Category Archives: Massachusetts

Salem Witch Museum

Last Massachusetts post from May, met my own expectations of posting within half a year of visiting. Yay! This post would’ve been much more relevant  if it was posted around Halloween, but still a fun visit…

Salem Witch Museum, located in Salem, Massachusetts

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The Salem Witch Museum is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm; with extended hours during the summer and the month of October. Admission to the museum is $11. The museum doesn’t have its own parking lot, but there are several parking garages with nominal fees that are within walking distance should you desire or need to drive. If you are already in Salem, walking to the museum is the best option. The Salem Witch museum is a bit out of the way from the main tourist area, but it is right next to Salem Common, a wonderful outdoor space with monuments and a gazebo where one can just sit and enjoy some sun and grass.

The Salem Witch museum is divided into two sections, and both are guided: the first section is a presentation where visitors take a seat and watch for an allotted time, and the second section is with a live museum guide.  (I’m not exactly sure about their photography policy, but I don’t think they allow it, so there’s no other photos in this post.) The first section is a presentation of the Salem witch trials where visitors get to experience the trials through a combination of narration, lighting and 13 dioramas. The trials lasted a little over a year, but they resulted in the death of 20 innocents: 19 people were hanged and 1 was pressed to death by rocks, and even 2 dogs were hanged by association. If you’ve read The Crucible by Arthur Miller, you will realize that the characters in the play are actually real people who had a part in the trials, such as Abigail Williams, Tituba and John Proctor. The second section is an exhibit called Witches: Evolving Perceptions, where a live guide explains how witches evolved from pagan midwives who used healing herbs to the modern day witch with the green skin. A bit of pagan history and Wiccan Religion is also covered. Lastly, the guide explains about the phenomenon that is “witch hunting”, which is brought on by widespread fear and a trigger that leads to a scapegoat deemed as the “witches” of society. Through this explanation, one understands that the Salem witch trials isn’t an isolated event, this phenomenon has happened again and continues to happen in society, e.g. McCarthyism.

My buddies and I spent about 1 hour at the museum; the presentation section is about 30 minutes long and the live guide section is about 10 minutes long. One should allocate an additional 10 minutes to waiting on line to get a good seat for the first section as the ticket is timed, and the doors don’t open till then, but if you don’t particularly care, you can just head in when the doors open. For the second section, the group is split into two groups (your ticket will have either A or B) as the exhibit area is smaller and can’t accommodate the large group, so while one group is in the second section, the other group can hang out in the gift shop. (Their gift shop easily fitted the second group of people. Also, what a good way to entice visitors to buy something at the gift shop.) The museum is a fairly good family trip idea, but younger children may not respond so well to the dark setting and lighting.  As Salem is most famous for the witch trials in 1692, a good place to learn about it and more about Salem is at the Salem Witch Museum.

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Salem Maritime National Historic Site

I went on vacation recently, and having been slacking a lot, hence not that many posts. I had every intention to get this post out around the U.S. National Park Service’s (NPS) Centennial back in August, however I’m about 2 months behind, but better late then never…

Salem Maritime National Historic Site, located in Salem, Massachusetts

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The Salem Maritime National Historic Site encompasses a variety of indoor and outdoor areas. The indoor exhibits are located in several different locations and the hours vary from place to place (visit the NPS website for operating hours); some locations are open to the public, whereas others require a guided tour. Outdoor exhibits are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The best way to get to the historic site is by foot if you are already in the area; or by car if you are traveling from outside of Salem. The historic site doesn’t have onsite parking, but there are several parking lots nearby with a minimal fee (very minimal, some costs as little as $0.25 per hr). The Salem Maritime National Historic Site is a bit further away from the tourist area, but there are  other places to visit nearby, and if you visit all the places within the historic site, it could take a whole day.

