If you’re familiar with the dark history of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, then you’re sure to know Salem, Massachusetts. Twenty people were accused of witchcraft and hung by “The Witch Hanging Judge”, Judge John Hathorne. This story isn’t about the Judge. It is about one of his descendants, classical writer Nathaniel Hawthorne who was inspiration for this modern hotel– the Hawthorne Hotel. It’s also a story about how a city embraced its dark past and looked toward the future.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne’s father, Nathaniel Hathorne, Senior, died just four years later of yellow fever in Suriname. Maternal relatives, the Mannings, looked after the young author, his mother and his two sisters. At the insistence and with the financial support of his Uncle Robert, Nathaniel was sent to Bowdoin College in 1821. Despite an affinity for gambling and drinking, Hawthorne’s habits managed to evade detection, and he was able to avoid expulsion and graduate from Bowdoin in 1825. At some point between his graduation and 1827, the author added the letter “w” to his surname, changing it from “Hathorne” to “Hawthorne”. Some speculate this change was made to further distance himself from his great-great grandfather the “Witch Hanging Judge”. Though he moved around New England a lot, meeting many other famous authors, he would occasionally find himself returning to Salem to visit family.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is noted for his classical literature. Two of his most famous novels are The Scarlett Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. His connections to the town of Salem were not few and far between, so when, years later, it was decided Salem needed a hotel, who better to name it after than one of Salem’s own– famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne!
When the need for a “modern Hotel for Salem” became evident, the town of Salem rallied together. In one week in July 1923, two hundred thirty volunteers sold more than half a million dollars worth of stock for the proposed hotel. It was to be built on the location of the then existing Salem Marine Society, which has been having meetings in this location since 1830. The society made a deal with Salem to use this location for the new hotel if the town would allow them to continue having their meetings in a special rooftop room in the new hotel. Built entirely from the funds earned by selling stock, the Hawthorne Hotel celebrated its grand opening on July 23, 1925. Hawthorne’s granddaughter, Hildegarde, was at the hotel that evening.
Since opening, the hotel has become famous for its history, weddings and a two-episode television appearance on Bewitched. Due to its central location downtown, it has become well-known as a hub for travelers who have come to catch a glimpse of Salem’s rich history.
On September 23, 2005 I had the privilege of staying the night in this hotel with two college roommates. The three of us had flown to Massachusetts for a fourth roommate’s wedding. We spent the week following the wedding traveling around New England and ended up staying at the Hawthorne Hotel on a whim for $207 for one night! (A lot of money for someone in their mid-twenties.)
The hotel originally boasted 150 rooms, each with a centrally located bathroom between every two rooms, as was customary in the early 1900’s. The hotel now has 89 rooms, several of them having been combined to accommodate the need for modern guests to have private lavatories.
Unfortunately, I cannot recall which room my roommates and I had stayed– I think it was somewhere on the third or fourth floor, but I’m not certain. I do remember our room had a view of the park on the other side of Washington Square, but it was still close to State Highway 1A. We also didn’t spend a lot of time at the hotel, arriving fairly late in the evening and leaving moderately early in the morning so we could see some of Salem’s sites that we’d missed days earlier. I do remember the feeling as I entered the hotel that night– I was bubbling with excitement at the lavishness of the hotel. The trio of us giddily rode the elevator up to our floor. The hallways were dimly lit, but the creme and white wallpaper sparkled with a design of stripes and decorative flourishes. The rooms were extravagantly decorated with armchairs, tables, paintings and closets. The television was ensconced in an ornate wooden armoire. Did I mention the closets? We explored our room and discovered it had FOUR! The beds were giant and quite cozy. The bath was very rustic feeling. Overall, it was a very whimsical stay for us… and, even though it had that “old hotel” (creepy) feeling, we experienced nothing out of the ordinary.
That’s not to say the Hawthorne Hotel isn’t haunted, rather it’s rumored to be haunted for the place has stories of several mysterious phenomenon having happened to staff and guests alike.
In a room referred to as “The Library” or the “Lower Deck”, which is where the Hotel staff set up tables for weddings and other events. One staff member, having set up the room for an event, returned to the location only to discover the room had been “rearranged”– tables and chairs had been stacked and moved about. The employee refused to work night shifts after this experience.
Room 325 and Suite 612 have had some strange reports of hearing someone in an adjoining room come into their bathroom, turn on the water, turn the lights off and on and wander about. No one was ever seen and, when the guests complained of the disturbances, they were informed that the adjoining room was locked from the hallway and no one could have gotten inside the room. Guests of these rooms have also complained of objects moving about the room such as keys, which were placed on the nightstand having been moved to somewhere else in the room.
Room 628 has had similar reports of objects being moved. Some guests have claimed to have had someone sit on the end of their bed or they awoke because they thought they were being touched.
The hallway outside of Room 612 boasts of having had reports of a woman’s apparition haunting the hallways.
The whole sixth floor is reputedly haunted– some say captains from the Salem Marine Society are causing mischief in the afterlife. There is rumor that these sailors also toy with the nautical themed ships wheel in the restaurant “Nathaniel’s”, formerly “The Main Brace”. Several people have claimed to have seen the ship’s wheel turn on its own. Some of those who have seen it have stopped the wheel only to see it continue turning after walking away.
While there is no physical evidence that’s been recorded to substantiate the presence of ghosts at the Hawthorne Hotel, there are several guest reports that suggest otherwise and staff members seem to agree.
I’ve found a delightful video of the Hawthorne Hotel which interviews General Manager Juli Lederhouse, who enjoys telling the history of the hotel as well as some of its stories of hauntings:
While the Hawthorne Hotel is known more for its history than its hauntings, it’s a fun place to stay if you’re already planning a trip to Salem.
Official Hotel Website:
The official blog of the Hawthorne Hotel:
In October 2010, we did a Cemetery Series in which the brief history of the Salem Witch Trails of 1692 is covered. You can read that here: Cemetery Series: Burying Point
Also, Author Nathaniel Hawthorne is buried on Author’s Ridge in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA. There are photos from another article in the Cemetery Series article written by another Witching Hour author. You can read about the cemetery here: Cemetery Series: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – Concord, MA
Related Stories at Witching Hour: (Updated 5-12-2011)
* Cemetery Series: Burying Point
* Cemetery Series: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – Concord, MA
* In The Name of God I Condemn Thee To Death: The Salem Witch Trials