As the youngest of six children - three girls and three boys, my childhood was sprinkled with delights of horror. Opening a bedroom door? Beware! A stack of encyclopedia britannica's perch above just so, waiting to knock you into unconscious oblivion. Hosting a slumber party with eight of your favorite fellow fifth graders? Watch with mixed emotions when the night ends early with calls home for urgent pick ups, as the mysterious Salems Lot-esque "tap tap tap" on a window proved too much for their weak souls. Feeling dirty? How about a nice, warm shower? Or should I say, how about a complete mockery of your naked vulnerability, primed for terrorization by a giant wooden reindeer, honed in dreary, ninth-period shop class? The ultimate stunt, for that reindeer grin was too easily excused as holiday cheer, and his one giant eye always stared at you a little too long. These pranks were common, elaborate, terrifying, and a whole lot of fun. My own parents, who were almost always reading a Stephen King novel, would up the ante every halloween, putting on a life size horror show right in our front entry. Skeletons, corpses, werewolves, and witches held court for an entire month while my "play date" calendar would justifiably open up from cancelation after cancelation. For most kids, it was just too damn scary. For our family, and our strange, unwavering commitment to experiencing, causing, and conquering fear, Halloween is an opportunity to publicly indulge our fascination with the dark side. As Stephen King, my parents' mentor and the master of horror said himself, "We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones."
With that, I cannot imagine a better time to introduce you to Tina Gunn, Horror Fiction Writer and our latest Trip Tour guide. Tina recently took a solo vacation to explore the sordid history of Salem, Massachusetts (its lessons are not to be ignored lest they are repeated,) and Portland, Maine, birthplace and home state of the horror master himself. Welcome, Tina!
Last year I had reached the pivotal milestone of having made 40 trips around the sun, and I decided to celebrate the special birthday by taking my very first solo vacation ever. The experience pushed me out of my comfort zone on many occasions throughout my trip to Alaska, and since I was going through many life changes at that point, it gave me the solitude I needed to reflect on every aspect of my 40 years, and what I wanted from life for the next 40.
I fell deeply in love with the experience of solo-traveling that I made the decision to gift myself with an annual tradition of venturing to a new place on my own, and this past August, that “new place” was Salem, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. I am a content strategist by day, but a horror fiction writer by night—and I knew that both the witch city and the home-state of Stephen King were just the creative inspiration that I needed.
The most memorable part of visiting these two cities was how humble, kind and real the locals were. Living on the west coast and in the tech bubble where progress means looking towards the future instead of being present in the moment—you tend to forget what it feels like to look people in the eye and smile as you pass one another on the street; of what it feels like to partake in leisure activities that unplug you from the digital and plug you into the moment; of what it means to support small businesses, artisans and artists; of what it means to preserve your history with a sense of pride.
I previously fell in love with Maine through Stephen King novels, and I now have a little better understanding on why King shows so much love to his home-state (even in the context of horrifying tales). And, if you’re looking for a Halloween destination, look no further than Salem, Massachusetts, the first stop on my first visit to the New England states.
Salem, Massachusetts: The Stay
Historically, I always loved when I got the opportunity to pamper myself with a nice boutique hotel stay. However, there’s something special about staying in a place of residence when you want to immerse yourself with the “local” experience. Granted, I had plenty of tourist activities planned for my trip, but I also wanted to feel at “home” during my stay, so I decided to book an Airbnb.
My home back in the Pacific Northwest is my sanctuary, so in selecting the perfect Airbnb, I am particular about where I stay because it’s more than just a place to sleep for me. First, it’s important for me to be in a safe neighborhood as a solo-female traveler, so I made sure to do some some research and consulted with Airbnb hosts about the area. Second, the Airbnb needs to have a good walk score in order to avoid renting a car and limit Uber/Lyft rides, and making it easier to take in sightseeing on foot. Last, the Airbnb needs to be clean, cozy and where I have the entire place to myself; have character reflective of the area; and have a list of amenities that at the very least includes a coffee maker and WiFi. Daliana’s downtown one-bedroom apartment perfectly fit my needs.
This sweet little Airbnb is in the historic heart of downtown Salem. Built in 1800, it has the New England charm I desired while offering much-appreciated modern comfort and amenities including air-conditioning, which was a lifesaver with the intense humidity on the east coast during my visit. Additionally, you could not ask for a better location. This Airbnb is a short walk from the Salem train station, and an easy walk to all of the sites and attractions this magical city has to offer. I was able to easily go on round-trips to and from the Airbnb as needed to take a rest from strolling the walkable city, take a shower and wash off the humid day, or drop off a round of shopping bags before venturing back out.
