Pulse: Getaway: Salem by Moonlight

A seaside town haunted by its past attracts Wiccans, art lovers and literary fans

At some point, “family vacation” becomes an oxymoron: Where do you go with teenagers? Ours acquiesced to Salem, Massachusetts, a town once gripped by hysterical youths diming out their elders. Sounds like fun!

We brought along the hound from hell, but the receptionist at the pet-friendly Salem Inn, an elegant conjunction of three Colonial townhomes, didn’t even glance at our 120-pound mutt as she handed me the key to our suite. It had exposed beams, a kitchenette, a Jacuzzi, a pullout couch and a daybed for the kids, a queen-size for us, and a petite balcony overlooking rooftops the kids recognized from the movie Hocus Pocus. They were downright tingly.

For a smallish town, Salem has a jumpin’ street life. We dined on lobster rolls and clam chowder outdoors at Lobster Shanty on Artists Row, two doors down from an African drum shop. Then we walked to the Salem Witch Memorial, a solemn stone tribute to the 1692 trials that left 20 dead.

In the darkness, we wandered out to the quays and admired the grand Custom House where Nathaniel Hawthorne once toiled. The next day, after the hardy breakfast the Salem Inn provides, we toured the House of the Seven Gables, which the kids dubbed “cool” thanks to the hidden staircase and a lively guide. I filled my daughter in on the plot of The Scarlet Letter, and she was properly outraged: “That is so unfair!” We bought Black Jacks and Gibralters at Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, the nation’s oldest confectionery. At the pre-1700 Witch House, there were grumbles of false advertising from black-clad Wiccans (who throng here from all over): The sole connection to the trials is that a judge lived there. But Salem has tons of tacky witch-related sites, including two wax museums.

We dined at Rockafellas, in a former bank, on crab fritters, more clam chowder, and pear salad, then descended on the Peabody Essex Museum, which the New York Times dubbed “a cross-cultural marvel,” with its maritime collection and the world’s largest assemblage of Asian export art. Equally impressive is the town’s architecture, with post-medieval, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate homes. (The circa-1808 Morning Glory Bed and Breakfast is gorgeous and centrally located.)

At midnight, we all took the dog out to the common where the witches were hanged, sat on a bench, and talked about truth and consequences. Our voices were whispers. Salem casts a spell.

 

Where to stay:
The Salem Inn, 7 Summer Street; 978-741-0680. Rooms from $119.
Morning Glory Bed and Breakfast, 22 Hardy Street; 978-741-1703. Rooms from $135.
Where to eat:
Lobster Shanty, 26 Front Street; 978-745-5449. Dinner for two about $60 without drinks.
Rockafellas Restaurant & Bar, 231 Essex Street; 978-745-2411. Dinner for two about $60 without wine.
What to do:
House of the Seven Gables, 54 Turner Street; 978-744-0991.
Peabody Essex Museum, Essex and New Liberty streets; 866-745-1876.
Salem Wax Museum, 288 Derby Street; 978-740-2WAX.
Witch House, 310 Essex Street; 978-744-8815.

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