Is there any spookier place in America than Salem, Massachusetts, forever branded by the hysteria in 1692 that led to accusations of witchcraft? And yet--I'm drawn to the town. Maybe it's the salt air of the sea and the lingering specters of sailors and pirates. Maybe it's Salem's association with my favorite author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose writings sometimes revealed his own tortured wrestling with an ancestor's involvement in the witch condemnations.
Maybe it's that I ate the best prime rib of my life there!
But enough about ME! If you're looking for a spooky spot for a getaway this October or any time of the year, Salem, Massachusetts, can't be beat. It's a walkable city with so much history and so many things to do.
October is a particularly good time to visit Salem: In addition to the town's normal host of bewitching attractions, you'll find a full calendar of Haunted Happenings that range from a seance to a costume ball to ghostly guided walking tours. And there's nothing quite like being in Salem on Halloween!
Here are some ideas to get you started in planning a step back in time to days when a kid in a zombie costume was not the scariest thing in the world!
Next page > Salem Attractions >
Year-round, Salem takes advantage of its wicked past, serving up a variety of attractions that retell the history for which the town is best known. In addition, you'll find other great spots to visit that commemorate Salem's seafaring history and its literary connections.
Start your Salem adventure at the National Park Service's Salem Visitor Center. From there, it's easy to follow the Heritage Trail, much like Boston's Freedom Trail, a red line that takes you through town and past many of Salem's most popular attractions.
Close by, you'll find the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) founded in 1799 and home to fascinating art and history collections. The Phillips Library on the PEM campus (closed for renovations, with a temporary location now open in Peabody, Massachusetts) is a repository for the original court documents from the witchcraft trials.
Move on to the Salem Witch Museum for a compelling retelling of the accusations, hysteria, trials and executions of 1692 through life-size dioramas. This might be a bit frightening for younger children but serves as a terrific orientation and introduction to Salem's blemished history. If you've not yet had your fill of witchy stuff, include the Witch Dungeon Museum on your tour, too. There, actors recreate the witch trials based on the 1692 transcripts.
The witch stuff is fascinating, but it's time to transition to some of Salem's other attractions. Get weaned off witches and onto Salem's sea-shaped past at the Salem Wax Museum of Witches & Seafarers.
Meet many of the characters from Salem's past, realistically recreated in wax, and participate in hands-on activities such as gravestone rubbing. A discounted Wicked Special Deal available during the Halloween season provides admission to the wax museum, Frankenstein's Castle, A Spellcasting and the Haunted Witch Village (we're almost done with witches, I swear!) for only $20.
The New England Pirate Museum has a fascinating collection of memorabilia from the days when notorious sea-robbers like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd terrorized the waters off Boston's North Shore. Meet the famous rapscallions and hunt for hidden treasure. Also make a stop at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The waterfront site includes three wharves, the U.S. Custom House complex (where Nathaniel Hawthorne opens his novel, The Scarlet Letter), the Derby House, the Narbonne House and the West India Goods Store, plus the tall ship Friendship of Salem. View free movies detailing Salem's maritime past, and take a guided tour of the complex.
Don't miss my favorite Salem spot, the House of Seven Gables. Immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the House of Seven Gables is one of the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansions in New England. If you're searching for spookiness, you'll love the home's secret staircase and this ghost story. The house in which Hawthorne was born is also located at the site, which is open for tours daily (except January 1-15).
If you are fearless and intrigued by what spirits still lurk in Salem, sign on for a late-night ghost investigation with Paranormal Salem.
Daytime ghost tours are available, too.
Other attractions you might find of interest include the Salem 1630 Pioneer Village; The Phillips House, a federal mansion filled with artifacts; Pickering House, the oldest house continuously occupied by the same family; The Witch House (had to sneak in one more witch spot... it is Salem after all!), former home of witch trials judge Jonathan Corwin; and The Old Burying Point, Salem's oldest cemetery containing the graves of a Mayflower pilgrim and witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne, ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Next page > Salem Haunted Happenings >
Previous page < Salem: An Introduction <
October is a fabulous month to visit Salem--the town knows how to capitalize on its spooky reputation, and there are a host of special tours and events planned in conjunction with the month-long Haunted Happenings celebration. Here are a few ideas:
Spirits of The Gables
On October 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29, 2016, tour The House of Seven Gables and meet characters from Hawthorne's famous novel.
