Will TV Land defile Salem, Mass.?

Montgomery.jpgKathy McCabe of The Boston Globe reported this week that the TV Land cable network wants to honor Elizabeth Montgomery’s Bewitched character, Samantha Stephens, with a statue in Salem, Mass.

The network’s plans upset some residents who believe the statue, to be placed in a city park, would dishonor the memory of the Salem witch trials’ victims:

“It’s insensitive to what happened in 1692,” said Jean Harrison, one of several Salem residents opposing the plan. “She was a fictional witch, but the people who died were not witches.”

Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz Jr. said the statue will bring a bit of whimsy to town and maybe a boost to Salem’s seasonal tourist trade. He said the city insisted that the statue be placed away from sites associated with the witch trials, such as a park dedicated to the memory of the 19 accused witches hanged on Gallows Hill in 1692.

“I see this as something like the Red Auerbach statue in Boston,” he said of the bronze figure of the former Celtics coach on a bench at Quincy Market. “It’s a place where people will stop, get their picture taken, and have a little bit of fun while they’re visiting Salem.”

In a brief editorial today, the Globe opposed statue for reasons similar to those expressed by Harrison: “A happy fictional TV witch in a place of so much historical sadness could soften realities for some people — especially children, who get enough mixed messages from television. Better to keep Montgomery in reruns, and out of the park.”

McCabe also sought comment from a local Wiccan:

Not everyone is bothered by the return of “Bewitched” to Salem, the self-proclaimed “Halloween Capital of the World.” Some in the city’s Wiccan community say they welcome the tribute to one of America’s best-loved witches.

“Many of us love and adore the show; we grew up watching it,” said Jerrie Hildebrand, 50, a graphic designer and practicing Wiccan. “But it has nothing to do with our religion. . . . I only wish I could twitch my nose and make my house clean.”

Neither the ACLU nor Americans United has weighed in on whether the statue would establish a kitschy TV version of witchcraft as a city-sanctioned religion.

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  • Stephen A.

    “Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz Jr. said the statue will bring a bit of whimsy to town.”

    “Bring”? The town’s street signs feature a flying witch on a broomstick, and as was said in the posting, it’s the “self-proclaimed Halloween Capital of the World.”

    One Website says: “Three hundred years later, the signs of witchery in Salem are everywhere. Witch logos appear on billboards, street signs, and police badges.”

    Interestingly, I was flipping through the channels and caught a Bewitched episode today. Seriously, this was a very clever, entertaining show with a unique premise. (It was the episode when Darren offended the Queen of the Witches.)

    So I say, sure, build the statue of Samantha – and put it right next to the golden calf. (he said, jokingly)

    What the hell.

  • Tom Breen

    Having been to Salem last October, I wonder if boosting the seasonal tourist trade is even desirable, let alone possible – the place was packed.

    But the concerns about the tastefulness of the statue are a little beside the point. As Stephen A. points out, Salem practically wallows in the execution of 19 Christians for a crime they didn’t commit back in the 17th century – now that the shipping and fishing industries are moribund, it’s practically the cornerstone of town’s economy.

    The quote from the Wiccan establishes the point: Salem might have more self-proclaimed witches per capita than any other city in America, but the people they claim to honor (and they do honor them – on any given day in October you can see cape-wearing figures performing rituals at the old cemetery and memorial) were not witches, but rather Puritan Christians.

    The ironies of history…

  • Lizzy M.

    The ironies of history…

    In my mind the supreme irony is that the trials didn’t happen in modern-day Salem at all. They happened in Salem village, which is known today as Danvers.

  • Tom Breen

    I think the trials happened in Salem, but the initial examinations happened in Salem Village. Certainly, the controversy originated in Salem Village, which ironically changed its name to avoid the stigma associated with the witchcraft panic – a “stigma” that now brings in millions of dollars a year to Salem’s economy!

  • Erik Nelson

    The initial examinations happened in Danvers, Massachusetts, which was indeed once called Salem Village (and which, for obvious reasons, changed its name). I went to college near Salem. It’s an odd place. It does indeed revel in the cartoon witch imagery, which seems to undercut some concerns about offending the memory of those innocents killed.

  • Stephen A.

    Just a mile from my grandmother’s house in Danvers is a huge granite memorial in a soccer field. It is basically the official apology from Salem Village’s descendants to the accused witches.

    One of these folks, Richard Trask, is the town archivist and is directly descended from one of accused Puritans. He gave much of the money for the monument.

    Every year in July, the entire town gathers at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead – the restored 17th century home of one of the accused witches – for a fine strawberry festival.

    But this town in no way exploits the event as Salem proper has, although a video presentation of the trials is showing on a loop during the festival in a restored cabin on the property, which also has a small gift shop.

    See this interesting Wired story on Salem:

    My favorite quote?:
    “The whole thing mostly happened down the road?” asked Nancy Hutchins from Chicago. “Well, that bites. And here I was just getting into this nice déjà vu historical groove.”

    Trask’s research Website, strangely at the Univ. of Virginia: