I wanted McDonald’s. That was my first thought as I crossed the Massachusetts border. We had been on the road for a few hours and I wanted nothing more than a Coke and some greased up fries.
The McDonald’s there are different. The upholstery of the seats, the images hanging on the walls, the structure of the buildings. Corporate McDonald’s hasn’t modernized the buildings yet. It was like I walked back into the 1990s. I knew after the Big Mac and nostalgic throwback, I’d be ready to see some witches.
I was expecting rocks, a courthouse, and maybe like a guillotine somewhere (obviously not really because no one was beheaded during the 1693 witch hunt).
I walked past the local movie theater and looked up to see the sign. The word “Salem” holds such connotation, mostly negative, that to see it so casually listed alongside Jurassic Park and Incredibles 2 was a little comical. It occurred to me that centuries have passed since history was made here. Salem is just your typical small New England town, but there’s still small reminders of its past here, spread among the few remaining artifacts.
The “Witch House” is the only structure with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trial that I could find, which is interesting, considering it was the home of Judge Jonathon Corwin and not any of the actual accused victims of witchcraft. There are not many records of the witch trials in general, actually, and little is known about the area and the people occupying it during the formation of early America. It impressed me that Salem could keep people coming back and celebrating its geography with little physical remnants of its famed name.
Salem felt like it was waiting on Halloween to begin even in the dead of summer. The moment you started to feel like you were in a pretty normal town, you’d hear the amplification of a voice spewing off historical facts and a person dressed like a colonial would pass you, a group of tourists following behind them. Through one of these organized tour groups, I heard that October 31 is like a Nirvana concert around these parts.
The shops were mostly closed except a small cobblestone strip of stores. There was a patriotic type vibe despite such a grim past. The American flag hung proudly above doors and windows on every block.
I wanted to get my palms read or hold a seance but I settled for some tarot cards instead because the sun was setting and I didn’t want to get kidnapped by a warewolf (it could happen). A lot of the shops are operated by modern day witches known as Wiccans — a fun fact I learned at the Salem Witch Museum. I entertained this idea as the gentleman behind the counter rang up my new purchase, wondering if he knew something I didn’t or if he was in the process of writing a spell when I interrupted him.
At the end of the day, Salem is more than you thought and less than you dreamed. I imagined it to be a walking museum, an untouched village of sorts. I ended up finding another quaint town in modern day America.
Originally published July 25th, 2018 on www.therooster.com