Going to Mass

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Almost a quarter of a century ago, my wife and I spent our wedding night in Salem, Massachusetts. It was not, despite my frequent and predictable jests to the contrary, an omen. Except in the sense that I was bewitched.

The following day we stopped at Edson Cemetery in Lowell, where Lucine left her wedding bouquet at the grave of Jack Kerouac: Catholic running back, Beat novelist, Taft Republican.

"Taxachusetts" cliches and Ellen Goodman aside, any state that gave us On the Road and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shays' Rebellion and Walden, Sam and Henry Adams, and a goodly share of the best 19th-century American poets is welcome in my Union.

We had occasion to revisit Salem this summer, as we toured a New England university that left our daughter (and us) mightily unimpressed. But what citizen of the old America can endure the punishment of a college tour? Unless, perhaps, one turns it into a drinking game: a shot for every time the admissions officer says "kind of" or "sort of"--the y'knows of the degreed class--and a beer for every invocation of "diversity," a wonderful word that, like "tolerance," has been drained of meaning and is now used to enforce a grey and dreary uniformity of opinion.

We've heard eager student cicerones assure us that campus wiccans have access to the school chapel--boy, was that ever a load off my mind!--but I've yet to get the impression that the incessantly touted "diversity" includes, say, rural Christians or working-class Catholics.

This trip we returned to the agreeably hokey Salem Witch Museum, whose voiceover narrative, while hard on the Puritans, is delivered with stentorian, NFL Films-style gravity to a suitably eerie soundtrack. The museum's script takes the conventional, quite possibly accurate view that Salem's victims were innocents caught up in a frenzy of hysteria and untruths; it ignores the more interesting speculation--most famously proposed by historian Chadwick Hansen--that some of those hanged at Salem really were witches.

We skipped the museum's latest exhibit, which is devoted to contemporary witch-hunts such as "the McCarthy hearings on Communism and the persecution of the gay community at the start of the AIDS epidemic." When even glorified wax museums are infected by PC, what is left? Demolition derbies?

Joe McCarthy was a nasty character, but why should he so completely hog the devil's role in modern American history? Can't he share the part with someone with an infinitely higher body count: say, Nagasaki Harry Truman? …