Salem Stories and Tips

Salem, Massachusetts

The Witch House Photo, Salem, Massachusetts

Most people come to Salem for the witches, and a cottage industry of witch attractions--the Witch Dungeon, Salem Witch Village, and Salem Witch Museum to name a few--thrives here.

Unfortunately for witch hunters, there's not much left in town that has a direct connection to the witch trials. This is partly due to Salem's growing prosperity during the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the old houses were modernized beyond recognition or torn down to make way for more modern buildings, and partly due to a fire which swept the town in the early 20th century. The one building in town that has a connection with the trials is the Witch House on the corner of North and Essex streets. The Witch House was the home of one of the witch trial judges, Johnathan Corwin.

Some of the homes of those accused in the trial still stand--just not within the boundaries of today's Salem. The Rebecca Nurse homestead is a museum in Danvers, just west of Salem, and the John Proctor house is a private home near the Northshore Mall in Peabody. If these names sound familiar, that's because each person was the model for a character in The Crucible.

But Salem is more than just witches. It was once a great trading center, and one of the wealthiest towns in the US. The remnants of this prosperity can be seen throughout the town, most prominantly in the historic district surrounding Salem Common, and in the grand Federal homes lining Chestnut Street.

If you want to go inside one of these mansions, try the Stephen Phillips Memorial Trust Museum on Chestnut Street. Entry is free, and the tour describes the home's interesting history--as a teaser, there's a War of the Roses caliber divorce involved.

After the Revolution and before President Jefferson's embargo and the war of 1812, Salem was at the height of its prosperity, most of which was generated by the China trade. The curiosities that the merchants brought home from their travels came to rest in the Peabody Essex Museum (on the Essex Street pedestrian mall) and became the germ of one of the finest collections of Asian art in the country. The PEM also has a collection of restored homes that are furnished with period antiques, if you are interested in seeing how Salemites lived in the past. If you're curious to see how 18th century traders lived in southern China, visit the lovely Yin Yu Tang house, brought over from rural China and reassembled in a new wing of the PEM.

For a quiet, off the beaten path diversion, visit the Athenaeum on Essex Street(pronounced Athen-nee-um, in case you were wondering). The attractive neo-Colonial building houses a collection of books both antique and modern, complete with fireplaces, comfy chairs, and a pleasant back yard. You can't take anything out, however, unless you become a subscriber for a modest yearly fee.

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