One morning in January, my fiance John and I, feeling the itch to travel this beautiful, bold country of ours, felt like taking a weekend trip somewhere new. At first, we planned on heading down South, however, there was something about Salem, Massachusetts that was just calling our name. We took the drive up north the first week in February, an unusual time to visit one of the spookiest towns in the country. Known for the Salem Witch Trials, it’s thrilling (and wicked) extravagant Halloween celebrations, we worried that we wouldn’t be able to experience Salem the way we would during the busy season. What we learned is that it doesn’t matter what time of year you go, Salem is definitely a town worth visiting.
The (Haunted) Hawthorne Hotel
Legend has it that the Hawthorne Hotel, this exquisite landmark well known to Salem, is haunted. Various reports have all cited seeing a woman roaming the sixth floor and on the third floor, reports of crying children and water in the bathroom mysteriously being turned on. This is what enticed us to book a room. We arrived at the hotel around 7:00pm, and by that time of night, the town was dark. Local businesses by this point in the day had shut their doors and the frigid temps meant empty streets and silent pathways. The Hawthorne Hotel stood as a glowing force in the midst of a darkened street, it’s bright green awning glowing. When you venture into the hotel, it’s like taking a step back in time. The lobby is lush with vibrant florals, antique elevators, soft music churning out from a record player. The concierge waits behind an old wooden desk with a bell, and you immediately fold into the building’s history.
Our room was on the fourth floor, a personal request of mine to try and avoid the paranormal. Eerily, information that we were one of three couples staying in the large, nearly empty hotel made me uncomfortable as we unloaded our bags into our room. There were cracks in the ceiling along the bathroom’s edge. Vintage tiled floor lined the bathroom. The bed was coupled with a nautical theme, images of boats engaging in Boston’s history hung behind the headboard. A small, 10-inch television perched from the wall, grainy. We headed out to grab something to eat at a little Italian Bistro across the way, slurping up pesto linguine, before venturing into our first night in Salem; a night where I’d have a paranormal experience and a crippling paralysis unlike ever before.
Salem’s Downtown District
One of the many perks of staying at the Hawthorne Hotel was the proximity to everything inside Salem’s Downtown District. To the south of the hotel, there is a statue of Nathanial Hawthorne, an icon in the town of Salem, whose book, “The House of Seven Gables” lines every bookshelf of every local bookstore, like Wicked Good Books. On the opposite side of the hotel is the Salem Witch Museum, a gothic-inspired building that goes through the devastating story of the Salem Witch Trials. At first glance, the Salem Witch Museum can seem intimidating – that is until you walk inside and greet the kind-hearted people running the gift shop where you buy a ticket.
John and I didn’t know what to expect, but after buying tickets, we were ushered into a large, dark room and sat there in silence. There have benches lined up around the room and we took one seated all the way in the back. After a few minutes of silence, the speaker came on, introducing us to what would be covered in the upcoming segments. Right beside me was an enormous state of the Devil, and his vile face glowing while a red, pentagram showed up in the center of the floor beside us, etched with all the names of those hung at the Salem Witch Trials. After it’s intimidating start, the show offers a fragmented story told in sections, from how the women acted, to the decision to be hung and grossly, the hanging themselves and being compressed to death by stone. When the doors opened, I bolted out, let out a huge breath and continued on with the tour about the myth of witches and their role in current society.
In addition to the eerie (but fun) experience at the Salem Witch Museum, Salem’s Downtown District offers trendy dining experiences, like Flying Saucer Pizza Company who has the best piece of pizza you’ll ever eat. John and I spent more than an hour sifting through the reasonably priced vintage books at Wicked Good Books, before snagging a photo with Samantha from Bewitched (in statue form, of course).
The Birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne
One of my favorite and surprising things we did in Salem was visiting the birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne. Tour of the House of the Seven Gables is reasonably priced and grants you the opportunity to walk inside the house where he was born, marveling at old family pictures and clothing. It’s also where the House of Seven Gables is, and you get to walk through the house, while simultaneously walking through history itself. I was so intrigued by Hawthorne’s history because I didn’t know it. The tour of the house brings you to the center stage of Hawthorne’s mind and inspiration for his work. His legend lives on in the town, and it’s evident they are immensely proud, too. If you’re ever in Salem, it’s a tour worth checking out.
The Salem Witch Trials
No trip to Salem would be complete without acknowledging the tragic end that so many women faced in 1692 through 1693. Old Burying Point Cemetery is a plot of land where time stood still in the midst of a busy downtown district. Here, the last words of those that were hung are eerily etched into stone. While it felt odd to casually walk the uneven pathways, winding between crumbling tombstones, there was something so historical and fascinating about exploring the oldest cemetery in Salem. Names like John Hathorne, one of the judges of the Salem Witch Trials is buried here, among countless others. Without a doubt, it brought sadness to the forefront of your mind; here, you realized the weight and the sad reality of the stories you heard growing up.
I Can’t Wait to Go Back
Despite visiting during the off-season, we had a wonderful experience in Salem. Not only is it quiet, making it the perfect getaway if you’re used to living in a bustling city like New York or Philadelphia, but you’re able to experience the unique activities the town has to offer individually. It’s the perfect little town for learning about our country’s history all while sipping on a great cup of joe from Jaho Coffee, an artistic and trendy cafe nestled in by the water. Salem is a town with a very somber history, but a culture that does nothing but embraces it. I’d love to visit during the Halloween season when the town is in full swing!
I’d recommend having a stay at the Hawthorne Hotel because it’s an experience unlike any other, for reasons that have nothing to do with the paranormal.