Keeping It Local: A Day in Salem, MA

Posted October 2, 2020 by Amber in Around the World / 8 Comments

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Hi everyone! Welcome to my first post of October!  In keeping with my tradition here on the Literary Phoenix, I’ve got a month of spooky-adjacent posts for y’all.  The reviews will be… just… reviews… but the posts should all be Halloweenesque!

Starting out the month, I wanted to bring the only vaguely travel post I’m going to be able to share this year.  A couple months ago, my husband and I took a socially distanced trip over to Salem, MA.  We live fairly close to Salem and have talked about visiting the city for a couple years, but we’re always off on bigger adventures.  With the pandemic, we have no adventures in 2020, so the only place we felt comfortable visiting was somewhere in-state, socially distanced, and mostly outside.  While it’s a very different trip than we would have had pre-pandemic, it was lovely to visit.

Before I get too far in this post, I would like to remind everyone that it’s safest and most advised to stay at home.  If you are out in the world it’s important to wash your hands and/or sanitize often, wear a mask, and stay at least six feet away from other people.

OKAY.

Due to the pandemic as well as having been a few times, we didn’t dig too deep into the traditional witchy history of this iconic city.  For those who have never been to Salem, I’m sure you know the history of the city.  While many of the actual historical sites are not in the Salem city limits, there is a lot of history about the Salem Witch Trials and several museums which I do recommend first time visitors to check out.

In fact, we only went to one museum on this trip.  We hadn’t been to this one before, and fortunately since we went on a Monday morning, there was nobody in the museum.  Our first stop in on this trip was Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.

This is a horror themed wax museum.  I remember when I was a kid and my family went on vacation to Lake George, NY there was a horror movie museum up there that I really wanted to go to, where there was a figure playing a pipe organ in a large glass display window over the entrance.  The Nightmare Gallery was more secretive, but in the depths of our “Cool Things To Do In Salem, MA” hunt, we stumbled across it and thought it may be interesting.  And it was!

So, they really discourage taking photos in the museum because they want people to come visit rather than just looking at the figures online.  For the most part I was good and followed the rules.  There were some older figures, but also some really new ones and there was a Beetlejuice one that I thought was honestly fantastic and I really wanted to take a photo with it, but #rules.

I did sneak one picture to share with a friend of mine who had never been to Salem, because he loves horror and would love this museum.  I will share that with you but I will tell you that I was bad and should not have taken this picture.

Honestly one of the creepiest wax figures in the museum?  This was a fun, spooky wax museum and had with great little plaques with each figure to explain the original film and random facts.  I learned things here, y’all.  If you’re in Salem and you’re looking for something with the same sort of spooky mood but isn’t witchy, Count Orlok’s is pretty cool.

After Count Orlok’s, we went in search of an actual Witch Trial landmark.  I’d been to this one before, but that was back in 2013.  I remember thinking it was really lovely and I wanted to see it again.  When I last visited Salem, the memorial had just been renovated and it was really crisp and new looking.  Since this is an outdoor garden in New England and a heavily trafficked site, the inscriptions are already getting pretty weathered

At the entrance of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, there are inscribed quotes from the victims.  As you walk through the memorial, there are benches with the names of the victims and the date and manner of their deaths.

On this particular visit, there was a lot of love for the memorial of Sarah Good.  Visitors and residents will leave flowers, coins, fruit, or other small items on the memorials of individuals to pay their respects to those who were unjustly accused.  For those not well versed in this particular aspect of American history, Sarah Good was one of the first three women accused in 1692, alongside Tituba and Sarah Osburn.  Sarah was arrested, as well as her four-year-old daughter (who spent months in prison before being released).  At the time of her conviction, she was pregnant and thus was granted a temporary stay of execution until her child was born.

The infant died in prison.  Sarah was hung on July 19th, 1692.

One of the figures that sticks in my memory of the Witch Trials is Giles Corey, and I always make sure to visit his section of the memorial when I’m in Salem.

As well as being one of the few men accused in the course of the trial, Giles Corey’s manner of death is unusual and gruesome, and his steadfastness during torture exemplary.  Corey was “encouraged” to plead either “guilty” or “not guilty”, but according to the times, he couldn’t be tried if he didn’t choose one of the other. Because of the height of the hysteria, he was “encouraged” to plead by being pressed.  Pressing, originally a French torture method called peine forte et dure, is the act of placing heavy stones on the chest of one who refuses to plead in court until they either pled, or died.  In a typical court of law, there was a lot more to it than that, particularly when it came to the laws of inheritance… but that is enough for now.

