East Coast US, New England, Northeastern US, Travels, US National Parks

Witches, ships, pirates, and beer – Salem, Massachusetts

It’s ridiculous, really, how successful I’ve been at procrastinating writing this post. I’m not sure why. I think I just haven’t been in the mood to write about New England now that I’m surrounded by the mountains of Colorado. But as I sit down to finally finish this, it’s cold and snowy and I can’t even see the mountains so I’ve really just run out of excuses.

On the other hand, my procrastination has resulted in this post being somewhat timely, given that it’s fall and Halloween is just a couple weeks away. So here goes…

Fall in New England is a beautiful time of year. The leaves are changing, the weather is warm but usually not too humid, and the main tourist destinations are somewhat less crowded. With this in mind, Pat and I set out one Saturday morning in late October to visit the spooky town of Salem, Massachusetts.

When I mention Salem, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the Salem Witch Trials. And yes, I’m talking about that Salem. Since it was only a couple weeks before Halloween, the town had taken full advantage of the witch theme: decorations, activities, tours, and museums all advertised their witch-based adventures.

But it turns out that there’s so much more to Salem than just witches. The Witch Trials were the most publicized thing to ever happen in Salem (although many of them didn’t actually take place in Salem), but back in the day pirates were actually a much bigger concern.

Salem used to be one of the largest ports in New England, meaning that it was necessary to patrol the region and protect the incoming ships against pirates. The US Navy sent out privateers, who were basically legally sanctioned pirates. Unfortunately for the Navy, pirates made better money than privateers so many privateers ended up defecting to a life of piracy. We learned all of this and more with a tour of the New England Pirate Museum, complete with a pirate reenactment.

I seem to have very few photos from this day, including none from the pirate museum, but the few I did manage to capture are below.

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Salem waterfront
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Stickwork sculptures in the Salem Historic District

We also visited the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, home to the historic Friendship of Salem, the old customs house, and various artifacts from its days as a main US port city. The customs house is now a museum, complete with some of the old scales and other tools used to clear the goods for import. It was a complicated process, and working through the goods on just one ship would take many days to complete, but it was important to be thorough because, at the time, taxes on imports was the main source of revenue for the US.

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Customs House – Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Massachusetts
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Old Scale in the Customs House – Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Massachusetts
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Friendship of Salem – Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Massachusetts
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Looking back at the waterfront from Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Massachusetts

Next, we walked a pretty good distance through town to Winter Island and Waikiki Beach, in the northeastern corner of Salem.

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Winter Island – Salem, Massachusetts
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Waikiki Beach – Salem, Massachusetts

And finally, we ended the day with beer samplers and burgers at Salem Beerworks!

All in all, it was a beautiful, sunny fall day full of history about which I previously knew very little. I highly recommend a trip in late September or early October, before the madness of the Halloween season sets in. And while I’m sure some of the witch-related activities would have been fun, I’m glad we stepped away from the main tourist activities and focused more on the non-witch related history of the town.

6 thoughts on “Witches, ships, pirates, and beer – Salem, Massachusetts”

  1. God, I spent 10 years in New England and I never got to the historical sights — it sounds really interesting! Not that you’re going back, but the Peabody Essex Museum in town is AMAZING. I had a conference there and made a trip back just to explore it.

    Liked by 1 person

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