Bucket list item #1826 – Salem for Halloween
Halloween is a very special time of year for me. I love dressing up in costume, scary movies, decorating, candy and all the fall happenings. So, when I get to take a special trip for the holiday, especially with my girlfriends, it’s something extra special.
I’ve always wanted to see Salem for Halloween. As you well know, I have an extensive bucket list, but certain items shine like a pillar among the rest. Salem is one of those. I’ve always wanted a witchy weekend with my ladies, so when this started to come into fruition I had to pinch myself. My dreams came true!
I have to admit, Salem was not all I expected it to be. There were some let downs, but experiencing it with my friends made it a trip of a lifetime. I’d like to talk about everything we did a little and give you the lowdown on what is worthwhile and what is not.
Frankenstein’s Ball at Colonial Hall at Rockafella’s
We are some ladies on a budget, so for our Halloween party we chose to skip the Hawthorne Hotel. If you’re not privy to the Salem knowledge, the biggest party of the year is at the Hawthorne. It looks epic and is probably your best bet, but it’s also expensive. We opted for a cheaper option at the Colonial Hall and were actually very happy. We got lots of snacks, the music was great, there were a lot of great costumes and the drinks were relatively affordable. It’s also in the heart of Salem, so if you feel like venturing forth, there are a ton of other places to eat and drink close by. This was also the night I discovered that the Salem police have witches on their uniforms. Of course my friend Rachel and I had to harass some officers for pictures. 😀
The following day I was literally hungover all damn day. I couldn’t function. I haven’t had a hangover like that in years. I was puking constantly. It was awful! So, I couldn’t partake in cider tasting in person. Somehow my group of girlfriends were able to drink after our night of partying. I’m not sure what sort of deal they made with Satan, but ok. Anyway, they unanimously said this cider was terrible. Then, they brought me some back, which I just tried this morning, and I can undoubtedly agree. It has a stench/twang that I just can’t get behind. I would call this cidery a hard pass, which is saying something because cider tasting is something I love to do.
It was ok. We tried a lot of things amongst the group of us and about half of them were good, so that’s a failing grade. However, still edible, so I would say this is fine in a pinch.
Super fucking cool! The museum property includes multiple buildings moved to the property, including the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the House of Seven Gables (and more). It’s quite impressive considering the Seven Gables House was built in 1668. It still has quite a few of the original architectural elements. If you want to know more about the property in general, take a look at their website. The coolest part is their shows during Halloween. There are two shows and we chose the Legacy of the Hanging Judge, which takes you through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth home and recounts the events of the Salem witch trials. There are actors in each room that give you bits of the stories as historic characters and it was easily the coolest way to absorb the history. Of all the things we did in Salem, I would recommend this the most.
This was an experience like none other. Two local witches host a high tea to honor the dead. What this means is your typical tea experience paired with live music, poetry about death and an opportunity to add your loved one to the book of the dead. Later in the service you were also encouraged to share stories. To be quite honest, I found this very draining. I’m a bit of an empath, so this tea experience forced me to deal with my grief and everyone else in the room. I cried every time someone shared a story and basically the entire time. At the end, we learned some basic reading of tea leaves. I got a skull in my cup, which paired well with an ominous tarot card reading from my friend Julia Nicole. I’m just surrounded by darkness or something. Ha ha! Anyway, I thought this experience was very unique. It was definitely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I would recommend this if you like tea and feel comfortable celebrating a loved one who has passed. However, if you don’t like sharing your mourning experience publicly, I would avoid this like the plague.
Oh man, I hate doing this because I don’t like giving bad reviews of events, but I thought this was awful. In fact, my whole crew did. We bought tickets to four out of five events in the haunted neighborhood. However, it was pouring that day! Frankenstein’s Castle was closed due to flooding and they were suspending the candlelight tours as they were outside, so we got a partial refund. We were able to do the wax museum, the witch village haunted house and the spell casting ceremony. I’m honestly not sure which was the worst. Probably the haunted house. So, the wax museum was mediocre. There are just so many better ways to get your witch trial history (ahem, Seven Gables, ahem). The haunted house was literally the worst produced haunted house I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot because I frequent haunted houses. I’ve done them all over the world and the US and this was just poorly done from the decor to the actors, or lack thereof. And the spell casting bit was probably the best of the three, but also super cheezy. I mean, maybe we saw a real ritual of sorts, but what I got from it I think I already knew from watching the Craft and maybe reading a self-help book on positivity. Meh. I know this is a Salem staple, but if you’re in town for a short amount of time, I simply wouldn’t waste your money on this.
