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My Town: Brooke's Salem

Paul Costello

Photo: Paul Costello

You know you're in Salem and nowhere else, says 11-year-old Brooke, when you spot a hearse tour of haunted houses or pass a gaggle of black-robed Wiccans skulking down the sidewalk—and it's not even Halloween. A lot of strange stuff still goes on in this town famous for its 1692 witch trials, but there's a less ghoulish side. Brooke loves the town woods, the 18th-century buildings, and the tide pools down by the lighthouse. She has two younger sisters, Paula and Lydia. Their mother, Kate, is president of the Salem Athenaeum, a private library, and their dad commutes to a software management job in Boston, 30 minutes away by train. Home is an 1846 gray-shingled Victorian, with three balconies and three gables. Between figuring out this year's Halloween costume (a gypsy) and juggling horseback riding, ballet, and piano lessons, Brooke told us the tricks to discovering Salem's treats.

All during October, there's a bunch of events called Haunted Happenings [877/725-3662; www.hauntedhappenings.org]: at Salem Common, a pumpkin-carving contest, a cat and dog costume parade, and a big leaf pile to jump in. On October weekends at the House of the Seven Gables [54 Turner St.; 978/744-0991], actors dress up like characters from the book and tell their stories. My favorite is the ghost of Matthew Maule, the one the Pyncheon family accused of witchcraft and hanged. He wears buckled boots, a cloak—and a rope around his neck. The Peabody Essex Museum [East India Square; 978/745-9500] also has someone telling scary stories on several nights, around a bonfire and in the museum's four old houses. The stories are about real people—someone was actually murdered in the Gardner-Pingree House—or about when each house was built. I also love the Pickering House Harvest Festival [18 Broad St.; 978/745-1205; October 27 this year]. There's a hay maze and a barn that's turned into a haunted house.

Even when it's not Halloween, my friends and I like to walk through the Charter Street Graveyard to look for the oldest stones—someone from the Mayflower is buried there. We also stop at the Witch Trials Memorial near the cemetery. There's a stone wall around some dark trees, and the benches in the wall have the names of the victims. My mother says it's a nice place to sit and think, but we play tag around the trees.

Salem is really famous for its architecture. The Witch House [310 Essex St.; 978/744-0180] is the only building left that was part of the witch trials—some of the accused people were first questioned there. It's a cool house to tour because the inside has been restored to the way it was. For more old houses, walk down the brick sidewalks on Chestnut Street, a block away. The Phillips House [34 Chestnut St.; 978/744-0440; open for tours] was built near here in Danvers, but in the 1820's, after the people who lived in it got a divorce, they cut the house in two and the husband moved his rooms to Salem.


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