After I got divorced, I decided to go on my first solo vacation ever.
I planned a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, because I love things that are both spooky and historical.
I didn't know that the hotel I booked was also supposedly haunted.
The creepy sound jerked me awake in the middle of the night. Short and high-pitched, it was like a shriek heard from a distance. Seven years post-divorce, I was used to sleeping alone. But as the air in the room around me seemed to crackle with energy, I wondered how alone I truly was. It was my first time vacationing on my own and I was staying at the Salem Inn, a supposedly haunted hotel in Salem, Massachusetts.
I love scary things, but I didn't know what I was in for when I planned this trip
I'd spent the day satisfying my love of all things spooky and historical. The November leaves had just begun to wither and fall, which fit the Halloween-esque ambiance of the town. I had a packed itinerary, beginning with a tour of the Witch House, the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who presided over many of the Salem witch trials and would no doubt be horrified to hear the moniker assigned to his house.
Then I strolled among the crumbling headstones of the second-oldest graveyard in the United States. I lingered at the memorial to the victims executed for witchcraft, whose bodies were never found. As the sky darkened, I joined a ghost tour. "You want your ghost-tour guide to be a bit eccentric," the leader growled, before adjusting his necklace, which appeared to be made of human teeth.
He pointed out a bench in the Ropes Garden where visitors sometimes spotted mysterious orbs. He then led our group past the Howard Street Cemetery, where Salem residents once reported seeing the vengeful ghost of Giles Corey, a man accused of witchcraft executed in a particularly gruesome manner.
When I got back to the hotel, the day went in a whole new direction
After the tour, I went back to the hotel and helped myself to several glasses of complimentary sherry in the inn's entryway downstairs. Like a true millennial, I Googled how to light a match, and after a few tries, got a fire going in the narrow fireplace in my room. I took a bath in the jacuzzi-style tub before I climbed into the four-poster bed and dozed off.
Though it wouldn't have dissuaded me — after all, I love all things spooky — I hadn't known about the Salem Inn's haunted history before booking my room. I'd chosen to stay there because the antique wooden furniture and charming architecture made me feel as if I were slipping two centuries into the past.
But I'd later discover through blogs on Salem's history and reviews about the hotel that ghost sightings were frequently reported at the three buildings that comprised the Salem Inn. For example, room 17 is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a woman whose husband murdered her. Guests have reported slamming doors and a bar of soap moved in the bathroom.
It took me a few seconds to realize what was going on
The shriek cut through the night air again, louder this time. I froze as a long, narrow shape twisted in the air at the foot of the bed. And that's when I smelled something burning. As I got my bearings, I realized that the movement in the air wasn't a ghost. It was smoke, and the high-pitched intermittent shriek was the fire alarm.
Smoke wafted from the fire log I'd lit earlier. But because of the narrowness of the original fireplace, the smoke drifted into the room rather than up the chimney. The scariest thing in the room wasn't a ghost. It was me nearly poisoning myself with smoke inhalation.
Not wanting to wake the innkeeper at 2 a.m., I pulled the pin out of the nearby fire extinguisher. I eased down on the handle, but a giant plume of chemicals escaped, filling the room. The fire alarm blared.
If the room didn't look ghostly before, it did now.
Innkeepers were quick to come with help — and stories
Two innkeepers soon appeared with fans. They opened the window to drive some of the smoke out. Because I felt guilty and will make conversation anywhere, including at 2 a.m. in a smoky hotel room in my pajamas, I asked one of the innkeepers if she'd ever seen a ghost.
She hesitated. "Well..." she began, speaking with the type of Boston accent that hadn't touched an "r" in decades. She described an experience that made the hair on my arms stand up. She'd been working late with a coworker and knew they were alone in the building when they'd seen a man descending the stairs before quickly vanishing. After looking at some old pictures, she'd identified the man as the long-dead owner of the property.
Before hearing her firsthand account, I wasn't sure if I believed in ghosts, but it suddenly seemed plausible that our human energy could be trapped in time — that shadows of our former selves could return from the beyond. Perhaps 100 years from now, a guest at the Salem Inn will gasp at the specter of a 30-something woman in her pajamas wielding a fire extinguisher.
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