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Are you a literature or history teacher looking to visit historic Salem, Massachusetts? Maybe you are attending a professional development workshop in the area, or maybe you have always wanted to go visit but you’re overwhelmed with the sightseeing possibilities. Welcome to a brand new summer series where I will tour a location and test drive a teacher tour itinerary. I’m going to do all the research about where to stay, where to eat, what to see, when to go, and what it will cost, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the trip!
How I ended up visiting Salem
Visiting Salem was part of a professional development side excursion for me. Four of my colleagues and I went to Boston in July 2019 for the 20th Alan November Building Learning Communities Conference. I was able to persuade school administration that staying two more days, since I was already in such close proximity, to visit historic Salem would better improve my understanding of Puritan New England and the Salem witch trials. I also thought it would inspire some classroom activities and interactive bulletin board concepts, not to mention it satisfies a purely selfish life-long desire to visit the area of which the famous Disney Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus, is largely to blame.
One of my administrators attending the conference is also an English teacher, so we made the trip together. He was responsible for booking airfare and lodging. He also paid for museum fees and professional development materials on the Salem trip with the school credit card.
Yes, I realize how fortunate I am to be at a school that has both the budget and willingness to allow teachers to design unique professional learning opportunities!
If you are designing a similar proposal to submit for approval at your school or district, I recommend using this blog post to pinpoint which sites and opportunities directly tie to your curriculum and how they would enhance your students’ learning experiences in the classroom. Always make your proposals student-centered.
Where to stay
My administrator looked at a number of hotels in the area and made the best choice given our sight-seeing goals and proximity. We did not have access to a car, so we knew we wanted to be within walking distance of the main attractions. While chain places are more readily available outside of historic Salem (about 5 miles in Danvers), these were not an option for us. We also found that the prices were pretty comparable between the bed and breakfasts and larger hotel places, so why not opt for character and charm, instead?
We caught an uber from Boston to Salem on a Friday afternoon, which, in retrospect, was not such a great idea because #rushhourtraffic led to a 45-minute car trip for an 18-mile coastline ride. Other than timing being an issue getting out of the city, it went smoothly. Our uber driver was pleasant and we arrived at The Salem Inn around 4:30 P.M.
What was not clear to us during booking, however, was that The Salem Inn appears to own several historic homes in the vicinity, so don’t be surprised if when you check in your innkeeper tells you that you are in a different building than your coworkers! No big deal, but I was located 2 blocks away at their yellow Curwen House location. I had a third-floor street-facing bedroom with a wonderful view of the Ropes Mansion (Allison’s house from Hocus Pocus). The room was well air-conditioned, spacious, furnished with a queen-sized bed and a huge updated bathroom with a classic clawfoot tub! Complimentary breakfast is served until 10 AM, which includes the omelet bar.
No vacancies at The Salem Inn? Try some of these other locations, which I’ve picked out because I passed them many times on my walking tour of historic Salem. I guarantee their proximity and walkability to the most common attractions.
Where to eat
Since we spent one overnight in Salem, we only got to eat out two times. I whole-heartedly recommend the Olde Main Street Pub on the corner of Essex Street and Hawthorne Boulevard. It was conveniently located on our walk back from the House with Seven Gables to The Salem Inn. Even in the stifling heat, the pub was well air-conditioned. We picked it out from the Salem Guide booklet (map is pictured above) and checked the ratings on Google. This place had no wait time on a Friday evening at 7 PM. It’s moderately priced (two $$ on Google) and it has a good menu selection regarding food items and draft beer. I got the New England fish and chips with a hard cider. My administrator got a hamburger and fries with a Smithwicks beer. We both agree it was delicious and the service was prompt.
Breakfast was included with our stay at The Salem Inn. It’s served in the basement of the main building, which has a street entrance, from 8 AM to 10 AM. Food was delish and omlettes were made-to-order, in addition to a continental style buffet you could self-serve from. My only complaint about breakfast was about the coffee. At first, the coffee station was empty. I notified the pleasant ladies working downstairs and waited for more to be brewed. Call me a coffee snob, if you want, but it tasted like burnt Folgers and the sugar and creamer station left a lot to be desired. There weren’t very many options.
