September 26, 2020: Salem and the Sickness

Taken at about 11:15 am.

Halloween Die-ary #11

While most people were worrying over the past year about death rates and virus vectors, economic ruin and vulnerable loved ones, stimulus packages and protests and the efficacy of masks, my main thought has been, “I wonder what Salem will be like in October this season?”

Okay, not really. But the thought entered my mind at some point (it’s not too hard, my brain’s like Charlie Brown’s ghost costume). I’ve been monitoring the news out of Salem avidly in regards to its month-long Haunted Happenings festivities. And its adaption to current events has been…definite. All city-run events have been cancelled. That’s the parade. That’s the streets fairs. That’s the costume balls. As have many private ones. The Salem Horror Fest (which has become one of the most important parts of Salem’s October) has been virtualized. The House of Seven Gables isn’t letting people inside. Other attractions have closed. You’re required to wear a mask everywhere downtown, even outside. If you’re from a danger state, you need to quarantine for two weeks or have documentation of a COVID test to be there. Lots of other changes that you can read about here.

Put it this way. Kate Fox, director of the city’s tourism organization, is telling people, “This isn’t the year to just come and wander.”

So I went today. Not technically October, but it might as well be. And we’re from a safe state (currently only ten of them). And, I think, what I learned in this year of our COVID 2020, is that Salem…is just gonna Salem. Even without all the events. And all the restrictions. And all the cultural baggage that COVID is dropping on our heads in addition to killing us. And I don’t say that in a Halloween-is-in-our-hearts, Dahoo Dores kind of way. I just mean you can’t stop Salem tourists. Even if you can turn them away from your establishment for being from a danger state and not having COVID documentation, as we saw happen to two women.

There was a lot of people in the streets of Salem this morning. Possibly less than what would be on the weekend before October, but a lot of people.

Of course, “come and wander” is exactly what me and mine usually do in Salem. But the other half of Kate’s quote was, “This is the year to come with some intention and support the small business community.” And this time, we had some serious-up intention.

That intention was the Peabody Essex Museum. It was exhibiting the artifacts of the Salem Witch Trials for THE FIRST TIME IN THIRTY YEARS. This was a big deal for Salem and for PEM (and for me), as those of you who read A Season with the Witch know. I’m going to save discussing that exhibition for another post. Don’t get mad. I’ll make it a priority.

After the museum visit, we hit up the bookstores. Many of the stores are still open in Salem, although under the usual restrictions. I always check for A Season with the Witch (and now I’m peeping for Cursed Objects) and am almost always disappointed by it not being there. Today was no exception. We followed all the painted footprints of witches, beasts, and skeletons to Artist’s Row, where we swung by the Lobster Shanty (I haven’t had a Hot ’n Dirty Pickle Martini in forever), but it wasn’t open for another hour. I still don’t know what my comfort level with restaurants are, anyway, so it was a decision deferred.

We walked past the Grimshaw House on Charter Street to see what tortures they were inflicting upon what had once been the coolest derelict house in Salem. We peered through the chain link fence at the Old Burying Point Cemetery, which is closed for October for renovation…but was also closed last October for the same reason, so I’m unsure if it’s a legit initiative or just their move in October now to protect it from revelers.

We were downtown for three hours. It was probably the longest amount of time I’ve worn a mask (orange and black, of course). I always wondered how costumers wore their rubber masks all day in Salem. I probably still don’t know, but I myself got pretty hot under my piece of cotton. But that was also my fault. Today was a warm day, but I’ve already shifted over to sweaters and coats, and I refuse to shift back again until Spring.

After downtown Salem, we drove to Harmony Grove Cemetery to see the grave of George S. Parker, the founder of the now defunct Parker Brothers. Salem brought us everything from Monopoly to Clue. Random fun fact: The Clue mansion was based on his mansion in Peterborough, New Hampshire, which is still around and privately owned. Parker Brothers was even the popularizer of the Ouija Board (which was invented in Baltimore and bought by Parker Brothers).

Back home, we marveled at the colors already appearing in the trees and wondered if we should have taken a foliage trip today instead (No!! Witch Trial artifacts). We walked our woods, looking for salamanders (because it’s past snake season here), dove into a Halloween care package from a friend, and finished the night eating witch-shaped chocolate from it and watching the second half of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark with the one of our kids who can watch a scary movie (but who still gets scared enough to watch through her fingers).

If I could Groundhog Day this day, I would.