Salem, Massachusetts: The Play
During my three-day stay in Salem, I was like a kid in a candy store. I rolled into Salem on a Thursday around 5pm, and after settling into my Airbnb, I walked right out front to find the infamous Heritage Trail, a red line painted on the ground that connects all of Salem’s main attractions. I followed the red-brick road to The Witch House, the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It is the only remaining structure with direct ties to the trials. Standing outside the house, you can feel its immense presence and energy; and touring the house, you can learn all about life in the seventeenth-century.
The Witch Dungeon Museum is just a few buildings down from the Airbnb. Displayed in front of the museum in true public-fashion of the times are stocks and pillories—restraining devices that were used for public punishment and humiliation. The museum offers live reenactments of the witch trials to experience the hysteria firsthand, followed by a tour of a recreated witch dungeon.
Most of the shops and attractions close between 6-7pm, so I grabbed dinner to-go and headed back to my Airbnb to rest up for the next day.
The following morning I found a fantastic coffee shop just a block over, the Gulu Gulu Cafe, that kept me pleasantly fueled with caffeine during the rest of my stay. Neighboring the cafe is the Bewitched Statue, a bronze statue that pays tribute to Samantha Stevens (Elizabeth Montgomery) from the television series Bewitched (1964 - 1972) and its filming of the seventh season in Salem.
My next stop was the museum I was most excited to explore: Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery. This is one of the few non-witch themed attractions in Salem, and instead, features an array of life-sized classic and modern horror characters. From Nosferatu to Pennywise the Clown, this exhibit of monsters is both breathtaking (in craftsmanship) and unnerving (in perfectly replicated detail), and sets a haunting ambiance as you walk through mood lighting and music. At one point I was left alone in the gallery amongst horror icons Pinhead, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, and because of the realistic capture of these fictional creations, it felt like their eyes were following me and I kept imagining movement in my peripheral field of vision. This horrific cast of characters is a must-see for any horror fan.
Needing to thaw off the chilling effects of the Nightmare Gallery, I strolled over to the Pickering Wharf, Salem’s waterfront of shops and restaurants, and took in the water views over lunch. Along the way, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of The Bunghole Liquor Store, which used to be a funeral home during the Prohibition era that secretly served liquor in the funeral parlor basement where the bodies were embalmed.
After lunch, I started back toward the Airbnb to hit up a couple shops on the way and wandered into a truly one-of-a-kind shopping experience: Emporium 32. This boutique is run by a super friendly married couple, and they carry a range of curios made by independent artists and small businesses. One of my favorite trinkets from my Salem trip comes from this shop, a Memento Mori magnet created by the Gravestone Girls. The magnet is cast directly from the face of the gravestone of William Button, who died October 19, 1693, and is buried in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
In the evening after I rested and freshened up at the Airbnb, I headed to Omen to participate in a séance with Leanne Marrama: a psychic medium, Salem Sorceress and Italian Strega. It was both an educational and SPIRIT-ual experience. Leanne taught us various methods to communicate with the departed, and spirit came through loud and clear for all in our intimate group. Leanne does readings out of Hex: Old World Witchery if you’re interested in a more one-on-one session with her.
My final day in Salem was officially my birthday, and I started out the day of my birth with the dead. I visited The Burying Point cemetery, the oldest burying ground in Salem, and walked the peaceful grounds while paying respect to the dead. Judge John Hathorne of the witch trials is among the departed buried there. Directly next to the cemetery is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in memory of the 14 women and 6 men tried, convicted and executed for alleged witchcraft.
Next, I circled back to The Ropes Mansion and Garden. The Ropes Mansion was built in 1727 and was home to three generations of the Ropes Family, including Elizabeth Ropes Orne who died of tuberculosis in the home in 1842 at the age of 24 years old. Today, the mansion is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum and offers free self-guided tours. Fun fact: the exterior of the mansion was filmed for Allison’s house in the movie Hocus Pocus.
I have an obsession with candles, and if I’m home, you can guarantee that I have a candle burning. After stalking their shop in Instagram the weeks leading up to my trip, a stop into Witch City Wicks was a priority. An independent, artisan soy candle company in Salem, Witch City Wicks offers more scents than I could possibly fit into my luggage. I settled on a few signature scents and a handful of Halloween-themed candles. My favorite is the Oakmoss Amber, a dreamy woodsy and earthy blend. Afterwards, I popped into Caramel French Patisserie for a couple mini-desserts because it was my birthday after all.
I made my rounds to several witch shops, including Enchanted, where one of the most high-profile witches in the world, Laurie Cabot, provides readings by appointment. The shop is also filled with magical items blessed by Laurie. Additionally, I had a scheduled birthday reading with the renowned love clairvoyant, Lorelei Stathopoulus. Lorelei is the owner of the oldest witch shop, Crow Haven Corner, and works with Salem Saves Animals. She brought me into her beautiful Egyptian reading room where her two chihuahuas were resting in a throne. Lorelei read my palm and cards, performed a blessing ritual on me, then gifted me with a soulmate-attracting candle, passion mojo bag and blessed crystals for prosperity and good luck.
