There are so many reasons to love Salem: the waterfront, the history, the architecture, the restaurant scene, the open space, the festivals, the farmers market, the changing seasons. This year much of what we love most about Salem and how we experience it has been altered by public health safety standards due to COVID-19, but there are still several ways to savor the fall season in Salem, as long as you wear your face covering or mask and practice safe physical distancing. Armed with those guidelines, and a bottle of hand sanitizer, the following places can be experienced safely this fall.
Greenlawn Cemetery was recognized earlier this year as The Sargent Arboretum. The historic cemetery was founded in 1807 and features winding paved paths, two ponds, and wonderful birdwatching, and thousands of species of plants. You can park on Orne Street and walk through the gates, which are open daily until dusk.
Salem Common dates back to the 17th century, when it was a common grazing space for livestock. The first muster militia, which would later become the American National Guard, happened on Salem Common in 1637. Today the Common has a stone dust path around its circumference and paved paths cross the park, making it a perfect place to walk or jog.
Salem has been a popular location for feature films and television shoots for decades, which means you can add Salem to your Netflix queue or you can plan a physically distanced walk or bike ride to see filming locations for movies like Hocus Pocus (Salem Common, Old Town Hall, the Ropes Mansion and Pioneer Village), Joy (Hawthorne Hotel) and American Hustle (courthouses on Federal Street), and Castle Rock season 2 (Pioneer Village). Don’t miss the locations that started it all when Bewitched filmed the Salem Saga in the early 1970s – The House of the Seven Gables and the Hawthorne Hotel. For more filming locations, visit salem.org/filmed-in-salem/.
The Peabody Essex Museum has opened two significant exhibits, The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and Salem Stories A-Z. The museum is currently open Thursdays through Sundays and new safety protocols are in place, so do plan your visit in advance by visiting pem.org. The Salem Witch Trials exhibit includes documents, paintings, and artifacts from 17th century Salem that illustrate the tragedy of the era, and the drama that unfolded and resulted in the deaths of 25 people, including 19 by hanging. Living in Salem comes with some obligation to understand the history that made this seaport famous, and sometimes misunderstood. The PEM exhibit offers clarity through historic objects.
Across the atrium, you will find the Salem Stories A-Z exhibit, which is considerably lighter than the Salem Witch Trials. It starts with Always Indigenous and continues through the alphabet and history, highlighting significant events, places, and people that make Salem what it is today. From the Great Salem Fire to Parker Brothers, Samuel McIntire to the Wonder Women of today, there is something in Salem Stories for everyone.
While you are at the Peabody Essex Museum, if you have not yet visited Yin Yu Tang, the Chinese House, allow time to visit this remarkable home. It is the only complete Chinese house of its kind outside of China and stepping through the threshold into the atrium is a magical experience.
Admission to the PEM is free for Salem residents and students.
While the weather is still suitable to sitting outside, take advantage of the dozens of Salem restaurants that have worked with the city to expand their seating into the sidewalks and parking spaces in front of their businesses. This program is a reaction to coronavirus and it has successfully given people a way to safely dine out (by dining outside) and support the recovery of our small businesses. Special attention has been given to accessibility for all where sidewalks and curb cuts have been altered, and tap-boards and ramps have been created by local metalworkers to ensure this expansion of dining does not infringe on anyone’s mobility.
If you are more comfortable exploring Salem from the comfort of your home computer, there are many ways to do so. Restaurants continue to offer take-out and curbside pickup, retailers have created online stores and offer curbside pick-up or private shopping hours, and museums and attractions are offering virtual tours, lectures, book clubs, and more.
Tourism in Salem will look different this year. While the traditional Salem Haunted Happenings are not able to happen, visitors are coming from near and far just to be here – bewitched by our seaport’s history and stories. Weekends will be busy, and weekdays will be perfect for exploring, and the small businesses would love to see you. Destination Salem has a new smartphone app for Android and iPhone that is filled with restaurants, shops, activities, points of interest, and answers to frequently asked questions. We would be happy to be your guide as you get out and about in Salem this fall.
Kate Fox is executive director of Destination Salem. This column was produced in cooperation with the Salem for All Ages task force.