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Betwitched, but not bothered or bewildered

Living in Salem can be a little strange sometimes. With a population of around 40,000, it's somewhere between a large town and a small city. As such, it has it's share of town politics and city economic concerns. First settled in 1626, Salem has a long rich history, full of maritime exploits, great wealth, piracy, and other coastal New England charms. Oh... and did I mention witch persecution? That's where the weirdness begins.

Salem is undoubtedly most famous for the Witch Trials of 1692, when the town was caught up in the grips of a mass hysteria that resulted in the death of 24 people. Nineteen were hanged, one was crushed by stones, and 4 more died in prison. All for the crime of... witchcraft. It's a fascinating story, but too involved for me to get into details in a blog entry. I encourage you to research it though... it's interesting stuff. For the purposes of this entry, it's really only important for you to know that none of the people executed in Salem over 300 years ago were actually witches. None of them.

Flash forward to the 20th Century... Salem, MA embraces the Witch. I'm not enough of a town historian to know exactly when it happened, but I've heard it was some time in the 70's. Salem somehow became a center for modern practitioners of witchcraft and/or Wiccans (not necessarily the same thing, I'm told). They brought with them a booming tourism industry, in the form of witchcraft supply stores, wax museums, haunted houses, historical reenactments, and spooky walking tours. Not everyone is happy about this aspect of Salem's public face, but no one can deny that it's become a huge and positive part of the town's economy. During the month of October, hundreds of thousands of people bring their tourist dollars to our town to get the spooky Salem Halloween experience. Sure, it's a pain in the ass if you need to drive or park in town during those 30 days. Hard to get into restaurants, hard to do errands, etc. Lets face it, the Witch Thing is what sets Salem apart from every other Coastal New England town. Thanks to the power plant, our waterfront doesn't have the greatest view. We have great restaurants, but so does nearly every other coastal New England town. Don't get me wrong, I love Salem. There is nowhere in New England I'd rather live, but if I was a tourist and there weren't witch attractions, I'd probably just keep driving.

Flash forward to June 15, 2005... the official unveiling of the Bewitched Statue on the corner of Essex and Washington in Salem, MA, Witch City USA. The TV Land cable network has donated this 8 foot tall bronze statue of Samatha Stevens, the television sitcom witch played by Elizabeth Montgomery. Local reaction has been... mixed. Some people feel that the nose-twitching witch is an "inaccurate representation" of modern witchcraft, and an insult to their religious beliefs. Others feel it trivializes a great tragedy in Salem's past... Many people (myself included) think it's really just a funny piece of pop art that will probably make me smile when I walk past it on the way to work every morning. It has nothing to do with history, or a current religious reality... it's a freakin' sitcom from the 60s! The show wasn't even set in Salem, thought Samantha visited the town for a couple of episodes.
The months leading up to this grand statuary unveiling have been really entertaining for a cultural observer and discussion board lurker like myself. The chatter on Salemweb has been hilarious. Both sides of the argument got really wound up at times. At one planning meeting, an objector actually had a heart attack after debating the issue. Some of the Salem Witches have talked about protest, while others have planned a "Salem Witches Welcome Samantha" event. I think the later has the right idea... it's fun, it's funny, and it's the perfect opportunity to promote Salem and it's witchy fun on a National level. I'll try to nab some pictures tomorrow and post them.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 15, 2005 1:38 PM.

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