The Spirit of Salem: The Hawthorne Hotel

by Wes Newbury

“The place isn’t haunted,” insists Juli Lederhaus, general manager of Salem’s Hawthorne Hotel. “There’s no documentation. People tell us they feel things, whatever, but we don’t have any documentation.”  Juli doesn’t wish to market her hotel as haunted, but despite her protests, some people refuse to believe the hotel does not host the supernatural.

“The Internet made it even harder to struggle against bad stories,” Lederhaus said. “It’s sort of like the placebo effect. If someone wants to believe something what can I do?”  Travelocity has ranked the Hawthorne Hotel as the fourth most haunted hotel in the United States. Google searches return dozens of guest and employee accounts of ghostly encounters in the building. Despite Lederhaus’ assertions,  hundreds of tourists stream into the stately lodgings ready to embark on a supernatural safari.

The Hawthorne Hotel is an impressive red brick fortress reticulated by boxy windows that overlooks Old Town Salem. Like most historical sights in Salem, eerie tales of spiritual encounters have hijacked the story of the Hawthorne Hotel. Juli Lederhaus’ challenge has been debunking the myths and revealing a history that truly epitomizes the spirit of Salem.

The hotel stands on land that was once the meetinghouse of the Salem Maritime Society. The Society had held meetings on the grounds for over one hundred and fifty years before the Hawthorne opened its doors. In an act of great compromise, the SMS agreed, with handshake, that the hotel could be built in their space so long as it provided a small cabin on the roof for the SMS to continue meeting.

The hotel was built in 1925 and named after one of Salem’s most memorable citizens. The immense structure was erected entirely on the funds it raised from selling its stock to locals. Today, it stands as a monument to Salem’s civic pride and cooperation. The people of Salem collaborated to fund the hotel’s construction because they were proud of their booming port city and wanted to accommodate those who wished to share their admiration.

The Hawthorne was Salem’s first hotel, and for many years its only hotel. Today, a small wooden cabin sits perched on top of its roof, looking like the remains of an old boat. The cabin still functions as both a museum and meeting place for current SMS members. Inside, where the rustic pine walls are adorned with portraits of the most honorable American mariners, one portrait stands out from the rest.

Its frame is upside down and backwards, exposing only its brown paper backing. The portrait is of a man named Mathew Fontaine Maury, a famous mariner and oceanographer from Virginia. Maury was revered by the SMS until he dedicated his services to the Confederate army during the Civil War. Maury invented a torpedo that destroyed more Union boats than any other weapon. Preferring not to look at his face, the SMS has turned the portrait to face the wall it hangs from in utter disgrace. Maury is in time-out and the Society has recently voted to keep him that way despite protests from their southern counterparts.

The Hawthorne Hotel embodies the traditions that built Salem. Unfortunately, the cabin of the SMS is not generally available to the public, but Juli has been known on occasion to permit tours for those who express interest. Spirits of the dead may haunt Salem’s history, but the spirit of the city is manifested in the Hawthorne Hotel.

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