A Visit to Salem, Massachusetts During a Pandemic October

I recently took a mid-week wander up to Salem, Massachusetts as I was not only having a major case of wanderlust but because the Peabody Essex Museum was having an exhibition on the 1692 Salem Witch Trials that I really wanted to see. Normally, I wouldn't go anywhere near Salem in October having witnessed firsthand the kinds of crowds the city attracts during the entire month when my friend Juli lived there, but with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic having canceled all of the city's annual "Haunted Happenings", I thought it might be worth making the trip. 

Knowing that things have been scaled way down from what you would normally find in Salem in October, there wasn't going to be any distracted wandering going on during this trip though. Nope, it was was going to be a very carefully planned out trip with a pretty solid agenda in place. As I wanted to make sure that the things that I wanted to see and do were going to be possible, I purchased tickets online for the activities that I knew I wanted to do well in advance: tickets for a timed entry to the Peabody Essex Museum, a timed ticket for entry to The Witch House and a reserved spot for a historic 1692 Salem Witch Trials walking tour. I also made sure to download the new Destination Salem app - more of which you can read about here should you be so inclined!

Once all plans were in place - which included scoring a sweet deal on Booking.com for a room at Salem's newest hotel, the Hampton Inn Salem - we made our way to the North Shore where, first things first, I needed to drop off my distracted feline at the SoHo Luxury Cat Hotel in nearby Beverly. I know a lot of people think nothing of leaving their cat home with plenty of food and water but Kumori has never spent a night alone at home and I didn't really want to have that on my mind this trip so I made reservations for her to stay at her own hotel. Owned by Sharon and Alissa who, together, have over 35 years of working in a feline-only veterinary clinic, SoHoCats is the "hot spot for kitties looking for a hip place to play and a cool place to stay." Purrfect! 
After Kumori was settled down at her accommodations for the next two nights, it was time to get something to eat before we did anything else and for that we stopped at Kelly's Roast Beef in Danvers. Kelly's has been making some of the best roast beef sandwiches on the North Shore since 1951 when they came up with their famous Original Roast Beef Sandwich - something that was completely unheard of until then. After trying one, it's easy to understand how they sell approximately one million of the delicious sandwiches per year at their four North Shore locations! 

As this trip was planned so that I could learn more about the 1692 Salem Witch Trials - a subject that has fascinated me since I was in 7th grade - we then took a drive by the Rebecca Nurse Homestead which is located on 149 Pine Street in Danvers. Even though I knew I wouldn't be able to actually visit as it wasn't open, I wanted to at least get a glimpse of the house that is owned and operated by the Danvers Alarm List Company, a volunteer non-profit organization. The house was the home of 71-year old Rebecca Nurse, one of the first victims of the Salem Witch Trials. This is the only home of a person executed during the trials open to the public and is someplace I would definitely like to wander back by and explore someday. 

The homestead, which sits on 25+ acres of an original 300 acres that was occupied by Rebecca Nurse and her family from 1678-1798, is located in what was then known as Salem Village. In addition to the traditional saltbox home lived in by the Nurse family, the property also holds the Nurse Family Cemetery where it is believed Rebecca was laid in an unmarked grave following her hanging. The cemetery is also the final resting place of George Jacobs, Sr. who was also killed during the Witchcraft Hysteria and whose remains were reinterred during a ceremony in 1992 marking the 300-year anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. 

Not too far from the Nurse Homestead is the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims' Memorial which was dedicated in front of a crowd of approximately 3,000 people on May 9, 1992 as part of the 300th anniversary remembrance. It was the first such memorial to honor all of the 1692 witchcraft victims - nineteen who were hanged, one who was pressed to death and five who perished while in jail.

The memorial, which is located at 176 Hobart Street in Danvers, stands across the street from the site of the original Salem Village Meeting House where many of the witch examinations took place. The memorial serves as a reminder that each generation must confront intolerance and "witch hunts" with integrity, clear vision and courage. 

The memorial features a Canadian pink granite Bible box and a book inscribed with the words "The Book of Life". Those who were accused of witchcraft refused to confess as they wanted their names to be inscribed in "The Book of Life" which, to the Puritans, represented the record of those would reach eternal life. To the sides of the Bible box is a pair of large scale reproduction metal shackles that were hand-forged by blacksmith Curtis M. White, a staff member of the Saugus Ironworks National Park and resident overseer of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in 1992 when the memorial was dedicated.

