A July 2004 trip
to Salem by SFPhotocraft
Quote: Salem plays up its tragic history of 1626, when 19 innocent people were killed for witchcraft. However, as we found out, Salem has a whole lot more to offer than witches.
However, there is a fringe that has really commercialized these events and made a industry of small museums, tacky witch gift shops selling witch trial T-shirts, and fake magic shops. There is also a real Wiccan population that has settled in Salem, which seems like sweet revenge for those that were so cruel to them in the past. It's all kind of mixed up in another witch hysteria, the 2004 version.
A lot of tourists sadly miss the real Salem. Salem is a lovely Northeastern town with a rich sailing history. The harbor area is now home to the Friendship, which is a restoration of a 1790 sailing ship. The old custom house still stands on the harbor, and a few homes of wealthy sailing merchants still stand. The West India Store shows visitors what a store in Salem was like in the early 1800s. It's a fantastic look back into history, and to me, this is the real Salem.
Salem's best part of history is the days when it led the world as a major port. As a person who loves to travel the globe, this was like living at JFK Airport in 1790. Ships would dock here from all over the world and bring in goods from faraway places. In a very rural America, Salem was the doorway to the world.
We enjoyed our time learning a little about the witch trials, but our favorite part of Salem was at the water and learning about the history of trade in America. The park service does a great job teaching us about the richer, more happy history of Salem.
Don't miss the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which is run by the U.S. Park Service. Make sure you see the 17 minute explaining the sailing days of maritime Salem. The cost to visit the Friendship and the Customs House is only .00 for adults and .00 for kids. This is a value when the tacky witch museums charge twice that amount. This area of Salem is sadly overlooked, but is lovingly preserved.
Salem is an easy day trip from Boston. There is a nonstop train from central Boston to Salem. The fare is only .00. The train station in Salem is in the center of town.
Hotel | "The Salem Inn"
The Salem Inn is an old inn on Summer Street, a few blocks from all the main downtown action. The inn is actually three buildings. The main inn is in a stately brick building that was built in 1834. The rest of the rooms are in two wooden homes that are in the same block. Our room was in the Peadbody House which was built in 1874.
What peaked my interest was that the inn offers family suites. These are two bedroom and have a kitchen. The rate for these rooms is only $189. The rate included breakfast. The inn looks great on the internet, is a bit stately, and has some wonderful antiques. We booked it.
On arrival you check in at the brick Capt. West House. The check-in desk is tiny, but the employees working the desk were very friendly and helpful. They directed us two doors down to our room in the Peadbody House.
We were on the third floor and there is no elevator or bellman. We had a lot of luggage and it was hard to get it up the narrow staircase. I couldn't imagine an older person trying this feat.
Our room was large, but odd in layout. You walk in the door and are in a small kitchen. Behind the kitchen, you find two good-sized bedrooms. The unit had one bathroom. The bathroom was a little dated and needed to be redone. The decor was not antique, but more Goodwill and Garage Sale. It was clean and the space was impressive. The room was air conditioned with a window unit and had good closet space.
The breakfast is served in the basement of the brick Capt West House. It still felt like a basement with its low ceilings and had a dark feeling to it. However, the breakfast was good: lots of fresh fruit (local blueberries were in season), fresh bagels, cereal, yogurt, and lots of baked goods. In the evening, port and sherry is set out in the palours in each house. It was a nice touch.
The only concern I had was the lack of security. Our house was two doors down from the main building and had no personnel working it. You were suppose to enter with your room key, however the front door was never locked and anyone could come in. It just didn't feel very safe.
Overall, this was not the most charming inn I have stayed at. The family suites are a great deal, the service is friendly and the breakfast was outstanding.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 23, 2004
7 Summer St.
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
It was near the hotel and in the middle of Old Salem and some of the tacky witch museums. It was easy to find.
It was also very popular, as the wait was about 50 minutes for walk-ins. It is mostly a bar (brew pub) that serves bar food. The bar is the center of attention, with some pool tables in the back and tables set around a TV showing the baseball game. There is a huge neon green witch on one wall.
We got some beers and waited for a table. I had the watermelon beer, which came with a slice of fresh watermelon. Chris had a blueberry beer, with a handful of fresh blueberries bobbing in his beer - it was delicious! The kids tried the homemade birch bark beer (like root beer) and gave it a thumbs up.
We finally got our table and the waitress came in a jiffy. We ordered fried pickles. They came quickly and were gone in a minute. They were outstanding, a bit spicy, but came with a cool dipping sauce. I could have eaten another order by myself!
For my main meal course, I had fish and chips, Chris and the kids had a beef tip. My fish was very heavily battered and very greasy. It was not very good. The beef tip looked great and they said it was good, but not outstanding.
Our waitress was very good. She checked back on us often and the food and drinks always came very quickly. She seemed to enjoy her job and was laughing and joking with all her tables.
