Tourists from across the country flock to Salem in October to visit the Witch Museum and the House of Seven Gables, and to celebrate Halloween. Salem Commons transforms into something resembling a carnival. Haunted houses frighten, and mediums prognosticate. If you have never been to the Witch City in the fall, you are missing an incomparable experience.
The month-long festivities commence with the annual, family-friendly Haunted Happenings Grand Parade sponsored by the Salem Chamber of Commerce. This year’s theme, “Upside Down and Inside Out,” begins at 6:30 p.m. on October 7, followed by costume balls, the screening of horror films, and walking tours traversing Salem’s history and haunts.
For a potentially haunted stay, make a reservation at the historic Hawthorne Hotel. Located next to Salem Commons, the Hawthorne typifies elegance. From its majestic ballroom, to its two restaurants (the casual Tavern on the Green and the statelier Nathaniel’s), to the allegedly haunted rooms (325 and 612), this pet-friendly establishment offers five-star service without making travelers feel as if they are in a museum.
This fall through March 2022, the Peabody Essex Museum will run the exhibit “The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming.” Museumgoers will learn more about factors that “fueled the storied crisis, including individuals who rose to defend those unjustly accused, and explore two creative responses by contemporary artists with ancestral links to the trials.” The exhibit includes thirteen photographs of contemporary witches from the series “Major Acana: Portraits of Witches in America” by Frances F. Denny, with fashions designed by Alexander McQueen, a descendant of Elizabeth Howe, one of the first victims of the 1692 hysteria. The PEM promises that Denny’s portraits “re-envision witchery by celebrating the spectrum of identities and spiritual practices found in today’s witch community.” Art often speaks truth to power, and this collection explicates how even the word “witch” was used to suppress women who did not conform to the Colonial ideal.
According to Lydia Gordon, associate curator at PEM, “There were no witches in 1692, but there are today. The modern witches featured in Major Arcana declare “witch” for themselves as tarot readers, spiritual healers, shamans, Wiccan High Priestesses, Neo-Pagans, occultists, mystics, herbalists, and activists. This exhibit diversifies preconceptions of witches and witchcraft today and celebrates the strength and self-empowerment of all those who subvert the marginalized witch identity in favor of a complex, diverse, and holistic state of being.”
Frances F. Denny, United States , Leonore, (Montpelier, Vermont), 2016, from Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America series, archival pigment print, 26” x 20” , Courtesy of the artist and ClampArt, New York, New York—art on exhibit at the PEM
Pickering Wharf is another Salem staple. Located within a short walking distance from the Hawthorne Hotel and the PEM, Pickering Wharf offers an eclectic mix of attractions. If you are looking for a spot for a bite to eat, make a reservation at Finz or its sister restaurant, the Sea Level Oyster Bar. If you do not indulge in one of their decadent desserts, then be sure to pop in to Popped! next door, which will bring out the kid in you with its fresh, gourmet popcorn and ice cream.
The Wharf is replete with distinctive gift shops. The Happy Sunflower is a favorite, offering gifts beyond the stereotypical t-shirts and shot glasses. If you are looking for a truly unique souvenir, visit Joe’s Fish Prints, where you will find one-of-a-kind sketches of aquatic life, combining vibrant colors with skeletal, artistic realism.
Of course, no visit to the Witch City would be complete without a stop at the Salem Witch Museum. After entering what looks like an ominous, medieval castle, guests will cross the lobby into the main theater. There, you will hear the story of how suspicion-fueled rumors led to one of the darkest chapters in American history. On October 21, the museum will host a virtual event entitled “The Not So Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife.” The museum promises that you will “laugh and grimace” as you explore the real and often quashed history of Puritan women.
Salem, like many communities, is trying to protect the public from the coronavirus and its Delta variant. Face masks are required in all indoor facilities. You are allowed to remove them while seated in a restaurant, for example. Tourists and residents alike may want to visit the city’s website for more specific details: salem.com/masks.