All photos/art by Dan Cutrona
If we told you that in 1629 this place became the first town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, would you be able to name it?
How about if we said that it was the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne and that he wrote his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, here? Still not sure?
We could add that it’s the town where, in 1935, the game Monopoly originated, or that it has the oldest candy store in America — Ye Olde Pepper Companie, established in 1806. Oh, come to think of it, it’s the town that executed 19 people for witchcraft in 1692! (Eighteen were hanged; one was pressed to death.)
OK, now most anyone would know we’re referring to the “Witch City” — Salem, Massachusetts — located on the ocean 14 miles north of Boston and recently named one of America’s top tourist destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“What’s it like living in a town known all over the world for its witches?” we wanted to know as we settled ourselves with coffee in the spacious, sunlit living room of Loretta and Randall Wieting’s (pronounced “White-ing”) nine-room, three-story Salem home. Immediately, without waiting for a response, we began dreamily gazing out the windows — and French doors — across a huge wraparound porch to the shimmering Forest River Salt Marsh beyond. It was truly a gorgeous sight.
We also marveled at the beauty of the professionally designed gardens, too, along with winding stone pathways and even a small pond. Although the property consists of only 0.8 acre, it happens to be pretty much surrounded by conservation land. So although it’s in an urban area — just off Loring Avenue (Route 1A), in fact — it feels as though it’s miles out in the country.
“Well, there are mixed feelings here in regard to all that witch stuff,” replied Loretta, “but for sure, Halloween’s a nightmare.” She went on to explain that more than 100,000 people come to Salem to celebrate that particular night.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, where she owned a florist business, Loretta met Randall, a native of nearby Marblehead and a successful Salem landscape designer and contractor, while both were on vacation in Cancún, Mexico, in 1985. They fell in love right then and there and eventually married. After Loretta sold her florist business and became a dual-country citizen, they began their life together in this Salem house, which Randall had purchased five years earlier when it was sort of a run-down two-family rental, its views obscured by overgrown shrubs. He’d recognized the potential of the setting.
So, together, over the next few years, they proceeded to transform the house, built in 1914, into what it is today. They replaced ceilings, walls, floors, and windows; installed modern full baths on each of the three floors; and put in a spanking-new kitchen complete with granite counters, which seem to be all the rage these days. They enlarged the wraparound deck and finished it with mahogany flooring — also installed on the second-floor deck off the master bedroom, an exquisite coral-painted space with French doors opening to the deck and the view. Besides all that, they made the third floor into an apartment for visitors, complete with bedroom, full bath, living area, and kitchen. While all of this interior work was going on, they cleared and landscaped the grounds.
Sounds as though those were busy and creative years for Loretta and Randall — and they were. So we asked why the Wietings were now selling their lovely home. It turns out that Randall’s parents have passed on (his father was born in 1886), while Loretta’s mother is still in Canada. So while Loretta switched countries in 1985 to be with Randall in Salem, now in 2007 Randall will join Loretta in Kingston, Ontario, where they’ve already purchased a house on Lake Ontario. Loretta will go back to running a florist business up there, too, but this time she’ll have Randall as a partner. The long and the short of it is that their beautiful home in the Witch City is now available for $995,000.
Finally, before saying our goodbyes, we sought some “inside” tips about Salem. What in the Wietings’ opinion were, say, the five “must sees” for any visitor? Here’s what they recommended:
1. The Peabody Essex Museum: “The house brought in there piece by piece from China is incredible.” 866-745-1876, 978-745-9500; pem.org
2. The House of the Seven Gables: “Once owned by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, it was built in 1668.” 978-744-0991; 7gables.org
3. The Corwin House (a.k.a. The Witch House): “It’s the only house in Salem directly tied to the witch trials.” (Jonathan Corwin was one of the two magistrates who examined the accused.) 978-744-8815; corwinhouse.org
4. Chestnut Street, with its impressive array of Adamesque Federal mansions.
5. The harbor area, including the three-masted, square-rigged “tall ship” Friendship tied up there. salemweb.com/frndship
How about a favorite restaurant in town? “There are so many we love here, but our favorite has to be the Lyceum Bar & Grill at 43 Church Street [978-745-7665; lyceumsalem.com]. And, incidentally, it’s where Alexander Graham Bell made one of the first long-distance phone calls.” (Nice bit of trivia to contemplate while having dinner.)
We had time only for Loretta and Randall’s #5 that afternoon, plus a late blue-crab-salad sandwich at Victoria Station, a restaurant right on the dock (978-745-3400; victoriastationinc.com).
During our 15-minute walk back to where we’d parked at the Salem Regional Visitor Center (across the street from the Peabody Essex Museum; 978-740-1650; nps.gov/sama), we passed shops such as “Witchcraft and Magical Supplies” and the Salem Psychic Center, featuring “readings by Diana” and “Gifts from the Mineral Kingdom and Beyond.” (Beyond?)
And for $13 you may join one Mollie Stewart for “a nightly search for Salem’s ghosts.” There’s even a church just for witches in Salem. Whether or not all that sort of thing appeals, there’s no doubt that Salem absolutely thrives on what happened there back in 1692.
For more “must sees,” accommodations, and activities, contact Destination Salem (877-725-3662, 978-744-3663; salem.org). We’d probably not plan on going during Halloween week, though. Maybe for many it’s fun there then, but to our way of thinking, that’s when Salem, Massachusetts, really is New England’s scariest town.
See more information about this House for Sale at salemwaterfronthome.com
For details, contact Pam McKee at Keller Williams Realty, Salem, MA. 978-717-9061.