The promise of a weekend in the city of the witches drove me into an extraordinary and fascinating journey across time. Far from the mundanity, a 25-minute ride on the commuter rail from Boston’s North Station took me to the historic city of Salem on the Atlantic Coast of New England in the United States.
The story began when something so profoundly wonderful urged me to experience a piece of Salem’s history. The house, which is believed to be Salem’s oldest, also America’s oldest known as ‘The Pickering House’, is home to a single family for over three and a half centuries. This was my abode for a captivating weekend.
John Pickering, a carpenter from Coventry, England and his wife Elizabeth, built ‘The Pickering House’ in 1651. I stood gaping in awe, appreciating the incredible structure. The Gothic architecture of the front facade and the unique neatness of the interiors with wooden floors and decorative finials mesmerized me. A walk around the 16th century dining room alcove out onto the living space with the historic fireplace and the oval-lidded roaster reminds the tourists of its 300-year history.
While exploring the library, the original room in the house, I saw a beautiful dinner invitation note written in cursive handwriting by President George Washington to Timothy Pickering and his wife.
The experience of tasting creamy chowder embarked the beginning of my stay at ‘The Pickering House’. Chowder is a seafood or vegetable stew, often served with milk or cream and is mostly eaten with saltine crackers.
The city of Salem is a walkers delight with pretty lanes entwined all along the maritime Atlantic brimming with flotillas, far and near the coastline. My hosts, Tim and Linda at ‘The Pickering House’ guided and provided me with street maps. Tim is an accomplished investment banker, a philanthropist and a political critic. Linda is a versatile homemaker, an outstanding travel writer and the treasurer of ‘The Pickering House’ foundation. She converted the bland and unadventurous taste of raw oysters into a mouth-watering spicy delicacy for me.
My destination was well off the traveller’s trails. Salem’s Red Line – or Heritage Trail – exists to guide visitors between historic sites and destinations. The free 27-minute film ‘Where past is present’ at the National Park Service Salem Regional Visitor Center was an appealing start. I continued west onto Essex Street.
The visit to Salem is incomplete without exploring the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continually operated museum in the country. It houses more than 1.8 million collections of art from around the world, including Asian art, Asian export art, Maritime art, Native American art. It also features a 200-year-old, 16-bedroom house from China!
The reason to embark upon an offbeat itinerary was the desire to experience a craft of the finest minds on Earth. In Salem, spirituality centers around experience, not faith. Paganism is celebrated, the harvest is calculated in terms of gratitude, where every gardener believes that fertility is born out of decay and every fallen leaf becomes part of the soil that nourishes the roots of the growing trees. People remain part of their communities, alive and existing in a different realm. Fear is countered with openness, envisioning and acknowledging the concealed powerful forces operating around us.
Continuing along Essex Street, I saw the only building still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the family home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. It is known popularly as the 17th-century Witch House.
Adjacent to it is the First Church in Salem, which was the parish of many of the accused during the Salem Witch Trials. This church features stunning Gothic architecture and Tiffany windows.
History often changes and evolves with each retelling. But the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 have withstood the test of time, fascinating people since the panic first happened. The trials resulted in the execution of 20 people, mostly women, who were accused of witchcraft. It was an era in which a new history was beginning to be composed, when religious inclusiveness was scarce, the genealogies of the Wiccan followers were being absorbed and gathered. Witchcraft, which has always been regarded as evil magic under factual and fictitious interpretations is deeply revered and followed in New Orleans. It is a clan-like institution passed on as inheritance.
Keen to get an insight into the ancient wisdom, in the heart of Salem's beautiful Wharf District, a stone's throw from the sea stood a beautiful store named Magika-the long-time vision of Lori Bruno, the owner and hereditary clairvoyant psychic and tarot reader for over 70 years. She is the oldest living legendary witch today.
Bruno was born into a family of Sicilian Witches and was taught the oral 'tradizione' of "La Famiglia"—Python Priestesses who could see into the past, present and future. She has been featured innumerable times on The History Channel, National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal and numerous radio shows.