The main event was the Boston–Yankees game on TV. The whole room was glued to the TV set on the wall. There was a group of Yankees fans at one table and they were being harassed mercilessly. It was funny at first, but started to turn ugly and mean. The group had to get up and leave – seriously, I think we were about a minute away from an all-out barroom brawl. It was a bit uncomfortable.
I would come back here for some fried pickles and a beer. It was a lively spot with great and unusual beers and delicious finger food. I was not so keen on coming here for a main meal.
Salem Beer Works
278 Derby St.
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
Restaurant | "Lyceum Bar and Grill"
The restaurant was far more elegant than what we were looking for and we were dressed like typical tourists, in shorts and hoodies. We were planning on leaving when the hostess talked us into staying. She was very gracious and made us feel welcomed, even though we felt like we didn't fit in with all the diners dressed for a night on the town.
The restaurant is pretty. It's somewhat clubby in feel, but very elegant in a simple, understated way.
Our waitress came quickly and was very friendly. She helped us order and gave us some suggestions.
I had what was called the Down at the Shore dinner. It had scallops, clams, mussels, and half of a lobster. They had buffalo burgers made with real bison meat. The kids were dying to try these burgers.
We started a meal with fresh gazpacho. It was delicious - full of vine-ripe, fresh tomatoes, it really hit the spot.
The main course took a long time to get to our table. I have to say that, on a normal night, it would have been leisurely and I would have enjoyed the pace. However, on this night, we were in a bit of a time crunch trying to get to our tour. The waitress knew and was very apologetic. Finally, the food came.
My Down at the Shore Dinner was huge. It was full of fresh seafood and was all cooked perfect. The kids enjoyed trying buffalo, but both said they would be going back to beef. The buffalo was a little gamey tasting to them.
My biggest regret about this meal was that we didn't get to really enjoy it. This is the kind of restaurant where you need to make it the centerpiece of your night out on the town. It deserves your full attention. We came flying in and were watching the clock the entire meal. The food, service, and atmosphere were all top quality; we just didn't give it its due. I would have loved to try the Lyceum's desserts, but we were out of time. I hope I get the chance to come back here someday.
We did learn one very interesting fact about the Lyceum on our ghost tour. Even the Lyceum has some of the Salem witch history attached to it! This was the spot where Bridget Bishop (one of the witches who were hung in Salem) operated her tavern from her small farm house. Bridget was a bit of a Puritan vamp and was married three times. Being an independent woman who ran a successful business and had married often, she was a prime candidate for the gallows. This was the spot where she lived and sold ale.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 23, 2004
43 Church Street
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
We all agreed eating outside was what we wanted. We walked over to Pickering Wharf where there are several restaurants with outdoor patios on the water. We weren't fussy; we wanted to feel the sun on our shoulders as we ate.
We picked Victoria Station. I remembered Victoria Stations as a kid and always thought eating in that train station was kind of cool. Honestly, I didn't even know Victoria Stations were still around. The inside of Victoria Station was your typical train depot theme, with lots of schedules and train memorabilia nailed up on the walls. The inside seemed a little dark and even depressing for such a beautiful day. I couldn't believe some people opted to eat inside. Who wanted to eat inside on such a grand day? We were seated at a great table with a killer view of the harbor and the tall ship berthed across from us.
We ordered Bloody Marys, but had to wait 15 minutes to get them, as it was Sunday and no liquor could arrive at the tables before noon. (Aren't some laws silly?)
I had the breaded haddock and Chris had fish and chips, while the kids did their usual burgers.
The food didn't take long to come to our table. Our waitress was efficient and kept our drinks filled. She was not overly friendly, nor was she rude. She just performed her job without a lot of chatter.
My haddock was okay; the breading was a little heavy and there was too much of it. However, the fish inside was fresh and tasty. The kids liked the burgers and Chris thought the fish and chips were okay, a little on the greasy side.
Okay, so this may have not been the best meal we had on this trip. But did we care? No! We picked Victoria Station for the view and the chance to have lunch outside. The food wasn’t awful, just not awesome; the service wasn't bad, just not friendly. But the view, the people-watching on the wharf, and the warm summer sun made this a very good lunch.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 24, 2004
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
Restaurant | "Maria's Sweet Something"
We had noticed a small ice cream shop on our tour and circled back to find it again. It was easy to find, as it seemed most of our tour had the same idea and there was a crowd heading into Maria's.
This is more than just a scoop shop. They have your typical scoop area with lots of fun choices. The local blueberry looked pack with blueberries. They also have a bakery section with luscious cakes, pies, and cookies. Once I saw the Boston Cream Pie, I knew I was going on the pastry side and not the ice cream.
