Tag Archives: Rampant Acts of Destruction

Greetings from Witch City

I really tried to give Salem Halloween a chance this year. I kept telling myself to forget that this celebration is based completely on the tragic death of innocent people over 300 years ago and that there is no connection between Halloween and the Salem Witch Trials other than a manufactured one that has to be based on the completely unfounded assumption that these people WERE witches. People just don’t want to hear that, and my persistent haranguing has made me into a bit of a pest to my family and friends. A lighthearted attitude towards the month-long Haunted Happenings “celebration” is completely impossible for me to adopt, so instead I went for detached, either in time or of place: concentrate on the past (this always works for me) and avoid downtown at all costs. But yesterday I just put myself right into the fray, for you, dear readers, who have also been exposed to my Halloween snarkiness for years. I tried to adopt an objective attitude as I mingled among the huge crowds, but I couldn’t really maintain it and then I lost it altogether! So here are my observations, both in words and pictures–that latter a bit more objective than the former–I actually think they are a fair representation of what Salem looks like on Halloween. From my street-level perspective, however, I couldn’t quite capture the immensity of the crowd: estimated at 100,000 people, more or less.

What I observed (words):

  1. Huge crowds, very international in nature: I heard Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and (I think) Polish.
  2. Mostly they just mill about, taking pictures of themselves and others.
  3. There were some great costumes, but also a sea of generic witches and zombies. Lots of ghoulish brides, for some reason. My favorites were a pair of tarot cards, which I didn’t quite catch (see below). People really seemed to enjoy dressing up (humiliating) their dogs–this is just one reason I am a cat person.
  4. Long lines at all the schlocky businesses (the Salem Witch Museum, the Salem Witch History Museum, all the witch and “horror” shops). The Peabody Essex Museum was completely empty, but I was glad to see the House of the Seven Gables doing a brisk business. Kudos to the PEM and the National Park Service for keeping the Ropes Mansion and the Customs House open and free. These were the only real historical sites available to people, apart from the Witch House and the Gables.
  5. Good for business? This is the major reason people think Haunted Happenings is good for Salem. I suppose it is, but I’m really not sure. It seemed to me that the seasonal businesses were bustling while many of the more permanent ones were relatively empty, or even closed altogether. All the restaurants were packed, with long lines, but don’t all those sausage and fried dough stands eat into their business?
  6. Tours: one business that is obviously profiting big time from Haunted Happenings is that of walking tours, which seem to have multiplied exponentially from previous years. Both former and current students of mine were giving tours while I walked about, and I tried not to get too close so that I might hear what they were saying……
  7. Comments overheard during the crush. There are so many people packed together, that you can’t help but hear what they are saying (unfortunately). Most common comments/questions: where were the witches burned? what does that [building] have to do with the witches? Look at that dog!
  8. Crowd control: there is a huge police presence downtown, which is very necessary but must also be very costly.
  9. Trash: everywhere. Salem gets trashed during Haunted Happenings. The city was definitely on top of the trash situation, but again, at what cost?
  10. Desecration: the two most sacred sites downtown, the Old Burying Point on Charter Street and the adjacent Witch Trials Memorial were completely desecrated yesterday. There is no word more appropriate: desecration. The cemetery is simply fodder for tour groups and photo shoots, and the Memorial was reduced to a place where people could sit down and eat their fried dough or text. Drunken clowns (literally) sat on the stones representing the victims of 1692 while smiling tourists took their pictures. I ran home and poured myself a stiff drink.

What I observed (pictures):

Crowds converge around the Witch House and towards downtown; the requisite “sea of heads” shot, on Washington Street.

Witch City 191

Witch City 187

The center of the storm, Lappin Park, at Washington and Essex Streets. Here Samantha, evangelical preachers, tourists, and fried dough converge. It’s really hard to convey how odd this juxtaposition of elements is.

Witch City 065

Witch City 047

Some of the more creative costumes I spotted…..and uncreative: the last ladies were all sporting the super tacky “Salem Witch” costume I featured in a post a month ago.

Witch City 116

Witch City 123

Witch City 126

Witch City 163

The Business of Witch City.

Witch City 147

Witch City 127

Witch City Businesses

Witch City 166

Witch City 143

Witch City 179

A few random shots. Overheard in front of both the Derby House and the Ropes Mansion: did a witch live here?

Witch City 144

Witch City 142

Witch City 038

Witch City 150

The Burying Point on Charter Street and Witch Trials Memorial. No comment.

Witch City 092

Witch City 098

Witch City 100

Witch City 111

Witch City 114

Witch City 101

Witch City 172

Witch City 177

Witch City 167

End note: Things did pick up after I went home and had a drink and received my trick-or-treaters, who were cute and gracious. There were the usual pirates and princesses, but one costume, worn by a boy about 10 years old, I found quite perplexing: a black, inflated, puffer suit of sorts, rendering him quite round. No mask, no graphics. I asked him what he was supposed to be, and he shrugged while his sister answered for him: America. Morbid Obesity.


