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The Other (and Real) Salem

Author: Faith Nitschke
Date of Trip: January 2006

We returned to Boston for a second time in the summer of 2006. We had been to Boston once before and loved what we saw in this historically important city. We are collectors of antiques — mostly I think because we feel we are capturing the past, and Boston is for us a central city in American history. A friend suggested that we include Salem this time because he found it so charming when he had lived there as a child, and we were very curious and eager to visit the site of the infamous witch trials.

Our vacation that year was one of seemingly-unrelated destinations and purposes: first, a stop in Chicago for the first time to see the sights and visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park neighborhood. We also traveled a relatively-short distance to visit relatives in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Then, we planned a brief jaunt to Boston and Salem before heading to Bourne, Massachusetts to stay with a friend in her new home. Actually, we were intrigued with the idea of experiencing Cape Cod and check out her new territory–basically to find out why she had become, in her terms, “bi-coastal.”

We hadn’t made any hotel reservations for Salem, assuming we could find a place to stay in Salem when we got there. We were hoping to stay in an older (read: “historical”) hotel or bed and breakfast, but I’ll get to that part in a minute. When we arrived in Salem and looked around, we were shocked, quite frankly, and disappointed to see it had a “witch” theme everywhere: witch exhibits, witch museums, witch gift shops, witch restaurants, witch statues. Perhaps I am not describing it accurately; it may be my jaded memory at work here. Or, could it be “witchcraft” at work? To us, it seemed that Salem was a destination for people who were in to witches and goblins, not for people who sought history. We were outnumbered, however: The other tourists seemed fascinated with anything related to witches, and clearly, we were in the minority of tourists who found this commercialization of Salem’s witch trial background disappointing. We were actually wishing we had never come to the city.

It was getting late in the day when we realized we did not have time to return to Boston for the evening. We weren’t overjoyed by this since we had no idea what to do for the rest of the day and evening. We picked up one of the free ubiquitous “directory of Salem sights and hotels” and by luck, called the Stephen Daniels House at One Daniels Street to inquire about a room for the night. Kay Gill, the owner, answered the phone and said she did have room for us. We drove to the Stephen Daniels house to make arrangements.

In a short story, we would call this next part the “climax” or “turning point” in the tale. The house was a museum, exactly what we had hoped to find in this old historically-significant town. Actually, it was more than we ever hoped to find. Imagine sitting on furniture that was museum-worthy, looking at original paintings as charming and historical as any in a museum, artifacts and doo-dads that are out of our price range in antique stores but here, we were allowed to touch, wondering who had touched this same piece in this same place in the past. Imagine sleeping in a real “sleep-tight” bed. The floors, the walls, the fireplaces–in short, everything–was Salem from 1667 to 1756, just as advertised.

After we were settled in, Kay suggested we go for a walk on the wharf, and we were in time to go for a sail on the Fame, an exact replica of a privateer schooner which sailed out of Salem during the War of 1812. Did I mention the sail included wine? Okay, now we are in the real Salem, the authentic step-back-in-time we had been searching for all day. We motored out of the bay and then, when the skipper turned off the engines and set the sails and because we were the last sail of the day, the skipper took us on an even longer sail than usual around the bay. The quiet slap of the water against the hull, the gentle, lulling rocking of the boat, the occasional screech of a gull, and the breeze guiding the sails and slipping past our bodies, along with the vision of where we would spend the night, transported us back into the Salem we wanted to experience and will forever remember.

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