Tours run from 8 to 10:30 p.m. each evening (7 to 9 p.m. only on Halloween). Tickets are $15 per person and can be purchased online. Call 978-744-0991 for more information.
The Haunted Neighborhood
The Salem Witch Village and Salem Wax Museum present the Haunted Neighborhood October 1 through 31, 2016. Explore Frankenstein's Castle and the Haunted Witch Village; watch a real witch casting spells; participate in a candlelit ghostly tour or graveyard tour and more!
Haunted Happenings at the Hawthorne Hotel
The Hawthorne Hotel will host a 21+ "Seven Deadly Sins" themed Halloween Party on October 29, 2016. Adults love this annual Halloween Costume Ball. Call 978-744-4080 for tickets and details.
Messages from the Spirit World
Salem's only authentic seance will be held nightly in October at the Spirit Parlor of OMEN. Spirit mediums will conduct these evenings of conversing with the dead. Tickets can be purchased online (a processing fee applies).
The Official Salem Witches' Halloween Ball
The annual Official Salem Witches' Halloween Ball, an evening of reveling and cavorting with the spirit world, takes place Friday, October 28, 2016 at the Hawthorne Hotel in the heart of historic Salem. The event is presented by Witch Elder Christian Day and co-host Brian Cain.
This year's theme is "Over the Rainbow: The Magical World of Oz," and guests are invited to wear costumes inspired by the Oz books and movie. Dragon Ritual Drummers will perform. At the evening's pinnacle, the Salem Witches welcome the Witches' New Year by casting a Magic Circle to draw open the veil to the spirit world. Purchase tickets online.
Haunted Harbor Cruises
Mahi Mahi Harbor Cruises & Events will take you on a spine-tingling 75-minute voyage filled with spooky stories set in Salem Sound and along the New England coast. There is a full bar and grill on board, and activities for kids and adults include Tarot card reading and face painting. Haunted Harbor Cruises depart from Pickering Wharf daily October 1 through 31 (see Web site for times). Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children ages 4-12. Reserve online or by calling 978-825-0001. Other Haunted Happenings cruises include 21+ Boo!s Cruises on Saturday nights in October and on Sunday and Monday, October 30 and 31.
Tales and Ales
Sample three local ales, then settle in for a spine-tingling hour with Sir Arthur Hennessey spinning terrifying tales. Tickets are $24 for these sell-out evenings at Salem's Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre on October 7, 8, 13, 14, 21, 22, 28, 29 and 30.
Tickets can be purchased online, or call 978-317-1169 for information.
Check the Salem Haunted Happenings Web site for a calendar of many more October Haunted Happenings events in Salem.
Next page > If You're Going to Salem... >
Previous page < Salem Attractions <
Where to Stay
The Hawthorne Hotel is centrally located and one of the most popular lodging options for visitors to Salem, Massachusetts. If you'll be visiting Salem with kids, the family-friendly and conveniently located Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites is a good choice.
Other places to stay in Salem include the Amelia Payson House, a restored Greek Revival B&B; the Coach House Inn, an 1879 Victorian sea captain's mansion with antique decor; The Salem Inn, comprised of three historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and the Stepping Stone Inn, built in 1846 for a naval officer and located in the heart of historic Salem.
Where to Dine
If you want to consume a prime rib that you'll remember for years to come, make sure to include a stop at Victoria Station on your itinerary. The restaurant is at Pickering Wharf and overlooks Salem Harbor. The salad bar at Victoria Station is something to rave about, too.
For an eclectic menu of pub favorites and locally made brews, head to Salem Beer Works at 278 Derby Street, where there is always something new on tap.
And be sure to visit E.W. Hobbs at Salem Willows Park for a taste of the world's best popcorn. Call 978-745-7691 to check seasonal hours.