Established in 2012, Magika is now home to many other talented psychics including her son and daughter. The word Magika itself is a magical concourse of the word "magi" meaning the wise men and women with "ka" the Egyptian word for soul. By nightfall, the quest to participate in the impending adventure started emerging. I was profoundly tempted to experience this quaint culture of Salem.
A cold evening, with a slight drizzle and the only sound I heard that moment was the chime hanging from the concave entrance of Magika. Profusely decorative in a scented tranquil, is a newly refurbished store dedicated to Wicca folklore related to pagans and their beliefs. As I entered, a tall young man dressed in black greeted me with a warm smile. Unknown swirls of aroma incensed the air. Gems and stones of vibrant colours shimmered in the light. I caught a whiff of dried spices of healing and magic including cinnamon, cloves, cassava roots, exotic flowers and fruits. There were innumerable books on witchcraft and divination on the shelves.
Lori Bruno is very much in demand, and indeed it is priceless to get an appointment with her. So I patiently waited. There was something intricately compelling about her graceful stature. Lori Bruno, born in 1940, affectionately known as ‘Strega Nona’ or the ‘Grandmother Witch’ kept looking at me, seated on the other side of the table in a flowing burlap sack.
The purity of her soul and the brightness of her being disguised her age impeccably; there were no wrinkles on her face. As we started the verbal ritual, I was completely blown away by the details she just couldn’t have known, she named names and without asking me any questions, she accurately stated my past and the present.
I have never been skeptical about psychic readings but this experience moved me. She was exact about whom she sees around me. She was able to give out date ranges for certain events to take place in my life. Lori’s sincere honesty and light-heartedness brought tears to my eyes and she gifted a beautiful rose quartz and showered her blessings on me. I walked out dazed by her revelations. The drizzle by now had turned into a downpour.
Qatar, British, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airways, American Airlines and KLM operate hopping flights to Boston Logan Airport from New Delhi for approximately Rs 40,000 one-way. From Boston’s North Station take a MBTA train connection to Salem via either the Newburyport/Rockport line or hop aboard a harbor cruise at Boston’s Long Wharf and in less than an hour, you’ll be amid Salem’s toytown boutiques and quirky shops. Bus services from Logan Airport and Wonderland remains operative throughout the day.
Where to stay
Budget friendly spacious rooms/suites with ample parking and in close proximity to historical attractions is offered in Clipper Ship Inn. Also the iconic antique house Hawthorne Hotel now an elegant full-service luxury destination on the North Shore and The Tuck Inn Bed & Breakfast (the cozy 1790 home) renowned for breakfasts and exceptional hospitality with a scenic seaside village atmosphere, also rated the highest on TripAdvisor complements Salem’s history remarkably.
What to see & do
With a festival or celebration every month of the year, a robust local theatre scene, active night-life and ever-changing museum programming, historical sites, contemporary art galleries, seafood corners with beautiful waterfront dining and live entertainment on the harbor in an ocean breeze, one can always find something to do and explore in Salem. Witch shops with Salem charms & pentacles, Witchcraft books, locally crafted blown glass witch balls, fabulous witch hats and traditional blends of herbs, spices, essential oils and potions are a must first stop.
Salem is the home to the only North Shore cider house. Information about the cider tasting rooms can be found at FarFromTheTreeCider.com. The unexpected mix of unique all-American coastal theme women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories can also be browsed in Salem (ShopOceanChic.com).
A ride on the Salem’s Original Red Trolley Tour is the most famous narrated tour with same-day shuttle service. The tour covers all major attractions including The House of the Seven Gables, Pickering Wharf, New England Pirate Museum along with the Witch Dungeon and Witch History Museums. Tickets can be purchased online on SalemTrolley.com or trolleydepot.com. Tour operators like the Hawthorne Tours and the Wolfe Adventures & Tours specialize in customized day and overnight tours for groups.
Regional and Statewide Travel Information Bureaus
Udita Bagchi grew up having to change 8 schools in 12 years in various cities across lndia. A neuro-scientist by profession, she discovered her globetrotter instincts through love for the outdoors. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.