A Travellerspoint blog

Time Travelling through Old New England

Pre-Halloween Trip to Boston, Cambridge, and Salem


Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Salem day trip including stops at Hocus Pocus filming locations like the Ropes Mansion, and the Salem Witch House
- Day 2: Cambridge exploration: Harvard Art Museums, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard Museum of Natural History, and the Widener Library
- Day 3: Early start with a Boston Duck Tour to ground you in the Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighbourhoods, then walk the Freedom Trail or the Walk to the Sea trail checking out historic landmarks like the Bunker Hill Monument, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, USS Constitution, etc.
- Day 4: Art Attack: visit the Museum of Fine Arts and/or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum before walking the Emerald Necklace to the Boston Central Public Library in Copley Square for a free art and architecture tour and/or high tea in their Courtyard Tea Room

Where to Stay
- The Sheraton (39 Dalton St.)

Where to Eat
- Orinoco: Latin-American Cuisine
- Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge
- Life Alive: Organic Eats
- L.A. Burdick Chocolatier
- Courtyard Tea Room for high tea (at Boston Public Library's Dartmouth/Boylston location)

Travel Diary
It's fall and the air is crisp. I'm caught up in the smells of damp ground, and the colours of changing leaves. And then suddenly I'm aware of the blaring horns as a car whizzes by me through a red light to the dismay of nearby cars and pedestrians. Welcome to Boston. A city "founded" in the 1600s by Puritans fleeing religious oppression in England, and currently home to less law-abiding citizens - or maybe just very chaotic cars.


Salem may be most famous for its witch trials in the late 17th century, but for me I had first learned about this tiny town as a child enamored with the Sanderson Sisters from the movie Hocus Pocus. So on our first day in Boston we actually left the city so that we could explore Salem. Given that it was right before Halloween, the town was packed! Upon arrival, we set off for the Ropes Mansion a.k.a. Allison's house from Hocus Pocus. This historic home was built in 1727 and last inhabited in the late 1800s when three single sisters (whose last name was not Sanderson) inherited the property from their last living brother. They bequeathed it to the city after their deaths. Apart from the witch trials, some of the stories of common causes of death in Salem were quite horrifying - from numerous people dying of TB at young ages, to women succumbing to infections after being burned alive (apparently it was common in the 18th century for women's skirts to catch fire).


To learn more about the Salem witch trials, you can visit the Salem Witch Museum (where photography is not allowed). I found the "museum" disappointing, as it was comprised of two performances that both fell flat. In the first, we were ushered into a dark room where there was a very quick performance by robotic mannequins. These robots spend their time teaching you about the little children who incited mass panic leading to the deaths of 19 or so totally innocent individuals - including one man named Giles Corey who was pressed to death. The second performance was led by a real person, but it's brief and basically explains Hollywood's fascination with witchcraft and what present-day Wiccans believe. To be honest, I wouldn't go back to the museum as I felt it was overpriced for what was available; instead I'd visit the Salem Witch House which is supposed to be a much more interesting experience. The real benefit of visiting a place like Salem is gaining a greater understanding of what triggers mass hysteria: How do people come to hate? What will fear drive people to do? And how do we prevent people from being shunned or even persecuted for perceived difference? I think these questions are more relevant now than ever before, particularly in America.


One of the best ways to fight hatred, intolerance and blind attacks on others is through education. Boston is home to over 30 universities, and its surrounding area is thought to have roughly another 40 or so places of higher learning. One of the most beautiful towns to pass time while learning is Cambridge: at Harvard's campus, specifically. In fact, Harvard's Art Museums currently have an exhibit about "belonging" and what it means to be displaced from home. The exhibit went until January 2020 and complements the fabulous collection of art pieces in the museums: from European men like Renoir to American women like Georgia O'Keefe. A few semi-permanent thoughtful pieces to seek out: The Art Lover by Mervin Jules, Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons by Nakabayashi Chikuto, Untitled 2008 by Kerry James Marshall, and the portrait of Nicholas Boylston by John Singleton Copley (note that there are central streets in Boston named after both of these men). It's possible to spend hours just taking tours, and strolling contemplatively through the many beautiful artworks but alas there were other exhibits to visit so I ran off to the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology and the Harvard Museum of Natural History (the museums share a building). By far one of Harvard's most famous collections is the Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, known as "Glass Flowers". A father and son team built over 4000 models representing 780 plant species starting in the 1800s. I thought it was impressive work, but I was more interested in looking through the different rocks like amethyst. The museums also have information about creationism and evolution, microbial life, dinosaurs, etc. It may be worth seeing the nearby Semitic Museum too, if time permits. Unfortunately, as with most of my trips, I never seem to have enough of this precious commodity we call time.


