Get your spooks here, in the Massachusetts town where Halloween is a way of life.
Paul Costello
| Credit: 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;]: 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.

Go hiking in a huge nature preserve [Salem Conservation Area; 978/741-7900]. Trails start behind the high school on Wilson Street and lead to woods, a meadow, a marsh. Once we saw an owl, but he didn't say, "Whoo"—he was probably asleep.

Last summer I went to history camp at the House of the Seven Gables, and we spent a day at Pioneer Village [Forest River Park; 978/745-0525; open April—November], which looks like Salem in the 1630's. We got to cook stew and johnnycake over an open fire.

One of my favorite restaurants is the Lyceum [43 Church St.; 978/745-7665], in the building where Alexander Graham Bell made the first long-distance phone call. We have brunch here. For clam chowder and lobster rolls, try Finz [76 Wharf St.; 978/744-8485], on Pickering Wharf. A new Irish pub called O'Neill's [120 Washington St.; 978/740-8811] is fun for dinner (fish and chips!). A singer and a fiddler do sea chanteys; they sing the verses, we sing the choruses.

The East India Goods Store [at Salem Maritime National Historic Site, 174 Derby St.; 978/740-1667] is filled with replicas of cool old stuff. There's a learn-to-knit kit, and one that lets you make a wooden jumping man. I'd get everything here if I could. Buy a barley-sugar witch pop or some gibraltars [lemon and peppermint drops] at Ye Olde Pepper Companie [122 Derby St.; 978/745-2744], the oldest candy store in the country. You can look through a kitchen window and see everything being made.

I love the boats in Salem Harbor, especially the new tall ship Friendship [for tours, call 978/740-1680;]. Salem Sailing Cruises [74 Wharf St.; 978/526-7839; adults $20 per hour, kids $10] takes people out on a schooner. At low tide, it's fun to walk out to the lighthouse on Derby Wharf—a half-mile there and back.

I like two hotels. The Hawthorne [18 Washington Square W.; 978/744-4080; doubles from $145] is right on the common and has a fancy dining room where I went to a birthday tea once. The Salem Inn [7 Summer St.; 800/446-2995 or 978/741-0680; doubles from $180] is in three Federal houses next to the Witch House. You can sign up to take a night walk by lantern light and hear stories about Salem's spooky past.

For an update on Salem goings-on, call 877/725-3662 or check