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Things to Do in Salem

Salem’s notoriety is due in large part to its central role in the infamous witch trials of the 17th century. Since then, Salem has been synonymous with witches, Wiccan culture and all things black magic. The town’s high school athletic teams are the Witches, some children attend Witchcraft Heights Elementary and witch symbols emblazon the police cars. Every year, tourists flock by the tens of thousands to bask in the kitsch of a city that, for all intents and purposes, celebrates Halloween every day of the year.

The downtown area is small but constantly humming with the bustle of tourists and the more than 40,000 residents who call Salem home. Must-see attractions include the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, where 20 stone benches each symbolize an individual executed during the notorious 17th-century trials. The memorial is open to the public and provides an eerie glimpse into the town's creepy past.

Visitors looking to get beyond the typical Salem experience will appreciate the city's rich history. It played a critical role in the Revolutionary War, as well as both world wars, and military buffs will appreciate the fact that in 2013, President Barack Obama officially declared Salem the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard.

Don’t miss the House of the Seven Gables, the 1668 wooden mansion that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name, or the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. The city’s recently renovated Salem Harborwalk opened in 2010 and is ideal for strolls along the South River.
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Old Burying Point (Charter Street Cemetery)
9 Tours and Activities

Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, the Old Burying Point of Salem is the second oldest burying ground in the United States. It is estimated to date back to 1637. Victims of the infamous Salem With Trials were convicted nearby to the site. Jonathan Corwin and Jonathan Hawthorne, who were both Salem witch trial judges, are also buried here. As Salem was once a major shipping port for “the New World,” this cemetery is particularly historic. A Mayflower pilgrim, one of the first to enter the United States, was claimed to be put to rest here. The grave of former governor Samuel Bradstreet can also be found. The old tombstones remain in tact and uniquely carved from the 1600s, presenting a bit of history that has been preserved since that time. A visit is an opportunity to learn about colonial era history, including burial practices and the lives of some of the important figures laid to rest here.

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Custom House
2 Tours and Activities

One of thirteen custom homes built in Salem in early America, the Custom House is known for its appearance in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlett Letter. As Salem was an important seaport for the United States at this time, custom houses were built to collect taxes on incoming cargo. At first collected for the British Government during the colonial era, the American Government began collecting the funds in 1789. The importance of the structure to the federal government is evident in its elegant design and impressive attention to detail, with its wide staircase, high ceilings, and exquisite wood carvings.

This was the last Custom House built to hold these offices. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne did in fact work in the house as a surveyor, and his time there inspired his masterpiece novel. Today visitors can have a look at his former office, as well as learn about the history of the customs process through various exhibits.

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More Things to Do in Salem

Pickering Wharf

Pickering Wharf

A quaint waterfront area of Salem, Pickering Wharf is home to a variety of small shops, restaurants, and boutiques lining the harbor. Salem was one of America’s primary seaports, and the marina full of docked boats continues the tradition. Well-marked signs share some of the neighborhood’s history, while the shops feature unique arts and crafts, botanicals, antiques, and souvenirs — many with a boutique feel. Area restaurants feature fresh seafood from the local waters, some with views of the sea from their dining tables.

You can take a relaxing seaside stroll down to the local lighthouse, or see some of the historic ships docked in Salem Bay. The historic schooner ‘Friendship of Salem’ is often open for exploration. Or, as the locals do and pick up a fishing pole and perhaps catch your own dinner! Seasonal special events as well as a First Friday shopping night occur frequently.

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