Salem

Overview

Introduction

If Plymouth is Pilgrims, Pilgrims, Pilgrims, then Salem is witches, witches, witches. Only 15 mi/25 km northeast of Boston, the town of Salem, Massachusetts, is best known for the witch trials Puritans held there in 1692. Based on the accusations of a small group of children and women, 20 people were put to death on the suspicion that they were involved with witchcraft (19 were hanged, one was crushed to death). In retrospect, many believe the accusations had more to do with personal vendettas and mass hysteria than any actual dabbling in black magic.

You can learn about the trials at the Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum (where actors re-create a trial). The Salem Wax Museum applies that classic wax-museum touch to the event and includes a replica of a jail cell used to hold the accused. The Witch House, constructed in 1642, was the home of one of the trial judges. Preliminary examinations of the accused witches were carried out there, though the courthouse is where the actual trials took place. The Witch Village offers historical overview of witchcraft, whose origins were far less sinister than legend has it. Specialty new-age shops line the thoroughfares, and don't be surprised to see modern-day Wicca practitioners, replete with long hair and capes, strolling the streets. Candlelit witch tours are especially popular in October.

If you've had your fill of witch-related attractions, there's still plenty to see in Salem. Walk along Derby and Chestnut streets (lined with old homes and public buildings) then tour the Salem Maritime National Museum and Pioneer Village (a re-created Puritan settlement circa 1630). The House of the Seven Gables, the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, is part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which also includes Hawthorne's birthplace and the early 19th-century Custom House where the author worked. Pickering Wharf, on the waterfront, is a good spot for shopping and refreshment.

Be sure to visit the expanded Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest operating museum in the U.S. It was established in 1799 by 22 sea captains who wanted to show off their souvenirs of exotic locales. Some 30 galleries display an astonishing variety of artifacts: ship models and nautical equipment; art, weapons and religious items from Africa and Asia; and decorative arts and furniture from the Americas. (Of course this Salem museum has displays on the witch trials, too.) The gift shop is an excellent place to gather your own souvenirs.

Beverly has three historic homes managed by the Beverly Historical Society, including Balch House. Built in 1636, it's one of the oldest houses in the U.S. Hamilton and Wenham are in horse country, an area of well-groomed estates. The nearby seaside town of Manchester-by-the-Sea was the first North Shore summer resort popular with affluent Bostonians.

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