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First stop at the historic site is the Custom House, which is open Monday to Friday from 1pm to 4pm and Saturday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm. This Salem Custom House was built in 1819 (there were others prior), and housed the offices for representatives of the U.S. Custom Services. The house is two stories and has a cupola (the cupola is off-limits to the public).  On the first floor, visitors can see an exhibit on the tools used by the Custom Services, which include a variety of measuring devices such as scales and measuring sticks, and the  Collector’s Public Office, where records were kept and where merchants and ship captains paid their duties. Also on the first floor is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s office; his time working at the Custom Service inspired his famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. On the second floor is the Collector’s Private Room and Office. There is an eagle sculpture, known as the Custom House eagle, on the roof of the building. The current eagle is a replica.  The original was carved by Joseph True and place on the roof in 1820s, but weather and time has aged the sculpture, and thus was replaced by the replica in 2004 in order to preserve the original, which is now on display in an exhibit on the second floor.

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Next stop is the Friendship of Salem and Derby Wharf. The Friendship of Salem is a replica of a cargo vessel built in Salem in 1797. (The ship is currently undergoing maintenance, check the NPS website for the latest updates on the Friendship.) The day I visited, the sails and masts weren’t there, so it’s not quite as majestic, but google images of the Friendship and see the ship at its full glory. Visitors are free to walk about the both the main deck and the lower deck. Visitors can pose by the ship’s wheel and pretend to be captain of the ship on the main deck. The lower deck contains the living quarters of the captain and the ship’s crew. Derby Wharf is the longest of the three wharves that are part of the historic site. Derby Wharf was started in 1762 by the Derby family, and as their trading increased, they kept extending the wharf until its current 1/2 mile length in the early 1800s. The Derby Wharf Light Station, situated at the end of Derby Wharf, was built in 1871 and has since helped with navigation in Salem harbor.

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The Derby House and the Narbonne House are two areas of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site that can be viewed only by park ranger-led tours. The Derby House and Narbonne House tour is about 1 hr long, and typically is available once a day at 2:30pm (check the website for tour times). Reservation is required, and the tour can only accommodate 8 people at a time, so interested visitors should visit the Salem Visitor’s Center early to sign up for a spot. First on the tour was the Narbonne House, which was originally a butcher’s house, but has been home to various middle class families throughout the years. The house was built in sections and held together by dowels. The interior of the house is unfurnished, but contains an exhibit highlighting the items found in the house’s backyard. The Derby house was home to one of America’s wealthiest families, the Derbys. The house has many luxuries of the time period, such as a big front door, wallpaper, canopy beds, banisters, and high ceilings. The interior of the house is furnished, but they aren’t original to the house, just imaginings of how the house may have been decorated back when the Derbys resided there. Also worth a visit is the Salem Visitor Center, where there are special exhibits and movie presentations in regards to Salem’s maritime history.

I took about 2.5 hours for both self-guided explorations and the ranger guided-tour of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. As always, other visitors may take more or less time depending on how much they want to see and their interest. (I only covered the highlights of the historic site, there more places to see and tours to take for more in-depth views of the site.) The historic site is a great place for a family outing, as there’s plenty to see and do, and an ample amount of space for children to just run around outside. History lovers will enjoy a visit and the general population should definitely visit too, as it’s free and offers much to see, and even if history isn’t your thing, you’ll enjoy being outside and near the water. Salem is most notable in history for the witch trials of 1692, but it also has an important spot in maritime history and where better to learn about it then at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

Peabody Essex Museum

Salem, Massachusetts is best known for the Salem Witch trials that occurred in 1692. The city does have a witchy-theme, but that’s not all there is to Salem. Salem has plenty of other non-witch related places to see, one such is…

Peabody Essex Museum, located in Salem, Massachusetts

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The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm; every third Thursday of the month, the museum is open till 9pm. Admission to the museum is $20, and an additional $5 for Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House. If you are already in Salem, the best way to get to the museum is by walking there. If you are traveling from outside of Salem, getting to the museum by car would be the best option; the museum doesn’t have its own parking lot, but there are various lots with relatively cheap rates nearby. The PEM is located in the tourist section of Salem, so there are plenty of other things to do within walking distance to make it a fun and worthwhile day trip.

