America's Bewitching City
by Jan McDaniel
At first glance, it's a typical picturesque New England Seaport
- colonial houses squeezed side-by-side with front steps
touching the sidewalk, historic brick buildings, shops lining
the wharf. But after three centuries, its supernatural legacy
continues. Think Salem, Mass. and you still think witches.
An unfortunate episode in American history, the mass hysteria
and ensuing witch trials ended back in 1692, after many of the
accused lost their lives. Today Salem is known as America's
Bewitching City. Attractions devoted to witches, ghosts,
werewolves and pirates enchant tourists while local shops offer
Tarot and palm readings. Even the neighborhood ice cream shop is
called the "Dairy Witch."
On our way home from Maine on an overcast September afternoon,
my husband and I explored downtown Salem in search of The Witch
We started off in the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, a shady
red-bricked plaza sandwiched between rows of shops. The
inventory of the corner bookstore spills onto tables out front,
and trolleys occasionally pass by. Young women hand out coupons
and ads for nearby shops. A stranger perched on one of the
wrought iron benches volunteers to take our photo. A collared
kitty ignores passersby as it stalks a bird in the terrace
garden of the Peabody Essex Museum.
Beyond the mall, on Washington Square, we reach the expansive
green and bandshell of Salem Common. From mid-intersection, a
statue of Roger Conant, Salem's first settler in 1626, stands
vigil. Across the street to his left sits The Witch Museum, a
stone 19th century Romanesque-style building easily mistaken for
a haunted castle. Ironically enough, it was originally a church.
We enter the museum's already-packed lobby just in time to catch
the next presentation. As the guide prepares to lead us into the
darkened auditorium, she glances through the open doorway and
notes it's suddenly pouring rain outside.
But nothing scary happens. As a spotlight shifts to scenes
depicted by wax figures, a half-hour recorded presentation
describes the events surrounding the witch craze.
Outside the rain has stopped. As we walk back I strike a pose by
sticking my face through a cutout wooden witch's, while my
husband tries out the pillory. I buy a tee-shirt that says
"I'll Get You My Pretty. . .And Your Little Dog Too.
Halloween in Salem".
Not surprisingly, Salem's Halloween is a nearly month-long
event. The Halloween Festival with costume balls, parades,
psychic fairs and witch trial reenactments runs from early
October through November 1. For an early start on the holiday, a
Halloween Convention is set for August.
Other local attractions include: The Witch House, a 17th century
structure once occupied by Judge Jonathan Corwin who presided
over pretrial hearings of accused witches and condemned 20 to
death; The Museum of Myths and Monsters, a high-tech theatrical
encounter with vampires, ghosts and werewolves; Salem Wax Museum
of Witches and Seafarers; The New England Pirate Museum; and The
House of Seven Gables, the mansion believed to have inspired
Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name.
A city of many charms, Salem would be fun even without the
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