Aug. 16th, 2004

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I Am Afraid )


Salem, Massachusetts )


As far as witches are concerned, Salem is an astonishing mix of emotional history and extreme kitsch. The most hyped Wiccan store in town, Crow Haven Corner, isn't particularly better stocked than The Walnut Tree back home and is considerably less impressive than The Psychic Eye in Los Angeles. The Salem Witch Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum and Salem Witch Village, while earnest in their attempts to educate about the history, practices, hysteria and modern manifestations of witchcraft, are rather sensationalistic. I suppose they're aimed at people who know absolutely nothing about either the history of the region or about Wicca, but they seemed rather naive to me. (We didn't go to the wax museum but the pairing of the witch trials and "the exploits of bold seafarers" did not sound promising.)

On the other hand, the memorials and more significantly the number of residents and tourists walking around wearing pentacles and talking about Wicca at lunch and in maritime museums made me feel good; in general I've only met avowed Wiccans before in metaphysical stores or online, and while I've not encountered anti-pagan prejudice in my own neighborhood I suspect it's because of an incorrect assumption that there aren't any, because that prejudice certainly exists in much of the country. The New England Pirate Museum is set up much like the witch recreations and somehow (especially after Pirates of the Caribbean, both the ride and the movie) it seems more appropriate to see colorful dioramas of pirates. While there are a handful of artifacts from ships that sank locally, most of the fun of this tour is hearing the tour guide describe the exploits and captures of local pirates and to walk through the replica ship and "pirate cave" with fake bats and skeletons. The kids enjoyed it a lot.

For me, unsurprisingly perhaps, the highlights of Salem were literary and seafaring -- the Hawthorne houses and the wharf. Though the Friendship, the only three-masted ship permanently docking in Salem, had sailed a few days ago to the Cape, we saw the Fame, a replica of a War of 1812 privateer partially owned by Hawthorne's family. We also shopped in the National Park Service's West India Goods Store, where my younger son bought a bosun's whistle which we spent the afternoon rethinking as it was blown in our ears. I suppose I'll have to see the terrible Demi Moore film of The Scarlet Letter sometime...partly to see if it's as bad as everyone says it is, and partly to see Gary Oldman.

This is my fannish geek day -- we are seeing the Lord of the Rings exhibit in the morning and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the IMAX in the afternoon. The theater is in the aquarium, so we are going to see that too, as well as the science museum. I shall attempt to keep the squee under control!

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