Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Bewitched and Bewildered: Salem Witches, Empty Factories, and Tourist Dollars

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Bewitched and Bewildered: Salem Witches, Empty Factories, and Tourist Dollars

Article excerpt

Abstract: In 2005, witchcraft hysteria once again roiled the city of Salem, Massachusetts. This time, however, city residents divided over a new monument - a statue honoring Samantha Stephens, a fictional witch from the television sitcom Bewitched. In the minds of many, the Stephens statue was tacky and an insult to the history, memory, and heritage of the tragic days of 1692, when a more deadly hysteria led to the executions of twenty townspeople. To the statue's defenders, the Samantha Stephens representation was merely a bit of whimsy designed to supplement marketing plans to cement Salem's reputation as a tourist destination.

This article sides largely with the second perspective, but with a twist. It argues that Samantha Stephens is worthy of memorializing because the 1970 filming o/Tiewitched episodes in Salem is largely responsible for the city's tourist trade. The article traces changing perspectives on witchcraft since the seventeenth century and, more importantly, places those changes in economic context to show the mutability of history, memory, and heritage across time. Ultimately, Samantha Stephens helped rescue Salem from a devastating twentieth-century demon: deindustrialization. Dr. Robert E. Weir is the author of six books and numerous articles dealing with social, labor, and cultural history}

On June 15, 2005, the city of Salem, Massachusetts unveiled its newest monument. Its subject is Samantha Stephens, a television character portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery in the ABC comedy series Bewitched, which aired between 1964 and 1972, and remains a cable-TV staple. Montgomery died of cancer in 1995, but she's immortalized in bronze in Salem's Lappin Park, where she's perched upon a cloud, a crescent moon, and a broomstick, her nose ready to twitch, Samantha's trademark prelude to magic.

Most of the activity swirling around the statue these days is foot traffic in and out of a popular café. There are no visible reminders that the Stephens monument once stirred town passions with a fury analogous to 1692, albeit with less tragic results. In 1692, at least 168 Salem-area residents were jailed as suspected witches and wizards and twenty were executed. The Stephens statue was bound to generate strong opinions. After all, it debuted just three years after the city commemorated the tercentennial of the region's infamous witch trials by dedicating the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims' Memorial, a stark granite wall from which twenty bench-like stone slabs jut, each inscribed with the name of a person executed in 1692. Even that monument was seen by some residents as "theme parking" Salem.2

In advance of the official unveiling, Salem Mayor Stanley Usovicz Jr. sought to defuse critics of the Bewitched statue. He declared it "a little bit of fun" akin to the monument to basketball coach Red Auerbach that sits atop a bench in Boston's Quincy Market.3 That logic prompted John Carr, a former Salem Historic District Commissioner, to offer a withering remark: "It's like TV Land going to Auschwitz and proposing to erect a statue of Colonel Clink."4

The statue had its defenders - including some among Salem's neopagan Wiccan community - but community consensus was summed by a blogger called Bleedingheart: "This reeks of poor taste."5 Danvers resident and historian Richard Trask chimed in that "An enlightened society should choose to remember and respect past tragedies rather than purposefully or ignorantly make light of them."6 Others agreed. At the statue's dedication an activist in a facing building unfurled a banner emblazoned with the word "SHAME," and a sixty-four-year-old protestor who shouted during the ceremony was arrested for disorderly conduct.7 In 2006, the statue was defaced with red paint.8

Passions have cooled since then, though debates over Salem's historical soul continue to rage. But perhaps a different way to consider the Bewitched statue is to view it as an appropriate symbol for modern Salem. …

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