Behind the Bible box is a three-panel granite wall on which are inscribed the names of those who died, along with the date and circumstance of each death and the town of each victim’s origin. Also inscribed on the walls on each side are quotations from eight of the accused such as this one from George Jacobs, Sr. on May 10, 1692 taken from the Reverend Parris' account of the examination at Salem: "Well! burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ ..." 

For more information on the memorial's design and symbolism, visit this page about the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims' Memorial at Danvers, part of the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.

Leaving Danvers behind, my distracted sidekick and I made our way over to Salem to see how things were faring with the potential crowds. First order of business was to check into our accommodations for the next several nights: the recently-opened Hampton Inn Salem on Dodge Street. 

The newest addition to Salem's downtown hotels, the Hampton Inn is located just off of Washington Street across from the Salem Post Office making it convenient to park your car in their secure valet parking and walk to anywhere you might wish to go. To read more about the hotel and see a few photos, check out my blog post here

Heading out from the hotel for a bit of a walk around, I immediately saw this sign. Erring on the side of caution, all of downtown Salem has been designated a Mandatory Mask Zone that includes fines for those found not wearing their masks which range from $50 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense and $300 for a third offense. The emergency order, which was signed by Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and the local board of health, was made in the interest of public health with the intent of reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the community so, if you're going to go to Salem, mask up and stay that way!

Pandemic or not, it wouldn't be October in Salem without a little Halloween fun like this ghostly trio in front of The Derby Restaurant & Bar which is located a very short walk from the Hampton Inn and offers a large outdoor seating area for those who are more comfortable dining outside. 

This was the number of people on the Washington Street end of Essex Street at about 4:00 pm on the Wednesday that we were there. Not many people at all compared to the throngs of tourists that one usually sees on the pedestrian mall in October! 

Before heading down the pedestrian mall, I turned the opposite way on Essex Street as I wanted to stop by the Caramel Patisserie and pick up some French pastries and macarons being that the trip to Paris I was supposed to go on earlier this year got Covid-cancelled. 

Caramel's Master Chef, Dimitri Vallier, was raised in South Central France and taught under world-renowned chefs including Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenôtre and Daniel Boulud. In October of 2015, Dimitri joined forces with his sister Sophie and opened their shop bringing opulent and delicious desserts to Salem. 

Trust me, this photo doesn't do this fruit tart justice! It was tout à fait magnifique! 

With my bag of French goodies in hand, I turned around and headed back to the pedestrian mall as there was another stop I wanted to make at a store that I go to every time I'm in Salem. It was nice to see that there still weren't many people around and those that were all had on their masks. 

Pamplemousse has two locations in Massachusetts and the one in Salem is always a must-stop for me as not only do they have a great stock of interesting beer & ale, cider and wine but they carry some international candies that are hard to find like Flake bars, Aero bars and Kinder Happy Hippos which always make me happy! The store also has a terrific assortment of kitchen goodies, coffee, jams & jellies and more. 

From Pamplemousse I continued down the pedestrian mall towards the Peabody Essex Museum which is located across from the Salem Visitors Center where the Salem Trolley departs on their 8-mile tour around Salem. 

Salem Trolley also offers a "Tales & Tombstones Tour" in the evenings which takes riders past the sights of Salem's grisly murders and ghastly executions while they hear tales of ghosts - both mischievous and malevolent - who occupy some of Salem's haunted hotels and restaurants along with legends of ghost ships and haunted islands. Regardless of when you want to visit Salem, this is something you really have to reserve in advance as it's very popular with both young and old alike.

Another look down the Essex Street pedestrian mall didn't show too many more people out and about so I have to say that this was probably one of the best times to visit Salem this October, It was certainly very, very different from previous Octobers I had been there when it looked more like the photo below! 

My next stop was another that I have been to numerous times in the past but as this was a Salem Witch Trials visit, I wanted to stop by again. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial on Liberty Street is dedicated to the 20 people who were put to death during the hysteria and was dedicated on May 5, 1992. 

The memorial has four-foot high granite walls on three sides with 20 granite benches representing each victim cantilevered inward from the walls. Arranged by date of execution, each bench is etched with a name, means of execution, and execution date. A dirt path runs beside the benches for visitors to walk on and in the center of the memorial is a simple patch of grass and locust trees which are thought to be the type of tree that may have been used for the hangings on Proctor's Ledge which is located about a mile from the memorial.

The Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated by Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor, and author Elie Wiesel, whose dedication speech you can read here. In it, he notably said, "... my good friends, what we have seen here today is a lesson not about the past only, but also about the present. That whenever a person or a group of persons come and say that they are superior to another group because of their color, race or religion, they will create upheavals with bloodshed accompanying them. With innocence becoming the first victim." 

