Sunday 5 October 2014

Salem: less hocus pocus, more just hokum

On a warm, sunny autumn morning in Boston, there are lots of appealing things to do, but our choice today was to take the hour-long ferry ride up the coast to Salem. It was a lovely trip, out of the harbour and through the islands, past wooden mansions along the coast and the Marblehead marina to another town fixated, like Gettysburg, on one date: this time, 1692.

There’s a very good presentation about the Witch Trials at the Witch Museum: the initial show is a little dated in its technology, or lack of it, but it’s really none the worse for that; and the walk-through afterwards with Peter was excellent. He was a real performer and, we discovered afterwards, a witch himself, which added depth to his explanation of the how and the why.
We met another witch later, Leanne, a bubbly lady who was once a stockbroker but who had seen the light (or the dark) and is now also a psychic and a medium whose main mission in life is to reassure people that death is not the end. Whatever. I was very interested in the whole hysteria phenomenon, and the real skills and knowledge of the women called witches, but beyond that, pft.

So it wasn’t really surprising that the evening ghost tour around the streets with Giovanni was a disappointment. Ghosts don’t exist, but ghost tours can still be entertaining, and I enjoyed the one I did in Edinburgh a few years ago. Giovanni though wasn’t up to Peter’s standard, performance-wise, and it was all a bit dull and silly in my opinion – and also kind of dismaying that the other people on the tour seemed to be lapping it up.
But I did enjoy Salem. It’s really pretty, the architecture is lovely and authentic, there’s proper history there (maritime as well as witchy) and in early October it’s working up to a fine buzz with Halloween-focused visitors, a street fair selling cloaks, wands and ‘fried dough’, and lots of buskers. Within one block there were four witches, Frankenstein’s monster, Nosferatu and Capt. Jack Sparrow, all immersed in their roles. Fun.

And if you’re not bothered with all that stuff, there’s an excellent art gallery, modern, airy and light, and full of interesting works that have nothing to do with witches. Including, I must point out, a portrait of local boy Nathaniel Hawthorne that, had I been aware of it back when I was studying American Lit, would have made me pay considerably more attention to The Scarlet Letter.

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