27 October 2010
The "40 Before 40 List:" Salem, Massachusetts at Halloween
Many years ago, on the cusp of our 30th birthdays, my posse and I put our heads together and created a list; a list that would shape our attitude toward our next decade. It was called "The 40 Before 40 List" and contained 40 items for each of us to experience/accomplish/enjoy before our 40th birthdays. Examples include 1) run a marathon 2) get published 3) stop wearing nursing bras 4) get arrested (that was me. People like me only get arrested when they are standing up for something they believe in...........or if they're having a really good time. It seemed like a good thing to include).
Another one of my list items was 33) visit Salem, Massachusetts during Halloween. And now that I'm a New Englander, I can visit Salem easily in a DAYTRIP (hooray for the daytrip!). My friend Colleen, a member of my posse, came along as my co-pilot. Which turned out to be quite necessary even though we used a GPS device. Or maybe BECAUSE we used a GPS device. That's a post for another day: "GPS: Friend or Enemy?"
We arrived in Salem on a cold, windy day in October (spooky!). The town welcomed us with an imposing witch statue perched over the main thoroughfare surrounded by a gaggle of tourists, cameras pointed upward trying to capture the spookiest shot. So we fight for a parking spot and scramble over to the witch statue so we, too, can get our witch photo. I read the plaque at the foot of the witch and........wait a minute! This isn't even a witch! And I'll bet you dollars to donuts that none of these people snapping photos has any idea! Doesn't anybody read anymore? It's actually a statue of just a plain guy who was active in the founding of the town. He signed off "on the building contract for enlarging the meeting house in Town square for the First Church in Salem........He was active in the affairs of the town throughout his life."
Seriously? Then why the pointy hat? And the billowy cloak? And that thing that looks like a broom handle? Is this a game of trick-the-tourist?
But I take a picture anyway (cause it's witchy!) and then we proceed to the Salem Witch Trial Museum. Which is, incidentally, one of the "1000 Great Places to See in the State of Massachusetts!" And I want to say, you know that Massachusetts is a really small state, right? Not a normal-sized state like an Ohio or an Arizona or maybe a Dakota or something? So I want to know what they count as a "great place to see" because I don't think you could fit 1000 anything in a state this size unless it's like 1000 blades of grass.
This is a New England phenomenon, the ranking and the "best"-ing; there are so many places that have a sign saying "Best (something) in all of (someplace really small)!" If you have the best lobster roll in all of New Hampshire, you're really selling yourself pretty short because I can drive up and down the New Hampshire coastline 4 times in an hour. The whole state is like the size of Hennepin County. It's the equivalent of saying "Best Tomato Soup on all of France Avenue!" The pool just isn't that big. It's all the more funny when you come from Minnesota, where we get hives when we call attention to ourselves. If you won "The Best Place to Eat, Drink, Dance, and Breathe in all of the Solar System," you could never bring yourself to put up a sign. But if they made you, it would say "Yah, on a good day we do pretty good for ourselves."
So Colleen and I buy our tickets to one of the "1000 great places to see in a very small state." We've heard a rumor that you can get in for free if one of your ancestors was tried and hanged as a witch. What a nice perk! But I have no early American roots and, sadly, all of Colleen's early American ancestors died of natural causes. Rats!!
The museum consists of a spooky audiovisual presentation using cutting-edge technology in still-life dioramas and wax mannequins. It's like visiting Disneyland's Hall of Presidents in 1971.......on a day when the animatronics are broken. That being said, a wax dummy with a noose around his neck is still pretty scary. Especially when you add creepy lighting and a booming Vincent Price voice over. So when I see small children in the room, I'm thinking about the nightmares they'll have later that night. Maybe featuring the wax mannequin in diorama #4 who was crushed between two boards piled high with rocks until his lungs collapsed and blood spurted out the broken seams of his body. I think that's scary. Especially if you're 4. If a child is young enough to ask his mommy for a pacifier during the presentation, he might be too young for images of men being crushed to death. No passies at the witch museum.
The next part of the museum is a guided tour through some more dioramas (a sale at the diorama store?) that explain the history of witches in America. Our guide is like a bored Sunday school teacher who's just phoning it in. Her demeanor is magnified even more by the presence of a big fake spider sitting on top of her grandma hair. She tells the class of high school students in our group that some people are actually interested in this information so she hopes they'll be respectful of them by being quiet. And maybe they'll learn something. (the high school kids look at each other like "what did we do?").
But I do learn something. I learn that tragedies like the Salem Witch Trials need 3 things to occur: a fear, a trigger, and a scapegoat. She uses the witch trials to explain the growing prejudice surrounding the Muslim population: Americans are taught to fear terrorism, the 9/11 attacks occur, now we use the entire Muslim population as our scapegoat. I see her vaguely roll her eyes like "Stupid Americans. If only you were as schooled in hysteria as I am."
I also learn that the cast of Bewitched visited the town in 1970..........and they're still talking about it. There were no fewer than 3 books on the visit of Samantha and Darren (which Darren, I wonder?) and Tabitha and Endorra. I don't think Mr. Tate could make it; he had a meeting with a really important client back at the office. And Mrs. Cravitz wasn't invited. One of the books included 3D glasses! And there's a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery (aka Samantha Stephens) right in the middle of town. This must the "real" witch statue. And I can mock all I want, but the truth is that Colleen and I endangered ourselves and others - circling the block, breaking traffic laws, doing chinese firedrill-like maneuvers - just trying to get close enough to get a good photo of the Bewitched statue. So the joke's on me.
I like Salem at Halloween. I don't need to go to the broken animatronics museum again but it certainly piqued my interest in both the hysteria and history of witches and their rituals (I like to call them "witchuals").
As for the "40 Before 40 List," Martha and Colleen have both run marathons, Annie has recently landed an agent for her novel (and she's no longer wearing nursing bras), and I can now check the box marked "Visit Salem, Massachusetts during Halloween."
But I'm still waiting to get arrested.