Below are just five of the twenty benches found in the memorial which was designed by artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler of Bainbridge Island, Washington whose entry was chosen out of 246 submissions. The design was based on that of the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington DC. 

The memorial sits on a 5,400 square-foot plot of land located next to the Old Burying Point cemetery where notorious Salem Witch Trial Magistrates John Hathorne and Bartholomew Gedney are buried as well as many other Salem residents from 1692. The Old Burying Point - which is also known as the Charter Street Cemetery - is the oldest cemetery in Salem as well as one of the oldest in the country.

The gravestones and tomb markers of early settlers include that of Captain Richard More who died in 1692 in Salem at the age of 84. One of the passengers on the Mayflower, More came over at the age of 9 (or 11) as an indentured servant and rose through the ranks eventually becoming a sea captain who lived in Salem. It is believed that More's gravestone is the only known one of a Mayflower passenger.

The entrance to the cemetery is behind the Peabody Essex Museum on Charter Street (FYI, the cemetery was closed for repairs while I was in town.) The red line on the sidewalk to the right is part of the Salem Heritage Trail which connects all of Salem's main sites; to learn more about it, click on the link to Salem.org

Upon returning to the hotel it was time to think about getting something to eat but as my distracted sidekick didn't really want to go out somewhere where there might be a lot of people, we opted to order delivery from the Flying Saucer Pizza Company which offers quite the interesting array of pizzas in addition to the traditional choices like pizza and pepperoni. 

We did get traditional pizza but also ordered a Pickle Rick Pizza which features olive oil, cheese, bacon, dill pickles and a swirl of ranch dressing. I personally don't watch "Rick & Morty" but I would eat the pizza again as it was surprisingly good! 

Following a good night's sleep and after enjoying a nice Continental Breakfast at the hotel, I set off on Thursday morning to learn more about the 1692 Witch Trials with my first stop being the Jonathan Corwin House aka The Witch House.  
I had purchased my ticket online on EventBrite as tickets must be purchased in advance or you are totally not getting through the door. There are only four tickets for each time slot for the self-guided tour as the interior of the house is small and they are doing all they can to enforce social distancing guidelines. 

The house was the home of one of the most notorious Salem Witch Trial judges - Jonathan Corwin. The house is the only structure that you can visit in Salem that has direct ties to the 1692 Witchcraft Trials and though I had walked by it more times than I can count, I had never actually been inside! 

Heir to one of the largest Puritan fortunes in New England, Corwin purchased the house in 1675 when he was 35 then continued to live there for the next 40 years. The house remained in the Corwin Family until the mid-19th century. 

An excellent example of 17th-century New England architecture, historians are unsure of the date when it was built. Corwin family lore maintains that it was built in 1642, but some scholars claim that it was built in the 1620s or 1630s and that Roger Williams lived in it before he founded Providence Plantations. There's no actual proof of that though so the house's construction date remains a mystery.

In the mid-1940s the house was moved back approximately 35 feet from its original location and placed on a foundation to stabilize it. This historic preservation was the beginning of Historic Salem, Inc. which was founded in 1944 and is still going strong today. The Witch House opened as a museum in 1948. For those who like that sort of thing, in 2011, Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures crew featured the house during their 4th season visit to Salem.

After my self-guided tour through The Witch House which had some very interesting displays on early Colonial healing methods which used all sorts of things that we would never consider using today - or would we? - it was on to Salem Historical Tours for a 1692 Witchcraft Walk. 

On this 90-minute walk around Salem, tour participants visit places that are full of 1692 Witch Hysteria history including The Witch House that I had just left! Normally the tours take approximately 50 people plus the tour guide but with Covid regulations in effect, the tour was limited to 9 people plus the guide. All guests are required to wear face coverings for the duration of the tour and we all stayed 6 feet or more away from each other - unless we came together, that is! 

If I am remembering correctly, our guide's name was Giovanni and he did a great job of providing us with a lot of information that I hadn't heard before in regards to the Witch Trials. We didn't walk anywhere that I hadn't already been before but I definitely learned a lot and really enjoyed the tour. Like Giovanni said, a lot of the information is depressing but then again, it should be - there was nothing good about the hysteria that permeated the North Shore of Massachusetts during those dark, dark times. 

