Halloween and Witches in Salem

Happy Halloween! For most, thoughts of Halloween bring up visions of ghosts and goblins and witches. When you think of witches, you may think of Salem, Massachusetts. This is the home of the infamous “Salem Witch Trials” where between June 10 and September 22, 1692 a panel of judges ordered 20 people put to death for the crime of witchcraft. You can find out more about this at the Salem Witch Museum.

Halloween Witches Everywhere

When visiting Salem, Massachusetts, you can’t miss witches. They are everywhere: on police cars, street signs and school names. In fact, athletic teams at Salem High School are named the “Witches” and Gallows Hill (believed to be the site of public hangings) is a sports field.

But there is much more to Salem, Massachusetts, than just witches.  First settled by Europeans in 1626, the community celebrates nearly 400 years of history at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The park preserves and protects maritime history of New England and the United States.

First National Historic Site

Salem Maritime National Historic Site was designated the first National Historic Site in the United States in 1938. This nine-acre park tells the story of the residents of Salem who helped build the foundation for one of the most powerful national economies in the world.

The deep harbor accommodated many of the bigger ships of the day, attracting traders with a wide variety of goods – ceramics, textiles, tea and spices from the Orient. Did you know that in the day, pepper was one of the most sought after spices?

All of this was subject to tax. In the colonial days, it was the British Government who collected taxes on all imported cargos; building what was to be a series of customs houses. The last was built in 1819 for the U.S. Customs Service, established in 1789 by the American government. Along with the main customs office there is a warehouse used to keep bonded and impounded cargo.

This Custom House is part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Park and is well worth a visit – very photogenic with its gilt eagle. If you are a bookie, you will find out that Nathaniel Hawthorne worked at the Custom House for 3 years in the mid 1800’s where he wrote his famous novel “The Scarlett Letter” (free online). Did you know that this was the basis for a more-current movie “Easy A” (actually one of my favorites! )

Be sure to get out for a walk when you are there. Wander along the wharves and picture the hustle and bustle of trade. It was ports like these that helped build the early economy of the United States, supporting growing industrialization and economic independence post-revolution.

Walk out to the Derby Wharf Lighthouse. This was built in 1871 and has been helping sailors make there way into the harbor since that time.

Still active today, now the lighthouse guides private yachts and sailboats. No longer do you see the tall ships of old, other than the replica “Friendship of Salem”. Tours are available when the ship is in port.

Other National Park Units Nearby

There are lots of other historic buildings and museums in Salem – enough to keep you interested for a few days – plus there are other National Park Units in the surrounding area, including the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (well worth the side trip!) A bit farther afield (12 miles) is Lowell National Historic Park, another worthwhile side trip.

Thank you to the National Park Service for preserving our history!

Be safe this Hallowe’en, and when you see those little witches, don’t forget to think about Salem, Massachusetts and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

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