Salem: More Than Just Witches
People say that Halloween in Salem,
Massachusetts is magical. That must be true, because the crowd of
tourists disappears into the mists come November 1, when the city’s
month-long Halloween celebration ends. But in spring, visitors come
to see a completely different city, rich in maritime history,
magnificent in architecture, and only 16 miles from Boston.
Why visit in spring or summer? Well, for
one thing, there are...
Salem’s illustrious romance with the sea
turned patriotic during the American Revolution. The colonies only
had about 31 ships, which certainly wouldn’t stand up to the
fearsome Royal Navy. To improve the odds, the cash-strapped Colonial
government authorized heavily-armed, privately-owned merchant ships
as privateers, with commissions to capture British ships and help
themselves to the booty. By 1777, the privateers had stocked the war
effort with 2 million pounds of captured gunpowder and saltpeter,
something the colonies previously had in short supply.
And it was an equal-opportunity
enterprise. A Salem slave, Titus, built a lucrative business
recruiting blacks to be privateers.
The kind of money to be made in
privateering -- not to mention the thrill -- was addictive. No one
really knows how many privateers turned pirate after the
Revolutionary War, but Salem and the North Shore had its share. If
you visit Salem, be sure to stop by the New England Pirate Museum.
It’s not only a lot of fun, it’s enlightening.
The Glory of the
One of those privateers became the first
ship to sail to China, and by 1790 Salem was an important port for
the China and East India trade. Great fortunes were made, including
that of Elias Derby, America’s first millionaire. Take a stroll, the
Salem Trolley, or a Salem Segway Tour down Chestnut Street and
through the McIntire Historic District to see just how those
fortunes were spent. These magnificent Federal-style mansions are
mostly still private homes – some owned by the same families – so
they’re not open to the public. But if you’d like to see inside,
tour one of the preserved houses maintained by the Peabody Essex
Museum and enjoy the fine architectural details and rich interior
decoration, including hand-painted wallpaper and handmade furniture
imported during the glory of the East India days.
The Salem Maritime National Historic Site
maintains 12 structures and nine acres of waterfront where the great
ships once crowded the harbor. And one is still there: the three-masted
tall ship Friendship, ready for you to step aboard.
Friendship is a replica of the great Salem merchantman vessel
that traveled the world over a dozen times. The current
Friendship sailed into Salem Harbor in 2000 and docked at Derby
The Fame, a fast schooner turned
privateer during the War of 1812, also inspired a full-scale
replica, launched in 2003. It’s docked at the Pickering Wharf Marina
and can take you for a cruise on Salem Sound.
The Chinese House
and The Peabody Essex Museum.
The close ties between Salem and the China
Trade are reflected in the outstanding collections of Asian art and
relics of the sailing days at the Peabody Essex Museum. The museum,
founded in 1799, is housed in a gloriously renovated building on the
Essex Street walkway. In 2003, a 200-year-old 16-bedroom house from
southeastern China was moved and reassembled on the grounds of the
museum, complete with furnishings, and with traditional coins placed
under the house’s columns to bring prosperity. If you want to tour
the house, it’s best to purchase advance tickets.
Son, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Across from the wharf is the Custom House,
where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked at his day job while writing The
Scarlet Letter in his free time. Farther down Derby Street is
the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by another Hawthorne
novel. Hawthorne was also appointed U.S. Consul to Liverpool, and in
his later years met Abraham Lincoln. You can tour The Gables and its
gardens, plus several other historic buildings on the grounds,
including Hawthorne’s charming birthplace.
Right across the street is Ye Olde Pepper
Company, a candy store founded in the 19th century. The
first confections sold there, Salem Gibraltars and Black Jacks, are
still favorites. You can even watch the goodies being made.
Enjoy Halloween in Salem, but be sure to
plan on a trip in the spring or summer. You’ll see another side of
this enchanting and enchanted old city.
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