The woman bumped into me and the first thing I noticed was the five-pointed pentagram on her necklace. I was in Salem, Massachusetts, home of the famous witch trials, and now I was face to face with a possible witch.
As we each went our own way, I walked side streets to the Witch Trials Memorial and passed shops offering séances, psychic readings, tarot cards and ghost tours.
Although the weather was a bit cold and drizzling, I soon smelled the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread and my nose led me into A & J King bakery on Hawthorne Street. Somewhat relieved to find a bakery offering delicious-looking treats, I bought a piece of caramel bourbon bread pudding and noted the olive bread baguette and slices of carrot cake filled with mascarpone cheese. The sweets were a delight – not knowing what laid ahead in this town known for witches.
A few short blocks away I walked into the Witch Trials Memorial, a little U-shaped park with a row of stone slab benches that's inscribed with names of those who had been hanged in 1692. The name “witch” has always been one of interpretation, and the trials marked a period of injustice not to be forgotten.
A fun statue of Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched sits near Lappin Park. Having grown up watching the show, I thought she looked every bit as kind as I thought her to be, twitching nose and all.
Salem is reinventing itself as a suburb of Boston and a destination travel spot with trendy boutique shops and eateries. By car or ferry, bustling Beantown is only 17 miles away. Popping in and out of stores on the cobblestone Essex Street, I couldn’t resist buying regionally made bath products in Scrub and talked with owner Kate Leavy. She excitedly told me Salem is now more than witches because of the development on Front Street and the effort to save brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Sure enough, I peeked inside Seed Stitch Yarn shop with women gathered around a table knitting and talking, and found time to taste locally made Richardson’s ice cream in Maria’s Sweet Something’s. The annual poetry contest with poets reciting their works was underway close by in Derby Square, where people casually gathered to share a reading and a few laughs.
Each October is big business for Salem but besides that, year round, there are maritime events, an artist’s row with local artists and free workshops, chocolate and ice sculpture festivals, and tours of the infamous House of Seven Gables.
After exploring the progressive downtown area, I met family at Finz’s Seafood restaurant on Pickering Wharf, where we dined on fresh oysters and potent Bloody Marys.
All in all, the town of Salem offers hospitality, New England character and maybe even a few witches!