Salem is a town rich in literary and cultural history and a prime example of the beauty of the North Shore. Here’s what you need to know to plan your visit. (And here’s a handy dandy map marking all the sites in this post.)
Literary Hot Spots
The Salem Athenæum boasts a collection of more than 50,000 books, including four collections from the 18th century and a number of 19th and 20th century literature. There are also a number of modern additions, including many books on books and libraries. The Athenæum hosts a number of exhibitions each year and has a collection on permanent display.
The Phillips Library is part of the Peabody Essex Museum and contains an extensive collection of books, manuscripts, and other sundry works of historical significance. (It’s also a gorgeous venue. My sister was married there.)
The Salem Public Library is located in a cozy little brick building on Essex Street. It’s a great place to read after a long day of touring.
Salem’s Indie bookstores have been struggling for years, and it seemed all hope was lost after Cornerstone Books and the Derby Square Bookstore went under. Luckily, Wicked Good Books opened shortly after and saved the town from the unfortunate fate of having no mainstream bookstore (not even a Barnes & Noble!).
Salem is also home to two specialty bookstores. Marble Faun Books & Gifts carries a large selection of 19th century literature and genres such as steampunk, history, and supernatural fiction. Pyramid Books on Derby Street specializes in New Age and occult literature.
John Proctor’s House is located at 348 Lowell Street in Peabody. I don’t know if the house if open to the public now, but it is easily seen from the road.
Burying Point Cemetery (also known as Charter Street Cemetery) is the final resting place a number of significant figures in Salem’s history, including Simon Bradstreet, the last governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and purportedly his wife, Anne Bradstreet, the first female writer in the colonies to be published.
The House of the Seven Gables, home of Susanna Ingersoll (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin) and inspiration for the book of the same name, is now a beautiful museum and the pride of Salem. The house and grounds, which occupy 2 ½ acres near the harbor, constitute their own National Historic Landmark District.
Although Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace is technically a part of the House of the Seven Gables museum, I think it deserves its own entry. This charming little dwelling is well worth a visit in and of itself.
The Gardner-Pingree House was the home of Captain Joseph White, whose brutal murder in 1830 may very well have been a primary source of inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and also had a profound effect on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work.
The Salem Literary Festival takes place each November and attracts a number of prominent authors. Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches: Salem 1962 attended this year’s festival.
The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is a major annual event in Salem. Next year’s festival will be held April 29 to May 1 and will feature Marie Howe, Sandra Beasley, Mark Doty, Ada Limón, Greg Pardlo, David Rivard, Charles Simic, and more.
Places to Stay
Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast was chosen as one of TripAdvisor’s top 25 B&Bs in the country and features rooms named after victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Stay in the Rebecca Nurse room and enjoy a cozy fire or spread out in the Sarah Good suite.
For something a bit fancier, stay at the Hawthorne Hotel, located near the Peabody Essex Museum.
Places to Eat
There are a number of great eateries in Salem, but if you want a literary dining experience, try Nathaniel’s, the Hawthorne Hotel’s award-winning restaurant.
Salem is full of history, from its Puritan roots to its rich maritime heritage.
To learn more about the Salem Puritans, visit Salem’s Pioneer Village and the Pickering House, Salem’s oldest home.
If you’re in Salem for a visit, you may want to take a couple of day trips to visit some other literary sites in Massachusetts, like Concord, New Bedford, Jamaica Plain, Cape Cod, and of course, Boston and Cambridge.
Books to Read While You’re There
Of course if you were going to visit Salem, it would be an excellent time to read or reread The Crucible and The House of the Seven Gables. For a historical approach to Salem, try The Witches: Salem, 1962 by Stacy Schiff. Click here for more fiction set in Salem.
Best Times to Visit
Unless you plan to hit the Poetry Festival in April/May, the best time to come is in October/November. October is the busiest time of the year, with witch walks, tours, and events going en force. If you hit it just right, it’s also the most beautiful time of year in Massachusetts, with leaves in full color, and if you stay long enough, you can also overlap with the Literary Festival in early November. Safe travels!
Note: All images are linked to their sources.This post was edited to include Marble Faun and Pyramid bookstores, and to correct facts about who is buried in Burying Point Cemetery.