A few weeks ago, I had a nice chat with April Rueber, a country-crossing PR lady who visited Salem for Halloween.
Being in Salem for Halloween is something I always wanted to experience. It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime festivals you need to see before you die similar to throwing beads for Mardi Gras in New Orleans and throwing back steins for Oktoberfest in Germany. This is as close as I have got to Germany. (Fun Fact: Going to Mardi Gras with some girlfriends next year; need to start planning!)
But there were some other things she didn’t like:
Sadly, Salem was more touristy than I imagined. I thought there was going to be more history, more historic buildings, more charm. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I still had a wicked good time.
There are several reasons, April, why you found Salem as you did:
The Great Salem Fire of 1914 took a lot of historic buildings away from us. Urban renewal took the rest. I am still grieving over the loss of the old Salem Depot—the same train station Hawthorne visited—that was demolished before I was born.
Another reason for the lack of historicity on Halloween: Haunted Happenings, just by being, has taken all of the energy in October. Most visitors are day trippers and with all the people we get, it really compresses the experience for the worse. I have taken day trips to Manhattan and I know the feeling.
Visit Salem on a summer week or even early fall and it is a different, slower experience. You can spend time at the Peabody Essex Museum. You can sip coffee at the lighthouse at the end of Derby Wharf. You can enjoy popcorn at Hobbs at Salem Willows. You have time to just soak in the architecture of Chestnut St.
Salem is not to be experienced in a hurry, yet for our Halloween festivities, that’s exactly what we get. Come in on the 31st with 100,000 people and your experience will be very compressed, just as it is for me when I go to Manhattan on a motorcoach and just have time to visit Rockefeller Center and FAO Schwartz.
As well, “history”, as I have written before in my blog, is not a simple concept to be venerated. We have visitors to Salem who thought we were all a historical reenactment. (Our true recreation of the Puritans, Pioneer Village, has been trying to reopen for years.)
History in Massachusetts and Salem in particular has become synonymous with “property values”, such that we have the reputation of being a historic theme park that no one can afford to live in.
Salem, ourselves, has been trying to reboot itself from its history as a prosperous seaport, a small mill town and former retail center into a prosperous city once again. Small wonder we’re all conflicted. I’ve had mixed feelings plenty and often about our progress, and it’s all been written here.
Nevertheless, I loved the Halloween night festivities as a downtown resident.
And Elizabeth Montgomery, long may she remain.