Giles Corey lasted two days.  Eventually, the weight was too much and he was crushed to death.  There are a few different records of his last words, but one of the most popular was immortalized in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as “More weight.”

His courage stands out to me.

Obviously, all the wrongly accused stood up in their own ways – Rebecca Nurse’s testimony is also strong and brave and inspiring and very memorable to me.  But Giles Corey’s story sticks with me as well.  Can you imagine the pain of being crushed to death?  Not being able to breathe, your ribs cracking, lungs being punctured and your organs slowly flattened?  It’s just horrifying.  There is no other case of death by pressing in New England, and worldwide it is very rare to find one where the accused remains steadfast.

So, there’s a lot more to Salem than just the Witch Trials, although it’s that horrifying chapter in our history that brings many tourists.  You can’t really go to Salem and not do something related to the Trials, even if it’s something small like visit the memorial.

While a lot of the city is based on the supernatural and its huge draws around Halloweentime, particularly due to the energy of the town, Salem has a few other gems to offer.  One of these things is its maritime history, which was a corner of the city I’d never visited before and wanted to.  I remember walking past the New England Pirate Museum when I first visited the city in 2003, and have intended to go in ever since.

Unfortunately, the museum was closed at the time due to the pandemic (smart) so we weren’t able to visit this trip.  It’s definitely something that remains on my wishlist for future visits into the city.  I’m not sure if some of the theming and conversations I’ve had on the blog give away any hints, but I’m really interested in adventure stories, and pirates rank high.  While this remains a wishlist item for me, it’s good to know it’s an offering in the city for those visiting.

Since we were near the harbor anyway, we swung around to take a look at the ship they keep in the bay.  Of course, we all know the horrific history of early American economics and trade labor.   When viewing these sites, it’s important to remember that trade and economics in America were driven by slave labor and that our country was built on the backs of Black people.  It’s a sobering thought to keep with you at all times, doubly so when visiting historical sites with whitewashed stories.

This ship is not a real colonial era ship, but rather a replica built in New York and brought down to the Salem harbor in 2000.  It’s actually under refurbishment at the moment, so the masts came off last fall (2019) and won’t be reattached until refurbishment is complete.  They were lying in the grass just offshore.

When in Salem, it’s fun to find all the important statues in town. We went and found three of them (well, we went looking for two, but sort of just kept walking past another, so I sort of figured, why not?) and in a quick recap, here are some highly photographed statues you may discover in the city!

The one we kept running into was a newer statue of author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Unless high school English curriculum has changed a lot in the last 13 years, most my American readers will likely be familiar with his novel, The Scarlet Letter.  Hawthorne was born and spent much of his childhood in Salem, MA and lived there again in adulthood.  His novel The House of Seven Gables was inspired by one of the houses in town, now a historical landmark and museum that can be visited (or, can be visited post-pandemic).

We didn’t go looking for the House of Seven Gables this trip.  Even though I’m a reader, I don’t care much for Hawthorne (outside of The Scarlet Letter – I’m due for a reread on that one) and I’ve never read the book… and I’ve also been to the museum before.  If you’re a fan, it’s a great place to stop, though!

Of course, we had to come find the statue of Roger Conant, founder of Salem.  Conant is probably the most photographed statue in the city, due in no small part to the fact he’s located right in front of the Salem Witch Museum (at the correct angle – when I took this photo, I was standing in the Common, so the Museum was to my right).  The last time I saw this statue, it was highly oxidized, so it looks like the city has restored it.

The last statue we went hunting for was one that’s been on my wishlist to come find for a few years now – Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens.

This statue is located in Derby Park, right next to this cute little pizza place and just a couple streets over from one of the downtown parking areas.  There’s also a Little Free Library in the park, so I thought that was pretty cool.  Elizabeth Montgomery’s statue was on my wishlist for this trip because I really enjoyed Bewitched (some things are a little outdated and inappropriate and insensitive, but there’s a surprising amount of very relevant material in this show?).  I also really just liked Elizabeth Montgomery as a person.  While she contributed to a lot, Montgomery was particularly devoted to LGBTQ+ rights, AIDS activism, and women’s rights.  If you don’t know much about her as a person, I definitely recommend you look her up, she was an icon.

One last thing before I go – if you’re ever in Salem, you’ve got to check out the shops!  You can’t film or take pictures in many of them by request of the shop owners, but they are an experience in themselves. We weren’t able to go into many this time, as they were closed for the season or had reduced days/hours due to the pandemic, but if you can go in them… do!  We spent a lot of time in Bewitched in Salem which has the coolest collection of bronze statuettes I’ve ever seen, and we also discovered this fun wand shop.

