Salem on a Soggy Sunday

September 24, 2023 — I went to Salem today. That’s a simple statement, obviously, but what I mean by it in the context of my evolving relationship with Witch City has changed profoundly over the years.

In the early 2000s, when I lived in Maryland and then Virginia, Salem used to be just some far-off oddity to me. I visited it a couple times on big New England road trips full of other colonial curiosities and northeast novelties. It was quirky and spooky and I liked it, but it wasn’t a part of my life.

In 2008, when I moved to New England and only fifty miles from the city, visiting it became a tradition. I’d go there in October, and then usually once or twice during the offseason. My girls grew up against a backdrop of pointy hats and vampire buskers, the annual photos of them as telling of their growth and change as hash marks on a kitchen wall. And, as Salem and I casually dated this way, the love slowly flourished.

In 2015, we moved there for a month as I wrote A Season with the Witch. At the end of that project, I wanted to marry the city and father a dozen of its kids. Almost moved there, in fact. Knowing now how my life turned out seven years later, I definitely should have.

For the next half decade, Witch City was a consistent presence in my life. Not just because I visited it regularly, but because I felt more connected to it after having written that book about it. I knew the city intimately…every cobblestone and shingle, every specialty cocktail and gift shop bauble. I was no longer a visitor. I felt like one of its hosts.

Since early 2022, the city has changed yet again for me. It’s become a haven. A vital place. Important to my existence. It’s been somewhere to get away from the yuckiness. To find solace among the caring friends I have there and the wall-to-wall weirdness that makes the rest of the world irrelevant. It’s a fortress against the fuckery of my life. I’m there almost weekly these days.

Today, I went with a friend, and the weather was perfect, slightly chilly and gray, the rain threatening enough to keep the crowds down, but not so threatening that the city streets were exsanguinated of their lifeblood. We visited Count Orlok’s (and got my official Vault Macabre pin), shopped every witch and goth store we could find, hit up Ye Olde Pepper Companie to stock up on clove drops and bat lollipops, ran into a reader who wanted me to sign their book (Hello, Clifton!), paid our respects at Proctor’s Ledge, and visited the newest addition to the Salem museum scene: The Salem Museum of Torture, a small but well curated bit of sadism on Federal Street.

I don’t know how my relationship with Salem will progress into the future. And I’m pretty cynical of relationships these days. But Salem has always been there for me.

I think the only downside for me when it comes to Salem these days has nothing to do with the city, but the book I wrote about it. A Season with the Witch used to be my favorite book that I had written. It was my family at peak Ockerness in an overwhelming maelstrom of everything we loved.

Now it’s the saddest book for me.