I concluded my magical birthday with an evening walking tour: Spellbound Voodoo, Vampires and Ghosts Tour. Our tour guide, Dr. Vitka, provided historical facts along with haunted tales associated with particular landmarks. Additionally, he is also a paranormal investigator and shared his personal encounters with those haunted locations. Among the many places Dr. Vitka guided us to included the house that inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s story, The Thing on the Doorstep, and the exterior location filmed for the high school scene in the movie Hocus Pocus.
The following morning, it was time to say farewell to Salem and hello to Portland. I boarded a train and made the two-hour trip up the coast to Maine.
Portland, Maine: The Stay
For the second half of my solo-trip, the criteria for an Airbnb remained the same. However, my Portland, Maine Airbnb experience far exceeded my expectations. Sarah’s charming studio in a restored Victorian building in the East End peninsula neighborhood, Munjoy Hill, is the best Airbnb experience I’ve ever had. This host-with-the-most put so much thought into every inch of the suite: fresh plants from the garden; local gourmet coffee; a mini-fridge stocked full of waters, snacks, fruit and local beer and sodas; freshly baked goods from the Rosemont Market and Bakery; and even had an aromatherapy diffuser timed perfectly for my arrival to greet me with a soothing embrace.
The location was perfectly walkable to mostly everything that Portland had to offer for my two-day stay, and the best part was having the Eastern Promenade waters just a few short blocks away. After rolling into Portland around 3pm, I unloaded my luggage at the Airbnb and headed straight for the water to take in the breathtaking views and the oceanic air.
Portland, Maine: The Play
My Salem trip was a busy one, so it was my intention for Portland to provide rest and relaxation—which it absolutely delivered on. I walked the few short blocks from my Airbnb to the Eastern Promenade, a 68-acre haven on the NE slope of Munjoy Hill. I slipped off my sandals and sunk my feet into and parked my derriere onto the lush green grass as I took in my surroundings. It was a total Norman Rockwell moment for me: gorgeous views of Casco Bay; dogs frolicking in-and-out the water; couples in deep conversation on picnic blankets; and children at play rolling down the grassy hills. I thought to myself, this is the way life should be, which happens to be the state slogan of Maine.
After a meditative hour or so on the Prom, I walked back towards the Airbnb to Congress Street that took me straight into downtown. I walked the cobblestone streets, explored several of the boutiques in the area, and talked to a handful of friendly locals. I picked up dinner to-go and was pretty exhausted, so grabbed an Uber back up the hill to my Airbnb where I had a cozy night in.
From the Eastern Promenade, there is a harbor-side walking path that takes you right into Old Port and downtown Portland. So, after a good night’s rest, I strolled the two-mile trail to explore the idyllic district of Old Port. Along the way, I was in awe of all the picturesque homes.
I wandered along the fishing piers and ran into a friendly fisherman on the dock. There was such ease and kindness from the fisherman, and it reminded me of how this one time I was told by a psychic that one of my many past lives was spent as a kind-but-rough-around-the-edges fisherman at sea. It all felt familiar as the water is like a beacon forever signaling me home.
After lunch on the pier, I continued exploring the working waterfront and came across a segment of the Berlin Wall on Long Wharf. Along my scenic walk, I found plenty of eye-candy in the form of beautiful boats and historical brick buildings. I ended my evening at the Portland Lobster Company where patrons were sipping local brews to the sounds of a live blues band. Final Moments:
I had some time to kill before heading to the airport to catch my flight back home to the west coast, so I saved a visit to The Portland Observatory on this final morning. My Airbnb host let me stash my luggage for a few hours after checking out, and I walked a block to the observatory that was constructed in 1807, ordered by Captain Lemuel Moody. I climbed the stairs of the 86-foot tall maritime tower and was treated to a spectacular sweeping view of Portland. The Portland Observatory is the last remaining historic maritime signal tower in the U.S.
After a casual lunch and a last trip to the Prom to take in the water views once more—it was sadly time to call for an Uber that would put me on the start of my journey back home.
I’m grateful to all the gracious locals that took the time to share with me why their hometowns were so meaningful to them. Salem and Portland showed me a lot of love, and I in turn, have a lot of love for both cities.
About Tina Gunn:
From reviews and mythos, to personal accounts with the supernatural—I am a writer of horror, science fiction, and the strange and unusual. Please visit Scream All About It to consume some of my content, and connect with me on Instagram and Twitter.
Thank you, Tina, for this wonderful Trip Tour! I can't wait to meet when you make your way out here again. Fingers crossed for afternoon tea with the King himself.