There were several quaint looking coffee shops and cafe-type store fronts all over historic Salem. I really would’ve loved to have time to sample all of them! The only one I got the chance to pop into was across from the Regional Visitor’s Center on Essex Street, called Brew Box. After half a day in the heat with not much coffee, I was starting to get a caffiene headache. I was impressed with the cute cross between a Magnolio Farms-looking subway tile vibe and a witchy-Starbucks. Food selection looked like it would be great for an on-the-go breakfast or lunch, and they had plenty of sweets to choose from. All I ordered was a small iced vanilla latte. At under $5 it hit the spot and we moved on. Warning, seating is limited in this space to just a long bar area.
Our flight boared at 8:00 PM Saturday night at Logan Airport in Boston. Not knowing what traffic might be like going back to the city, we opted to stop at O’Neil’s Irish Pub & Restaurant for a late working lunch, early dinner. This place was pretty empty when we stepped off the hot pavement of Washington Street at 4 PM. It was well air-conditioned and had great character. It’s moderately priced (two $$ on Google). We were greeted right away and got to sit in a booth inside the front window. The menu was pretty standard. I ordered a glass of ice water and a cobb salad with ranch dressing on the side. My administrator got a Smithwick’s beer a plate of nachos and a flatbread pizza, which he regretted because the portions were HUGE! All the food was delicious, though.
What to see
The Salem Regional Visitor Center located at 2 New Liberty Street
This place should be your home base. Hussle here first thing in the morning. It opens at 10 AM and it’s a free National Park Service site. It closes at 4 PM. Talk to a ranger or an Essex Heritage Partner and get the lay of the land, here, first.
This is where we got a free Salem map, purchased our narrated trolley tour tickets, and signed up for walking tours (they are limited by group numbers and subject to run according to weather). We kept coming back here, throughout the day, to cool off, charge our phones, and take in the movies, which only play at certain times of the day, and free exhibits. They, also, have a fantastic bookshelf with educational materials for expanding teacher knowledge, student engagement, and access to primary sources. Talk to Katherine if she’s there. She will steer you in the right direction about which books are A+ quality and which ones are not so historically accurate.
The NPS takes care of several buildings and sites in the immediate area. Don’t confuse the Regional center with the Maritime center, located on Derby Street. The neat thing about this building is that they converted it from the historic Salem Armory into the VC. There are exhibits about maritime ships, militia, and witch trials at this location. They also run two different films.
- Where Past is Present is a free film with a run time of 27 minutes. Daily screenings are at 10:15 AM, 12 PM, and 2 PM.
- Salem Witch Hunt is a fee-accessible film with a run time of 38 minutes. Daily screenings are at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM. Adults $5, Seniors/Kids $3
If rangers are not available, or the sites are closed because of heat, you can download a free self-guided audio tour of the NPS Salem locations here.
Did I mention we visited Salem during the hottest heatwave of their summer? It was 97 degrees and humid on Saturday. People up North are not used to such suffocating heat, but we were prepared. Being from Maryland, it was just another sweltering summer day for us. Back home, the heat index felt like 115 degrees during the same weekend! If you aren’t used to extreme heat, make sure you stay hydrated while walking the city and take frequent breaks in free, air-conditioned spaces.
Salem Trolley main pick up location outside the NPS regional center on 2 New Liberty Street
A lot of people tend to write off these sorts of tours because they think they are rip-offs. I think that’s a big mistake! Trolley and bus tours help you get a sense of what the attractions are, where they are located, and what you really want to spend your time doing. Plus, they usually let you hop on and hop off all day, so it’s a way to get around town without walking and ubering.
Salem Trolley is the only riding tour in town. Cost: Adults $21, Seniors $20, and Kids $10.50. The trolley runs all day from 10 AM to 4 PM. They are partnered with several other museum attractions and the ferry so that you can bundle entry fees and do more on less money, as well.
