A drive into New England’s coastal area for the fall colours and a dose of history is just the thing - a history that is rather relevant when we consider what’s happening here in Quebec with the Marois government. People’s rights being taken from them, finger pointing, religious persecution - their rights of belief, rights of behavior, rights of thought, even - were summarily denounced, illegally declared criminal against all normally accepted laws of humanity and social behavior - and heavily paid for.
Go back in time and imagine people being hanged or pressed to death because of their beliefs, their attitude, because someone wanted their land, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their rights were taken from them, too. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692, have been the topic of movies, books and plays and it has become one of the most referenced places of ‘mass hysteria’. It is a town of contrasts - good and evil, light and dark.
Imagine that same place now, a place where romance, excellent restaurants, art galleries and maritime museums are plentiful. Salem is a photographer’s dream, a historian’s delight.
A visit to Salem will take you far beyond the obvious. It has all you expect and more. On a walk through the streets you’ll find the history that will take you back to the town’s tainted past, through the museums, visits to the houses of those persecuted, night walks and the grave yards. (Ah...the graveyards are full of old, leaning tombstones with names right out of the history books.)
It has also remembered the victims of the Witch Trials with a striking memorial that was dedicated in 1992 by Elie Wiesel. Right beside the Old Burying Point, that, ironically, is the resting place of one of the interrogators at the trials, John Hathorne.
Truth be told, there is positively no better place to be for Halloween, indeed, for the entire month of October. It’s when Salem brings its past into the present in a most theatrical and enjoyable way. To say Salem has the ‘witch thing’ covered is an understatement - Haunted Happenings takes care of the desires of anyone visiting the town who wants a good dose of haunts and horrors. Cry Innocent, as an interactive theatre piece in which an actress playing a ‘witch’ is dragged off the street and into a courtroom and the tourists become the jury - one might want to insert the name Pauline Marois for ‘witch’!
Following a red line along the sidewalk will lead you to the many historic buildings including those related to the Witch Trials: The Salem Witch Trial Museum where there are daily ‘narrations’ of the ‘trials’ of 1692 and a new exhibit that takes the ‘witch hunt’ into the 20th and 21st century with a wall commemorating victims of horrendous persecutions; McCarthy and the Huac trials, oppression of the Gay Community, the internment of the Japanese Americans during WW2, to name but a few. (Will Quebec join them one day?)
The historic Hawthorne Hotel, also features the annual Halloween Ball, this year called Nightmare on Hawthorne Street, an event so popular that it’s a quick sell-out and has a waiting list of those eager to attend. A visit to the Hawthorne is a must, Halloween or not. You can do that by taking in Nathaniel’s, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Intimate, with a menu to delight any gourmet or gourmand.
For those of you who like a really laid back eatery, Red’s Sandwich Shop is waiting just for you. Known to have the best breakfasts in town (there’s usually a line up to get in), one of the oldest buildings in Salem, it also has a history of politicians kicking back and debating the politics of the time over a meal.
Being a seaport, a meal down on Pickering Wharf is a must and there’s no better place than Finz with...Wasabi oysters, would you believe, in a picturesque setting overlooking the harbour.
If you are a die hard ‘foodie’ and looking for a culinary tour, Salem has them year round. The Salem Food Tours take you on a trip through the town to talk with the chefs and sample the delectables at the many restaurants, or discover the history of the early colonial meals and the spice trade prevalent in the Salem port. They even provide totally vegan tours.
Salem is a treat to visit any time of year. There’s much to be discovered in this charming place by the sea. It has a rich maritime history - A visit to the East India Marine Hall of the Peabody Museum has an exhibit of many vessel figureheads that must be seen by any visitor with a maritime fascination. A drive along Chestnut Street on the Salem Trolley will expose you to some of the most beautiful New England architecture. Salem is a town of cupolas, widow’s walks, beautiful gardens and doors with extra panels so coffins could be moved in and out of homes.
Thinking of next years vacation? Only five hours away, Salem is one of the most beautiful places on the eastern seaboard. Now’s the time to do the booking, because inns and hotels in the town of Salem pack in quickly. It has the history, the culture and relevance to us all - especially to us here in Quebec. It will, indeed, bewitch you!