Clarissa Johal: Thoughtful Thursday - Salem: A Town Cursed

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - Salem: A Town Cursed

Old Burying Point Cemetery
I've been holding off writing about my recent trip to Salem, Massachusetts because I have so many conflicting feelings. I was quite excited to have the opportunity to visit. Salem has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. I have to say, I was disappointed. As an author, I was looking forward to spending time in a town steeped in history. History triggers stories for me--especially of the paranormal genre. What I found was indeed, a town with a lot of history. What I also found, were people willing to exploit it.
It felt like I had stumbled into a carnival, and I was its mark.

When you think of Salem, most think of a the 1692 witch hysteria: hearings and prosecutions of those accused of witchcraft resulting in the executions of twenty people, most of them women. Oddly, any Wiccan worth their salt will tell you that Salem is on their bucket list of places to visit. It's almost become a mecca--a place where one can come out of the broom closet with no fear of persecution. So, what can you expect from that mecca? Clairvoyants and palmists "certified by the town of Salem" (whatever that means), T-shirts: "I got stoned in Salem!" (there's so many things wrong with that--where do I begin?), and shops that sell pre-made spells (here's a tip: intent is everything, and it has to be your intent, not someone else's). One shop even sold coyote claws. How unfortunate for the coyotes. I don't recall any Wiccan spell that requires animal body parts, perhaps we're entering voodoo territory. Maybe not even that. But shoot, it makes for a "witchy" souvenir to sell to the tourists, doesn't it? I will say there were some interesting shops that didn't leave a bad taste in my mouth. But they were few and far between--and mostly on the outskirts of downtown.

Onto the history. Or not. There's the Salem Witch Museum (complete with giftshop!), the Pirate Museum (with giftshop!), Wax Museum, Nightmare Gallery (giftshop! giftshop!). Are you seeing a pattern here? Admission prices were high and space/exhibits were low. If you're planning to visit, check out Yelp and read through the reviews. Some of the "museums" and attractions take all of 10 minutes to peruse and aren't worth the $10-20 a person. I was disheartened to see that the Old Burying Point Cemetery, which contain the remains of the original townsfolk of Salem, was in serious disrepair. Aside from the garbage scattered throughout, the gravestones were weathered and falling apart. It would take so little to keep the cemetery looking as if the town respected the original inhabitants they are making money off.  It's a shame they don't seem to care. Once I saw the state of this graveyard, I was pretty much done with Salem.

If these sound like harsh words, they are meant to be. Salem has some beautiful scenery and quaint homes. It's a town steeped in American history, good and bad. Our kids learn about the Colonial time period in school. They learn about the hysteria and mob mentality of Salem witch trials. They learn how Puritans merely had to accuse a fellow townsperson of witchcraft, and if it stuck, they could take their money and property. Ironic that the very event that made history, one centered around people exploiting one another for money, is what the town seems to struggle with today. Perhaps the town of Salem is cursed to repeat itself.

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