The Peabody Essex Museum consists of three floors of art, and visitors can go about however they like, as there isn’t a set route to take. My main reason to visit the museum was to see the Chinese house, thus I paid the extra amount and started there first. Yin Yu Tang was built around 1800 in southeastern China, and was inhabited by eight generations of the Huang family. It was dismantled and reassembled at the PEM, and is presented as it was last inhabited in the 1980s so that visitors can learn about the architecture and culture of China. The house is two stories tall, and is decorated with a variety of objects that are original to the house that show how the Chinese lived. Yin Yu Tang has a no photography policy (thus no photos), but it comes with an audio guide for visitors to listen to as they explore to better understand the house and the decorations. Yin Yu Tang is significantly different from western style houses, and it’s worth the extra money and time to take a look.

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The first exhibit that I visited after Yin Yu Tang was on Chinese art, “Double Happiness: Celebration in Chinese Art”. The exhibit highlights the role art played in special occasions, such as seasonal festivals, religious ceremonies, birthdays, weddings, and the remembrance of the dead. The various items on display allow visitors to get a glimpse of life in China. Following is an exhibit on Native American Art, “Raven’s Many Gifts: Native Art of the Northwest Coast”. The exhibit contains art from the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast that was made throughout the past 200 years.

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“Asian Export Art: China” is located in three different rooms and all focus on porcelain. Porcelain is a ceramic material that resembles a shell’s translucent surface; porcelain making originated in China, and thus was heavily exported by the Chinese. The three different exhibits all feature a variety of porcelain objects, from figurines to vases to plates and bowls.

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The Art and Nature Center is split into two exhibits: a permanent exhibit and a special rotating exhibit. In the permanent exhibit, visitors can see birds, fish, and mammals that are found in nature; very similar to exhibits that one sees at natural history museums. (I haven’t really thought about it, but the stuffed animals we see at natural history museums are a work of art; someone has to make the animals and the displays).  The rotating exhibit was “Sizing It Up: Scale in Nature and Art”, which was on view from October 10,2015 to September 18, 2016. This exhibit focused on art that explores size and proportion, and has some interactive elements to engage visitors. I don’t really get contemporary art (or art in general), but I particularly liked the pieces where the artists manipulated everyday small objects to be larger than life, such as the donut piece above(third row left); it’s odd, but interesting.

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Moving on to the second floor is the “East India Marine Hall” that commemorates the members of the East India Marine Society, who were among the first Americans to bring back art from their travels. The exhibit features a variety of cultural objects, paintings and portraits of the members of the society. Following is an exhibit on American art, “American Art: Traditions Transformed”. The pieces featured in this exhibit are made using numerous different types of material, and are for domestic purposes with innovative twists. “Intersections: Anila Quayyum Agha” is another special rotating exhibition that is on view until October 16, 2016. The exhibit, which is inspired by traditional Islamic architecture motif, contains a single lantern that lights up the room in a geometric pattern that is quite beautiful to behold.

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Continuing on the second floor is “Japan on the Move”, an exhibit that features Japanese art from 3000 years ago to the present. In addition to figurines and paintings, the exhibit also contains a small collection of Japanese ceramics. There are two additional “Asian Export Art: China” exhibits on the second floor. The first of the two focuses on silver. China actually traded items for the silver, and then turned the raw material into a more refined form, silverware, that was then exported back to Europe. China had skilled silversmiths that copied Western pieces to exact likeness, but for a fraction of what it would cost to produce in Europe. (The beginnings of outsourcing to Asian countries?) The other exhibit focuses on other types of exported items, such as furniture, paintings, and decorative objects (it has a no photography policy, thus no photos; the exhibit is small and can be easily missed if you don’t look for it.)

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“Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age” was a special rotating exhibit that the museum had on view from February 27, 2016 to June 5, 2016. The exhibit explored the impact that Asian luxuries had on Dutch art and life in the 17th century. The exhibit was separated into several galleries with different themes that highlighted the influence the Asian amenities had. A variety of different objects, ranging from paintings to books to textiles to furniture, were on view.

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First up on the third floor is an Indian art exhibit, “MegaCity: India’s Culture of the Streets”, which contains several vibrant paintings. There is also an “Asian Export Art: Japan” that focuses on porcelain and lacquer from Japan. Ceramics from Japan were only accessible to Europeans through trade with the Chinese or Dutch due to Japan’s self-imposed policy of isolation because of the rapid spread of Christianity in Japan.