On the other level, they have a large candy shop. They have bins of great candies and everything sweet. We all literally felt like kids in a candy shop trying to figure out what we going to get to attack our sugar cravings.
At the end, everyone went for a cone but me. I went for that delicious Boston Cream Pie. It was a huge piece.
I took it to go and took it back to the Salem Inn. After the kids went to bed I took out my pie and had some "it's all about me" time. It was moist and tender and the chocolate was sweet.
Do what we did, skip dessert and hit Maria's. It's the best thing to fix a sweet craving in Salem.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 26, 2004
Maria's Sweet Somethings
26 Front Street
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
The museum is located in an old gothic revival church right on Salem Common. It's a very stately looking building and can't be missed.
You enter and pay the fee, $6.50 for adults and $4.50 for kids. The presentations run every half from 10am until 5pm daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The day we entered the museum was very full, and the small waiting area to enter the presentation room was packed.
The museum is made up of 13 staged sets that tell the story of the terrible events of 1692 in Salem. There are no seats and you can wander from set to set as the lights come on and the voices tell the story. It was pretty well done, and it does cover the story in true detail. The sets are a little grisly, especially the one where one accused witch is pressed to death. It could scare small kids, but our kids seemed to love it.
After the presentation, you are invited to a small museum in the back of the building about witchcraft. The museum tries to dispel the stereotypes of witches and tells about the Wiccan religion and its love of nature. The museum is very small, but did a good job explaining some of the myths about witches. The displays were pretty good and this part of the museum is self guided. You press buttons and the voice-over comes on and tells you about the display you are viewing.
Of course, every good museum has to have a gift shop, and the Salem Witch Museum is no exception. They have a large gift shop that sells wands, pointy hats and cauldrons (so much for dispelling stereotypes). They also have a number of books on witchcraft and the Salem Witch Trials.
My opinion is, skip the other amateur museums and only do this one. If you spend an hour here, you will come away with all the knowledge you will need on the gruesome events of 1692 in Salem. To check out more on the museum, go to their website at Salem Witch Museum.
Salem Witch Museum
19 1/2 Washington Square North
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
The next day we began our quest of the best ghost tour in Salem. I collected brochures. The one brochure that caught our attention was Spellbound Tours. It was not the slickest brochure, but it said all the right things. It mentioned vampire hunting, which got Patrick going; its motto was "Alternative Tours for the Intelligent Traveler," which got my interest; it claimed the tour leader was a licensed ghost hunter and a certified parapsychologist, which made it legit for Chris; and Breana loved the photos of the pretty blonde lady in spooky capes. We had found our tour.
We stopped by the office to buy tickets. We were promised a night like no other. We would see real ghost photos. We would do a real ghost and vampire hunt. We couldn't wait!
We all met in front of the Visitor Center at 8pm. Mollie Stewart, the owner, gives the tours. She was a middle-aged woman, dressed all in black.
The tour took us around a graveyard, where she claimed that if we snapped photos, we might capture ghosts in our photos. Everyone went in and snapped away. She sat at the gate and waited for us.
We saw the old jail, the site where the older jail had stood years ago - here was where the witches were held (it's now an office building). We saw another office building where she claimed a ghost lived, but we were not allowed to go inside any building. There wasn't a whole lot of information given, and Ms. Stewart did not like questions. One lady asked where "boo" comes from, and she just rolled her eyes and answered, "I don't know."
No vampire or ghost hunting. The only vampire information came at the end of the tour when she told us there were "no real vampires."
I was waiting for those "real" ghost photos. At the end of the tour, she pulled out a small photo album of 4X6 photos and stood on a bench, at least 13 feet away from the audience, and then flipped through her book very quickly. You couldn't see a thing. She showed us orbs, which we in the photo business call light spots. We try to avoid them; she claimed they were ghosts on film. She showed us photos of smoke and claimed they were ghosts. I was not convinced.
I tried to take a photo for IGOUGO of her holding up her small book of photos, and she went wild. She put down her book and told me that if I wanted ghost photos, I needed to get my own. She seemed very protective that nobody would examine her book of light spots and smoke!
I think we picked the wrong brochure.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on September 23, 2004
203 Washington St.
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
It was really the kids who wanted to go into this one. They love all the spooky rooms wax museums have. Without enthusiasm, I was lead into the Salem Wax Museum. The cost was $6 per adult and $4 per child. This museum does have a prime Salem location; right next door to the old burying point. You can't help feeling sorry for someone whose final resting place is in the shadow of a tacky wax museum.
The entire museum is one room giving the history of Salem.
There are a few displays of early sea merchants who ran the sea trade from the Salem harbor. Of course you have the whole witch trial thing played out with great fanfare. Once again, I felt that this tragic period in American history was being commercialized, and a few people were turning a profit from innocent people who were hung here over 300 years ago.
