date published: October 25, 2004

In the early 17th century, Salem forever sealed its identity as The Witch City thanks to the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The events actually took place in what is now the adjoining town of Danvers (then called Salem Village), but the countless books, plays and films that have revisited the hysteria that led to the hanging of 19 people have linked the town's name with the events forever more.

Despite the Witch Trials' sad
BY CAR: Located 16 miles north of Boston, take I-93 North to I-95/Route 128 North to exit 25A. Follow route 114 East into Salem. In Salem, follow signs for the museums and downtown parking. (Note: I-95 and Route 128-N share the same loop around Boston. When the roads divide, stay on Route 128-N.)

BY TRAIN: Take the MBTA Commuter Rail (Newburyport/Rockport line) from Boston's North Station (a round-trip ticket is $6 for adults). Follow signs for downtown, which is a five-minute walk from Salem station.

BY BUS: From Haymarket Station, board the No. 450 or No. 455 bus to Salem Depot.

legacy, Salem-ites has chosen to remember its victims while giving a tongue-in-cheek nod to the more popular, fictional images of witches. Visitors expecting the latter will delight in what feels like a year-long Halloween party, and can even delve into the mysteries of the occult with help from countless crystal- and tarot card-hocking merchants. Of course, the more macabre image of witches has no direct association with the infamous trials, but whether you're looking for a little fun or a history lesson, you won't leave Salem unsatisfied. Not surprisingly, October is probably the best time of year to take advantage of Salem's playful side with the month-long Halloween celebration Haunted Happenings (1-877-SALEM-MA). Events include costumed parades, haunted houses and tours of the area with a spooky spin.

If you're looking for facts, the Salem Witch Museum pays homage to the city's tragic past, exploring the myths and startling truths about the trials through exhibits and a narrated overview of the events. There's also the Witch Dungeon Museum (16 Lynde St., 978-741-3570), which offers a live re-enactment of a witch trial adapted from historical transcripts from 1692.

An excellent antidote to Salem's witch obsession is its oft-overlooked maritime history. Begin at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site (174 Derby St., 978-740-1660), which explores Salem's role as a center of merchant shipping, including how the area helped to establish American economic independence after the Revolutionary War. October 29-31, the museum will add a little Halloween flavor to its history lessons by welcoming a theater group to perform Chilling Tales of the Sea (call 978-790-8546 for more information.)

Further evidence of the importance of trade to the area can be found at the Peabody Essex Museum (refer to listing, page 52), founded by the area's elite merchant sailors in 1799 as a place to display treasures culled on their voyages to Africa and Asia. Other fun options are the Schooner Fame (sails twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays through October, call 978-729-7600), a replica of the ship 25 locals sailed into battle in the War of 1812; and the New England Pirate Museum (274 Derby St., 978-741-2800), which highlights the unique and little-known history of local buccaneers.
Since this is New England, the history lesson doesn't stop there. Literature buffs can delight in The House of the Seven Gables (54 Turner St., 978-744-0991), the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England that was made famous in Nathaniel Hawthorne's homonymous book. The mysterious manse also showcases 330 years of Salem's history in its museum and historic buildings. A National Historic District, the Gables also boasts a spectacular seaside garden and Hawthorne's boyhood home.

As night falls, your brain will likely be swimming with ghost stories and long-forgotten facts. Two establishments can help you unwind over a meal, a pint of ale and some entertainment: The Pig's Eye (148 Derby St, 978-741-4436) offers free acoustic performances on Monday and Thursday nights while Salem Beer Works (278 Derby St., 978-741-7088) hosts live bands and DJs. No cover and no witches. We guarantee it.

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