After the historic walk, I made my way back over to the Hampton Inn by way of the Artists' Row which is located in an area that was originally designed as a marketplace and now serves as home to many of Salem's creative artists who offer pottery, fabric arts, glass artwork and more. The photo above is part of the Unity Path which was created by lead artist Liz LaManche and a team of community members to celebrate the 2020 reopening of the Artists' Row for the summer season. 

This map at the entrance on the Lafayette Street end of Artists' Row indicates the areas of Salem that are a mandatory mask zone. Take a look at it if you aren't sure of where the mandatory areas are and don't want to wear a mask everywhere - though you really should as a courtesy to other visitors and the residents of the city!

My wanderings for the day had worked up quite an appetite so while my distracted sidekick went to visit friends in Beverly, I took myself to a lovely dinner at the Ledger Restaurant & Bar which was just a short walk away from the hotel on Washington Street. For the record, I made a reservation through OpenTable before I went just to be safe. Though I could have sat outside, it was pretty chilly at that point and I opted for indoor dining. 

I started my evening with a mug of Ledger's Infamous Hot Todd (which really warmed me up) and an order of their ginormous popovers! They weren't just H-U-G-E but they were delicious served with a very tasty garlic butter. I was only going to eat one and take the other back to the hotel with me but I caved and ate both of them because they were just soooooo good! Don't judge me.

As you can see from the photo below, there was plenty of social distancing space between myself and the next table so I wasn't at all worried about anyone being too close in an enclosed space. 

The restaurant is located in the former Salem Savings Bank building (circa 1818) and has a very interesting decor including a mural of a police officer chasing someone who seems to be trying to run off with a ledger. Imagine that! 

Just for those who might be curious, I ordered one of the specials of the evening which was a 12-oz boneless prime rib served with smashed Yukon Gold potatoes and garlic broccolini. It was very, very good but, as my old Gram B used to say, "more than I could possibly eat!" so some of it went back to my hotel with me. Thankfully we had a nice refrigerator and microwave in our room so my distracted sidekick could enjoy the leftovers later! 

After another tasty Continental breakfast and a quick and easy checkout from the Hampton Inn on Friday morning, we moved the car to the Museum Place Garage (which still had a good number of spaces available at 9:45 in the morning but looked like it was going to be filling up fast) and arrived at the Peabody Essex Museum for its 10:00 a.m. opening. Again, I had booked our General Admission time slot online ahead of time as I knew that the timed tickets for the 1692 Salem Witch Trials exhibition would probably go fast once the museum opened. As you can't see the exhibition without a timed ticket and it was one of the main reasons I was going to Salem in October, there was no way I was going to be left out! 

Thankfully we got tickets for 10:15 a.m. which meant we could get in and out before the crowds. You're limited to 30 minutes in the exhibit so I wasn't going to be able to linger over everything I wanted to but I was able to read and see a good deal of the exhibition. A small part of the problem while we were there was that there was a family with younger children there at the same time that we were and the kids were bouncing around back and forth between objects while the parents weren't paying a whole lot of attention. Folks - this is NOT the time to not be paying attention to your kids! Also, this isn't exactly what I would call a kid-friendly exhibition as it's a lot of historic documents and such and, if I'm being honest, I don't think it's very respectful of those people who were put to death as witches for one to be wearing pointed hats and capes while reading the orders to have them executed. That's probably just me being an old fuddy-duddy but that's just how I see it.

The above is the original warrant of apprehension for nine people who were accused and arrested for practicing witchcraft on April 21, 1692. To me, this sort of thing is totally fascinating and I really wish I'd had more time to read it in full but I fully understand why the museum needs to limit people's' time in the exhibition. Darned Covid virus! 

This trunk, circa 1670, is made of sealskin, wood and iron and belonged to Witch Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin, It was gifted to the PEM in 1898 by George Rea Curwen who I believe was related to the Judge.

This painting is Tompkins Harrison Matteson's Trial of George Jacobs, Sr. for Witchcraft. The 1855 painting summarizes in one scene a number of dramatic incidents that occurred during the days of George Jacobs Sr.’s examination and trial. Most of the action focuses on the dramatic moment when his own granddaughter, Margaret, testified against him. Placed in the center of the painting, she kneels and points her finger directly at her grandfather, who responds by pleading his innocence with upraised arms.

The above are original documents for the examination of Martha Corey on March 21, 1692 as well as the Mittimus, which was the court order to commit someone to prison, dated May 25, 1692. Martha was hanged as a witch on September 22, 1692, roughly a month after her husband Giles was tortured and pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea. One of the many interesting things that I learned on my Salem Historical Tours Witchcraft Walk was that torture was not permitted under a Puritan court of law but during the Witchcraft Trials, the courts were operating under English law which did allow torture. 

