October 26, 2012

Zombies, Zombie, and Halloween in The Witch City

Every year I anticipate October so much that when it actually finally comes it's gone as quick as the autumn leaves falling off the trees. It seems like one day they're there, the next it's just a pile of red and gold for someone to rake, bag up, and put out on the curb.

The Salem Zombie Walk went surprisingly smoothly this year. It felt like after all this time they finally did it right. The crowd all stayed together, the officer leading us around was on a motorcycle and did a great job stopping traffic and clearing the streets for us.

The absolute highlight of the walk was as we turned up Hawthorne Boulevard and the rain started to pour right as the Catholic church bell was tolling 6pm. We all started to yell along with the bells and everyone was getting really rowdy and cheering in the rain - then we noticed the bagpiper standing outside of the church. Right then, with the absolute worst timing ever, he started to play and march and a wedding party appeared at the doors. They looked horrified and shocked as they walked through the hundreds of zombies, many of us stopping to clap and congratulate them. I felt kind of bad for them, but it was their fault for getting married in Salem in October!

Leading the zombies across Washington Square near the commons. (Picture via Haunted Happenings)

This October, Salem has been it's usual mix of witches, psychics, pervert clowns, wacko preachers, and Cenobite Teletubbies, but the one thing we all thought would be here by now and isn't? Rob Zombie's new movie, LORDS OF SALEM - the release date was moved to 2013.
In the trailer he showed during concerts, which ended up on youtube via audience camera phones, it said 2012 at the end. I don't think I can wait any longer, I am dying to see this movie. Those are some hot naked witches. When he filmed in town the crew certainly left their mark... Apparently a murder scene must have been filmed inside Engine House Pizza because there's fake blood leftover on the ceiling and they plan on leaving it there as a souvenir!
That's not marinara.
There's just a few days left to have fun in town, and with the Frankenstorm hysteria spreading it looks like Halloween might not be so awesome, so wear your costume all weekend!
The tourists are ready to occupy salem.

October 2, 2012

October 2012 in Salem: How to Not Be a Stupid Tourist!

             After living and working in Salem for as many Octobers as I have you start to notice the patterns and cycles of tourist behavior much like a primatologist notices the patterns of apes eating insects off each other and picking at their butts. In this entry I hope to create a handy guide for any tourist visiting this month not hoping to look stupid or have a horrible time.

B. What to Visit
 1. Witch Museums
 2. Other Tourist Museums
 3. Classy Stuff
 4. Etc
C. Spooky Stuff
D. Where to Eat
E. Modern Witchcraft
F. Random Tips

Salem Witch Wiles' Guide to Not Being A Stupid Tourist  

A. FAQs - Most Frequently Asked Questions
   1. Where is the House of Seven Gables?
   2. Where is the Witch Museum?
   3. Where is a bathroom?
   4. Where can I get a trolley ticket?
   5. Where is ____?

Answer: GET A FUCKING MAP. Seriously, they are free and all over the damn city. There are three or four different maps from a few different companies and they all compete and make all their revenue off advertising. Sit your ass down and look at the map, read the stupid guides with all the info and figure out what you're doing BEFORE you start aimlessly wandering around like a drunk guy in a Goofy hat in Disneyland. I find it highly ironic that people are so worried about "looking like a tourist" they don't look at their map and end up getting lost.

Also, the people at the information booth at the end of Essex st. (pictured above), as well as the friendly guides inside the Visitor's Center.

B. What to Visit Whatever the hell you want! Seriously, you can't make your own decisions with the internet and all the free brochures everyone showers you with the moment you get into town? OK, fine. I will sum up for you, but keep in mind there is more:  

1. Witch Museums -

   The similar names of these museums are not only confusing to tourists, locals usually just choose one favorite and never even check the others out. Before we get into how these attractions are different let me sum up their similarities: They all seem to have broken animatronics that haven't worked in a long time, they all cost around the same amount and last around the same amount of time, and I have heard equally great and horrible reviews for each. Also, each one of these museums is about the hysteria of 1692, almost forgot to mention that.

