City Spotlight: Salem, MA

Fitz Henry Lane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Fitz Henry Lane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Brief History

Salem, Massachusetts is a town located 16 miles north of Boston, on Salem Bay Harbor. It was incorporated in 1626 by Roger Conant, and was the second oldest settlement in New England. It’s theorized that the town’s name is the shortened form of the biblical term, Jerusalem, meaning “City of Peace.” Ironically, Salem, or “Witch City” is perhaps best-known for an albeit brief, but extreme period of religious intolerance, during which the infamous Salem Witch Trials occurred.

In 1692, two young girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, exhibited severe convulsions, amongst other strange symptoms. After a visit from doctor William Griggs, the girls were diagnosed as having been bewitched. This shocking news spread quickly, prompting the townspeople to action; they sought to search for and execute all of the witches in Salem. By the end of the trials in May 1963, 24 accused witches had been executed. Myriad theories exist as to the cause of these trials, but after so many years, a definitive answer is unlikely.  

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Salem became one of New England’s leading maritime and shipbuilding centers. It served as a privateer base during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Later, however, a decline in foreign commerce led the community to the production of textiles, leather, and shoes. Present-day Salem now has an economy bolstered by health care, financial services, tourism, retail trade, and higher education.

With a brief history of Salem, MA in our minds, let’s explore some of the iconic and historical places you’ll see around town. 

Salem Witch Museum

The Salem Witch Museum’s main presentation is based on actual documents from the trial. Visitors explore the drama of the time through life-size stage sets, figures, lighting, and a stirring narration as they bear witness to the lies and intrigue that surrounded the Salem Witch Hunt. A second exhibit focuses on witches: evolving perceptions of witches through time, the truth behind the stereotypes, the practice of witchcraft today, and the frightening phenomenon that is witch hunting. 

By The original uploader was Neckhair at German Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: The original uploader was Neckhair at German Wikipedia

Peabody Essex Museum

The roots of the Peabody Essex Museum date back to the 1799 founding of the East India Marine Society, an organization of captains and supercargoes from Salem. The society had a charter which provided for the establishment of a “cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities,” or what we now call a museum. The society brought a diverse collection of objects from the world over, eventually necessitating a large space dedicated to housing these artifacts, thus precipitating the creation of the East India Marine Hall in 1825. This building now contains the original display cases along with some of the very first objects collected. 

By Fausto Braganti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Fausto Braganti (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

The House of the Seven Gables

The seaside mansion known as The House of the Seven Gables was built for the head of one of the most successful maritime families in the New England colonies, Captain John Turner I, in 1668. Though the original house featured a modest two-over-two floor plan around a large central chimney, which was typical of these early dwellings, subsequent success in business allowed for expansion. The home was sold over the course of time, with new owners further expanding, either to suit their preferences or to incorporate more modern décor & styling. Through the efforts of numerous supporters, the house has survived the centuries, including the seven gables for which it was eventually named.  

2008-01-20 01:34 Dmoon1 512×383× (112236 bytes) The [[House of the Seven Gables]] in [[Salem, Massachusetts]], ca. 1915. Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Source:
Source: Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

In 1938, the Salem National Historic Site was the first national historic site to be established by the National Park Service. Its purpose is to promote the maritime history of New England and the United States, while also preserving part of the historic waterfront in Salem, MA. The site sits on about 9 acres and includes 12 historic structures and one replica tall-ship. According to the National Park Service, figures released in 2012 indicated there were 756,038 visitors to the site, who spent an estimated $40,000,000. 

Source: National Park Service Digital Image Archives
Source: National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ready to visit Salem? Here’s some helpful tips for planning your visit…

Top 5 Places to Eat

-   The Lobster Shanty - Self-described "local dive bar that secretly has class."

-   Red’s Sandwich Shop - Local haunt known for sandwiches & hearty American breakfasts served in a casual, country setting.

-   Bambolina Restaurant – Full-service pizza shop serving up "neo-Neapolitan" pizzas with charred crusts, wood-fired at 925 degrees Fahrenheit.

-   Firenze Trattoria - Elevated Italian classics paired with a robust wine list at this intimate neighborhood trattoria.

-   Bit Bar - Bar offering old-school arcade games, craft beer & playful eats like donut burgers.

Top 5 Places to Visit

-   Salem Witch Trials Memorial - Each of this park's 20 stone benches represents a person executed in the infamous 1692 witch trials.

-   Pickering Wharf – great for walking, shopping, and eating by the sea

-   Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery - This cinematic Monster museum is dedicated to all those who have entertained us in the world of Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

-   Salem Voodoo Vampires and Ghosts – Uncover the dark past and mysterious legends of Salem on this haunted history walking tour.

-   Peabody Essex Museum - Experience art and culture from New England and around the world at one of the region’s largest art museums.

5 Fun Facts

-   The 1993 movie Hocus Pocus was filmed here.

-   Giles Corey, one of the men accused of witchcraft, was crushed to death by stones.

-   The first church in the United States was the Congregational Church, founded in Salem in 1629.

-   Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem in 1804, and city is the setting for several of his novels.

-   Salem has three museums dedicated to the history of witch craft and the famous trials held there: The Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Witch History Museum.

For more on Salem and its history, check out these resources:

-   Salem Massachusetts (Images of America)

-   Salem Then & Now

-   Sorcery in Salem

-   A History of Spiritualism and the Occult in Salem: The Rise of Witch City

-   Salem in Vintage Postcards

-   Hidden History of Salem

-   Salem's Witch House: A Touchstone to Antiquity