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Salem — History and the Halloween Machine

We built it, and the tourists keep coming.

The Halloween that I remember from childhood is not what we have in Salem today.

The days of dressing junior up as a ghost or goblin and then strolling the neighborhood with a pillowcase have passed into Salem antiquity.

On returning to Salem in 1998, I had no idea what to expect. I had spent some time here during the Tercentenary in 1992. The crowds were impressive. What I have seen since returning in 1998 is even more impressive, because it continues year after year.

Salem is an annual, month-long vacation destination for people from all over the world. Whether that has happened by design, blind luck, or a little bit of both is not important.

As a small child, one of my earliest memories is of walking past with my mother on a summer day. She would point out groups of visitors and tell me how lucky I was to live in such a famous city.

As a 9 or ten-year-old, I found the East India Marine Hall on what was then Essex Street. This was before the became what it is today. In 1969, it was where you went to find out what Salem had been in the past. I would spend hours studying the large recreation of a wharf contained in a huge glass enclosure. The stuffed bison and I would exchange long, aggressive stares from which only I would walk away. The shrunken heads always impressed me, as did the small, round, ivory carving of Heaven and Hell that required a magnifying glass to actually see in detail.

The Essex Institute was also a good place for a young mind to wander. Uniforms from the different wars and a fierce looking samurai warrior were always of interest to me. Books in the Phillips Library drew my attention on every visit.

Little did I know that I was a witness to the end of one era and the birth of another. The primary history of Salem was about to be overshadowed by the greed and spectral evidence madness of 1692-93.

In April of 1970, Soundstage 4 at Columbia Pictures Screen Gems Studio in Hollywood was partially destroyed by fire. As a result of that fire, June 20 of that same year brought the cast and crew of the television show Bewitched to Salem to film multiple episodes. 

I watched some of the filming at The House of the Seven Gables and developed an immediate crush on Elizabeth Montgomery, who starred in the show.

Those episodes aired in the fall of that same year.

Like it or not, admit it or not, the tourism numbers in Salem began to grow very soon after that. Tourists were here before that television show, but not in the numbers that we began to see after the filming.

This quaint little historical city with a witchcraft sideline, had suddenly begun to morph into something nobody could have anticipated.

Laurie Cabot who, at the time, lived next door to me, opened her first shop in 1971. I remember that shop as being on the corner of Derby and Carlton streets She had become familiar around town in her black robes and eye makeup. As the years went on, more of the witch and pagan persuasion were drawn here.

Some business people in Salem began to see potential in what Salem had become. Businesses opened, alliances were formed and ideas flowed. 

It was those business people, who opened shops and museums, that drove and grew this little economic engine. Laurie Cabot moved her shop to Essex Street; the opened. A few business owners got together and the idea of an October festival was hatched. More people came, and as a result, more shops opened. 

City government came late to the party, but eventually they were all in, supporting what has developed into a huge commercial machine.

Each year, more people came, culminating in the Tercentenary crowds of 1992.

, and you may question the actual profit to the city. That you may do, but look at the sheer volume of people that has inundated the downtown for the last six weeks. These people are spending money in businesses — tax-paying businesses. Yes, we pay overtime to the . Yes, there are cleanup costs. There is always a cost associated with doing business. Many factors are to be considered in the health of a city, the health of its businesses is among those factors.

We created it, the masses come and will continue to come, The numbers may fluctuate, but , the slight decline of the last few years has passed.

I miss the simpler days of the old Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute, but then, I also miss the U S.S. Seadog at Central Wharf. All are gone and are not coming back. 

Kudos to the business people of Salem who created this Halloween machine, good luck to those who work to keep the the hordes coming.

All of the above having been said, I still look forward to the first of November.

Mike Blatty October 29, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Another nice bit of commentary, Bill. Short and sweet. I particularly agree with your last sentence. Thanks!
Anne C. Mahoney October 29, 2011 at 07:30 PM
The recreation of the wharf at the Peabody Music was built by my cousin Phillip Chadwick Foster Smith. He was the curator of Maritime History there for a number of years. Sadly he has passed away now but loved building models of things, writing, etc. He wrote 'The Empires of China' which President Nixon read before traveling there during his presidency. Enjoy your way with words! Mom :-)
William Legault October 29, 2011 at 08:49 PM
Well Mother Shanty. I truly had no idea. I remember that wharf model when it sat in the Marine Hall and also shortly after the early 70's museum addition when it just inside the new entrance on what once was Liberty Street. It is past time for the PEM to break that thing out again.
Erin Cyr October 30, 2011 at 03:22 AM
There are many things that I miss at the PEM. There was a turtle that was mounted on the wall in Nature and "kids" room that absolutely fascinated me, and a moose head that my father would pretend to pick the nose of. Where is all of this great stuff. I think the PEM could do a an amazing amount of business if they did behind the scenes tours or just brought out some of the old stuff that is in storage. Love you writing as always Bill.
Antoine M. Boisvert November 03, 2011 at 04:18 PM
I really liked your comment about the diorama, which also remember vividly. Then, this very morning, I took a group of French students into the Armory Visitors Center, and there it was, right in front of me. The museum has loaned to the Park service, and I dare say it probably gets more looked at there, than it would be today at the PEM, where maritime history is not as front and center as it used to be.


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