American Colonial building on Salem Commons
This is Part 9 of my Bermuda trip report series. Parts 8 featured our last day in Bermuda, touring the south shore beaches and the city of Hamilton, before reboarding the Norwegian Dawn for our ride back Stateside. After a week cruising, it was time to return to Boston, but our vacation wasn’t quite over. Since we drove up to Boston to catch the ship, we still had the second half of the road trip to enjoy, and with Memorial Day (and a free day off at work) coming up on Monday, we decided to take the longer, slower way home. You can make it to Dallas in 2 1/2 days, meaning we could have been home by Sunday afternoon, but planned to return Monday evening instead. That gave us a half a day or so to look around Boston before hitting the road. My wife suggested we head to Salem, one because she really wanted to try a psychic reading, and psychics are a dime a dozen in the witchcraft capital of America, and two, we both enjoy history, and Salem, as one of nation’s oldest towns, has plenty of colonial history on display.
For the introductory post and report index, read about my Bermuda cruise and road trip introduction.
Also, in my last post, I neglected to post a link to my Flickr page for additional photos, for those who like to peruse random photos. You can click here if you’d like to see more of Bermuda’s South Shore and Hamilton.
NOTE: Apologies to those who might have visited this post on Saturday while it was incomplete. Due to user error, I accidentally published it before it was ready.
Date of Visit: Friday, May 23, 2014
We left Bermuda on Tuesday at 5:30 P.M., but we would have two full days at sea before docking in Boston. We followed the exact same route as we did on our way down, with mostly sunny and warm weather on Day 1, but occasional clouds and fog on Day 2. I’m sure that was a bummer for those who wanted to use the pool, though being the last day of the cruise, a lot of folks were probably busy packing up anyway. Especially for you fellow weather geeks – Wednesday night, a large thunderstorm popped up out to sea a little east of the ship, and better yet, right off our balcony, providing a good view of the storm and a pretty sunset below the clouds.
By the time we woke up Friday morning, the ship had already docked at Cruiseport Boston on a cloudy, cool, misty morning, with the promise of rain on and off for most of the day. Given the miserable weather we encountered most of the trip up to Boston, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised…
The “self disembarkation” began around 8:15. I really didn’t want to deal with lugging our bags off the ship by ourselves, and since we didn’t have a plane to catch or anything, decided to go a little later and have NCL take care of that for us. We were called right on time at 9:15, and were in our car and on our way to Salem by 10:00.
As mentioned in the introduction, Salem is one of America’s oldest settlements, was initially founded as a fishing post in 1623, and was moved to its current location a few years later, being renamed Salem in 1629. Many structures in the city still date from the 17th and 18th centuries, and the city’s colonial history becomes apparent as you enter town from the west on Bridge Street.
After finding a parking garage near the center of town (parking is ridiculously cheap here, at the rate of a quarter an hour), we had about 45 minutes to kill before my wife’s appointment with the psychic, so we headed for the Salem Commons, also known as the Ropes Mansion Garden, a large park (created in 1912) located dead center in the old quarter of town. This actually would have been a good spot for a picnic, if it weren’t for the occasional rain and temperatures only in the 50s.
Anyway, back to the title of this post. Salem is most famous for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and today, the city is home to a cottage industry for modern-day witchcraft and psychics. Of course, “witchcraft”, as people thought of the term in the 17th century, with potions and old ladies flying around on brooms, doesn’t exist, but yes, “witches” do indeed exist. These folks are members of a sect called wicca, a pagan religion loosely based on ancient Celtic practices, and today in Salem, the wiccans have set up numerous shops specializing in psychic readings and magical potions for tourists who find such things interesting. So yes, we did indeed succeed in our hunt to find a witch as we arrived at my wife’s psychic reading appointment.
While my wife was having fun with the psychic, I made a beeline for the NPS’s Salem Regional Visitor Center to pick up some maps and brochures. There is a free film offered here that provides a history of Salem and the surrounding region, but we didn’t have time to see it. After picking up a map, I had half an hour or so to walk around the historic district, and was able to see a historic house built in the 1680s (not open to the public), St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1733 (the current structure was built in 1833, making it one of the “newer” buildings in downtown Salem), and a statue of famous author and Salem native, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
After picking up Prita from her psychic reading and buying a couple of baubles at the magic shop, we headed to lanuch at the fantastic Lobster Shanty, a review of which will be forthcoming soon. We had time to hit up one museum before it would be time to hit the road, and on the way to the historic town center, passed by the Salem Old Town Hall, built in 1816, and the pedestrian mall on historic Essex Street.
Salem Old Town Hall
Pedestrian mall on Essex Street
Stonehenge-like structure on Essex Street pedestrian mall
We had originally planned to visit the Witch History Museum, but a large schoolgroup had beat us in, and we were told we’d have to wait about 45 minutes until the next tour. We really needed to get a move on, so went a couple of blocks down the road to the Salem Witch Museum instead. NOTE: the building wasn’t actually built in 1692; the date denotes the year the Salem Witch Trials were held. The third photo is a statue of the founder of Salem, Roger Conant.
There are several museums dedicated to the Witch Trials and the history of witchcraft in Salem in the town, and pretty much all of them offer a similar experience – historical exhibits about the trials, a re-enactment or presentation about the trials, and a gift shop selling magic potions and trinkets. The Salem Witch Museum does the job just fine in those regards. For a $9.50 entrance fee, you receive admission to historical exhibits, a presentation about the trials, and a guided tour of exhibits detailing the history of witches and witchcraft from ancient to modern times in the back (the exhibits also include a section discussing parallels to other “witch hunts” in modern political and social history). The presentation was interesting. You sit in the middle of a circular room, with different scenes lighting up as the story of the trials and their aftermath proceeds from start to finish. I won’t spend time rehashing the history of the Witch Trials, but suffice to say, the hysteria surrounding the alleged use of “witchcraft” – including the execution of twenty woment and men – was a very dark period in American Colonial history.
On our way back to the parking garage, we briefly stopped at two more important historic sites in town – the Burying Point cemetery, opened in 1637 and the oldest cemetery in Salem (and one of the oldest in the Colonies), and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a collection of 20 granite benches inscribed with the names of all persons accused of witchcraft during the trials, along with the dates and means of their executions. The memorial was dedicated in 1992 to commemorate the tricentennial of the trials.
The Burying Point cemetery
Portion of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
It was then time to hit the road for the long drive back home. We had approximately four hours in Salem; this gave us enough time for a psychic reading, one museum, and a quick walking tour around the town center, but isn’t nearly enough time to do the place justice. For example, we didn’t even make it to other important sites in the city, such as the historic waterfront or the House of the Seven Gables. You really need a full day to see the town.
Salem is approximately 16 miles northeast of downtown Boston via State Highways 1A, 60, and 107. Travel time is approximately 35-50 minutes, depending on traffic. If you would prefer to leave the car at the hotel, you can also reach Salem via the MBTA’s Rockport Line commuter trail from downtown’s North Station, or by Bus Route 459 from downtown’s South Station (this is assuming you are taking the bus or subway downtown first). You can also reach Salem by following IH-95/State Highway 128 to Exit 25, then go east on State Highway 114 via Peabody to Salem. Ample parking is available throughout town at very reasonable rates, generally 25 cents per hour.
If you like seeing lots of random photos, you can see more on my Flickr pages:
Next up: the continuation of our road trip west and then south through the Appalachians.