October 15, 2019

Bunhgole Liquors: Salem's Haunted Liquor Store

A few weeks ago we went up to Salem on a pre-Halloween excursion. We did a lot of our usual things. We drank cocktails made with pumpkin vodka. We visited witchcraft stores. We bought candy at Ye Olde Pepper Company. We visited a cheesy haunted house where we had to wear 3-D glasses.

You get the idea. We also took photos of Bunghole Liquors on Derby Street. It's a popular photo stop because it has a cool retro sign and "bunghole" sounds like a dirty word. Of course a bunhgole is actually the hole cut into a wooden cask so liquor can flow out, but the owners of Bunhole Liquors still play up the raunchy innuendo of the name. Their website has the motto "We're not #1 butt we're right up there," and you can buy t-shirts with slogans like "I Got It In the Bunghole."


Like many places in Salem, Bunghole Liquors is surrounded by some strange legends and weird history. According to their website the building on Derby Street was originally a funeral home where embalming was performed in the basement. During Prohibition the funeral home operated as a speakeasy. Guests would drink contraband alcohol in the basement surrounded by corpses and embalming equipment. It sounds creepy to me but I guess some people will do anything for a drink! The secret password to get in was "See you in the bunghole."

There are persistent rumors that a network of tunnels once ran between various buildings in Salem, and according to Sam Baltrusis's book Wicked Salem the bootlegging morticians smuggled in their illicit booze using a tunnel that ran from the basement of the funeral home down to the harbor. Is that true or just a rumor? I don't know but you can read more about Salem's tunnels in Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin's 2012 book Salem Secret Underground: The History of the Tunnels in the City.


After Prohibition the owner of funeral home gave up on embalming and went into the liquor business legally. In 1933 Bunghole Liquors became the second liquor store to open in Salem after Prohibition.  The tunnel (if it existed) was sealed up and the embalming equipment was sealed in the walls behind plaster. So let that sink in for a minute. Bunghole Liquors used to be a funeral home. Corpses were embalmed in the basement. The equipment was just shoved into the walls and hidden away. And there may have been a secret tunnel.

That sounds like the setup for a horror film to me, and unsurprisingly some staff at Bunghole Liquors have reported some strange things when working late. According to Baltrusis's Wicked Salem workers at the Bunghole tend to avoid the basement, a location where security cameras have recorded unexplained lights. Several have reported seeing a woman disappear after walking into the store. Perhaps strangest of all are the accounts of an unseen phantom cat that rubs against the legs of people working there. 

It's all kind of spooky, but what do you expect from a store that sells wine, beer and spirits? Get it? Spirits? I know, a bad pun. 

5 comments:

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Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post Peter, I always love leafing more about Salem. My wife and I love to visit which we do after an early morning excursion to Todd Farm. We breakfast at Red's working up an appetite from our flea market fun. Last year we finally did the bus tour and saw lots more of the the city.

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