The museum didn't even do a good job with it. The displays were very overdone and looked more like mannequins with bad colonial clothing. Some characters were even missing a few digits. One display had the central figure removed for repairs.
The one saving grace for our admission was downstairs. Downstairs there is a small gift shop full of more witch knick-knacks, all made in China. However, on one wall, you can do tombstone rubbings. The rubbings are like the ones you can do in the great cathedrals of Europe. You take a piece of paper and a piece of hard charcoal and rub. We did several of these here and the kids were intrigued with the whole process and the tombstone themselves.
The other activity downstairs is some rope and some instruction on how to tie the old knots that sailors would use to tie the knots on their ships. We tried a few knots. We weren't very good, but we had fun trying.
The other thing they do downstairs is make a wax mold of your hand and part of your arm. It costs an extra fee and there was a line to do it. The kids wanted to make casts of their hands, until we wondered how on earth we would travel for the next two weeks, carry around these fragile hand and arms molds, and get them home to California. We opted to watch others do it and worry about getting them home safe and sound.
If it was just the museum, I would say, without hesitation, to just skip it. It's not worth it. However, the downstairs saved the day. We had some great family time doing the stone rubbings, tying knots, and watching other people make casts of their hands in wax. The real fun is downstairs.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on September 25, 2004
Salem Wax Museum
288 Derby Street
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
The Witch Village is located near the Old Burying Point and creates a lot of hype. It looks more like a carnival fun house, but bills itself as a witch museum. The building has a lot of colorful murals of witches, and, of course, the kids were drawn to it.
The kids wanted to check it out, and, against better judgment, we went in. The cost is $6 per adult and $4 for kids. It is not self-guided, and you have to wait for a group to form to go in.
Our guide could not have been more bored. He gave us his memorized spiel in a monotone voice while holding a mug a coffee and taking lots of sips.
The museum looks like a bad prom set. It has a lot of cardboard, store mannequins dressed as witches, and just tacky displays. We were warned not to touch anything as it was all old and antique. The real reason was not to touch was the flimsy cardboard that could come tumbling down. The final display is a pumpkin head from K-Mart that was displayed in a very comical display. Our yard looks a lot scarier every Halloween. Even the kids were giggling at the cheesy displays.
After the rip-off of the witch museum, you are given the chance to pay an extra dollar and see a ghost movie. We were the only family in the group stupid enough to bite on the extra dollar plea; the rest of our group was smart and fled into the street.
For the movie, you are escorted to small room and told you will see a film about a ghost hunt in a small New Hampshire inn. We saw a lot of looking, and some interviews with the staff, who all had a story. Then, in the final shot, a light streaked across the wall. The museum employee claimed that was the ghost. What the rest of us saw was a car headlight moving across a wall from outside. We all shook are head and chalked this one up to being suckers. There is one born every minute!
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on September 25, 2004
Salem Witch Village
282 Derby Steet
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
Salem was probably the most important seaport in the United States for many years. Ships from Salem were sent all over the world and brought back goods from exotic ports and traded cod from these waters. It was the very beginning of our export and import business for a developing nation. Salem was front and center. Today, only a small piece of the harbor remains and the National Park Service is doing a good job at telling the story of Maritime Salem.
Start your exploring at the Visitors Center where they have a 17-minute film explaining the role Salem played in shipping and how customs got started here at home. It's a very good film; it is well-made and keeps the story interesting. It gives you a feel of what Salem was like at this time.
Then head over to the Friendship, which is a reproduction of a real mast ship that sailed the world. The real Friendship was built in 1796 and sailed to many far away lands around the world. This Friendship was painfully made to exact detail in 1998. You can go aboard and check out what a 1790s sailing ship was like. My biggest surprise was the cramped living quarters the crew endured. It was cramped, dark, and uncomfortable. Park Rangers are onboard to answer your questions.
Across the street, the majestic customs house still stands. It's a grand building with a huge gold eagle over the front door. Here our customs service began and was the prime source of revenue for a new nation. Nataniel Hawthorne worked in this very building. It's very interesting and again park rangers are on duty to answer any and all questions. Out back you can visit the warehouse where goods that could require tariffs and taxes were stored.
Next door is The West India Goods Store. A real store from 1804 that sold many of the products the ships of Salem carried home. Here you could buy silks from Asia or spices from the Caribbean. Salem had access to many luxuries the rest of the country did not. The store is preserved as it would have looked in 1804. You can still buy spices here or fun toys. The clerk is dressed like as she would have been during that time.
The area is very well restored and very interesting. The fee is only $5 for adults and $3 for kids to see the Friendship and the Customs House. You can check out more at the web site at SMNHS.
So when you're done with tacky witch museums and spell shops, head down to the water for an in-depth look at Salem's maritime history.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 26, 2004
Salem Martime National Historic Site
174 Derby Street
Salem, Massachusetts 01970