Ex­plore New Eng­land one tank of gas at a time

Witch City is an en­chant­ing place— but not how you think

Where Boston - - CONTENTS - By Leigh Har­ring­ton

There are many things mag­i­cal about Salem, Mass., and yet the sea­side town’s big­gest claim to fame—witches—is least among them. On a visit, by­pass the ag­gran­dized pull of Witch City at­trac­tions—think a black-cat-black-hat themed amuse­ment park mi­nus the roller coast­ers plus talk­ing points that in­clude psy­chic prow­ess, herbal lore, and modern day Wicca. Of course, there’s a his­tory les­son here, that of the ‘pos­sessed’ Pu­ri­tans who got hanged (or, in one case, crushed to death) for the crime of witch­craft in 1692 in Colo­nial Amer­ica’s most no­to­ri­ous early out­break of mass hys­te­ria. Take in a his­tor­i­cal sight or two, like the Old Bury­ing Point Cemetery, the Witch Tri­als Me­mo­rial, and the Salem Witch Mu­seum, and mark the 325th an­niver­sary on your moral com­pass. Then head out to ex­plore Salem’s true charms.


Art and de­sign are in­trin­sic el­e­ments of Salem’s her­itage, and for a one-stop les­son on how, the Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum is your des­ti­na­tion. The 200-year-old in­sti­tu­tion, es­tab­lished by a so­ci­ety of 18th-cen­tury sea cap­tains, is one of the fastest grow­ing art mu­se­ums in North Amer­ica. Among its trea­sures is an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of Asian art, much of it the prod­uct of Salem’s trad­ing re­la­tion­ship with East Asia fol­low­ing the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion. One of its star at­trac­tions is the Yin Yu Tang House, the au­then­tic an­ces­tral home of eight gen­er­a­tions of the Huang fam­ily, built dur­ing the same years as the mu­seum. The home was dis­man­tled in south­east­ern China, brought to Salem (along with some mas­sive koi fish still swim­ming in its court­yard pools) and re-erected at the mu­seum in 2003, re­tain­ing the ef­fects of its most re­cent in­hab­i­tants from the 1980s.

Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum cu­ra­tors do not over­look modern and con­tem­po­rary art move­ments. Case in point: “WOW® World of Wear­able Art,” run­ning through June 11, an ex­hi­bi­tion spot­light­ing 32 fan­tas­ti­cal pieces of at­tire cre­ated by sculp­tors, cos­tume de­sign­ers, tex­tile artists and mak­ers for New Zealand’s an­nual de­sign com­pe­ti­tion. “Ocean Lin­ers: Glam­our, Speed and Style”— co-cu­rated by Lon­don’s Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum—opens May 20 and fea­tures 200 works of the model, wall panel and poster ilk.

Ven­ture out of doors for a fi­nal sweep of Salem’s artistic side. Just down Es­sex Street “Stick­work” by North Carolina artist Pa­trick Dougherty clus­ters on the front lawn of the Crown­in­shield-Bent­ley House: It's an in­stal­la­tion of larger-than-life fairy house-style struc­tures made from wo­ven tree saplings that have lit­tle girls (and their par­ents) oohing and ah­hing. Then head out to walk the McIntire His­toric District, where 400 years worth of ar­chi­tec­ture flashes across your retina dur­ing a 45-minute self-guided tour.


Salem boasts an in­cred­i­ble com­mu­nity of cre­ative pioneers that is largely over­looked by the av­er­age trav­eler. Browse its bou­tiques and restau­rants, and you’ll un­earth part of it.

Caramel Patis­serie serves the au­then­tic French éclairs and crushes re­sis­tance to temp­ta­tion with its brightly col­ored glazed con­fec­tionary. Glass jars of loose-leaf tea scent the air at Jolie Tea Com­pany, where the owner is more than happy to share his ex­per­tise on the heal­ing prop­er­ties of the Re­store blend, for ex­am­ple. The adorable Wicked Good Books boosts its in­ven­tory with whim­si­cal kitchen tow­els, spy pens and $1 pa­per­backs. Ye Olde Pep­per Com­panie stakes a claim as Amer­ica’s old­est candy com­pany and still hand-makes its sig­na­ture Gi­bral­ters the way it has for 200 years.

The of­ten packed Gulu-Gulu Cafe is known for its nightly live mu­sic and Euro­pean-in­spired menu fea­tur­ing goulash, crepes and po­lenta pie. Naumkeag Or­di­nary restau­rant el­e­vates the lo­cal din­ing scene and of­fers a great se­lec­tion of craft beer. Jaho brews spe­cialty cof­fees that it roasts on­site.

Notch Brew­ery op­er­ates a tap room that, de­spite be­ing tucked off-street at the rear of a com­mer­cial build­ing, is so packed on a Sun­day af­ter­noon there’s a wait to get in. There are games for kids, and adults; snacks like cheese and pick­led eggs, as well as oc­ca­sional food truck spe­cials; and an open-air beer gar­den that over­looks the South River basin. It's the per­fect spot to glimpse a pass­ing seal and re­flect on the re­fresh­ing dis­cov­ery that there’s far more to Salem than pointy hats and broom­sticks.

THE DE­TAILS From top, Wicked Good Books; the bar at Notch Brew­ery; scenic Salem Har­bor. Pre­vi­ous, lat­tice­work at Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum’s Yin Yu Tang House

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