Sunday, November 4, 2007

Salem's Halloween and the "character of the city"


[Still, opening of Salem Now]

As we just finished surviving Halloween 2007, I'm going to bring up an editorial from the Salem Gazette that ran a few weeks ago, The thin line between love and hate: Salem's Halloween tradition. It poses the usual debate: Is it exploitative and commercial to celebrate Halloween in Salem? Does it dishonor the memories of those put to death in the Witch Trials?

This question is really a proxy for a bigger tension that is almost never discussed: Is Salem a museum city, unchanged by time, or is it a living city? Is it a city of historic properties and property values, or a city that serves the present?

On the side of the museum city are the neighborhood associations, the Salem Common Neighborhood Association and the Federal Street Neighborhood Association. These two groups are the defacto rulers of Ward 2 and influential to the city as a whole.

They hate the festivities. One person, following last year's celebration, wrote a letter to the Salem News advocating banning Halloween parties and only allowing private parties with a permit!

The "Bewitched" statue in Town House Square is much hated by these people.

City government is on the opposite side, such as it is. Mayor Kim Driscoll campaigned on an anti-Haunted Happenings platform. Now that she's elected, her tune is changed.

What choice did she have? Past administrations let our factories turn to rust. Our commercial tax base has been eviscerated by condo conversions and Salem State College, who assimilated the old Sylvania site on Loring Ave. and is about to do the same with the Attwood and Morril plant across the street.

We let Parker Brothers go away, so we could let a developer build crapbox "luxury" apartments. The snobs in the neighborhood associations did nothing: It wasn't on their street. Regina Flynn, then Ward 2 councilor and chief snob in the city, did nothing. It wasn't on Washington Square.

So what choice did we have? We hate taxes and we hate commercial development. Salem would rather rest on its history and its property values.

A few years ago, I had to produce a new opening sequence for Salem Now, a show on SATV produced by my friend Leo Jodoin. I love the Bewitched statue. I wrote it into my opener as you see in the screenshot above.

I meant that to present a neon middle finger to everyone in the neighborhood associations that wring their hands over the "character" of the city.

I mean it. The history and the character of Salem are not property values! To turn a phrase from Mencken, the neighborhood associations are puritanical--they have the haunting fear that someone, somewhere in Salem, may be happy.

There are legitimate complaints against Haunted Happenings. People like myself who live downtown will never be completely at ease with the month's events. Others who have to navigate our roads in October feel the same.

But if Salem wants a more balanced city, we can't let the neighborhood associations rule by default. The development of Salem as a living city is more important than the property values of your McIntire colonial on Washington Square.

So I'm in favor of Halloween celebrations. We've had them for 20 years. Besides, more personally, I had a good time people-watching and enjoyed the fireworks Wednesday night.

UPDATE: I'm not usually a fan of the Salem News, but their editorial and I are in agreement for once. If you want quiet, live in Ipswich.

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