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Bewitching Appeal : Tourists Urged to 'Drop By for a Spell' at Salem, Mass., Festivity

October 25, 1987|KEN FRANCKLING | United Press International

SALEM, Mass. — In America's witch capital, Halloween is no one-night, trick-or-treat affair.

Welcome to "Haunted Happenings," a nine-day draw for tourists and townsfolk to celebrate the beauty of autumn, the spirit of Halloween, and educate people about the witch hysteria that swept the area in 1692.

Salem's decision to use its bewitching history as a tourist magnet began in the 1970s. The Chamber of Commerce cranked up the Haunted Happenings series six years ago.

"There aren't too many tourist opportunities that are so unique, so we felt we'd better take advantage of it," said Jane Gormalley, a former teacher who is the chamber's executive director.

The Oct. 24-Nov. 1 celebration includes a champagne brunch, psychic festivals both weekends at Old Town Hall, a golden pumpkin celebration, storytelling, a pumpkin pie recipe contest, a crafts festival, a murder mystery evening, a masquerade ball, a children's costume parade and Halloween party, and myriad adult costume parties.

Laurie Cabot, dubbed Salem's "official witch" by gubernatorial proclamation, will lecture Wednesday on "Witchcraft and Magic" and judge the children's costume parade.

She is neither a fan nor advocate of ghoulish costumes, and has at times chastised parents for letting their children dress as devils and blood-dripping vampires.

Witches' New Year

"Halloween is the witches' New Year," Cabot said. "The way we celebrate is to project what you want to become for the coming year. The reason you dress up is so the whole community can see you in that role. Projecting that image out into the universe gives you good psychological support.

"Dressing your children in ugly, bloody or horrifying costumes is a bad image that is projected into society--no different than 'slasher' movies. So dress as bees, butterflies, or even Snoopy. Those kinds of costumes are a positive approach to life."

Salem's most popular attractions focus on the city's witchcraft trials of 1692, now described as a reign of terror and hysteria. Nineteen persons were hanged and one man was crushed to death with large stones after they were falsely accused, tried and convicted of consorting with the devil. Most victims were exonerated by public decree in 1711.

At the Salem Witch Museum, opened in 1971, a narrator describes the horrors of 1692 as life-size dioramas depict lurid scenes showing how witch-hunting ancestors gave in to their hysteria.

At the Witch Dungeon Museum, local actresses reenact 14 times a day the trial of Sarah Good, who was hanged in Salem on ground that she was a witch.

A few blocks away, the Witch House, the former home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the presiding magistrates at the Salem witch trials, is open for tours.

The Essex Institute, one of the country's oldest privately endowed historical societies, houses most of the original court transcripts from the witchcraft cases.

Witch images are displayed proudly in this seaport city of 38,000. A hag on a broomstick is the official emblem of the Salem Police Department. She also graces the masthead of the local newspaper, the Salem Evening News. Buttons and bumper stickers sold by the Chamber of Commerce beckon visitors to "stop by for a spell."

Efforts are under way to raise $225,000 to build a Salem witch trial memorial, a nine-foot statue dedicated to the 20 innocent victims who were hanged in 1692. Designed by local sculptor Yiannis Stefanakis, it will depict three unjustly imprisoned sisters, Sarah Cloyce, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, who were featured in the PBS movie, "Three Sovereigns for Sarah."

Example for History

"There should be a memorial. We can learn from that episode in history so maybe it won't happen again," Gormalley said.

Last year, Cabot formed the "Witches' League for Public Awareness," an anti-defamation program to counter misinformation about witches and witchcraft. It points out that witches do not worship or believe in devils or demons, do no evil and don't ride broomsticks.

They wear black, which Cabot said is not an evil color. They use spells, which she calls "thought projections designed to produce a desired result." Witches, she said, use their psychic abilities to heal and to improve their surroundings.

Salem's claims to fame do not rest solely in its witchly doings. This historic seaport, 20 miles northeast of Boston, is also home to the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic book of the same name, and the maritime-oriented Peabody Museum.

"This city is a hidden treasure. There's no way you can really see Salem in only a day," Gormalley said.

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