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Things to Do in Salem

Salem’s notoriety is due in large part to its central role in the infamous witch trials of the 17th century. Since then, Salem has been synonymous with witches, Wiccan culture and all things black magic. The town’s high school athletic teams are the Witches, some children attend Witchcraft Heights Elementary and witch symbols emblazon the police cars. Every year, tourists flock by the tens of thousands to bask in the kitsch of a city that, for all intents and purposes, celebrates Halloween every day of the year.

The downtown area is small but constantly humming with the bustle of tourists and the more than 40,000 residents who call Salem home. Must-see attractions include the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, where 20 stone benches each symbolize an individual executed during the notorious 17th-century trials. The memorial is open to the public and provides an eerie glimpse into the town's creepy past.

Visitors looking to get beyond the typical Salem experience will appreciate the city's rich history. It played a critical role in the Revolutionary War, as well as both world wars, and military buffs will appreciate the fact that in 2013, President Barack Obama officially declared Salem the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard.

Don’t miss the House of the Seven Gables, the 1668 wooden mansion that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name, or the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. The city’s recently renovated Salem Harborwalk opened in 2010 and is ideal for strolls along the South River.
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Salem Witch Trials Memorial
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The Salem Witch Trials Memorial preserves a moment in history, when 17th-century residents of colonial Massachusetts tried and executed women and men accused of witchcraft. The site, a small grassy area surrounded by stone walls and locust trees, is just one of the many witchcraft hysteria attractions in the historical town of Salem.

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Salem Witch Museum
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At the Salem Witch Museum, relive the tragic Salem witch trials of 1692 through a series of life-size stage sets. See and hear how neighbors turned against neighbors, and learn more about everyone involved. You’ll also get an overview of the evolving perception of witches throughout history.

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Old Burying Point (Charter Street Cemetery)
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Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, the Old Burying Point of Salem is the second oldest burying ground in the United States. It is estimated to date back to 1637. Victims of the infamous Salem With Trials were convicted nearby to the site. Jonathan Corwin and Jonathan Hawthorne, who were both Salem witch trial judges, are also buried here.

As Salem was once a major shipping port for “the New World,” this cemetery is particularly historic. A Mayflower pilgrim, one of the first to enter the United States, was claimed to be put to rest here. The grave of former governor Samuel Bradstreet can also be found. The old tombstones remain in tact and uniquely carved from the 1600s, presenting a bit of history that has been preserved since that time. A visit is an opportunity to learn about colonial era history, including burial practices and the lives of some of the important figures laid to rest here.

Please note: Old Burying Point (Charter Street Cemetery) will temporarily close for renovations during the spring of 2020.

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Bewitched Statue
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A depiction of Samantha, the character famous from the popular television showBewitched, this bronze statue was given to the city of Salem by the TV Land Network. As Salem is known for being the site of the Salem Witch Trials, the statue was a controversial topic when it was installed in 2005. Some viewed the placement of a fictional witch character as disrespectful to those who lost their lives nearby, while others saw it as an opportunity to revitalize interest in the area. The 1960s show filmed only two episodes in Salem.

The statue features actress Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the show, as the character Samantha with a crescent moon and a broomstick. The director and many of the show’s cast members came to Salem to dedicate the statue in its new-found home. Many fans of the show come to pose for pictures with her, and it continues to add to the historic association of Salem with witchery. At nine feet tall, the statue has a larger-than-life scale.

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Peabody Essex Museum (PEM)
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The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest continuously operating museums in America, established in 1799 as the East India Marine Society. It combines the collections of the Peabody Museum of Salem, who acquired the East India Marine Society in 1867, and the Essex Institute, who merged in 1992.

The Peabody Essex Museum collection dates back to the “natural and artificial curiosities” pieces that Salem-based members of the East India Marine Society brought back from beyond Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. The original PEM location was at the East India Marine Hall, which is still part of the Peabody Essex Museum today, as are many of the artifacts brought back in the society’s earliest days.

Today, the Peabody Essex Museum houses a vast collection showcasing artistic and cultural creativity from around the world. It is one of the top 20 art museums in the United States, and by 2019, is expected be one of the top 10 Art Museums in North America.

