As Halloween creeps closer this fall, head north of Boston for a day trip to Salem, Mass., an old city known for its rich witch history, maritime trade and legendary ghosts. Spine-tingling tales began as far back as the Salem Witch Trials of 1692; today the city is rife with spirited sites and bone-chilling nightlife locales, ranging from a former Prohibition-era funeral parlor to an independent movie theater.
A&B Salem co-owner Amy Butler says she and her business partner found the perfect location in this former home of Salem’s most wanted to serve up their signature slammer-chic burgers and beer—even if the place is haunted. “When we were opening up, we definitely kept looking behind us," Butler says. "There are spots in this building with freezing-cold air.” According to psychics who have visited, there is a lingering energy from the building’s old jail days, including a prison guard holding a clip board.
50 St. Peter St., Salem, 978.594.8607
Derby Street's Bunghole Liquors was a funeral home in a past life. However, what was happening downstairs during the Prohibition era was enough to the raise the dead. Locals would gather next to the parlor’s embalming equipment and guzzle illegal booze. Today, assistant manager Brandon O’Shea asserts that there are spirits cohabiting with the liquor store's spirits. “This place is definitely haunted,” he says, offering that he believes there's a spectral kitty and female residual that roams behind the wine racks of this historic package lounge. Phantom puss in boots? Only in Salem.
204 Derby St., Salem, 978.744.2251
Yes, the show must go on—even in the afterlife. According to Peter Horne, assistant manager of independent movie theater Cinema Salem, personalities from the theater's past still linger. “We’ve had psychics, ghost hunters and paranormal investigators inside,” he says. “Multiple co-workers have had experiences here.” Horne insists a former manager spotted a man dressed in black sitting in Theater No. 3, while he was upstairs in the projection booth. “There was no movie playing," Horne recalls, "so, he ran down to kick him out, but the man disappeared. He looked middle-aged, wearing coattails. His clothing was from the Victorian era.”
1 E. India Square Mall, Salem, 978.744.1400
In A Pig's Eye
After Salem's Witch Trials hysteria of 1692, local taverns became a hotbed of illicit activity. The strip of businesses across from The House of the Seven Gables, including Witch’s Brew Café and In A Pig’s Eye restaurant, serviced the sailors and captains visiting the city's thriving seaport, and Derby Street turned into a red-light district replete with brothels and underground tunnels. The story goes that sea captains from Derby Wharf would use the tunnels for discretion and also to kidnap young men partaking in the revelry. Salem's waterfront area is allegedly teeming with the spirits of Salem’s maritime past, ranging from ghostly pirates mysteriously emerging from the water to the disembodied voices of salty sea captains.
148 Derby St., Salem, 978.741.4436
The back corner of Salem's old Burying Point cemetery closest to Murphy’s pub and restaurant is apparently a hot spot for the paranormal. People have reportedly spotted a Victorian-era lady in a powder blue dress and a full-bodied apparition of boy there with a picnic basket. Before the space was Murphy's, it was called Roosevelt's, and Roosevelt's former owner claims he had a face-to-face encounter with a female apparition while he was working alone one night. Then there is the infamous casket that burst through the restaurant's walls. Tim Maguire, co-owner of Salem Night Tour, says he’s heard stories and has seen convincing photographs supporting claims that a casket did indeed break through the restaurant's wall. “It looked like it was a casket of a small child, possibly a girl,” he claims. “That corner of the cemetery is where the Irish Catholics were buried, so I’m not surprised that it’s extremely active.”
300 Derby St., Salem, 978.744.8889
Salem’s historic Lyceum Hall has housed restaurants for years; first Lyceum Bar & Grill, then 43 Church and now Turner's Seafood. The dining landmark is incredibly historic. Notables such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson and Alexander Graham Bell once spoke here. In fact, it's where Bell first revealed his plans for the telephone. The location is also believed to be the former site of the apple orchard owned by Bridget Bishop, the first lady executed for witchcraft in the 1692 trials. Locals believe her residual energy still lingers. People have reported seeing a woman in a long white gown floating above the Lyceum building’s main staircase. Her image has been seen in windows and mirrors throughout the building. Is it Bishop seeking post-mortem justice?
43 Church St., Salem, 978.745.7665
Wicked Good Books
Salem-based lawyer Denise Kent opened Wicked Good Books in the spot formerly occupied by Derby Square Bookstore's mile-high stacks, and books are flying off the shelves—literally. When Kent started renovations last June, she was approached by locals asking: Is this the haunted bookstore? Kent reached out to New England Ghost Project investigator Ron Kolek who searched for paranormal activity in mysterious tunnels beneath the shop uncovered during the construction work. There’s convincing evidence of possible desecrated human remains beneath the building. Apparently, the underground tunnel system connected to an underground warehouse in Derby Square. It’s also where two runaway slaves are believed to be entombed.
215 Essex St., Salem, 978.594.1938
Sam Baltrusis, author of "Ghosts of Salem: Haunts of the Witch City," speaks at Wicked Good Books in Salem, Mass., Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 7 pm. For full schedule of readings, click here. Join him … if you dare.