On Valentine’s Day, you go to Paris. For Mardi Gras, you head to New Orleans. For Halloween, there’s only one place to go: 15 miles north of Boston  to the original Witch City—Salem. Anyone who’s seen or read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible knows the story: In 1692, several young women took ill and cried out the names of alleged witches they claimed were causing their torments. The famous trials were convened, and from May to September of that year, 13 women and five men were tried, convicted, and hanged for vague crimes involving black magic.
Even now there’s something about the historic seaport that curdles the blood after sundown. The country nights are inky dark, and the proximity of the ocean wafts spooky mists and fogs around the Gothic Victorian homes downtown. Witchcraft isn’t the only thing that Salem has going for it, however. Settled in 1629 at the mouth of the Naumkeag River, the town got involved in the cod and West Indies trades early. By the start of the 19th century, its merchants and sea captains had made it the richest town in the country, second only to Boston in importance in the region.
Among those who grew up here during that time was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was inspired by the town’s history to weave some of the most haunting tales of American literature. Much of the history here is still very much in evidence, sharing cobblestone streets with cosmopolitan restaurants and occult book shops.