The Salem Witch Museum - Stand and learn while scenes light up around you.
The Witch History Museum - Walk through the scenes as some educational stuff happens.
Witch Dungeon Museum - Trial scene followed by a walk through some scenes.  

2. Other Tourist Museums -

There are other things to learn about in town besides 1692. Here is our list of other tourist museums. Reviews vary drastically.

Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery - One of the few places in town I never feel uneasy recommending, even though it's not about Salem at all! It's a museum about the history of horror cinema, everything from Wolfman and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, to Freddy and Jason. It's an educational history museum for huge horror film nerds. Celebrity appearances and autograph signings all the time in October!
The Pirate Museum - Walk through scenes talking about Salem's pirate history, *SPOILER (lulz)* dude jumps out at you at the end.
The Wax Museum/Witch Village - The Wax Museum is one large room with scenes of Salem's history around it. If you don't read all the plaques and take your time you might think it's too short/small. The Witch Village is a guided tour half about Salem and half about witchcraft. BOTH of these attractions may or may not suddenly become dry ice filled strobe lit haunted houses during high-traffic times.
The Witch House - The name of this place has always bugged me. It's a way of tricking tourists into going there. They even painted it black to make it more "witchy". See, it is the only home still standing with direct ties to the hysteria trials - it's the house of Jonathan Corwin, who joined the Court of Oyer and Terminer to replace Nathaniel Saltonstall, who resigned after the first execution. So really, he was just a replacement, not even a first choice for the court. This museum isn't about 1692 at all, but more about the home itself, architecture, furnishings, and the history of the Corwin family. It has historic validity, it should just be called The Corwin House. The rumors about some of the examinations of victims of 1692 happening here are just bogus.
Salem Toy Museum - Totally random, has nothing to do with Salem history. Just for fun! This place is great, vintage toys, hilarious things on sale, and super nerdy things! It's inside the Museum Place Mall so it's in a weird spot, don't miss it! Also, while you're in the mall check out the new chip shop, 3 Potato 4, they are AMAZING.

3. Classy Stuff -
 The PEM - class and style.

A few of the things that the average tourist wont have time for in October.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site - Check out the replica of The Friendship ship, museum, Custom House, etc.
Peabody Essex Museum - Super classy and cultural. If it isn't October or you have some extra time, dedicate a bunch of hours or a whole day to this place.
The House of Seven Gables - Historic house museum on which Nathaniel Hawthorne's book was based. Also, the author's birthplace has been moved here.
Salem Willows Park - A nice little ocean-side park with arcades, cotton candy, and a carousel.
There are lots of other guided tours through historic homes and such, but most of them are pretty similar.

4. Etc.

Things I can't quite classify.

The Witch Trials Memorial - The only place you can pay respect to all the innocent people killed in 1692. Remember, we all have so much fun in Salem because a bunch of people were tortured and killed unjustly - how's that for a guilt trip? Take a little bit of time to reflect at the memorial and pay your respects.

The Bewitched Statue - A cheese-tastic homage to tourism in Salem. A huge amount of the seventh season of the show was filmed right in Salem!


Wynott's Wands - Remember Salem has been so successful in it's conversion into a Harry Potter themed shop they have also opened up Salem's first wand shop! I really wonder if there's enough of a market for authentic wands in October though... Especially with so many actual witch shops that carry them

C. Spooky Stuff
I found this picture of an actual Salem tourist entering one of our most horrific haunted attractions!

First things first, this is not Disney World. This is not even Spooky World. Things in Salem tend to be on a much smaller budget than standard haunted attractions you'll find in other places. I am not going to rate these because there are just so many variables involved in any individual experience, but I will say that The Boston Phoenix best described it by saying one "resembles a ransacked party store" . All last about the same amount of time and cost around the same amount of money. As of today there are exactly 4 haunted attractions in Salem (not including the few that become haunted mentioned above):
The Witch Mansion - Newly renovated and exits into the mall directly in front of the entrance to:
The Nightmare Factory - newly renovated as well.
13 Ghosts (The shortest) - This year they are boasting some kind of "haunted time machine", whatever that means...
Frankenstien's Laboratory (The longest) - Looks like they might have fixed this one up a bit, too. I sure hope so, the place was falling apart.
Whatever this thing is on Pickering Wharf - The space for a haunted attraction on Pickering Wharf has something going on, not sure what though. Don't know if they haven't yet decided or are keeping it a secret. Odds are it's another standard haunted house type thing.

