readings and restaurants like The Witch’s Brew, Salem, Massachusetts, may well be the best place in America to celebrate Halloween.
Salem is most famous, of course, for its connection to the Witch Trials of 1692 (see below). But this Atlantic seacoast town is also a place to delve deep into American history and learn about the importance of tolerance. With its blend of whimsy, heritage, and fun, Salem offers a range of attractions likely to fascinate visitors of all ages, of magical blood or not.
During October, Salem’s whimsical side is on prominent display. The month includes ghost tours, a Witches’ Halloween Ball, a Haunted Happenings Grand Parade, haunted harbor cruises, and ghostly theater performances, all culminating in a Halloween celebration with live music, dancing in the streets, and crowds of elaborately costumed witches, warlocks, and wizards.
The revelry takes place in a city that played a key role in early American history. Founded in 1626, this community of 41,000 was once one of the busiest seaports in North America, a settlement that grew wealthy off of trade with the Far East. Salem also played a key role in the War of 1812, when the city’s ships harassed and robbed British merchant vessels.
Salem’s seafaring past is preserved at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, located in the city’s downtown harbor. There you can tour the original Customs House as well as the three-masted “Friendship,” a replica of a 1797 merchant ship. To experience the sea yourself, book passage on the “Fame,” a replica of an 1812 privateer that offers two-hour cruises. Afterwards, take off on foot to explore the picturesque neighborhoods around Salem harbor, with their narrow, winding streets lined with quaint eighteenth-century houses. You can also tour the Peabody Essex Museum, which displays treasures brought to Salem from around the globe.
Literary buffs flock to Salem because of its connection to novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who grew up here and as an adult worked in the city’s Custom House. Salem’s most direct connection to the author is the House of the Seven Gables, a seventeenth-century home that provided the inspiration for Hawthorne’s novel of the same name. The structure is said to be the most-visited historic home in America.
- History of the Salem Witch Trials
- Salem’s Witch Trials Landmarks
- The Witches of Salem Today
- Touring Salem by Broom
Salem is located 16 miles north of Boston and is easily accessible by ferry, bus, and train service from the city as well as by car. For more information call (877) SALEMMA or see Salem.org.