I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Salem, Massachusetts this past Monday (Indigenous Peoples' Day, as far as I'm concerned). Here's what I was expecting: a red, gold, and brown autumn drive through a quaint New England town. Spooky but reverent echoes of the town's turbulent past. Quiet and somber historic sites where visitors can reflect on human nature and learn from the witch trials.
I found none of that. Instead, I found the Jersey shore of New England.
That's right. Anyone familiar with the Jersey shore knows what I'm talking about. The word alone conjures images of rabid crowds, crass commercialism, and branded t-shirts. Salem had those in spades. The town has ran with the idea of witches. There are haunted houses, scary wax museums, a wand shop, and psychic readings. I laughed when one sign in a museum told me the people hanged during the trials were innocent people and not, in fact, real witches. Could've fooled me.
If anything, I admire the weirder stores. The ones with karmic crystals, tarot cards, and dreamcatchers. For a fiction writer, I'm surprisingly skeptic of such things. Bonus points of the store is run by a tiny middle-aged woman with silver hair and a devious twinkle in her eyes. Those few stores we visited felt authentic, even if they might have just been trying to make a buck anyway.
After wading through a sea of five-dollar hot dogs and screaming children, I realized the Salem I thought we were visiting doesn't exist during the peak season. It was hard to concentrate on the coolest thing we saw - an old graveyard where Judge Hathorne is buried - with hundreds of people around.
My biggest issue is, simply, this cavalier and consumeristic attitude toward such a tragic event in human history. People literally died. It was a dark time in human history when hysteria trounced reason and science wasn't on hand to save lives. So cool it with the Superman t-shirts and haunted houses, all right?