The Chilling Charm of Salem, Massachusetts
By Helen Wright
BLOG: If, like me, you enjoy the Halloween high jinks, then spooky Salem, Massachusetts is right up your eerie alley. The historic town, one of the oldest in America, was the setting for the famous Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and the hysteria has left 300 years of haunted history to revisit. Arriving in the quaint town, which is only an hour from Boston, you’re greeted by the peculiar sight of characters dressed in period clothing and lots of women in pagan-style witch clothing, seemingly wandering around being wacky for fun. I’m staying at the Hawthorne Hotel, which has shadowed Salem with it’s towering presence since 1925. The hotel hosts the best Halloween party in town, when it seems all of Salem’s residents and a scattering of tourists lucky enough to get a room for the festivities, attend an epic fancy dress ball in the grand lounge and lobby. Costumes are taken very seriously, with a prize going to the best in show.
The town revels in its spooky roots and there are plenty of paranormal-themed attractions to keep you busy all year round. The Salem Night tour (£8 for 90 mins) offers a walking ghost tour, which takes in the famous sights and threatens to unnerve you with other grizzly ghost stories. Their website has a gallery of pictures from previous tour participants claiming to have captured ghostly activity on camera. The Salem Witch Museum also offers a detailed historic account of the witch trials and is definitely worth a visit to get a full understanding of what occurred. The town itself is very small and as long as you can negotiate the uneven cobblestone pavements, is safe and pleasant to explore on foot. If you want a more extensive tour of the area, the Salem Trolley (£11 hop-on, hop-off all day) is an entertaining tour covering the five main areas of Salem, peppered with personal stories and humorous tip bits. There’s a memorial set up to honour the ‘innocent’ witches, and unbelievably people still leave flowers, notes and candles in memory. With haunted houses and other attractions designed to entertain (and terrify) it certainly feels like All-Hallows-Eve year-round.
Once you’ve visited the haunted graveyards and quirky witch emporiums that line the harbor, you’ve pretty much explored everything Salem has to offer. It’s worth visiting some of the neighboring towns which have a quaint and bewitching quality of their own. The sleepy fishing town of Gloucester was a particular favourite. Only 30 mins from Salem and you’ll find the witches and warlords have been replaced by sweeping coastlines and a scattering of interesting vintage stores, allowing you to hunt for your own piece of history. Fresh lobster is the order of the day at almost every restaurant, from the up-market eateries to roadside seafood stalls. A popular choice is the Lobster Roll, generous helpings of fresh lobster meat piled into a grilled roll. A delicious and affordable way to enjoy the local catch. I stayed in the Harbor View Inn which is a delightfully authentic ocean front B&B with local owners John and Marie on hand to make you feel at home. The town of Gloucester is famous for being the setting of the movie The Perfect Storm, starting perfect George (Clooney). The Cape Pond Ice Company, which featured in the film, offers tours of their working ice factory, which are oddly fascinating. Wrap up warm – hanging out next to 5 foot blocks of ice is not cosy! Before you leave, try to take in a Whale Watching cruise, with almost guaranteed whale sightings on every trip.
Before heading back to the city, I had to make a stop at Woodman’s of Essex hailed to be the best seafood in America. It’s 25 minutes from Gloucester but on-route back to Boston. A family run business since 1914 and famous for their fried clams, the experience itself is worth going for. But watch out in high season, the food is so good the queue trails outside and down the road.
The City that’s Boss
All the towns are relatively close to one another and it’s an easy and picturesque drive, especially during the autumn when the streets are covered with a blanket of multi-coloured foliage. It’s only a short car journey back to the compact city of Boston, famous for its beans and for giving us Mark Wahlberg. And if you like doughnuts you’re in luck. The Dunkin Doughnut chain originated here and there are more than a few Dunkin’s to choose from – one on almost every street in fact! But for real sweet treat, you can’t miss the Langham Chocolate Bar on Saturdays between 11 and 3pm. The decedent hotel lounge is given an unexpected urban edge by a hip in-house DJ spinning party tracks. Chocoholic guests can choose from 120 chocolate treats ranging from truffles, to chocolate cake and even specialty cocoa cocktails. (Adults: £37, Children £20).
Rosy cheeked and full to the brim, I needed some fresh air and exercise to work off the Willy Wonka excess. Boston is the perfect city for cycling, relatively flat with plenty of designated lanes and picturesque routes. Opt for the Hubway – the US equivalent of the Boris Bike which is only $5 for 24 hours if you dock your bike every 30 mins. You’ll work off that sugar rush in no time and be ready for dinner at Regina Pizzeria, a Boston institution. I’ve had some good pizza in my time, but I might go as far to say it was the best I’ve ever had… don’t believe me? The 40 minute line outside will give you an idea.
If the amount of calories consumed isn’t enough to scare you – Boston is not without its spooky goings on either. During the October season there are a host of eerie events, the most fun being the Halloween on the Harbor, a costumed pub crawl in the trendy Seaport area.
Massachusetts certainly has its deep-rooted haunted histories but it’s the charm and beauty of Salem and its surrounding areas that is truly bewitching. Like magic, it must be seen to be believed.
Where we stayed…
I bunked at the Omni Parker House, America’s longest continuously operating hotel. An imposing building situated on the historic Freedom Trail. Built in 1855, the classic hotel was home to Charles Dickens for a time. The hotel is said to be haunted on the 3rd and 10th floors, so if you’re not bored of ghost hunting yet, they might come to you!