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Monday, October 25, 2010
The Shadow of Samhain: A Saturday in Salem
For the record, I take this Shadow of Samhain thing very seriously (so much so, in fact, that it looks to be spilling over right into November...), and therefore, it became clear that before the series had reached its conclusion, I would have to pay my very first visit to one of the epicenters of the occult, one of the places most dear to the history of pagan traditions--Salem, Massachusetts. So last weekend, I packed up the fam-- three generations of Solomons strong--and made that trek up the Mass Turnpike to the place where, in 1692, one of the worst atrocities in American history took place.
In the end, I learned a great deal about the true history of witchcraft, about the realities of the actual witch trials, and perhaps most decidedly of all, about the horrendous traffic conditions in Salem in October. To put it as simply as possible, people, my best advice to you is that, if you decide to visit there between now and Halloween, use a helicopter. Maybe one of the shopkeepers will let you land it on their roof, I don't know. All I know is, at the end of a six-hour drive--three of which consisted of looking for a place to park--I was about ready to be burned at at the stake (or, more properly, hanged, as my witch-expert blogger buddy Andre Dumas points out.)
However, it truly was a blast to experience, and I'm glad we took the trouble to head out there. There is a rich tradition that permeates that town, and an almost tangible sense of the supernatural that seems to lurk around every corner. Supposedly, the town rests on some ancient crater that focuses occult energies--it sounds like something out of Ghostbusters to me, but hey, I'd certainly like to believe it's true.
Right off the bat, one of the attractions that caught little Zombelina's interest was the mysterious House of the Seven Gables, made famous in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel. To satisfy my daughter's curiosity, we headed over there forthwith, only to discover that it was completely sold out for the day (how does a historic landmark "sell out", anyway?) Nevertheless, I managed to sneak the little one past the ticket line and on to the grounds of the house for a bit, even if we couldn't go in. We were able to find the birthplace of Hawthorne, which did give the English major in me a shiver of glee.
From there, we discovered a most unique and interesting place. It was the World of Witches Museum, on Wharf Street. Whereas most of the museum-like attractions in the town are preoccupied with the actual Witch Trials of 1692, this place seemed to be the only one providing a genuine overview of and appreciation for the entire history of witches and witchcraft, from a Wiccan point of view. Highly recommended for anyone interested in learning more about the actual Wiccan community of Salem, beyond all the tourist-trapism. At one point, they encouraged my kids to pick out gemstones from a pile, as a way of divining something about their personality--whereupon we learned that my son, Wee-Sol, is destined to basically rule the world at some point. So there's that.
Pirate ships, eclectic shops and spooky old graveyards were the order of the day, until the evening came, and it was time for the trolley tour. Thanks to this tour, I was able to learn that apparently Salem is haunted by about 67,492 ghosts. In fact, if I had to estimate, I'd day it's more than likely that there are more spirits residing in the town than living people. If our tour guide is to be believed, that is. Let's see, there's the famous Joshua Ward House, haunted by one-time Salem High Sheriff George Corwin; the jewel thief and the woman in white who haunt Baker's Island; and of course, the restaurant Rockafella's, a former church believed to have so much supernatural activity, it's a wonder there's any room for the patrons.
Are these stories true, or based on any semblance of truth? Honestly--and this is something I picked up in the wild and woolly world of rasslin', where tall tales are the order of the day--I don't really care. I'm more interested in the pleasure of hearing the tale than in discerning its veracity. I want them to be true--and that is good enough for me.
Following our tour and a quick bite to eat, it was time to depart the fair town of Salem and head for home (yes, it was a mere day trip--what can I say? We're a family of masochists.) The long, thankfully traffic-free ride home was filled with ruminations of witchery and things that go bump in the night. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to finally see the Halloween capital of America. Perhaps an annual visit will be in order from here on in...