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Finishing out the third floor was the special rotating exhibition, “Rodin: Transforming Sculpture”, which was on view from May 14, 2016 to September 5, 2016. Auguste Rodin is such a celebrated sculptor due to his ability to capture the emotional and psychological complexities of human beings. The exhibit had a variety of iconic sculptures and works in progress, and also live performers (not sure what they were doing, they seemed to be dancing). Visitors were able to see replicas of Rodin’s most famous works, such as “The Thinker”, “The Kiss”, and “The Gates of Hell”.

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There are two additional exhibits on the first floor, American Art and Maritime Art, that I missed at the beginning. (They are isolated from the others and tucked away, so you might not notice them unless you are looking at the guide map.) The first I saw was on American Art, which all appear to furniture pieces and self portraits. One object that got my attention in this exhibit was the “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” sculpture, which is based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish. Apparently Longfellow’s narrative poem is quite famous as is the sculpture. The Maritime Art exhibit had a variety of ships and paintings relating to the sea on display.

My buddies and I spent about 3 hours at the museum; the Chinese House took about 45 minutes to explore, so if you choose not to see the house, you will need approximately 2 hours to see the museum, but as always, others may take more or less time depending on their interest. I’m not a big fan of art museums and try to avoid them when possible, but the Peabody Essex Museum was pretty exceptional, and well worth the time and money spent there. Art lovers will definitely have a great time at the museum, and the PEM is a good family day idea, as there are some exhibits that are for the younger crowd. When you’ve done all the touristy, witchy things that Salem has to offer, stop by the Peabody Essex Museum and embrace a bit of the high culture in the area.

Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery

This past weekend has really felt like summer with the excessive heat, so I am really thankful that I have air conditioning. Anyways, let’s think back to better weather, maybe around late May. During Memorial Day weekend, my buddies and I went to Massachusetts where we visited Boston for a bit, but our final destination was Salem. The first place we saw was…

Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery, located in Salem, Massachusetts

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Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm. This schedule is applicable during the summer only, check their website for hours if you visit during any other season. Admission is $8 (save $1 if you buy the tickets online; not sure if it needs to be printed or not as I didn’t buy the tickets ahead of time.) Count Orlok’s is accessible via car and walking. If you decide to drive, there is a parking garage nearby that costs 25 cent an hour (I’ve never seen such inexpensive parking rates); you can leave your car there and explore the city for less than $5 for the whole day. Walking to the museum is an option if you are in the touristy area of Salem (near the train station). I was lucky and got a buddy to drive me around, thus I am unclear about the public transportation in Salem.  Salem is only a half hour train ride from Boston via the commuter rail, and has plenty to do, so it’s a great day trip or overnight stay idea.

Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery has a no photography policy, so there’s only the exterior photo. (I’ll try to make it short.) Count Orlok’s is a cinematic monster museum that features a variety of wax figures from horror, science-fiction and fantasy films spanning from the 1920s to about 2010. Notable wax figures include Count Dracula, Frankenstein and the clown from Stephen King’s It. (Turns out I haven’t seen as many horror films as I thought I did, so the other figures are most likely notable too, but just not to me.) The museum includes plenty of information about the films. For example,  I learned that House of Wax (1953) was the first 3-D film from a major American studio. (I had no idea 3-D movies existed quite so early.) The museum creates a spooky atmosphere using dim lighting and an eerie soundtrack, which adds to the experience. In addition to wax figures, the museum also contains some autographed photos of actors who starred in the films, the life masks of famous horror celebrities, head props and even a replica of Dracula’s ring.

I spent approximately 45 minutes at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery. I read everything and looked at all the exhibits super thoroughly (since I can’t rely on my pictures, I had to memorize as much as possible), so I spent quite a bit of time, but as always other visitors may take more or less time. The admission price is pretty decent for what the museum has to offer, there’s enough to see to keep me occupied, and the spooky atmosphere made it more enjoyable. Horror movie fans will definitely want to make a visit, as will anyone who enjoys wax figures. Adults and older children will probably enjoy the museum, not sure about children and anyone who scares easily. Nothing jumps out or pops up, but consider if you can handle what is offered before visiting, every person scares differently. Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is a great place to see some iconic creatures from various horror films and learn about the history of horror films, so drop by and see how these creatures came to life and became the stuff of nightmares.