BY KAILEY TEDESCO
If you’re a witch, someone with an interest in witchcraft, or even just someone who enjoys getting a little weird, Salem is probably the place for you.
It’s a strange city filled with a mix of kitsch and magic. It’s also a pilgrimage spot or mecca for every single person who feels that they don’t "fit" within any societal molds. It’s a city of tourist-pandering exploitation with "witch city" cabs donning small decals of hook-nosed women flying past on brooms. This is off-putting to some. I see this as the bait to bring the common American to sacred ground, to look upon what we, as a country, have done to innocent people, what we still continue to do to innocent people, and force us to reevaluate the size of our hearts, to think about how we can better care for others. It’s a place of atonement and transparency. It’s working to love everyone better, and when you’re there, you’re forced to work on this too.
In a first draft, I wrote like a page and a half about why Salem is basically everything to me. I’ll spare you my love story, and instead just assure you that this is a place that I don’t live in, but have basically considered my home for over 13 years. Here are some of my favorite spots. I hope you enjoy them, and who knows, maybe we’ll bump into each other one of these days?
1. The Witch’s Dungeon: An extremely visceral and immersive museum that places you right in the inhumane prison cells of accused witches. While the Salem Witch Museum is very kitschy and certainly worth seeing, some of the information is outdated. If you’re looking for both a factual and empathetic experience, this is where you want to be.
2. Peabody Essex Museum: This art museum curates exhibits specific to Salem’s aesthetic. From installations that celebrate the moon to the current, "It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammet Collection," this is definitely a place where you can pass the day away.
3. Now Age Walking Tours: I can’t recommend these tours enough. You can choose between: Witches: 1692 to Today, History of Spiritualism, and Ghosts of Buildings Past. Melissa, the tour guide, is probably the most brilliant Salem resident you’ll meet in terms of history. The tour itself also has a feminist angle, so women and gender issues are discussed in the context of Salem’s tumultuous history. BONUS: a hand-made zine comes with every tour!
4. Enchanted of Salem: Both a beautiful shop of handcrafted magical items and the frequent dwelling-place of Laurie Cabot, The Official Witch of Salem. Salem’s strongest mediums, including Cabot herself (upon appointment), gather here to offer tarot readings, healing, reiki workshops, and so much more. If you’re looking to get a sense of Salem’s still-thriving spiritualism, this is the place to be.
1. Haus Witch: Feminist, cozy, and a minimalist’s dream: this shop is filled with unique tarot decks, fantastic home decor, local books and zines, and a whole wall of handcrafted spell kits for the home.
2. Coven’s Cottage: If you’re a long time practitioner of witchcraft, this is the place for you. Don’t let its centralized location on busy Essex St. fool you: this is not an everyday tourist destination. It’s a shop filled with magick items for spells like ethically procured wolf fur, skulls and bones, herbs, and much, much more.
3. Harrison’s Comic Store: Okay, so this isn’t totally witch related, but if you’re a comic or gaming geek, this is the best place to be. And, if you don’t take my word for it, my fiancé is a pretty established comic book reviewer/reporter, and this is his FAVORITE shop he’s ever been to. They are always well-stocked with new and old comic books and graphic novels all organized by either company or genre. The staff is also incredibly knowledgeable and always there to offer friendly suggestions.
1. Turner’s Seafood: A little pricy, but if you’re in the mood for New England lobster roll or clam chowder, this is the best place to go. Not to mention, it used to be called the Lyceum (it was a town meeting hall of sorts) and it’s super haunted.
2. Gulu Gulu Cafe: The dishes here are inspired by the owning couple’s time in Prague, and OMG best creme brûlée latte you’ll ever have.
3. Flying Saucer Pizza: A sci-fi themed pizza place with delicious vegan and gluten-free options. If you go, I suggest getting the Kilgrave (yes, Jessica Jones inspired). It is mouthwatering.
4. Bit Bar: A bar/arcade with drinks like The Princess Peach. It’s a jovially noisy and sparkly lit place now, but it used to be a prison. And yes, also extremely haunted.
The Merchant: Speaking of haunted, this boutique hotel was once the Joshua Ward House, home to a friendly enough sea-captain who once hosted George Washington. However, Ward built his house on land that once belonged to Sheriff George Corwin, a man nicknamed "the strangler" for his inhumane and sadistic methods of interrogation and imprisonment during the 1680’s.
I like to think of this hotel as an iconic embodiment of Salem’s quest for atonement. What was once a place of evil and immense heartache is now a place of heated bathroom floors, cozy rooftop conversations with strangers, and large velvety sofas you sink into as you eat your homemade blueberry-lemon scones in the morning.
This hotel feels otherworldly and thick with history, and I truly recommend it to anyone looking for a (hopefully) happily strange overnight experience.
1. It may be super tempting, but if it’s your first time visiting, I’d recommend not going in October. Of course, the energy at this time is electric and all the streets become metaphysical embodiments of Halloween. And yes, it is amazing to experience. What’s not amazing though is the intensity of the crowds (like Disney World level), the prices of parking, and the inflation of hotel prices. If you’re visiting to specifically attend one of the many legendary Halloween parties, though, this is definitely different.
2. The Salem Poetry Festival happens in May of every year. I honestly can’t think of anything better than Salem and poetry. Can you?
3. This may sound strange, but make sure you visit a lot of backyards. There are several on both Chestnut Street and further down on Essex Street that are open to the public (one is just past the Witch Haus). I’d give you exact addresses, but it’s truly a more magical experience to stumble upon these coincidentally (just check the gates for signs that suggest these backwards are actually public!). Beyond the expected facade of a New England saltbox home lies a garden of sundials, roses, and cozy benches perfect for mid-day napping. It’s lovely, lovely, lovely!
Kailey Tedesco (STAFF WRITER) is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University, and she now teaches literature at several local colleges.
Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her work in Prelude, Bellevue Literary Review, Sugar House Review, Poetry Quarterly, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.