A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts

J.W. Ocker. Countryman, $18.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-58157-339-8
This lively chronicle—part travel guide, part history lesson—charts the peculiar relationship between Haunted Happenings, the month-long Halloween celebration held annually in Salem, Mass., and the town’s historic legacy as the site where 20 people were executed during the infamous witch trials of 1692. As depicted by Ocker (Poe-Land), Salem’s embrace of what was once its stigma is a case of civics tempered by commercialism. Plaques and monuments around town call attention to the events of the early 1690s, but many historic sites have been built over—the site of the executions, for example, is now behind a Walgreens—and visitors are instead directed to self-styled museums that offer tours, wax dioramas, and historical reenactments. In the book’s most fascinating chapter, Ocker notes with irony that the Peabody Essex Museum, which possesses the only true artifacts from the trials, is endowed as an art museum and distances itself from the city’s branding for its October festivities. Ocker moves easily among the archivists, historians, and performers he interviews, and he describes the carnival atmosphere that descends upon “Witch City” with enthusiasm and vividness. 25 b&w photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/2016
Release date: 10/04/2016
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