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House of the Seven Gables
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Made famous by the writing of Nathanial Hawthorne in 1851, the House of the Seven Gables, or the Turner-Ingersoll mansion in Salem, Massachusetts, stands as a bastion of New England history. It is also one of the oldest and largest remaining wooden mansions in New England. The House of the Seven Gables is located near the Derby Wharf, on Derby Street, between Turner and Hardy Streets.

The oldest parts of the House of the Seven Gables date back to 1668, when it was built by Captain John Turner. Turner was a trader and merchant whose father came over from England, but died when Turner was seven. It started out as two rooms, but quickly expanded to include more rooms and extensions. The house was remodeled numerous times over the next two centuries as it changed ownership a few times, ultimately becoming a museum in 1910.

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Custom House
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One of thirteen custom homes built in Salem in early America, the Custom House is known for its appearance in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novelThe Scarlett Letter. As Salem was an important seaport for the United States at this time, custom houses were built to collect taxes on incoming cargo. At first collected for the British Government during the colonial era, the American Government began collecting the funds in 1789. The importance of the structure to the federal government is evident in its elegant design and impressive attention to detail, with its wide staircase, high ceilings, and exquisite wood carvings.

This was the last Custom House built to hold these offices. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne did in fact work in the house as a surveyor, and his time there inspired his masterpiece novel. Today visitors can have a look at his former office, as well as learn about the history of the customs process through various exhibits.

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Salem Witch Village
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Separate the myths from the facts while learning all about the history of witchcraft through the ages, with a visit to the Salem Witch Village. Tours are led by practicing witches. The village also features an indoor maze and eclectic gift shop.

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Salem Wax Museum

Salem Wax Museum offers a chance to walk through the history of Salem. The museum features 50 lifelike wax figures made in London, depicting pivotal figures and scenes from the history of this coastal city.

The Salem Wax Museum includes exhibits surrounding the founding of Salem in 1626, the Salem Witch Hunt and Salem Witch Trials of 1692, as well as the maritime merchant trade and New England piracy of the 18th century. Visitors will get to see such notable figures as the author Nathanial Hawthorne, Tituba, the accused “witch” who sparked the 1692 hysteria, and Colonel John Hawthorne, who presided over the trials.

Aside from the wax galleries, there is an interactive area where you can learn nautical knot tying, do a grave rubbing on a headstone recreated from Salem’s Charter Street Burying Point, and experience what the accused witches went through during their detention during the Witch Hysteria by being locked in a life-size recreated cell.

During October, the Salem Wax Museum is the centerpiece of the Haunted Neighborhood, which also includes the Salem Witch Village and other attractions.

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Pickering Wharf

A quaint waterfront area of Salem, Pickering Wharf is home to a variety of small shops, restaurants, and boutiques lining the harbor. Salem was one of America’s primary seaports, and the marina full of docked boats continues the tradition. Well-marked signs share some of the neighborhood’s history, while the shops feature unique arts and crafts, botanicals, antiques, and souvenirs — many with a boutique feel. Area restaurants feature fresh seafood from the local waters, some with views of the sea from their dining tables.

You can take a relaxing seaside stroll down to the local lighthouse, or see some of the historic ships docked in Salem Bay. The historic schooner ‘Friendship of Salem’ is often open for exploration. Or, as the locals do and pick up a fishing pole and perhaps catch your own dinner! Seasonal special events as well as a First Friday shopping night occur frequently.

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More Things to Do in Salem

Salem Ferry

Salem Ferry

Salem, Massachusetts (of Salem Witch Trials fame) continues to be a favorite weekend getaway from Boston, and the Salem Ferry offers a fast route from the city direct to the the seaside town. In less than an hour, the high-speed Salem Ferry offers transportation back and forth between the two Massachusetts destinations. Weather-permitting, the outdoor lounge is a great place to take in ocean views during the journey. There is also comfortable indoor seating, as well as a small galley serving food and drinks.

This historic area of New England is home to a proud nautical tradition, as one of the oldest seaports in colonial America. As such, lighthouses, quaint homes, and historic ships are some of the things that make this area so beautiful to visit. The Salem Ferry journey by high-speed catamaran is quick and comfortable, so it’s even possible to do a day trip from Boston.

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