Salem Maritime National Historic Site Salem, Mass. Visited: April 16, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 24 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? Second largest port in the colonies in the 18th and early 19th centuries. So many boats bore the name of Salem, that Eastern countries thought "Salem" was a nation to itself.
Salem is also the site of the most horrific witch hunt in the history of our nation, imprisoning hundreds of people, most of them single, land-owning women, based on accusations and spectral evidence.
BEAUTY (3/10) The town is quaint but much of the historical is overshadowed by tourist-friendly witch museums and gift shops.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10) Slave trade excluded, the first international trading between the colonies and foreign nations originated in Salem.
90% of our young nationís capital was raised through customs tariffs and fees paid by the merchants coming in and out of Salem.
CROWDS (5/10) The sunny spring day attracted a lot of families. There were no crowds at the Maritime Visitor Center or around any of the houses we walked past. We did not take any tours so we do not know how crowded they were.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) Signs to historic Salem direct you from the highway. There is metered parking near the decorative arts-based Peabody-Ellis Museum, the first museum in the United States. There is also free parking in the House of Seven Gables parking lot.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) This score is based on the books and merchandise found at the West India Goods Store, a reproduction of the original store now owned and operated by the National Parks Service. The pungent scent of spices, teas and coffee infuse the air of the shop. Silver spoons, blown glass and pottery, all created by artisans to replicate those items Salem residents could have purchased line the shelves. The book selection at the store was the only place we saw any information on the Salem witch trials, theories of what caused them and their historical significance.
COSTS (1/5) Our National Parks Pass was useless. Tours of the Customs House and other prominent houses, such as the Derby, Hawkes, and Narbonne-Hate Houses cost extra, as did the tour of a replica boat named Friendship. To see the House of the Seven Gables (not part of the Maritime NHS) would have cost us an additional $11 each.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) There were Rangers manning the information desks at each of the Visitor Centers, but we gained most of our information from the Eastern National staff person at the West India Goods Store.
TOURS/CLASSES (3/10) We did not enter any buildings or take any tours that required additional fees, so our experience was limited. There are some static displays with audio recordings in the back of the Customs House and in the Scale House in the yard behind the Customs House. There is a film at the Maritime Visitor Center. We are both having trouble remembering it so we guess one could say it was unmemorable. Notable was the absence of any mention of the Salem witch trials, despite their undeniable place in history.
FUN (4/10) If we had been willing to spend money, we probably would have had more fun. We were disappointed that most of the sites in the park required additional fees to enter. The town itself is pleasant and everything is in walking distance. We enjoyed the day, but not particularly the Maritime NHS.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10) Salem was less touristy than we expected. Nonetheless, there are countless witch-related museums, wax museums, gift shops and tours.
It makes no sense that the National Parks Service distances itself from the historical incident of the Salem witch trials. It was a series of real events with real consequences. The base cause of the witch trials was the movement away from a purely religious Puritan society and towards a society heavily influenced by commerce and trade. The witch trials were a culmination of a growing class struggle as well as a struggle to retain a Puritan societal order in the midst of increased independence and individuality.
It would seem that the Park Service would be better suited to discuss this historic incident rather than leaving it up to the numerous, commercially-based museums and witch shops lined with cardboard cutouts of witches and witchcraft knickknacks.
Salem is a nice town. There are plenty of places to shop and eat. The Maritime NHS was a little disappointing, but the walk around town kept our spirits high.
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