We arrived in Salem, Massachusetts expecting to find out everything about witches. Beginning in 1692, the infamous Salem Witch Trails resulted in the execution of nineteen people convicted on (false) accusations of witchcraft. We certainly learned a lot about witches but also discovered a city steeped in colonial history, maritime heritage, and a world-class art museum.
Once we had unpacked our bags at the Salem Inn, we set off to explore the city. Several locals recommended we start with a walk down Essex Street. Within the first two blocks, we saw a witch consignment store, a place that sold vampire fangs along with specialty coffee and a store specializing in magical spells. Not your typical main street. There was even a statue of Samantha from the tv show, Bewitched. I did not rub her nose for good luck but am sure seeing her brought good energy my way.
Further along, Essex turned into a charming pedestrian street that would not have been out-of-place in Europe. I heard a commotion on the road and thought it was perhaps a shoplifter. Then I noticed everyone was dressed in clothes from 1692. It was all part of the theatrical production, Cry Innocent. Our curiosity was piqued so we bought a ticket.
The play features the story of Bridget Bishop who has been accused of witchcraft. Actors in period costume play the roles of the judge, lawyers and various witnesses while the audience serves as the jury. Much of the dialogue is the exact words that were used in the real trial. Our group found Miss Bishop innocent. Sadly in history, Bridget Bishop was found guilty and was the first person to be executed during the Salem Witch Trials.
Keeping with the historical theme, we took a tour with Salem Historical Tours. Our guide, James, was perhaps the best guide I have ever had for a tour. He was immensely funny but also extremely knowledgeable. He explained the strict moral code of the Puritans and how that indirectly led to the witch trials. I have a much better understanding of the American Revolutionary War after spending an hour on the tour. He also gave an insider’s perspective about Salem today.
The following day, we set out to explore the other end of Essex Street. We stumbled upon the Peabody-Essex Museum which occupies almost an entire block. The museum featured various exhibits including one where we were handed a piece of clay and got to roll it into a ball while listening to tranquil music. This would not normally be my thing but I found it surprisingly relaxing.
David loved the art and nature centre which had many hands-on activities linking art and nature. This included being able to touch a snakeskin and animal skull. The gallery certainly knew how to capture the eleven-year-old boy market.
We wandered Essex Street a while longer and then thought it would be a shame not to visit Salem’s harborfront. We noticed there was a schooner offering a tour of the harbour and surrounding area. The Fame of Salem is a full-scale replica of a privateer ship from the War of 1812.
We boarded the ship and were soon on open water. The captain asked David and several other volunteers to help open the sail. With the assistance of crew members, David pulled on the rope to unfurl the sail. Being in Massachusetts, I imagined we were the Kennedys enjoying a day on the ocean. That delusion was quickly broken as I look nothing like JFK.
As part of the entertainment onboard, the ship featured a local singer who sang sea shanties and told stories about the American Revolution. He was great at getting everyone on the boat to sing along.
We continued our nautical theme the next day by going on a whale watch tour. We chose the 7 Seas Whale Watch cruise out of Gloucester. Located about thirty minutes north of Salem, Gloucester is a port town along the Atlantic coast. It is also prime for whale-watching as the town is between two major whale-feeding areas, Stellwagen Bank and Jeffrey’s Ledge.
As promised, it only took us about forty-five minutes until we were in the whale feeding area. What came next was incredible. We spotted a humpback whale and the captain was able to get a close but respectful distance to the whale. David passed from side to side of the boat getting action shots like he was a photographer with National Geographic. The whale was a worthy subject as it came to the surface several times and sprayed us. She also popped her tail out of the water on numerous occasions.
We were treated to a second whale sighting nearby. Soon enough, the second whale had joined the first to feed together. Our on-board biologist guide said this was a rare occurrence. For about the next half hour, we enjoyed seeing the two amazing creatures feeding as if we did not exist. As an added bonus to the whales, we got to see one of the fishing boats from the popular television show, Wicked Tuna.
Once back in port, we furthered our education about the ocean with a visit to Maritime Gloucester. The space is part marine museum, part aquarium and part working waterfront. There were numerous exhibits about the maritime history of Gloucester and how it has changed over the years. David’s favourite part was the touch tank where he got to touch and learn about different marine creatures found in the area.
Working at the touch tank was Patrick Flanagan. Patrick has his Masters in Oceanography, a field David would like to study. Patrick started telling us about an immersive virtual project he was working on called Ocean Lab. We followed Patrick to a trailer that housed Ocean Lab. Inside, we found beautiful footage of a reef Patrick had visited in Bermuda. Soothing music along with fish swimming by made one feel like they were in the depths of the ocean. The lab also had numerous online tools helping a person learn more about the ocean. The long-term vision of Ocean Lab is to let kids who may not have a chance to visit the ocean have that experience. Perhaps David will one day be working with Patrick to achieve this goal.
The author’s accommodation and attractions in Salem were covered by Salem Tourism, the whale watch tour and Maritime Gloucester attractions were covered by Gloucester Tourism. They did not review or approve the article.