Riding the trolley was the second thing we did on Saturday morning. Even the tour guide recommends that you sit for the full hour or so of narration before you start hopping on and off. Also, just a heads up, that there are two trail paths. Make sure you listen to the guide. The trolley does the waterfront path first, usually, which takes about 40 minutes. Then, it circles back to the main pick up location outside of the Regional VC before continuing onto the second historic path, about 20 minutes. Click here for the trolley path map.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Statue located on Hawthorne Boulevard
You can’t miss this landmark. It’s on a thin grass median right in front of the Hawthorne Hotel. Snap a selfie with the statue of a famous American writer whose family has direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. The guilt over the role his ancestor, Judge John Hathorne, played in the conviction and execution of innocent people haunted Nathaniel so much that he changed the spelling of his last name (added a ‘w’) to distance himself. The themes of guilt and sin are also prevalent in many of his work, including, The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and “The Minister’s Black Veil” to name a few.
Salem Custom House located at 176 Derby Street
Did you know that 2019 is the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Custom House? Read more about it here.
The Salem Custom House is the only one left standing of an original 13. How does this site relate to your curriculum? Aside from being an important historic location where customs agents assessed ship cargo brought into the busy wharf, it’s also famous because Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American Romantic/Gothic writer worked here for three years. He hated his job at the custom house and when he was fired he called Salem “an abomination” and never returned to the city. Inside you can tour the building, but they still have the actual desk and work implements that Hawthorne used on display.
Many people incorrectly believe that Hawthorne began to write The Scarlet Letter here. It’s simply not true. He did, however, write an introduction to the novel, which he titled “The Custom House” inspired by his bitter work life at this location.
The Salem Maritime National Historic Site located at 160 Derby Street
I didn’t spend a lot of time at this location. Maritime history doesn’t interest me very much, to be honest. Had I had more time, I would’ve checked out these locations, but I had to prioritize what I saw and many of the historic sites were closing because of the extreme heat.
Derby Wharf was Salem’s longest and one of the busiest commercial docks in colonial America. Its usage appears to have declined throughout the nineteenth century because of the shallow harbor. This stretch of waterfront is beautiful to take in the view, and there are a number of individual NPS historic sites associated with it which you can sign up in advance to tour at the Regional Visitor Center. These sites include Derby House, Narbonne House, the Public Stores & Scale House, the Friendship (reconstructed ship), the Pedrick Store House, the Waite & Pierce NPS store, and the Derby Wharf Light Station.
The House of the Seven Gables located at 115 Derby Street
This house has a super-rich history and legacy. Even if you’ve never read Hawthorne’s best-selling nineteenth-century novel The House of the Seven Gables, this house and grounds tour is worth the entry fee. Open from 10 AM to 7 PM, Adult tickets are $16, Seniors $15, and they have varying rates depending on age for teens and children. The guided tour lasts about 45 minutes. Click here to check out their site.
How does this site tie into your curriculum?
Historically-speaking, it’s the home of one of the most successful self-made privateers and tradesmen in colonial America. The home was built by Captain John Turner I and additions to the home were made as he became wealthier. (As they explain on the tour, consumption was a demonstration of wealth.) The additions are also how the house eventually came to have seven gables. The house stayed in the Turner family for three generations until John Turner III lost it to debt and died in disgrace. The home transferred to Captain Samuel Ingersoll. Ingersoll didn’t like the house and deconstructed the seven gables so that the house took on a more federal style appearance.
The literary connection is that when he died, the house went to his unwed daughter Susanna, who was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin. Apparently, he came to visit, asked Susanna about the history of the home, and she told him the house used to have seven gables. Hawthorne was inspired by this and wrote a gothic novel about it. The tour guide does a nice job summarizing the plot of the novel and how it ties into the twentieth-century additions to the home which somewhat mirror the novel.
Fast-forwarding a little, the house came into the possession of a woman named Caroline Emmerton. She restored the house (added fictional features from the novel) and turned the home into a substantial tourist attraction. The fees from tours were used to help immigrant families in the neighborhood obtain housing, take childcare classes, learn job skills, and acquire citizenship.
Court House Sign located outside Salem Cycle 72 Washington Street
The original structure where the Salem witch trials were prosecuted no longer stands. In its place stands this historic marker. It’s hard to read, so I will transcribe the message here:
“Nearly opposite this spot stood, in the middle of the street, a building devoted from 1677 until 1718 to municipal and judicial uses. In it, in 1692, were tried and condemned for witchcraft most of the nineteen persons who suffered death on the gallows. Giles Corey was here put to trial on the same charge, and, refusing to plead, was taken away and pressed to death. In January 1693, twenty one persons were tried here for witchcraft of whom eighteen were acquitted and three condemned, but later set free. Together with about 150 accused persons, in a central court delivery which occured in May.”
