Salem Surprised Me

I traveled to the Northeast recently, the oldest part of the US, and I’m happy to report that there is a faction of this country that is still celebrating our history.  I stayed just north of Boston, and my co-worker, who’s a life-long Bostonian, took me to Salem for dinner.  Summer was in full swing, so there were tourists around.  The day was “hot” to a Northerner, nice to a Texan.  It’s the kind of town and area that I’ve been missing in my travels.  No cookie-cutter houses and strip malls, older buildings haven’t been torn down, they’ve been renovated.  It was refreshing to see so many people taking pictures of things like “The Witch House” and “The House of the Seven Gables.”  We may have some hope yet. 

Naturally, all this got me to thinking why this area is celebrating its history and not other areas.  It all points back to the issue of slavery.  Our early US history wasn’t rife with slavery until later in the formation, so I think this portion of history has been allowed to keep existing.

Variety is nice

For me, the enjoyment was seeing something different.  The variety.  The tall, skinny houses of Salem are a contrast to the current building styles, especially in Texas, where there are fewer two-story houses because no one wants to cool one in the summer.  I didn’t have any time to wander around and sight-see, but this is one of the areas where I’d like to go back and visit as a pure tourist soon.  There’s something about the history of an area when it’s well known and documented, that really gets my attention.  The fact that the people in the area now are well-versed in the history, and have used that as a way to make money on tourists keeps it thriving.  Sure, they’re extorting the past, but at least the reliance on tourism will make them keep the area as close to historically correct as they can. 

Maybe I just need to get out more.  I do clearly need some variety in my daily life, as I felt like a kid going through Salem.  I wanted to go look into each house, each exhibit and really get a feel for the era.  The Salem Witch Trials are another one of those defining moments in American history that we can’t afford to ignore, else we risk repeating them.  There’s also another interesting lesson there.  Throughout the trials, 19 women were found to be witches and killed.  For as long as the legend of Salem has lived on in our collective memories, I expected it to be a much higher number than 19.  My point is, we see this type of hyper-escalation today.  One thing happens and gets advertised and blown out of proportion.  I’m sure if I find a newspaper from the days of the witch trials, they would read quite differently from the real story today.  But that’s news, right?  It’s never been about reporting the truth, it’s been about telling a story.  When that gets coupled with our morbid fascination with death, and people doing things abnormally, truths get exaggerated quite quickly. 

Witch research?  Yes, please!

I’ll admit I haven’t read about the witch trials since grade school, I need to go back and catch up on the details, but the point of it is more along the lines of I found an area that has preserved its local look, feel and color, something I have been lamenting in the rest of the nation for quite some time.  There were no familiar looking buildings, not even the Dunkin Donuts had its normal pinkish lettering.  So some real effort has been put into making sure the area stays the way it has always been.  I’m sure the current residents hate it because you can’t do anything to the outside of your home that would make it look too new, most likely.  I’m sure the Salem HOAs are among the most hated in the country.  But, I would think that if you were moving to Salem, you would understand that the price of admission was historical accuracy. I could be wrong and giving people way more credit than they’re due, though.  There were a lot of tourists out and about, that doesn’t mean the locals like the culture, especially the ones who are NOT deriving income from tourism. 

I live in a town that quadruples in population each summer, so I understand not wanting to have extra people in town.  It’s a dilemma for me, always.  I want the area to thrive, but I really hate dealing with the extra traffic and the extra trash that people on vacation typically leave behind.  Collectively, we’re a sloppy disgusting bunch of critters.  I won’t be surprised when we overcrowd ourselves into a pandemic of some sort. 

Vacation and research

From what my tour-guide co-worker said, the entire Northeast is rife with these types of historical tourist areas.  There’s so much to see, he said, I couldn’t hit it all in one trip.  He’s a writer as well (I didn’t know before this trip) and specializes in historical fiction.  That’s a branch of fiction that I think I would really love to write about.  Pick an area, do a bunch of research, and weave a story into your history lesson.  I’ve read a few of them over the years, and they are really enjoyable – so that’s on my list to look into.  I’d just have to find a region and an era that interests me enough to do the work.  

In the meantime, Salem is on my “revisit” list.  My wife and I have been wanting to do a tour of Nantucket, and you can’t get there without having to go through Boston.  I think this trip is getting better defined every day.  Maybe I’ll just have to write my historical fiction from the same area, who knows.  It’s difficult to tell where your inspiration comes from.  Maybe my muses want me to do a little witchcraft research, who am I to argue with them?

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