October 11, 2008

Salem - Three Flavors of Witch, One Low Train Fare



Last weekend Tony and I met our friend Lori in Salem for a day of witchy wackiness. We try to go every October, when the city really crackles (or cackles?) with touristy Halloween energy.

Although Salem has artistic and historic attractions like the Peabody Essex Museum and the House of Seven Gables, if it weren't for the tragic 17th century witch trials Salem would just be another cute seaside Massachusetts town. Witches are essential to the city's identity as a tourist attraction. When you visit Salem, you get witches in three flavors: historic, folkloric, and Wiccan. All this in one location!

The historic witchcraft trials of the 1690's are what put Salem on the map. The Puritans who settled in Massachusetts brought their witchcraft beliefs with them from England, and the Salem trials (which lead to the deaths of 19 people) are the most famous witchcraft trials in the New World. Although most of the accused witches lived in Salem Village (now the modern town of Danvers), the trials were held in Salem proper. My favorite historic witch tourist attraction is the Witch Museum. I first went there as a child, and was terrified by the light-up dioramas depicting superstitious villagers and their victims. The museum also has a great gift shop selling reprints of historical trial documents.



When we visited Salem this past weekend we didn't go for the history. We went mostly for the folkloric, Halloweeny stuff. The Halloween image of the witch with pointy hat and broomstick shares almost nothing with the historic Salem witches except the name, but you can't build a thriving tourist destination solely around a grim historic incident. Salem, which is probably the Halloween capital of the United States, has enough haunted houses, costume shops and pointy hats to please the spooky child in everyone. Tony still laughs about the time I was terrified in a Salem haunted house (Capt. Scurvy's Cavern of Terror, I believe) by someone in a Creature from the Black Lagoon mask. This year, to preserve our cardiac health, we went instead to Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery, which is a wax museum of horror films. Highpoints for me included the Carrie mannequin, and winning the Name That Zombie quiz.


We also stopped by some of the Wiccan and Pagan shops in town. We bought some obscure essential oils at Artemisia Botanicals, checked out the giant goat statue in Nu Aeon, and ended the day at Hex, where I bought some shedded wolf hair, which the store buys from from Wolf Hollow sanctuary in Ipswich. Don't let Sarah Palin go near there! Hex is well designed inside, gives you a great shopping bag with your purchase, and is staffed by friendly Goths, including some extra bosomy ones. I think Hex has upped the ante for the other shops in town.

We ended the day with drinks at Rockafellas. Lori and Tony ordered the flight of organic wines, which came in wrought iron stands so elaborate other tourists took photos of them! I ordered a drink called the Salem Witch - booze, mango, and pineapple. I'm not sure what this has to with witchcraft of any kind, but it went down easy.

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