I (Steven) was looking forward to staying in Salem for a number of reasons. The first was its proximity to Gloucester, the fishing town made famous by a disastrous weather event back in 1991. The Perfect Storm, as it was known, inspired a book and a film of the same name. The story of the hapless crew of the sword boat Andrea Gail is epic and moving. Man against nature, love lost, it's all there.
Another reason I was excited about Salem was to learn more about the infamous Witch Trials of 1692. Honestly, my knowledge of those events was limited to folklore and legend. The only image I had in my mind was of people being burned at the stake. I have since learned that no one was actually burned, hanging was the preferred punishment for those found guilty but, either way, the whole affair was tragic.
Finally, having easy access to Boston City either via the nearby ferry or by car made this location particularly attractive.
So with all of that in mind, we arrived in Winter Island State Park for eight days. We had to split our stay between two campsites because of availability issues. The first 4 days would be in site 12 and the rest of our time was next door in site 13. Each site had a great view of both the harbor and the Happy Meal-sized Fort Pickering Lighthouse.
Also nearby is the remains of Fort Pickering itself. I took a walk to see what it was all about and found weekenders on the grounds with big blankets spread out, eating, drinking and generally having a good ole time. With kids and dogs on the loose, this wasn't your typical historical landmark. In fact, every available grass patch and rock was occupied by people out for a quick tan.
From a photography standpoint, lighthouses are my thing here on the east coast and, although the lighthouse by the campground was pretty small, it was perfectly positioned for the moonrise and the sunrise.
First up, we decided to travel to Boston via ferry. The ride was scenic and informative and it was a lovely sunny day as we stepped foot in the city. It's easy to get lost and walk around aimlessly in a place this big so we decided to take one of the bus tours right out of the gate to get our bearings. The tour lasted just under two hours and our driver was quite entertaining. After the tour, we went in search of lunch at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a huge shopping center with food vendors as far as the eye could see. Boston is a beautiful town and some of the architecture reminded me of the older parts of Dublin.
There was no way to see it all in the short time we were in the area, but we did manage to squeeze in a return trip but this time we drove into the city. We actually needed to do something while Scoopy was getting a professional wash. Our goal in Boston was to visit Eataly, a sprawling Itallian-themed gourmet food store with a variety of restaurants integrating nicely into the shopping experience. Linda was in her element here. It wasn't her first visit to Eataly, she first discovered its wonders in New York City. It's hard to describe the sheer scale of the place and the food displays are breathtaking. We spent a few hours there and then headed back to camp with our swag in tow.
When we visited Gloucester, I was surprised how "modern" it is. Having seen The Perfect Storm, I guess I was expecting something a little grittier and basic. There is a beautiful walk looking out at the water that leads into town. On the way are two impressive memorials, one for the wives of fishermen, depicted by a woman looking out at sea with two young children. The other memorial sports a sculpture of a fisherman in a dramatic pose steering the wheel of a boat. The number of deaths related to stormy seas in this region is staggering. Over 10,000 have lost their lives from this town alone over the years.
Nowadays, Gloucester is a vibrant community with over 60 restaurants as well as galleries and theaters. We found a great little hole in the wall restaurant called the Causeway. We loved it so much, we went there twice for some delicious seafood. The first time we ordered onion rings to start and then an order of fish and chips each. Holy cow, the meals were HUGE!! Although we managed to finish most of our lunch, our bellies were still full by nightfall. For our second visit, we were a little wiser. This time we split a meal of swordfish in honor of the crew of the Andrea Gail.
This whole coastal region makes up what’s known as Cape Ann. It’s about 30 miles northeast of Boston and marks the northern limit of Massachusetts Bay. Cape Ann includes the city of Gloucester and the towns of Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Rockport.
Rockport was a standout for us and it is big on scenery and character. We spent a little time walking down a street full of quaint gift shops and restaurants. Usually when we see these kinds of places, we tend to avoid them because they are full of the same old mass-produced “stuff”. Not so in Rockport. It has a distinctly different feel to it and the quality of the jewelry and knick knacks is better than most.
We had such a great time with our friend Tammy Williams back in Littleton, NH, that we decided to meet up in Salem seeing as we were again crossing paths. After taking the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour, we felt well educated about the rich history of the town. The guide touched upon the history of the early settlements, the witch trials and the story of the famed House of the Seven Gables. When we got off the bus, we walked around the town at our own pace. We had a lovely lunch at the old Hawthorne Hotel and then we were off for a tour of the House of the Seven Gables. For me, what makes or breaks a place like this is the tour guide and we had a great one. I felt like I was inside a PBS documentary listening to the well-informed narrative while gliding in and out of the old rooms and secret passageways. Well worth the visit for us.
A visit to Salem would be incomplete, of course, without learning about the witch trials. Many businesses have cashed in on these events in the most tacky ways you can imagine. There are images everywhere of old hags with pointy noses and wart-infested faces on broomsticks. Having said that, there were also some unexpectedly pleasant surprises. The Witch Museum's presentation of the trials was a little corny but the message was powerful. One of the display walls demonstrated how our prejudices have not changed much since 1692, they've just found new guises. The museum could have settled on the whole witch thing and been done but they went out of their way to educate visitors about these prejudices and also to clarify the modern "witch religion" of Wicca. As it turns out, it has much more to do with being in harmony with nature and almost nothing to do with the stereotypes of primitive pagan rituals.
On another day, I took the opportunity to see a reenactment of the witch trials by one of the local theater companies in a production called Cry Innocent! There was a certain comedy in the presentation but they also managed to bring a fine focus on the frightening ignorance of the time. So with a little research, it's possible to wade through the kitsch (although that can be fun on its own level) and discover some authenticity.
We have already decided our trip here was too short and we must return. Cape Ann is just a fabulous area. Each town has its own character and rugged beauty and, despite the activity of all the boaters and weekenders at our spot in Winter Island State Park, it was a peaceful place and central to everything we could have wanted.
NEXT UP: Visitors from Dublin!