After a quick turn through the Salem Stories exhibition (you can read more about both exhibitions in this blog post I wrote) and a few other things I wanted to look at, we left the PEM at approximately 11:30 and walked outside to find a completely different scene then when we walked in as people seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and were beginning to crowd the streets. I didn't stop to take any photos of the increased number of visitors as I was walking quickly back to the garage so that we could get out of the downtown area before too many more people flooded in. 

A three-day weekend was approaching and it seemed that in spite of the fact that "Haunted Happenings" had been canceled this year and you couldn't really do much of anything without reservations in hand, people were just wandering the pedestrian mall aimlessly looking for things to do. I was really surprised by the number of people with children as there really isn't anything for kids to do in Salem right now. Even the exhibitions at the PEM that are geared towards children are closed out of an abundance of caution so why anyone would bring children there during a pandemic is beyond me. There's no carnival, no street vendors, nothing on the Common like there usually is - not a thing that a young child could possibly find interesting or fun. 

Anyway ... stepping off my soapbox for now, we had one more last stop to make in Salem in connection with the 1692 Witch Trials before heading back over to pick up the distracted feline at the cat hotel and then head back to Connecticut.

Proctor's Ledge Memorial, located on Pope Street, was dedicated on July 19, 2017 at the spot where it is believed that the hangings of 1692 occured. The dedication date coincided with the first of the three mass executions that were held on the spot when, on July 19, 1692, five condemned women - Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes - were hanged from a tree on the ledge before their bodies were tossed into a crevice where the memorial now marks their names. 

For many years it was believed that the nineteen innocent people who were executed in Salem in 1692 were hanged at the summit of Gallows Hill which is to the west on the edge of town but as no one had ever memorialized the actual site, that was a best guess. In 1921, local historian Sidney Perley believed he had located the spot of the executions near the base of the hill on Proctor’s Ledge, a piece of property that had been purchased by the family of one of the victims. Wealthy landowner John Proctor, who had publicly condemned the witch trials and had punished his female servants for claiming to be possessed by witches’ spirits in the hysteria of the day, was hanged as a witch on August 19, 1692. Proctor’s Ledge is named for his grandson who bought the land fulling knowing its history. 

Perley's conclusion led the City of Salem to purchase a small parcel of Proctor’s Ledge “to be held forever as a public park.” The city called it “Witch Memorial Land” but the site was never formally marked and was eventually forgotten over time. People still believed that the hangings had taken place on the summit of the hill until a team of researchers began to reconsider all of the evidence in 2010. To help in their investigation, the research team used court records, maps, ground-penetrating radar and aerial photographs along with 1692 eyewitness accounts of nearby neighbors who were able to see the hangings from their homes. To read more about the evidence that proved Proctor's Ledge was the sight of the hangings, The History of Massachusetts Blog has a very interesting piece on Proctor's Ledge Memorial which you can find here.

The execution spot was finally confirmed as Proctor’s Ledge in January of 2016 and in 2017 the memorial was built to mark the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. The memorial, which was developed by landscape architect Martha Lyon, consists of a semi-circular granite wall with 19 stones engraved with the names and execution dates of the nineteen victims who were hanged at the location.

In the center of the memorial, stands a small oak tree which symbolizes endurance and dignity. At the dedication ceremony, one of the members of the research team, Salem State University professor Emerson "Tad" Baker told those gathered, "We became the 'Witch City' in 1892 on the bicentennial of the trials. While done largely for commercial reasons, I see the moniker as Salem’s self-imposed Scarlet Letter. After all, the term ‘witch hunt’ is synonymous with Salem and stands as a symbol of persecution, fanaticism, injustice and rushing to judgement. So from this time forward I hope that residents and visitors to Salem will treat the tragic events of 1692 with more of the respect they are due. We need less celebration in October and more commemoration and sober reflection throughout the year.”

Even though Salem has long been one of my favorite places to wander to for many, many reasons, I'm inclined to agree with Professor Baker - especially during a Global Pandemic. Salem can be a lot of fun but I don't think that fun should be built on the deaths of 25 innocent people. 

In conclusion, if you're going to visit Salem for whatever reason - for the Witch Trials history, the maritime history, the great food, the terrific art, the eclectic shops, the awesome architecture, their world-class museum, whatever! - then plan ahead by visiting Destination Salem which has everything you need to plan a terrific visit to a terrific town. You just might not want to do it this October unless it's during the week and you have made lots of plans ahead of time. 


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