Witch City


Salem, Mass., embraces its gruesome history

October 31, 2004

Not long ago, Salem, Mass., didn't want to have much to do with its past.

The famous witch trials of 1692 -- in which girls of the town accused citizens of witchcraft, resulting in the hangings of 19 people and one death by crushing -- were not something the city fathers and tourism folks much wanted to talk about. In fact, many of the original sites associated with the trials fell victim to neglect and / or urban renewal, paved over for parking lots or otherwise buried.

The city's most renowned citizen, 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables), is said to have changed the spelling of his last name to distance himself from John Hathorne, an ancestor who was a judge in the trials.

Well, as Cole Porter once noted, times have changed.

Today, the trials are a major emphasis for tourism in the city of 40,000, and witchcraft is a booming business. Gift shops overflow with Witch City T-shirts, pointy black hats, costumes and brooms, and some feature "herbs and potions."

Along with all this, of course, has been the burgeoning of tourist sites and tours keyed to the dark arts, with a few nods to the city's other historical roots.

Founded between 1626 and 1630, Salem served as capital of Massachusetts Bay Colonie, and in the 18th century became a major shipping center.

Those days are honored with museums, and a number of historic houses and buildings from the seafaring days have been preserved and opened to the public, many of them filled with English, American and foreign antiquities.

But the obvious focus is witchery. The city offers ghost tours, cemetery visitations and plenty of other spooky sites. There is a witch trail, with stops along the way that include the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch House, the Witch Dungeon Museum and a Witch Trials Memorial.

Next to the Old Burying Ground -- which itself features a Mayflower passenger, a witch trial judge and plenty of early graves -- the memorial comprises 20 benches, one for each of the victims of the trials, against stone walls. It's a quiet, contemplative space and a thoughtful tribute.

There are some decidedly non-witchy attractions to Salem as well, including the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, made up of buildings and wharves of the city's port from 1670 to 1900s, and a real gem, the Peabody-Essex Museum, a world-class institution that includes 30 galleries and 11 historic houses, with 2.4 million works in all.

For more information about Salem: 877-725-3662; www.salem.org.


Sept. 19 was a historic day for Britons who have campaigned for greater freedom to explore the countryside: In the wake of passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, the first maps showing the new rights of access for walkers were published.

In the four years since the act was passed, the government -- with the help of preservation, environmental and landowners' organizations, including the National Trust -- negotiated with land owners for access to 3,200 square miles of countryside for walking.

Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency, is revising 250 of its 403 Explorer series of maps of England and Wales to show where new opportunities to walk are being phased in. These will be marked on the new maps by a light yellow tint. The new maps are called OS Explorer Maps, rather than Explorer Maps, and the covers will carry an access land symbol, a brown figure on the horizon in a circle.

Walkers will be expected to respect the needs of landowners and follow a code outlined at www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk. The rules include leaving gates and property as found, protecting plants and animals and leaving no litter.

The maps cost about $12.95, at $1.85 to the pound, and can be ordered at the Web site www. ordnancesurvey.co.uk / leisure.

Turkish currency revalued

As of Jan. 1, the cost of a cup of coffee in Turkey will no longer run into the millions. As of that date, the old Turkish lira will be divested of six zeros and the new Turkish lira, or YTL, will be circulated as bank notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100.

The exchange rates for YTLs (the Y stands for yeni, Turkish for new) will be announced daily by Central Bank of Turkey. If the new currency were in circulation now, the exchange rate would be about 1.45 new lira to the dollar. During the switch, prices of all goods and services will be expressed in both the old and the new lira.

What Andy Warhol collected

The late Andy Warhol was as much a collector as he was an artist, and he collected anything and everything that struck his fancy. In all, he filled some 600 cardboard boxes with stuff he thought worthy of posterity.

"Andy Warhol's Time Capsules," a just-opened exhibition at Pittsburgh's always lively Andy Warhol Museum, presents the contents of 15 of these boxes as an art form. Among the 3,000 objects on view are vintage New York newspapers (below), War-hol's party invitations, his phone messages, a pair of Clark Gable's shoes and a dress once worn by blond bombshell Jean Harlow.

For more information: 412-237-8300; www.warhol.org.

-- From wire reports

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