The town of Salem is infamous for the deadliest witch hunt in our nation’s history. The Salem Witch Trials took place from 1692-1693 after two young girls became ill. When the local doctor could not find anything wrong with the girls, it was blamed on witch craft. Fueled by fear and ignorance, the hysteria spread and over 200 people were accused of witch craft. A total of 20 people were found guilty. Most were hung at Gallow’s Hill and one man was even crushed to death.
Where witches were once persecuted, they are now celebrated. For the entire month of October, the town celebrates “Haunted Happenings.” For a listing of Halloween events, click here.
While Salem truly comes alive around Halloween, it is packed with people and parking is limited. If you are with young kids who tend to not like waiting around (like mine), avoid weekends in October at all costs. We visited on a Saturday and arrived early to beat the crowds. It took us 30 minutes to find a parking spot and the line for the Witch Museum wrapped around two blocks. Don’t let it put you off, just be prepared and come early. One other thing to note if you are with small children, is that many people dress up in scary costumes with the intention of getting you to take their picture with them (and give them a tip). While my boys thought it was great, I was glad that I left the baby at home.
The Salem Witch Museum is the premiere place to visit in town, but since the wait was several hours, we skipped it. We stumbled upon The Witch History Museum and by some miracle, there was no line. This museum brought us on a guided tour of life size scenes depicting Old Salem and told a historically accurate account of what happened in 1692. You can save $8 by purchasing a combination ticket that includes entry to the New England Pirate Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum. If you can’t tell- there are loads of these little museums around town. One is enough for me.
After that, we continued to stroll down Essex Street which is closed off from traffic and is where all of the action is. There is always something to look at in Salem- from street performers to people in movie quality costumes. After crossing Washington Street, we discovered a shop called Harrison’s which the boys loved. It was a comic book shop with penny candy, so basically a combination of their two favorite things.
The restaurants in the center had lines out the door. We were starving at this point, so we walked over to Flatbread Company. The fact that it was a block away from the main drag meant that there was no wait. Not only do they have excellent food, there was a bowling alley attached! We had so much fun playing candle pin bowling at Derby Lanes. It is full service on that side as well so you can get your pizzas while you play.
After lunch, we walked back up through Artist’s Alley to Maria’s Sweet Something’s for ice cream cones. I highly recommend the maple walnut ice cream! I like that area because there are some really cute boutique shops and it’s not as crazy at the main street.
As you walk up Charter Street, stop in to the Burying Point Cemetery which contains the graves of a Mayflower pilgrim and witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne. As you exit the cemetery, you can walk along a memorial to the 14 young girls and 6 men who were killed during the trials. The dates and method of execution are listed making it an eerie experience.
There is a path you can cut through beside the Peabody Essex Museum to get back to Essex Street. We visited our two favorite shops in town. New England Magic is such a great place. It is filled to the brim with magic wands, potion books, brooms, and crystal balls. There is even a palm reader. No trip to Salem is complete without a visit to this shop. This year I was so excited to visit Wynott’s Fine Wands. Although there is no connection, it feels like you have stepped inside of a Harry Potter book. It is a dark, candle lit store with heavy iron chandeliers and floor to ceiling stacks of wand boxes. My boys loved picking out a magic wand (or did the wand pick them???).
In front of the Peabody Essex Museum, there is a brick courtyard that my kids love to play on. We sat here for a good hour just listening to the live music and playing with the other children. It’s a great place to sit back, relax and people watch.
There is so much to do in Salem, you will be hard pressed to fit it into one day. Some other activities that we would like to do in the future are: take a trolley tour, visit the House of the Seven Gables, do a Candlelit ghostly walking tour, and see a performance of Cry Innocent. The Peabody Essex Museum is a fabulous art museum where you could spend the better half of a day. Older children would love having a witchy photo shoot at Witch Pix Costume Studio (and by older children, I mean myself) and playing games at Willows Arcade. If you are a 90’s girl like me, you would love all the Hocus Pocus movie sites around town as well.