The young lady had just walked away from her post at the guest counter of the Salem Inn, a tiny little thing tucked into a nook just below the staircase – and stepped into the parlor to light the fire and warm up a bit. It was cold, early winter in Salem, Massachusetts, and having to be at work at seven in the morning sucks at the best of times. But with a dead battery on the car which meant a walk to the train station, a half-hour train ride and then a slippery walk along Salem’s icy sidewalks as the sun was just coming up – just not a good start to the morning.
Hearing someone calling she answered and stepped back into the foyer and felt a cold breeze whoosh by. “Not the kind that comes through the front door sometimes, but like someone rushing by me and up the stairs.”
Somewhat freaked, when another employee came in a bit later, she related the tale above. “Oh that’s just Katherine,” she replied.
The identity of Katherine isn’t known, and to take the owners at their word, Katherine doesn’t exist. “Please note that we have many guests who write about their visitations and experiences with the supernatural or hauntings or whatever,” writes Diane Pabich. “Neither we, the owners for 28 years, nor any of the staff have had such occurrences. I personally think it is the power of suggestion and the fact that these guests are visiting Salem with its fascinating history.”
Centrally located and within walking distance of virtually everything in Salem that would be of interest to the creepy traveller, the main building is known as the Captain West House. A rather imposing brick structure in the Federal style, dating to 1834 and on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s a nice step back in time. With a welcoming fire in the parlor fireplace, as well as complimentary sherry, which is much appreciated on cold Salem nights, there’s a personal touch to the Salem Inn which you don’t find in the much larger and more famous Hawthorne Hotel. It’s also possible to snag a bargain here.
I had booked myself into a room at the Salem Inn once again, picking my favorite – queen with working fireplace and adjacent hallway bathroom. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle to step out your door and into the next to have a wee in the middle of the night. But it’s a quaint touch like this which makes a house feel like a home. I’ll take a bit of inconvenience any day to stay in a place which respects the integrity of its original layout. Which often means squeezing the shower into a space which was never meant to hold one.
Room 17 gets all the attention when it comes to ghost stories at the Salem Inn, but all you really find from guests staying there is reports of noises – the ever-popular “things that go bump in the night”, as well as case histories from paranormal investigators and all the poppycock they produce. Having stayed in many old houses, I can say without hesitation that most older buildings will have things going bump in the night. And true, it could be the ghost of one of the deceased occupants of the home pounding on your door. But it could just as easily be the furnace kicking on in the next room. Besides, my own room there, which I’ve stayed in multiple times has its share of knocks and bumps.
Salem isn’t the most happening of places on a weeknight in the dead of winter, so I had plenty of time to talk to the lady at the desk. It turns out that the staff believe there are three ghosts in the Salem Inn. The first is of course Catherine, and aside from her there is the cat which haunts the parlour. There are no cats on the premises, but frequently guests who are allergic to cats find themselves with the old familiar symptoms when stepping inside this room. Others have spotted a cat darting about out of the corner of their eye.
The parlor in the Captain West House, Salem Inn, Salem, Massachusetts.
The third ghost is thought to be that of a little child, whose laughter and pitter patter of little feet can be heard trotting up the stairs and down the hall above the front desk. And most disconcerting, several of the workers have heard him dropping paranormal pebbles onto the desk from the staircase above.
The guestbook has its share of haunted encounters. One of the best is of a woman who watched her bedroom door slowly open, and then slammed closed again.
On my first visit I had my own weird experience, though of course one which would never hold up under the watchful eye of the Skeptical Inquirer. It had been a long day already the first time I checked in, and I thought a short nap in order before stepping out again for the evening. So I stretched out on the comfortable brass bed and closed my eyes. I knew I was falling asleep and continued to do so even as the voices began. It was a conversation between a man and a woman, and at first I thought it must be in the next room, except it was very clear. Not at all the kind of thing you hear through a wall. It wasn’t a particularly memorable conversation, apparently a husband and wife discussing their child. And I thought to myself, “hmmmm, very odd,” but fell asleep all the same.
Those few moments between consciousness and sleep are always interesting, and I’m not for a second going to tell you I heard a spectral conversation that afternoon. There might very well be a perfectly reasonable explanation. But why ruin a good experience that way? There’s nothing like lying in a bedroom damned near 200 years old, listening to a conversation between two disembodied voices to set the mood for a night of wandering around old Salem. After all, the first thing you see upon walking out the front door of the Salem Inn is the infamous Witch House.
There are so many layers to Salem – from the witch hunts to its role as a nautical powerhouse, and to the new-age/wiccan center that it is today – that you can find magic everywhere in this historic town. For architecture buffs it’s a dream come true. Ghost hunters have a field day. Historians actually live here and still don’t know the full history of the place. There’s just too much history to absorb for one lifetime. And for $110 a night I got all this, along with a pretty impressive breakfast in a dining room converted from the original kitchen, which is reported to be haunted as well. Located in the basement, it oozes atmosphere, as well as offers one of the wider varieties of continental breakfasts I’ve come across. And a fireplace in the room to boot. There’s something that just feels right laying in bed and listening to the fire crackling, the wind howling outside the window.
I guess it was my second or third visit to Salem when it suddenty occured to me – I had just been outside for the last smoke of the evening, and there hadn’t been even a breeze. Nor had there been on any of my visits to Salem. But here I was laying in near darkness, listening to what sounded like the making of a pretty impressive storm. That this had happened on every occasion that I had stayed in this room was the key of course, and so I got up and closed the flue on the fireplace for a moment and the wind stopped immediately. Damn reason and common sense. Perhaps the owner of the Salem Inn is correct, and there are no ghosts, just the power of suggestion at work. Either way, the Salem Inn is a great place to lay your head and let your imagination come out to play.
Gothic Travel Rating:Â If you’re looking for a hotel with all the comforts of a Holiday Inn, you’ll be sorely disappointed in the Salem Inn. The place is old, the decor is old and antiques abound. Which means drawers are sometimes hard to pull out, closet doors don’t always close exactly right, and the bathroom can be oddly situated. It has character, and there are those of us who see those things as ideal. For those I’d give the Salem Inn a four crypt rating. Salem isn’t a town locked in time like a witch’s version of Disneyland. There are dark corners and it’s a little tattered around the edges. In a town where spirits could be lurking in every shadow, the Salem Inn fits.
If you go:Â The Salem Inn is located at 7 Summer Street, â€¨Salem, MA 01970. For reservations or more info call â€¨978-741-0680â€¨ or visit www.saleminnma.com
For a Salem Travelogue and HistoryÂ click here
For more creepy articles about Salem and Essex County Massachusetts,Â click here