Salem Jail Sign located outside of the Essex National Heritage Commission at 4 Federal Street
The jail where many were improsined no longer stands, either. It was knocked down as recently as 1956. There are some neat black and white photos available through Google Image Search of the site. If you want to read more about what the jail looked like and what the living conditions were like in 1692 click here.
The Salem Witch Museum located at 19 1/2 Washington Square North
The Salem Witch Museum claims to tell you the entire history of the Salem witch trials from start to finish. I was really excited to go inside. The wait was long and tickets were selling out at designated times all afternoon on Saturday. The lobby has some interesting signage and artifacts in glass cases, so remember to take a look. The main exhibits were disappointing, though, in my opinion. I still think there is a benefit in paying the fee and going in. Cost: Adults $13, Seniors $11.50, Kids $10. You’ll definitely learn something. That said, the exhibit rooms were like attending a tacky Disney theme park with bad special effects.
There are two main exhibits.
The first one is where they hustle the entire tour into a big room with stools and chairs. Choose a seat toward the center on a stool. You’ll want to be able to turn 360 degrees to watch the whole exhibit. If you sit with your back to a wall on the bench, you won’t be able to see one whole side! In the center of the room is a red circle that lights up. It sort of reminds me of the pagan wheel of the year, but instead of seasons, it has all the witch hunt victims’ names on it. The upper part of the room is divided into tableaus with stationary mannequins playing out the scenes according to a spooky audio recording.
The second exhibit isn’t big enough to hold everyone at once. The museum will divide you into two groups. Half of you will go into the gift show for an intermission and half of you will continue to the second exhibit. I found this one the most interesting. I have forget the official title of this exhibit. It was something along the lines of Witches: Modern Misconceptions. This room continues the tableau theme. First, you’ll meet a pagan midwife. Second, you’ll meet a green wicked witch on a broomstick. Third, you’ll meet a modern wiccan couple in ritual robes. The information here, I think, is work the admission fee. On one wall there’s a timeline of world history on the top, and witch history on the bottom. The last wall however, game me an idea for an interactive bulletin board in my unit on The Crucible. It’s all about modern witch hunts. Yes, it makes the allegorical connection between Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials and 1950’s McCarthyism, but it also invites participants to submit more modern examples.
Side note: The museum’s website is really good. It has a lot of credible information and teaching resources on it. It also walks you through a digital self-guided tour.
The gift shop is exactly as you would expect it to be. It’s got everything. There’s an entire wall of Harry Potter merchandise! There’s Halloween decorations, costumes, t-shirts, Christmas ornaments, a serious educational book corner, and an occult side that sells crystals and books on witchcraft and spell casting.
Salem Common located at North Washington Square click here
This a beautiful, big open park right across from the Salem Witch Museum. Historically, it was established as a common grazing area for colonists animals.
The Burying Point & the Salem Witch Trials Memorial located at 24 Liberty Street click here
This site is free to roam, and it doesn’t appear to have gates that close the area off for after hours. To me, this was the most pleasant surprise of the entire trip: in documentaries and photos I have only ever seen one Salem witch trials memorial and, as it turns out, that’s located in Salem Village (modern day Danvers, 5 miles or so from Salem). I did not know that there was second memorial at the Old Buyring Point Cemetary, one of the oldest cemetaries in New England (and America).
Make sure to spend some time, here, looking at some of the notable grave stones and the symbolism carved into them. Willow trees, urns, angel wings, and skulls and crossbones are just a few of the symbolic decorations that you will see walking around here.
The Salem memorial is pretty neat, too. It’s a curved pathway with stone benches. Each bench has a victim’s name, death sentence, and death date carved into it. I felt that it was rather ironic that Judge Hathorne’s grave, one of the most notorious magistrates in the trials, was buried just feet from John Proctor’s memorial. As it turns out, none of the Proctor family are buried in this cemetary.
What happened to the victims after execution at Gallow’s Hill? Most of them were buried in a sort of mass grave. Apparently, in the cover of night, most families sectrely dug up their loved one’s bodies and moved them. To this day, we don’t know where because those graves are unmarked.
