I’ve visited Boston and surrounding areas many times but I’ve never been to Salem. I admit that I’ve been curious about the witch stories but something has held me back in the past. On my last visit, I decided to finally go and on my own. I couldn’t convince anyone to go with me. But I thought as long as I got out before nightfall I would be fine. I figured other tourists would keep me company as I signed up for a bus trip out of the city but that didn’t happen. I soon discovered I was left alone after a visiting the first of the many historical landmarks in Salem. I’ve never been more grateful for having Google maps.
My first stop in Salem was to visit the Turner-Ingersoll mansion (the House of Seven Gables) and learned about it’s history and inspiration for the american classic story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Built in 1668, the home is considered to be a significant structure in America’s history and architecture. Walking through tight passageways where the “help” would use was claustrophobic as some people worried about getting stuck.
It was after roaming the grounds that I soon discovered I was alone. Everyone else had gone their own way and all I could remember was the bus driver saying he’d be back in town in three hours and will meet everyone at a specified meeting spot. My gut told me to start heading to the centre of town where at least, if I missed the bus, I could at least find other means to get back to Boston that was about an hour away driving. I’ve missed a ride before while on my travels. Salem wasn’t somewhere I wanted to get stuck in, I thought to myself.
I stumbled upon the country’s oldest candy shop and grabbed a few packets of candy for souvenirs. The story of the candies date back to the early 1800s when Mary Spencer arrived by bot with her family from England. During the passage the family lost everything in a shipwreck and they landed in Salem with nothing. The people of the town helped them when they had heard that Mary was a candy maker so she was given a barrel of sugar. She would make the candies and sell them on the steps in front of the First Church in Salem. Ye Olde Pepper Candy shop – continues to use the same recipe and wrapping methods in making the popular Salem Gibraltar candies.
I had ventured down a street that had several shops. The Crow Haven Corner is Salem’s oldest witch shop and was worth peeking in. Tables were full of small bags of what looked like herbs and spices. Pre-made spell recipe kits were ready to go. Want positive energy? Need a little romance? Feel like you need a bit of protection from evil? There are many to choose from. I also discovered beautiful “Spell Cords” filled with charms. These one-of-a-kind cords were made by Laurie Cabot, who is considered the official witch of Salem. There was some comfort amongst the charms and herbs. I was convinced that I had brushed past several witches in this shop who were busy stocking up.
But the history of the witches in the area is beyond Hollywood-made characters and the Salem Witch Trials is an unforgettable and sad story. The Salem Witch Museum is the main attraction in the town to learn about the tragic historical events.
The hysteria began back in 1692 after a group of young girls in the town claimed to be possessed and had accused local women of witchcraft. Ultimately twenty innocent people were sentenced to death within mere months and more than 150 men and women were suspected of witchcraft and sent to prison. You can visit the site to learn about them.
While I was curious about the history, I also learned about witches today. The Museum houses a second exhibit that offers different perspectives on witches and how they are perceived in the media and in entertainment. A guide explained that Salem is a Wiccan-friendly town and that’s a huge draw particularly this time of year.
Samhain is a Wiccan celebration that recognizes the end of Summer and final Harvest. It’s generally celebrated on October 31 (also referred to as “Feast of the Dead”) when candles are lit to help guide spirits of ancestors and food offerings are left at doorsteps for wandering dead. Apples were buried along road sides for those who lost spirits. Colours for decoration include black, orange, white, gold and silver.
The residents of this quiet town tell me that they definitely lots of tourists during this time of year with all the festivities but I was glad to visit when I did…when the sun didn’t set so early.