If you live in the city of Boston you probably haven’t been to Salem as result of a conscious, deliberate, education-seeking choice. Very few people have explored the options the Greater Boston Area has to offer, and, smacking their finger down on the map, exclaim: “Yes, Lets jump in the car and drive to Salem for the day!” More than likely you’ve been there on a hot June day with your band of fellow sweaty 6th or 7th graders and whispered through the entire Salem Witch Museum presentation before eating lunch in the town green. All the while enjoying the simple fact that it was not the confines of Harrison Middle School, or wherever you happened to go at the time. The costumed characters roaming around the village may have provided a brief moment of intrigue for you, but you probably remember little else from that day.
Cliché haunts this village almost as much as the witchy kitsch, but if the Salem Witch Museum and other similar attractions can be overlooked, Salem possesses a kind of historic wink; a look that leads you to believe its not showing all it has to offer, that few other New England towns have.
Sometimes you have to explore the previously dismissed local land to rediscover a place. Living in a city can leave a person void of outside experience. That is not to say Boston is without unique experiences in itself, but sometimes a walk of the property can be good on a boring Saturday morning. It is nice to take stock of ones usual surroundings; to dig to the back of the shelf in order to find forgotten ingredients. That is what I did on my trip to Salem. I had been to Salem once before– in 7th grade for a “Crucible” focused trip. And honestly, I remember little else besides the uproarious laughter my friends and I broke out in when we spotted a sign of a local liquor store called “Butthole Liquors”. Sad to say Arthur Miller did not catch my mind with his talk of the devil and girls in trance.
My second trip to Salem was much more enjoyable. The 30 min train ride cost me a mere $10.50 (round trip) and I left from North Station with a flock of beach goers no doubt bound for Singing beach or Rockport. When I arrived in Salem I found the town pleasantly free. It was not deserted but not exactly bustling. I suppose the summer in Salem is less attractive than a haunted, spooky, misty October night when all the old ghosts return. I followed a red stripe on the sidewalk which I assumed– with no confirmation– was a self-guided tour of historical Salem. And this town was very historical. The churches and houses in Old Historic Salem dated back to the late 1600’s.
Even trying to redesign this town in my mind back then was difficult to imagine these same structures existing. People say Boston is cold, and people say Boston is a bit inconvenient, but the history in this city, and surrounding it, places a man in such an insignificant role it is impossible not to respect. However, whenever I plan a trip in the Boston area I become very weary of a few words used in countless reviews of Boston suburbia. There are so many quaint towns, and charming towns, and historic towns, it is hard to decipher all these adjectives. Which one is truly the quaintest of the quaint? Or the most charming of the charmed? Or even the oldest of the most historic? How can I know that I am experiencing authenticity, and a true-to-word charming village? Well, it’s impossible, and to its credit, Salem seems to know its place.
It has the historic tourist traps, but it also has a thriving beach scene called Winter Island. A 25 min walk from downtown Salem, this rocky-shored beach gave me a nice rejuvenated feeling after a short lunch at The Old Spot Tavern. To my surprise, the tavern didn’t even have a draught beer called “Witches Brew” (it seems such an easy sell!). By and large, my trip to Salem was more than just an historic adventure; one aimed at getting some local culture in me. It was a trip to really find out what an often talked about, but seldom visited town has to offer to someone from around here.
Salem brought me back to its’ meaningful past in an area of the country where it is easy to become blind to the history around us. It is a place to enjoy the developing art culture and a stroll by ancient structures with an ice cream cone in hand. My time there was short, but ultimately lasting in a way that an urban adventure could not provide. Only thirty minutes from Boston is a town whose old story is well told, but is just now sitting down to tell a new one.
Check out the Photos section for Salem pictures