Holy shit, this was the best food we had in Salem. I did some research before we went and this was the restaurant I wanted to try, but I’ll say that walking in the front doors I downright thought I had fucked up. It doesn’t look like much. To say it’s unassuming would be an understatement. When they hand you a menu and it appears to be elevated pub fair, you’re still going to feel skeptical. Certainly this pub can’t do this well. Then the food comes out and you’re like, who the fuck is the chef making this diabolocally good tomato gruyere bisque? Like, what? By far our best meal.
There are two stores right next to each other called “Remember Salem: Fine Wizard Wares” and “Wynotts Wands” that are basically heaven for Harry Potter buffs. If you can’t afford to do Harry Potter World, you can get a taste of the magic in these two stores. I bought a Ravenclaw scarf in Remember Salem and damn near bought a wand in Wynotts. I probably would have if I wasn’t planning a trip to Orlando and wanted one of the magical ones that unlocks shit at the park. Anyway, Wynotts has all the cool boxes up top just like in Ollivanders and I seriously got teary-eyed watching my friends play with wands because it felt so magical. It was a dreary night, the rain was pitter-patting on the window panes while the wind howled down the streets of Salem. Out comes the most fabulous woman, chatting wands and unicorn feathers and yew, spouting magic and Ravenclaw knowledge. Meanwhile, Julia Nicole and Catina whisked their wands this way and that, perfecting the flicks of their wrists. Magi-fucking-cal.
Lame. Sorry, I said it. It basically a mall with some touristy shops with over-priced goods and more “psychics” and “mediums” than you can shake a stick at. We really wanted to get readings, but the price was too steep, so no such luck.
This house is BEAUTIFUL! It was the one place I wanted a photo in Salem before leaving. It’s what I envision when I think of the picturesque colonial Salem architecture. We also planned to tour the house, but the staff there was…rude. I hate saying that, but I want to be honest about my Salem experience. I got the impression time and time again that the staff at these various locations was just overwhelmed and maybe don’t like the tourist season. So, we didn’t feel like giving them our money. However, we did all take pictures with the house because it’s dope!
The witch house was the beginning of our last day in Salem, and afterward we attempted to do something downtown to no avail. We couldn’t find parking literally anywhere in the city and Uber was surge pricing. The meters were occupied and the parking lots were full. Honestly, my crew was a bit distraught. I remembered driving past this bakery a few times and it had something magical: a parking lot. Coffee Time Bake Shop is just enough outside the main tourist area that it was a respite from the craziness, not to mention everything we ate was delish. I particularly loved their honey bee lattes. This is great if you just need a break from the madness.
Pretty cool! Rachel and I were the last ones left and decided to brave downtown Salem once more. After driving in circles for ages, we finally found a meter. Phew! So, we went straight for the one thing we still really wanted to do, which was the witch museum. It was neat! They have a sort of show with wax figures in a big auditorium with voiceovers, although we both agreed it would have been next level with animatronics. It was very Pirates of the Caribean Disney ride circa 1999, but without the characters moving. There was a little museum at the end where we learned a better timeline of witchy historical events, which I liked. Plus, they definitely had the best gift shop we’d seen. I give it a solid 8/10, but it could have been better. Again, I think our tour guide hated us. Lolz.
I also want to make special mention of our fabulous Airbnb. It was technically in Danvers, so we either drove or took Ubers into Salem. It was only 10 minutes away. It was perfect though! Plenty of rooms, colonial style, and lots of flickering lights at night. It made it extra spooky. In reality, I think they may have some electrical issues, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
So, the conclusion of my Salem festivities is where I really struggle. I had so much fun in Salem, but that has a lot to do with a) having amazing friends that I have fun with no matter what and b) being able to find the fun in any travel situation. I honestly felt like a lot of Salem was like a show. It was for the tourists and inauthentic. I love the historical elements because, well, you can’t change facts. That is rich and interesting. The gimmicky Halloween stuff? Stuff it. However, I did think the Mourning Tea had something to it, so I would be interested in revisiting. If you check out the Festival of the Dead website, you can find more events produced by the same groups (I think they must all be in a coven or something?) There may be more events of interest there. I can’t say for sure.
If I were to do Salem again, I think I would come back a different time of year. I would do some museums, maybe get a more private tarot card reading, and just enjoy the scenery because that might be my favorite part. The homes and buildings in Salem are a vibe. It’s that picturesque, sleepy east coast village with window panes and pillars and dramatic arches on doorways. I could easily spend a day moseying down city blocks and breathing in my surroundings. I think that’s the real magic of Salem. It’s the history and the way the city moves you. If those walls could talk they would have a lot to say, and I think you can feel that energy.
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