Doesn’t that look like Ollivander’s?!

This very aesthetic ship is called Wynott’s, and they are not affiliated with J.K. Rowling or the Wizarding World in any way – they hand carve beautiful wooden wands.  Prices vary depending on style and wood type.  I couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful mahogany-colored wand, so I ended up buying it.  It only came to $30, which, if you’ve seen the cost of HP merch, you know is a deal.  Plus, supporting small businesses instead of multi-million dollar franchises and transphobic authors is always a good idea.

This shop is really, really cool.  It’s not far from the Salem Witch Museum – if you find yourself in the city, I suggest you seek it out!

That’s all for today, my loves.  I hope you enjoyed this little peek into Salem, Massachusetts.  We had a lovely day, even though it was nearly 100-degrees… can’t argue with those beautiful blue skies!  I feel very fortunate that given the current conditions, we were able to visit the city and that we were able to go places where we felt we were able to follow CDC guidelines and remain safe.

There won’t be another travel post this year as we’re planning to stay snug and safe at home for the remainder of 2020.  I dearly hope we get a vaccine and are able to embark on some proper adventures in 2021 – we’ll see what the future holds!  In the meanwhile, I hope you all stay safe and healthy and we’ll be back to bookish content on Monday!

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Have you ever been to Salem, MA?  Is it a place you would be interested in going?  Did you learn about the Salem Witch Trials in school?  Drop all your Salem knowledge on me in the comments!

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8 responses to “Keeping It Local: A Day in Salem, MA

    • Amber

      I hope you’re able to come visit someday! It’s very much an adorable, sleepy little town with such incredible spooky vibes. But stay home and stay safe and healthy for now, it’s certainly not going anywhere. 😀

  1. Thank you for sharing this post, I wish I saw it sooner, I actually went to Salem the last weekend in September haha!
    On the Friday I went, the town wasn’t too crowded and I did most “tourist” things I wanted to. When I went back into the city on Saturday it was PACKED like crazy and I’m so glad I did most things I wanted on the Friday. I did the Salem Witch Museum, which was disappointing and I would not recommend. I wish I could do the Witch House as that seemed more legit but tickets were sold out. (They only allowed 4 people per time slot, so it makes sense it sold out quickly!) I also enjoyed seeing the Bewitched Statue and walking the streets and checking out the shops. That wand shop was very cool and I’m glad its not affiliated with JKR! Its definitely interesting to visit during a pandemic and I’m glad the city took mask wearing seriously. This was about a ~4 hour drive for me but I would go back to Salem again in a few years, it was a cute city!

    • Amber

      Ooooh, I bet it was packed! And the last weekend of September as well so you’re tiptoeing into their Halloween season! 4 hours is a really long drive – I think that’s what kept us from it when we were living in NH. Not only is it a log drive, but it’s one of those deeply uninteresting, 100-miles-of-highway-looks-the-same drives! No fun. But an adorable little town nonetheless.

      I was so glad that the city took the mask wearing seriously as well. Everywhere you go these days, I feel like it’s very hit-or-miss. It soundalike you had a good day, though! Bummer about the Witch House, but there’s always next time! It’s good for a visit every four yeas or so. I’m still working up my courage to go in October, lol.

      • Yeahhh it was packed and it wasn’t even technically October yet haha! I hoped being on the edge might still give the spooky feel but avoid some of the crowds. It sorta worked ^^; Yeah, 4 hours is just close enough to drive but just long enough to be annoying, but still I’m glad I went! (And I went with 2 friends so it wasn’t too bad of a drive!)

        Yes I did have a good day! 😀 Haha yes there is always next time~ I will go back one year! 🙂

        • Amber

          Friend excursions are the BEST these days – I’m glad you got to go with them! I feel like any time we get to see our people during a pandemic is a win. 🙂 Glad you had a good time!

  2. I love this post, Amber! One of the things I really miss is seeing blogger’s personal life/travel posts, which have understandably slowed down (I haven’t been to a store- let alone on a vacation- going on 7ish months). I’m glad you and your husband were able to find a way to do a socially distanced small trip- I can imagine it’s a wonderful break for your mental health in these troubling times!

    • Amber

      Thanks, Cristina! It was really nice to be out and about for a day, and the town was so so quiet. It really was a wonderful break. A friends mine also recently went hiking at Crater Lake in Oregon and she said it was AMAZING. She and I have been suffering in silence together – we’re usually all over the world. It’s nice to disappear into the tucked in local places we sometimes forget while off adventuring… and I’m so grateful for how safe we felt.