The Witch House at Salem located at 310 Essex Street click here
I walked by here several times because it’s across the street from Curwen House, The Salem Inn, but I didn’t ened up paying the fee to enter it. We simply ran out of time. It’s claim to fame is that it is, to date, the only structure directly tied to the Salem witch trials still standing in 2019. Nothing regarding the trials actually happened here, but it was Judge Jonathan Corwin’s house. It’s known today as The Witch House. The house is open for self-guided tours from 12 PM to 4PM. Entry is $8.25 for adults, $6.25 seniors, and varying rates for children. Witch House is one of the stops on the trolley tour.
Bewitched TV Show Sculpture located at Lappin Park off Washington Street click here
Did you love the television show, Bewitched? This bronze statue was a big controversy back in the early 2000’s. Many Salem residents felt that it would dishonor the innocent people who were persecuted in the witch trials. TV Land donated the statue of actress Elizabeth Montgomery, who played TV witch Samantha Stephens. Snap a selfie with her, while you can.
Other Salem witch trial locations in and outside of Salem
Another thing that blew my mind was learning the true geography of Salem in the seventeenth century. I’ve studied old maps before. Logically, I understood that Salem was divided socially, politically, and economically into Salem Town (historic waterfront Salem) and Salem Village (rural outskirts). What I didn’t realize, though, was that Salem Village was such a large scope of land. The Salem Village area now consists of four modern day towns called Danvers, Peabody, Middleton, and a portion of Topsfield.
I wish I had been able to visit these sites outside of Salem:
- The Salem Public Library located at 370 Essex Street, Salem click here
- Proctor’s Ledge located at 7 Pope Street, Salem click here
- The Salem Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial located at 172 Hobart Street, Danvers click here
- Foundation of Samuel Parris’ Parsonage located at 67 Centre Street, Danvers click here
- Rebecca Nurse Homestead located at 149 Pine St, Danvers click here
- Putnam Family Cemetery located at 485R Maple St, Danvers click here
- Mary Walcott’s Home located at 85 Centre Street, Danvers click here
- Second Site of the Salem Meeting House located at 41 Centre Street, Danvers click here
- Wadsworth Cemetery located at 7-29 Summer Street, Danvers click here
- Ancient Burial Ground located at Hale Street, Beverly click here
- John Hale Farm located at 39 Hale Street, Beverly click here
- Copp’s Hill Burying Ground located at 45 Hull Street, Boston click here
- Redd’s Pond located at Marlbehead click here
- First Burial Ground located at 153 Academy Road, North Andover click here
- Proctor Home Site located at 348 Lowell Street in Peabody click here
- Giles & Martha Corey Memorial located at Lowell Street near Crystal Lake click here
- Proctor Tomb located at Route 128 North, exit 26 Peabody intersection, island between on/off ramps click here
Hocus Pocus movie fans
If you’re a fan of the 1993 Disney movie Hocus Pocus, there are many film sites you can visit for free in and around Salem.
- The Ropes Mansion and Garden was the site of Allison’s family’s Halloween party, located at 318 Essex Street click here.
- The Salem Museum was the site of the town hall Halloween party that Mr. & Mrs. Dennizon attend, located at 32 Derby Square click here
- Phillips Elementary School had just closed and became the site of the John Bailey High School in the movie, located at 56 South Washington Square click here
- Pioneer Village at Forest Park was the site of the colonial village from the opening scenes where Thackery Binx lived, located 98 West Ave. click here
- The Dennison Family House, currently a private residence, was the site of the Dennison kitchen and Max’s bedroom, located at 4 Ocean Ave. click here
- Old Burial Hill was the site of the cemetery in the movie. This is where Max got jumped by some classmates and lost his bike and shoes. Surprisingly, this is NOT the cemetery in Salem, rather, it’s one of the oldest cemeteries in New England (and colonial America), located in Marblehead. click here
If you have several days in Salem, these are some other notable attractions within the city bounds. I did not have the time to visit these locations.
- The Peabody Essex Museum located at 161 Essex Street click here
- Salem Willows Park located at 165 Fort Ave. click here
- New England Pirate Museum located at 272 Derby Street click here
- Witch Dungeon Museum located at 16 Lynde Street click here
- Salem Wax Museum located at 288 Derby Street click here