grab a bite to eat in this haunted Salem hotspot
Salem, Massachusetts gained a notoriously dark reputation after the 1692 Witch Trials. Undoubtedly, the macabre history of this city is what appeals to most. What is unknown by many is that Salem has a very diverse history. This city is home to an interesting group of ghosts, and the spooky sailors that haunt Mercy Tavern are sure to send chills down your spine!
We cannot discuss the history of the restaurant In a Pig’s Eye - now known as Mercy Tavern - without first painting a picture of what Salem was like in the early 1800s. What took place during this time explains why pirate ghosts are roaming the city. Due to its proximity to the ocean, it is no surprise that the ghosts that currently haunt Mercy Tavern have strong maritime ties.
After the Witch Trial madness had ended, Salem shifted from being a puritan community to one that catered to the many vices of the merchants and seamen arriving on its shores. Salem was a port with numerous thriving wharves. This coastal area was active in commerce, shipbuilding, and other trade-related ventures. The hustle and bustle of the seaports laid the foundations for a booming economy in the city.
Soon, many establishments emerged, especially those geared towards the interests of the growing population of sailors in the area. What is now known as The Derby Street Historic District was once a mecca for prostitution, gambling, drinking, and other morally questionable deeds.
Seamen were known for seeking the company or women - especially prostitutes - after many disorienting months at sea. Working in ships was dangerous, not to mention, the environment was dirty and cramped. Therefore, once they would set foot on land, sailors would enjoy the no-strings-attached, on-demand intimacy that prostitution offered. Unsurprisingly, Mercy Tavern used to be one of the busiest brothels on Derby Street, frequented not only by sailors but by men from all walks of life.
In 1762, the Derby Wharf was created by Elias Hasket Derby Sr. and rapidly became the busiest wharf in Salem. Derby Sr. passed away in 1799, leaving his estate - and his massive fortune - to his son Elias Hasket Derby Jr.
Derby Jr. was accustomed to a life of luxury that he wanted to maintain after his father’s passing. He was a member of the Salem Maritime Society whose main objective was to obtain curiosities from the orient and other parts of the world. Derby realized that by smuggling valuable objects, he would be able to continue to fuel his inherited fortune.
Thus, he devised a plan. He decided he would “beautify” the park that is now known as the Salem Common Historic District, which was mainly a swamp at the time. To beautify the park, he would need to fill in the marsh with dirt and create trails for people to stroll through.
This beautification helped him hide the fact that he was digging tunnels around Salem since he would use the dirt from the digs to fill in the swampy Commons. Derby also needed an enormous amount of brick to build the tunnels. To hide his massive brick purchase, he ordered the construction of several brick houses around the area. The houses built had fireplaces in the basement that would serve as the entrance to the underground tunnels.
These tunnels connected different parts of Salem to the Derby Wharf. With the tunnels now in place, sailors could transport the goods they had acquired - or stolen - during their oriental voyages. The tunnels became a passageway for smuggling rare and valuable items such as gold, priceless artifacts, crown jewels and even objects that were believed to possess magical properties.
When Mercy Tavern was a brothel, it gained a negative reputation. Not because of the lustful affairs going on inside, but because many of the young men that would stop by would later disappear. Sadly, many of the men taken would never be seen again.
Sea captains would order their deckhand to kidnap the healthy, young men that visited Mercy Tavern. These men would then be forced into service aboard the ships. This was because ships would often lack a full crew.
Sailors at the time were malnourished and diseased. Food was scarce as a result of improper drainage, and rat infestations were common. So new crew members were always in demand. The seamen took advantage of the underground tunnels and used them to transport the shanghaied men to the Derby Wharf.
Mercy Tavern is said to be haunted by the sailors that once frequented the establishment. There have been alleged sightings of ghostly sailors that appear in the restaurant’s bar area. Disembodied voices are also often heard by the staff when the place is empty.
Mercy Tavern is located at a close walking distance from the waterfront, which is said to have the most paranormal activity in the area. Some believe they have witnessed ghostly pirates emerge from the water, walk to the shore and disappear shortly after.
Employees have also said they have heard voices coming from the underground tunnels. It is said that you can hear men shouting and fighting beneath the ground. This is strange, of course, since many of the entrances to the tunnels have been blocked and some of the tunnels have been filled for safety reasons.
In recent years, people have accessed what remains of the tunnels to explore Salem below ground. In 2010, a retired professor and his partner ventured down the tunnels to see what they could find. The couple discovered an antique bank vault, an old grocery front, a mural, elevators and empty shafts where people used to live. The voices that the Mercy Tavern staff heard likely belonged to the spirits of the people that once lived underground.
If you are looking for a good time in Salem, stop by Mercy Tavern to enjoy delicious food and drinks in the company of the sea-loving spirits that still call this place home! Mercy Tavern is located on 148 Derby Street and is open seven days a week.