Boston is like Mecca for anyone interested in libraries. From Harvard's grandiose Widener Memorial Library to Boston's Central Public Library, you can spend hours exploring the art and architecture of the buildings before even cracking open a book. The Widener Library was built as a tribute to Harry Elkins Widener who drowned when the Titanic sank. His mom donated money to Harvard for them to open a library in his honour, as he was a rare book collector. Her conditions were that the building facade could never change, that a replica of Harry's study must be built in the library, and that each week flowers must be changed in said library. Among its many miles of books, you may even be lucky enough to find an actual student studying.


At the McKim building of Boston's Central Public Library you'll likely find more tourists than students. This building was opened in 1895 and houses murals by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Edwin Austin Abbey, and John Singer Sargent, in addition to numerous sculptures and pieces by other artists. As a sign of Boston's transition from previously Puritanical to currently relaxed attitude, the tour guide recounted the tale of a sculpture in the courtyard being banned in 1896 because she was nude and had grapes in one hand and a child in the other - symbolic of her embracing of drinking, but also motherhood. Apparently Boston lost its mind over this art, and it was sent to the MET in New York. 100 years passed, and finally Boston had become comfortable enough with nudity to replace the statue but the MET wouldn't return it so instead they had to have a copy made. So now the mother Bacchante stands free at last in the courtyard (well, her clone).


If you're interested in wild goose chases, I suggest you map out all the statues of Boston and head off in search of them. You'd be lucky to find half of them, since there are so many! From little ducks to the tortoise and the hare, there's plenty of bronze wildlife - just not much in the way of real animals around. That being said, the aquarium is quite famous. If you'd rather not pay the high entry fees, you can also stop by when they're doing a free harbour seal talk, feeding, or enrichment class. Yes, the seals get enrichment classes. They certainly got my seal of approval - A+ antics! The only other animals I saw were the countless squirrels along the Emerald Necklace and in the Boston Public Gardens. I won't say they scared me, but I will say that I never made eye contact. Those sharp rodent teeth aren't there just for show, and I didn't want to lose a chunk of my leg when they got too hungry. That being said, the public green spaces in Boston are well worth exploring. If you're exploring the Emerald Necklace there's even a little conservation hut, where you can stop and learn more about the landscape architect Olmsted who designed the green spaces to lift the public's mood in the late 1800s. You can also use their washroom, which is a bonus.


For history buffs, it's easy to spend a few days just retracing the Freedom Trail or the Walk to the Sea. Along the way you'll learn more about the American Revolution, previous governments and also the people who settled in Boston over time. It's worth a stop at the King's Chapel Burying Ground established in 1630 as it's home to the first governor of the area, John Winthrop. It's also a good place to explore Puritan beliefs, which were made clear on their tombstones: most people are bad and life is hard so let's decorate with endless skulls. The Old State House with its red brick exterior and gilded gold roof looks similar to the new State House in some ways but it's location is arguably better since it's right across from Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, a.k.a. endless eating. This is also an important stop for anyone who watched the TV show Cheers. I am not one of those people, but I still appreciate a good toast. A quick walk away is the site of the Boston Tea Party (which occurred in 1773), where you can actually have a free tea tasting if you've ridden on a Duck tour. The Duck tour takes you by river and road around the Boston area while you take in the sites and learn about the history. If you do an early morning tour you'll receive a good discount, and then have the rest of the day free to use up the coupons they give you for places like the Science Museum or Aquarium's IMAX. The real reason to do the tour is to drive the vehicle in water. I didn't wake up thinking that I needed to captain a boat that day, but I sunk into sleep thinking it was the absolute highlight.


I seldom ventured into Boston's present as I was so content exploring its past, and for that reason this trip really did feel like stepping into a time machine into old New England. At times, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you'd rather be anywhere other than the here and now but then you go to a place like Boston and hear about white man after white man forging its history. And that leaves you wondering why the past was written by these men. It leaves you questioning why the voices of people of colour (including the many Indigenous people who lived on the land first) and women were silenced. It's not enough to enjoy the art and architecture of a city, or hear about its history, without contextualizing the gains nowadays. It sometimes seems that society is far from where it should be, and in many ways it is, but we also need to recognize the distances we've come and celebrate that. In order to fully appreciate our present, we also need to work hard to continue dispelling the fears and myths that led to the witch hunts of the past.


Posted by madrugada 19:21 Archived in USA Tagged rivers halloween cambridge boston salem libraries duck_tour witch_hunt witch_museum hocus_pocus changing_colours fall_leaves

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Some great ideas here for our next visit!

by Sally Press

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.