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The Salem Inn: Hauntingly lovely in Witch City, MA

The Salem Inn, Haunted hotel in Salem MA
The Salem Inn, Salem, Massachusetts.

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 haunted parlor in the Captain West House, Salem Inn, Salem, MA

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: 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.

Click to learn more about Gothic Travel ratings and what they mean

If you go: The Salem Inn is located at 7 Summer Street, 
Salem, MA 01970. For reservations or more info call 
 or visit www.saleminnma.com

For a Salem Travelogue and History click here

For more creepy articles about Salem and Essex County Massachusetts, click here

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Cathy Boone July 15, 2012, 1:01 pm

    I stayed at the Captain West House 1-5 July 2012 and had my own experinece in room 11. I am trying to decide if I actually experienced it or dreamt it but I leaning more toward actually believing that I experienced it. I had told this story to friends as follows. On my first night 1st July during the night I felt a slight pressure on the bed as if a cat had jumped up on the bed and then pawing at my feet. I remember kicking my feet to get what felt like a cat to stop. I then felt my body shake a bit and when I looked over there was someone standing beside the bed. I thold this two one particular friend and we went on the internet and found this particular page. I knew the house was haunted but not by whom when I read this page we both got goosebumps I believe I met the resident cat and Katherine. It made my stay perfect. Loved the Inn and it’s location we were able to walk everywhere. Thank you Salem in making my trip perfect and exactly what I thought it would be.

  • Annie McGraw September 8, 2012, 2:11 pm

    Aha! I stayed there in 2005 and have a photo taken with a disposable camera that any ghost hunter would admit – I got something! I can’t wait to go back.

    • Natalie Veldhuizen January 9, 2013, 10:36 pm

      I also captured a unbelievable picture in the window of the main lobby of what appears to be the apparition of a person with long bangs the drape over the side of his or her face which you can clearly see, they are wearing white pants. This happened when I was randomly snapping photos, attempting to capture a ghost on camera. On another occasion I actually looked away from that same window while snapping a photo to see what my husband and daughter where up to, than looked back just quick enough to catch a very bright light, which I though was the sun and a person in a red shirt and white pants it looked like they where bending to pick up luggage or something> So I went to the door to see who was coming in only they never did. I later checked out the outside of the window and it is directly over a drop of low descending stairs that lead to the breakfast room.The drop is much to low for anyone to be standing as close to the window as I had seen.

  • Lane Wolfe November 5, 2012, 5:19 pm

    Eight years later after staying at The Salem Inn, my husband and I still are at odds about an ‘experience’ that happened. Cannot recall our room # but we did have a room with a private bath & Jacuzzi and MANY doors in the room leading out to the hall or a closet or bath or Jacuzzi area. I woke up in the morning and went into the bathroom and found the mirror SMUDGED half way up with my EXPENSIVE makeup. Powder & lipstick and eye liner all just smeared on the mirror. Makeup case was unopened and zipped shut. Let’s face it..I was furious with my husband for playing that kind of a joke! He denied doing it then and has denied it these 8 years still. I have stage 4 cancer now and keep begging him to tell me IF he made the smudges so many years ago. He insists he didn’t.

  • Lorie Dunlop September 24, 2013, 7:27 pm

    We’re here at the Salem Inn right now and this morning I witnessed an incident. My husband left an empty can of soda on top of his closed laptop. While he slept this morning I decided to read a bit and came over to the sofa next to the laptop. I turned to open the drapes and when I turned back, the soda can was now next to the laptop. When he woke up, I asked my hubby where he left his soda can and he said “on” top of the computer… I said “well, it isn’t there now”!!! I think someone was just popping in to say hello to us. This is a wonderful place and I look forward to a few more days here.

  • Mary Ellen August 9, 2015, 2:04 pm

    I recently stayed at Salem Inn and had a strange experience. In room 40 I was stretched out on the couch watching TV, just relaxing. It was late morning. There’s a small balcony off the bedroom which was directly behind me. I heard the balcony door open. I turned to look and it was slowly opening wide, then slammed shut. This was a little unnerving to say the least. At one time I thought I heard a cat meowing in the hallway, but it is a pet friendly hotel. Nice stay though.

  • Tricia Schiefen March 29, 2016, 3:42 am

    My husband and I stayed at the Salem Inn 7/26/15-7/29/15 in room 17. I’ve stayed in Salem/ Peabody area many times. This was his second trip to Salem. We actually wanted room 17. When I booked I wasn’t told our room # but, we both had a strange feeling that it would be our room. We got there after the desk clerk went home and had envelopes with keys and instructions were to find the front door key. We indeed had gotten room 17.

    The first odd occurrence was when we were taking our luggage and other items to our room. The door key had worked fine several times and used by both of us. I had left something in the car and went back out to retrieve it and he was in the parlor looking for the posted password for wi-fi. I spent nearly five minutes trying to unlock the door to no avail. What was even stranger was I felt as if I was being watched from this small dark room at the end of the hall by our door. I gave up and went downstairs. When I returned with my husband I opened the door easily on the first try. The next day I poked my head in to find a rocking chair, children’s toys, a bookshelf etc. it was easily 30 cooler in that room.

    My husband got a phone call from a friend that night around 1am as we had dozed off. They asked if our comforter had roses on it and described it exactly. Then asked if he was sleeping on the side of the bed with the nightstand or next to the front door? He was next to the door. The friend never saw the room or had been to Salem but just woke from a dream where a tall slender man dressed in “old clothing” leaned over him and grabbed his right arm.

    We heard odd repedative noises. There were four doors in the room which I tried to keep shut but always ended up ajar. There seemed to be cold and hot spots despite climate control. We also experienced a Coke can move from its place that neither of us touched. We intentionally only had housekeeping come in once.

    There was various other little things but we were not scared,but intrigued by the experience. The rates were very reasonable and we really liked the homey feel to it. It was great to be in walking distance to most things and would love to stay there again on our next trip. I usually try to go once a year usually in October or late April early May. It was great to visit in the summertime.

  • Chris January 29, 2017, 11:11 pm

    My buddy Brandon and I spent the night in room 17 on Saturday January 28. We used various equipment, EMF detector, EVP, Ghost box, and Dowsing rods to investigate mainly our room and the downstairs main foyer after hours. We had some activity with the rods, but on 4 occasions we heard direct responses to our questions through the Ghost box. We asked “who was in the room”, and immediately heard the response “Catherine”. Later we asked aloud “were you shot in the head in this room by your Husband to which we immediately heard “yes”. We had also asked if she “liked to sit on the end of the bed while people sleep” to which we again heard “yes” through the Ghost box. And once while asking for the spirit in the room to move the dowsing rods we heard a male voice come through the box stating “I can’t”. We are new to this sort of thing, but we’ve never caught so many responses through the Ghost box before….we got more than our money’s worth last night!

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