The magic of Salem, MA

A 40-minute drive and worthwhile day trip from Boston.

Clockwise from left: Nathaniel Hawthorne statue; the historic Witch House, which dates to the 17th-century witch trials; HEX witchcraft store.
  • Clockwise from left: Nathaniel Hawthorne statue; the historic Witch House, which dates to the 17th-century witch trials; HEX witchcraft store.

Witch statue in Salem.

Witch statue in Salem.

My first recollection with mystical powers was when I was 10 and my sister was attempting to cast a spell on our unsuspecting cat. The candles, chanting, and “brew” she was mixing had me intrigued. I don’t remember what she intended for the cat, or if it worked, but the experience left a magical mark on my memory.

I love Halloween, or as some know it, All Saints' Day. Perhaps it’s having free reign to dress up as your favorite fantasy character, or maybe because it’s near my birthday and I grew up having Halloween birthday parties.

One thing for sure is that when I recently visited Salem, MA, I felt very much at home.

A tour of Salem

Salem is about 60 minutes north of Boston along the coastal shoreline, and the ocean views are breathtaking. On my latest trip I only had half a day to explore, but am planning to return on a girls' trip when we can enroll in the witchcraft workshops and have a psychic reading by authentic local witch Laurie Cabot, author of several books. Laurie has raised both her daughters in the Wicca religion, and it’s a good thing the late-1600s “witch hunt” craze in this area is long past.

Old Town Hall.

Old Town Hall.

Walking along cobblestoned Essex Street, I passed by the touristy Witch History Museum and the “witches” standing at the doorways handing out flyers for psychic readings. I kept walking and went on in to explore the free Old Town Hall museum, where a colonial man playing acoustic guitar greeted me. A small quaint museum full of displays on the Witch Trials of 1692 and famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

As I continued on Essex Street I passed by the Witch Dungeon Museum, where enactments of the Witch Trials are performed. I wish I'd had time to explore the Peabody Essex Museum (founded in 1799), but kept walking, and came upon the eerie “Burying Point”, oldest cemetery in Salem. There I saw the gravestone of witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne – not to be confused with author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables. Nathaniel’s statue is proudly erected at the end of Essex Street on Hawthorne Blvd. John Hathorne is a blood relative of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Gulu Gulu Cafe.

Gulu Gulu Cafe.

You can tour the House Of Seven Gables, a 1668 colonial mansion (now a non-profit museum) or tour Jonathan Corwin’s house, The Witch House, the only known home in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials.

Food and shopping picks

Coming back to reality, my stomach was telling me I needed some food and drink after all that walking. I stumbled on the eclectic dog-friendly café Gulu Gulu, with a menu of 30 craft bottled beers and 20 on tap, and only European wines on the wine list. This colorful, creative meeting place has a former U.S. Postal service mailbox, painted red, for customer comments. (I posted my positive commend on Yelp instead.)

Fountain in Salem.

Fountain in Salem.

I couldn’t resist a trip into one of the witchcraft spell stores, and explored HEX across the street from Gulu Gulu. I bought some magical soaps charged with energy to bring you money when you use it. I bought three, and imagined the look on my kids' faces when I gave them this gift from my trip – would we be accused of money laundering?

I can’t say I’m 100% bought into it all being true, being the daughter of a scientist. But I enjoyed exploring the town's past, and seek to understand the intangible Wicca religion and science of metaphysical energy. Home to 42,000+ people, Salem is dripping with a colonial and magical history.

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