Historic Salem, by day or night
WHO: Globe correspondent Lylah M. Alphonse and various combinations of her kids (17, 15, 13, 6, and 4)
WHAT: Taking a walk through historic Salem
WHERE: Various locations in Salem
Salem celebrates Halloween all year round, but things ramp up in October, when the city holds ghost- and witch-themed events and tourists turn up in full costume. This could be why my kids and I prefer to go there in September, when things are quieter and we can take our time exploring the historic town.
The best way to get to Salem is by commuter rail, and the best way to navigate Salem’s historic district is on foot. The old armory site, in the heart of the historic district (right across the street from the Peabody Essex Museum and next to a large parking garage), is now the Salem Visitor’s Center, and it’s an excellent spot to start. There, you can pick up maps of the town and its must-see sites - as in Boston, Salem has a Heritage Trail that’s marked by an easy-to-follow red line on the ground, and it’s a great way to tour the city on your own.
If you’d prefer to follow a professional, there are several different guided tours available, from academic ones that focus on architecture and history to spooky ones that encourage you to use your camera to spot floating orbs near the old graveyards. It goes without saying that the daytime tours are preferable if you have little kids in tow, though teens and tweens may find the nighttime ones more interesting. We’ve tried several over the past few years (hence the “various combinations of her kids,’’ above); here are the ones we like best:
Salem Trolley (8 Central St., 978-744-5469, salemtrolley.com; $15 adults, $10 kids age 6-17, kids younger than 5 are free when accompanied by an adult) offers hourlong, narrated tours from April through October. The eight-mile route winds through the town, stopping at 13 spots including the Salem Wax Museum, the House of Seven Gables, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and more (passengers can get off and on at any stop along the route).
The Salem Night Tour promises a paranormal experience. The tours are offered nightly at 8 p.m. from Remember Salem Gifts (127 Essex St., 978-741-1170, salemghosttours.com; $13 for adults, $10 for kids), where guides swear that they’ve experienced “things’’ in the basement offices for the past three years and a local medium has reportedly had long conversations with chatty, invisible guests. My teenage stepkids and niece were skeptical, but within a few minutes they were eyeing buildings warily and asking me whether the old graveyard was really haunted.
From May through October, Seth Mascolo of Salem Heritage Tours offers a kid-friendly tour that takes off from in front of the Salem Visitor Center (2 New Liberty St., 978-979-9104, salemheritagetours.com; $10 adults, $5 kids 6 to 17, free for kids younger than 5). Any kid who’s had to read “The Crucible’’ for school knows the story of the Salem Witch Trials, the hysteria that overtook not only Salem but 34 towns and villages in Essex County in 1692. Nineteen people were hanged and one man was crushed to death during the panic; Mascolo leads groups around the town, stopping at various sites and explaining their historical significance, bringing the victims’ stories to life.