D. Where to Eat -
 Awesome Vegginess at Life Alive. Pic via their tumblr.

With over 60 places to eat in Salem, it's pretty much impossible for me to review everything or make any recommendations, just a few things:

--If you are vegetarian you can check out my blog entry all about the best veggie places in Salem.

--Salem has just about every different type of food you can imagine - pubs, Chinese, pizza, cafes, classy expensive places, cheap family fare, a brewery, Thai, Indian, Caribbean, Polish and everything else - don't waste your money getting nasty sausages and junk from street vendors (no offense to my street vendor friends!)

--There are ice cream shops all over town. If you can't find one just keep walking until you do.

--If you go to Dunkin Donuts I will fucking slap you. Sure, many New-Englanders have bad taste and prefer them over anything else, but there are some of us who would rather recommend one of our many many local cafes for your caffeine fix.

E. Modern Witchcraft

These are places that witches visiting Salem will want to see. Mostly just shops, and there are lots more.

Crow Haven Corner - The oldest witch shop in the country, first opened up by Laurie Cabot.
The Salem Witch Walk Ever wonder why, if everyone in 1692 was an innocent victim and not a real witch, there are so many witches in Salem today? This tour explains what real witchcraft is while discussing the hysteria from a modern witch's perspective and starts with a participatory ritual at Crow Haven Corner. And I don't just love the tour because it helps clear things up for witches and Salemites alike, I'm also the tour guide!
Hex, Omen, & Festival of the Dead events - Halloween ringmaster Christian Day's October Circus
Laurie Cabot's Shop - Is closed! So many people keep asking where to find it, sorry guys!
Bewitched in Salem - Talk about eclectic, this witch shop has so many random things it's not even a witch shop anymore - it's an everything shop. From their website "A 4 inch ivory Jesus and a 4 foot steel Baphomet can share the same space.  We do not discriminate."
Site of Laurie Cabot's first shop! - What the hell is a Crotchet, much less an entire box of them? 100 Derby st is where Laurie Cabot opened the very first (and extremely short-lived) witchcraft shop in America before she gave it a second try and succeeded with Crow Haven Corner. Nowadays it's an awkward looking red house with a sign that makes no sense and many tourists assume is some kind of dirty joke they just don't get..

Line waiting to go into Laurie's Cabot's shop two years ago. It's closed forever now.

F.  Random tips

1. Dress appropriately - If you are wearing an expensive costume in Salem on Halloween night don't be upset if it gets stepped on, squashed, or otherwise soiled. That's right, I said soiled. All kinds of things are possible.
2. Be prepared to wait in line - Everywhere you go. Your whole trip. It sucks, I know, but just get used to it and get over it. The picture above is of people waiting in line just to get into Laurie Cabot's shop. The crowds can get a little dense, too, so be careful not to lose your friends.
3. Don't be fooled by signs - Apparently the laws about being able to say you are the "Official", "highest rated", "most popular", or "scariest" are pretty lax, because everything in town claims to be "the best".
4. Be weary of advice on the street - Unless it is someone dressed as a park ranger from the visitor center, someone from the official city tourist info booth (picture at top of page), or you just get lucky, odds are the person offering you friendly advice on what attraction to visit is being paid to do so by said attraction. Also, if you are stupid enough to keep taking flyers, DON'T LITTER!
5. And THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP for not being a stupid tourist is don't worry about being a stupid tourist! Relax, don't schedule every little thing, and don't be upset if things don't work out how you expect them to! With so much insanity all over the city all month you are bound to get caught up in something - make sure it's not drama!

I'm in this book!