This weekend is the annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival, sponsored by Salem Main Streets, The Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Destination Salem, as well as all of the downtown businesses which underwrote the installation of ice sculptures on the sidewalks of Salem. It’s such a lovely idea, especially for a city that (in my opinion) has put too many eggs in the one basket of witchcraft tourism. As I walked by kitschy witchy businesses displaying signs on their front doors indicating that they were “closed for the season” (of course they meant the off-season, which is most of the year), it was a pleasure to see enthusiastic picture-takers clustered around ice sculptures of Gustave Klimt’s The Kiss, various sea creatures, and the Mad Hatter, and even imbibing in Rockefella’s amazing ice bar, which must take the prize this year. It was a beautiful day–not too cold–and sunny, so lots of people were out and about and the restaurants looked busy. Last year’s snowmaggedon must have chilled this event a bit (though it was still definitely on) but this year’s weather was perfect–and several of the statues were illuminated at night for the first time.
Just a few of the ice sculptures downtown this weekend: you can download the map of the rest here.
We had our first major snowstorm of 2016 yesterday, which paled in comparison with those of last year. I mocked those decision-makers who declared snow emergencies and canceled classes yesterday morning when the streets were merely wet, but by mid-afternoon I had to admit that they were correct: a wet, heavy, continuous snow had developed that would have caused numerous problems if everyone was on the road. Later in the afternoon I heard a sharp crack, and one of the the heavy, long branches of a tree across the street fell into my neighbors’ driveway. There was a strange white sky all afternoon which you will see in the pictures below (some of which I doctored just a bit), so contrast was rather elusive, but our bright yellow house was a perfect background for the broken branch. At the end of the day the white sky turned a beautiful pink, a moment which I completely failed to catch but fortunately my neighbor Bill did–and it looks like blue is back this morning.
Chestnut Street February 2016 and below, a similar winter’s day on the street in the 1890s–when McIntire’s South Church was still there.
To stick with cinema for just a bit, I’ve always believed that those in Salem who favor the maritime over the witchcraft in terms of tourism focus are handicapped a bit because Salem was not a whaling port like New Bedford. Merchants are simply not as dashing and courageous as whalers; there is no Hawthornian equivalent of Moby Dick. When I think of the latter, I must admit that images from the 1956 film come to mind much more quickly and vividly than detailed passages from the 1851 book, and the very first image that comes to mind is the passionate preaching of Father Mapple (Orson Welles) from that amazing pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship in a seamen’s chapel, or Bethel, packed with mariners. Both the preacher and the place were based on reality; in the case of the former, the “Mariner’s Preacher” of the Boston Bethel, Edward Thompson Taylor, and the Bethel was based on that of New Bedford, which is still standing (its original pulpit was not the elaborate one depicted in the film, but a similar one constructed to satisfy the tourists who made their way to New Bedford in increasing numbers due to the popularity of the film–a version of Salem’s Samantha statue).
Orson Welles in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956); The New Bedford Bethel or “Whaleman’s Chapel”, exterior and interior.
Like nearly every seaport of a certain size, Salem had a Seamen’s Bethel too, but it was a wandering one. It clearly existed in the early part of the nineteenth century (there is an extant sign, and several references to a chapel at the head of Phillips Wharf), but was reincarnated later on. The French Catholic parish, St. Joseph’s, purchased an old Bethel on Herbert Street in 1873, and then it turns up in two locations on Turner Street: first right on the water in the House of the Seven Gables’ front yard, and then alongside it on the street. A large bequest by Captain Henry Barr funded the construction of this later building in 1890-91, but a decade later newspapers across the country were commenting on Salem’s fading maritime glory, testified to by the fact there were simply not enough sailors in Salem to attend services in this new Bethel; consequently the YMCA took over the building in 1911. By the 1920s it was moved to another location on Turner Street to accommodate the expanding House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, and by the 1930s it was gone. The last picture of the Bethel below, taken by the Boston-based architectural photographer Leon Abdalian in 1929, was probably more notable for the blimp than the Bethel at the time!
The Salem Seamen’s Bethel, 1914 and 1929, Boston Public Library.
A week or so ago when I posted on the Samantha statue in downtown Salem many people voiced their support of this…….(searching for objective word) semblance, most expressing the point of view that Bewitched came to Salem at its low point, after the Northshore Mall had been built and all the Salem shops had left downtown and urban renewal had emptied the city. Samantha symbolizes the full-scale, no-holds-barred adoption of witchcraft tourism as Salem’s key late twentieth- and twenty-first century industry, the equivalent of its maritime trade in the early nineteenth century and its textile and leather industries in the early twentieth. So it follows that this television show is an important part of Salem history, right up there with the Witch Trials, Leslie’s Retreat, the China Trade, the Massachusetts 54th, the Great Salem Fire, and the contributions of Salem men and women to the cumulative national efforts in both World War I and World War II and later conflicts. With this in mind, I feel completely justified in my focus on a rather silly (but nonetheless charming) movie today, just because this particular movie is the precursor/inspiration for the all-important Bewitched. Without this movie, I Married a Witch (1942), there would be no Bewitched, and presumably for some, without Bewitched, there would be no Salem!
I’m a devoted TCM fan but somehow I had never seen this classic, so when it aired on Sunday afternoon I gave it my full attention. It definitely paved the way for Bewitched in more ways than one: adorable blonde witch (in this case Jennifer played distinctively by the it-girl of the moment, Veronica Lake), stiff husband (Frederic March), mischievous witch parent (Cecil Kellaway rather than Agnes Morehead), a Hollywood view of the old country (Massachusetts). Here’s a succinct plot summary: Jennifer and her father were burned at the stake after being found guilty of witchcraft in 1672 (not 1692) with stalwart Puritan Jonathan Wooley serving as the key accuser; in return they curse successive Wooleys with bad wives, and we see some brief scenarios from 1770, 1861, and 1904 in which Wooleys are married to shrews. Flash forward to 1942 when lightning strikes the old oak tree in which the witches have been encased: they are liberated as mere wisps of smoke and they venture to a nearby house, where Wallace Wooley (March) is attending a fundraiser in support of his bid for Governor of Massachusetts, shrewish fiancée (Susan Hayward) in tow. Jennifer sets her sights on Wallace–she wants to continue the curse–so they follow him to Boston, still as puffs of smoke. When they see the Pilgrim Hotel, they decide to light it on fire (not quite sure why, except for the PILGRIM name), and Wallace stops to show his concern since he is running for governor. He ends up rushing into the hotel and “rescuing” Jennifer, who now assumes her Veronica Lake form. She seldom leaves his side after that, and concocts a love potion so that he will marry her rather than Susan Hayward. By mistake, SHE drinks the love potion and then all bets are off…….and marriage ensues. The ending suggests that Wallace is going to have an interesting life (like Darren!) from that point on.
A few notes on the scenes and the film: opening shots–Preston Sturges was originally involved with the film, and Dalton Trumbo was one of the (uncredited) screenwriters! A blurry scene (sorry): but this is where they are selling concessions between witch burnings, which is immediately telling the audience that this is not your standard Salem film. I wasn’t crazy about March in this film and apparently he wasn’t crazy about Lake; “in flight”; the PILGRIM HOTEL before it is set ablaze; from then on, it’s all Veronica: she spends a lot of time curled up kittenishly in the wing chair in Wooley’s “colonial” house in what is presumably Boston, before portraits of his unhappy ancestors. Couldn’t they find an all-black cat? All you see are the white paws and nose as it dashes around. Together at the end, back in “Salem”, Veronica in a beautiful sheer black dress, almost rivaling her hair.