Salem Homecoming

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They say home is where the heart is. Well, you could safely say I left my heart in Salem, Massachusetts. You know you really love a place when you could give a tour of it yourself better than any paid tour guide. My tour, however, would be touched with fond memories that single-handedly shaped my coming of age. 

Most tours in Salem are based on ghosts. My tour would be filled with spirits – good and bad – from my past. That’s what this hometown feature is about. I’ll be bringing you around my favorite city spots in Massachusetts that are both exciting to visit and that have significance to me. 

I technically grew up about 30 miles north in a small farm town called Dracut. The joke, that was sadly close to true was that there was more cows than people. What was interesting about this town is that it was right next to a cultural Mecca for the region: Lowell, Massachusetts. The college town, laden with mills and opportunity was apparently one of the first officially planned towns in the country. But, I digress. I did find a few close friends and beneficial relationships in that tight-knit community, but I found my true tribe in Salem.

I moved into Salem in late August 2013, only graduating high school two months prior in June. I met a girl who was really nice, and outgoing at my orientation earlier that summer who convinced me to join the cross country team for the university. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been moving in early to train with my new team, and have many friends still to this day from the team, including her.

Forest River Park

One of our spots that we would frequent to train, whether it was for doing sprints, hills or a 5K workout, was Forest River park, which is the first stop on our tour.

This place served many, many purposes, for many people. I have memories here that include me being on various levels of awareness. I remember times when I would come at 6AM for a day-starting workout, and being there for halloween activities, and not being sober. Halloween, of course, holds a rich history in the town. Pioneer village was a historically accurate colonial experience that locals and tourists could visit to get a sense of what living in Salem during the Witch Trials was like. There is, of course, a park with a woods trail, beach access and a baseball field. It’s not far from the Hocus Pocus house that was used as the exterior as the Dennison’s house in the 90’s classic film.

The Salem Willows

The willows is another beachside place that I visited for both work and pleasure. This scenic park sits on a neck that is parallel to the next oceanside town over, that rivals Salem in sports: Beverly. Beverly is equally, if not more, gorgeous. 

The historic Salem willows is notable for its willow trees, that were originally planted there in 1801 to form a shaded walk for patients convalescing at a nearby smallpox hospital. The hospital is no longer there, but the history still stands.

The retro-feeling arcade and carnival-themed food stands are still there and are a regular haunt for locals in the spring and summer – and even the winter occasionally. There’s plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy at this park as well: Dead Horse Beach, where I had an epic fail with my inflatable stand up paddle board once, tennis courts, picnic tables and a pier. Whenever my parents would come visit, they would bring our family dog Jackie to walk here. 

The Peabody Essex Museum

Again, I went here for work and pleasure – but the work portion was more robust, as I had my first internship here. I learned a lot, and was exposed to a lot as well. I work in the in-house PR role now, and even though it is in healthcare and not the arts, I see similarities in the role. I learned to be curious and entrepreneurial, and I of course was exposed to many wonderful and interesting exhibits.

The “PEM” boasts both historical and artistic exhibits. They had a laser-cut steel box that illuminated the entire room like a constellation when I was there, a Native fashion exhibit that discussed appropriation and many more. There’s a rich trade route history with Asia in Salem as well, and treasures of the trade, as well as colonial furniture and artifacts are in display here.

They also host “Pem PM” parties one Thursday a month, that includes music, food and entertainment surrounding their current exhibits. It’s a great date or “Sunday funday” spot. Even when I moved to an apartment for a year after I graduated in Salem, I would use my Salem residence to get in for free. 

Jaho

Jaho is that quintessential, “hip” coffee shop that is actually a great place to go and get work done. Since I started going in 2013, it has grown a good amount. There are locations in Salem, Boston, and oddly enough – Japan. This location is owned by a nice, old Greek man who sits in the corner and balances the books while his customers work and sip away around him. Due to this connection to part of my heritage, I especially appreciate their greek pastries. My favorite meal from there would be some season latte – or the classic maple soy chai latte – and a naan pizza. There was a vegan option made with hummus, tomatoes and paprika, or a traditional Margherita made with perfectly nutty pesto.

Since 2013, they have gained an artsy face lift with grey wallpaper to give a stark, modern vibe, and their name literally in lights. They also have entered the boozy drink market, selling spiked teas and ciders.

Pickering Wharf

Pickering Wharf is right in the middle of downtown, and is where you can find the U.S.S. Friendship, and a cute light house at the end of the peninsula, all right across from the old Custom House, and the old home of American’s first millionaire – Elias Derby. There is not only much history in this area, but it’s also a nice place to stroll by the water in the spring and summer. I would always try to loop it into my runs.

Salem is a great place to visit, and this is just the tip of the best places to see. It’s just as wonderful in the summer as it is during Halloween, and there will be less tourists. I hope you enjoyed this tour of my “home”, I certainly enjoyed the nostalgia boost!

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About Author

Nikki Vergakes is a 22-year-old writer, podcaster and PR Specialist. She enjoys writing and making content for digital media. She also dedicates her time to political activism. She'll take any chance she gets to combine the two. In her free time, she takes a break from the computer with... the computer. She enjoys deep-diving into memes, YouTube videos, Netflix originals and vine compilations (no wonder her glasses prescription is so high!) She does run half marathons and hikes occasionally, however, so she does get outside. E-mail her with tips, story ideas, ways to collaborate on digital content and any YouTube drama!

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