De Facto Demolition

One year ago contractors working for a developer/convenience and liquor store owner named Jewel Saeed tore the roof off a Federal house on Carlton Street here in Salem and exposed it to the deluge of an approaching tropical storm: in the following weeks they ripped out all of the original (soaked) fabric, including its massive center chimney, and rebuilt it as petrochemical-clad condominiums, surrounded by blacktop. I may rant against the huge generic buildings which are gradually transforming the Salem streetscape, but no Salem development has ever troubled me more than the mutilation of 25 Carlton Street. The act was so brazen, and the response so tepid. Carlton Street is not located in one of Salem’s four historic districts, so it is not subject to overview by the Historic Commission, but all Salem structures are subject to the city-wide Demolition Delay Ordinance and Mr. Saeed did not apply for a demolition permit or a waiver. He didn’t have to bother. But make no mistake: the structure that now occupies the lot designated 25 Carlton Street is not the same building that existed a year ago.

Carlton Street 1985

Carlton Street 2014

drowned-house-014

 

Carlton Street 003p

Carlton Two 007

Carlton Street 010

25 Carlton Street in 1985, 2014, and this (very foggy) morning. The fine grain of vinyl siding.


Return to Carlton Street

I am returning to the ruin on Carlton Street, what remains of a circa 1803 structure decapitated by a “developer” a few weeks ago, even though I don’t have much of an update. Work was stopped on the day after, and the shell of no. 25 is still standing—in a very vulnerable state that must be incredibly distressing for its neighbors to gaze upon. We are waiting for either the judgement of the city engineer or the city solicitor, maybe both, and then the developer will be brought before the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals). There are two preservation agencies in Salem: the Historic Commission (which has jurisdiction over the city’s four local historic districts–see below) and Historic Salem, Incorporated (HSI), a nonprofit preservation advocacy organization. Both have been rendered relatively powerless by the demolition of 25 Carlton: the Historic Commission because the house is not located within its jurisdiction, and HSI because it has chosen not to even issue a statement to the effect of: We are sorry to see such an insensitive renovation of a historic structure. I have received hundreds of emails from all around the country in the past few weeks, expressing rage and disgust, but also amazement that this could happen in Salem. So that’s why I wanted to return to this house, to show that this could easily happen in Salem.

Historic Districts Salem

Ruin 2

Ruin 3

The three local historic districts in downtown Salem (there is a fourth on Lafayette Street)–just click to enlarge; 25 Carlton Street this past weekend; the plans posted in the window (which were produced by a structural engineer rather than an architect) show a gabled roof quite similar to that which was lopped off, but completely different fenestration in the front of the house, and and whole new rear addition.


The Day After: Teardown?

As many of you predicted, the same “contractors” who tore the roof off a circa 1803 house on Carlton Street in Salem and exposed its interior to yesterday’s driving rains returned early this morning to complete their work. Their employer, the developer Jewel Saeed, is apparently out of the country. Much of two walls came down before several Salem building inspectors ordered them to focus solely on cleaning up the sodden boards that lay around the house rather than continuing to strip it bare. I really, really didn’t want to go see this crime scene again but I trudged over there: to document, I suppose. Once there, I started snapping away, and the contractor came over and asked me where I was from: to which I replied “Salem”. He then said they were not tearing the house down, but were preserving 50% of it, while his workers continued to throw its (former) frame into a huge dumpster. Plans for the new two-family house were posted in the front facade of the old. I find this deliberate destruction of a historic house so upsetting that it’s a bit difficult for me to focus, so I think I’ll just get a few facts out for now. While it was painful to look at 25 Carlton Street this morning, I am glad that I went over there, as there were several neighbors and city councilors on site and I was able to learn some interesting things, including the fact that Mr. Saeed has never even applied for a demolition permit. All of the neighbors seemed to agree that Mr. Saeed’s contractors were working very quickly to rid the house of its roof on the day before the storm, and that the house was in fairly good shape when he purchased it a year or so ago, from a woman who had lived there for fifty-eight years. That’s really all I can say/write right now; I think I’ll let the photographs speak say the rest.

Teardown 006

Teardown 029

Teardown 018

Teardown 039

25 Carlton Street on August 14, 2014: front and side views and a close-up of its exposed center chimney.

 


A Drowned House in Salem

I seldom publish two posts in one dayand especially on such divergent topics–but a photograph of an old house on Carlton Street in Salem popped up on Facebook this morning, and I can think of little else. The simple colonial house had been shorn of its roof and top story, by all accounts in the past few days, and left completely open to the elements: just in time for the driving rainstorm we are experiencing today. I ran over to look at 25 Carlton Street in the early afternoon, and it was indeed drenched, inside and out, even more forlorn in appearance now that the floodgates have opened. This was deliberate and brutal decimation: the house looks like its top was sliced off with a chainsaw. The interior has been gutted as well, and what is referred to as a “massive center chimney” in its MACRIS inventory removed. No tarp in sight. I have never seen a worse case of demolition-by-developer, whose name was still conveniently legible on the building permit: Jewel Saeed, of Swampscott, Massachusetts, who appears to own several convenience and liquor stores in the Boston area. Let us hope and pray that he sticks to his day job and stops preying on historic houses in the future.

Drowned House 012

Drowned House 011

Drowned House 014

Drowned House 015

Drowned House 010

Drowned House 014 Drowned House 006

25 Carlton Street on August 13, 2014. The house was built by or for Salem shipwright Thomas Magoun c. 1803. Below: contrasting views of the house on a better day and today.

Drowned House 25 Carlton

Drowned House 013

 


%d bloggers like this: