witchery kitchery – painting the whole town red

tuesday august 10, 2010
salem, massachusetts

As part of the urban studies research job I am currently doing for the summer, today was a field trip day to Salem, MA. How does this relate to a project on Vietnamese street life? Well, one of the projects that our research group is taking on is the creation of a Ho Chi Minh City, VN alternative tourism map. We want to create a map that not only shows the prominent parts of HCMC but also incorporates the vitality of the street life and the commerce that takes place there. One idea that has been floating around for a while is the creation of a “Boston Freedom Trail” of sorts, where the HCMC City Planning Department would paint a trail for tourists to walk along as they explore HCMC. To get inspiration for this project, my lab group went to Salem to explore the Heritage Trail.

As you probably know, Salem is most known for its infamous witch hunts from back in the day (we’re talking late 17th century here) and its fear of anything that relate to witchcraft. What you probably don’t know is that Salem is one of the few cities in the USA that has a trail painted along its roads to lead tourists and locals alike on a trip around downtown Salem. According to the Salem News, the Salem Heritage Trail can lead pretty much where anyone wants. The example this article cites is that the Salem Witch Museum was once left off the red trail. The museum owners decided to take matters into their own hands and just painted a red line to guide tourists there! Never mind that this doesn’t show up on the Salem tourist maps published by the city. It apparently doesn’t matter.

As we walked along the Heritage Trail, I began to see why they say that the trail goes anywhere. The trail often diverged at corners, allowing the walker to take their touring into their own hands. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually didn’t mind just blindly following the trail – it seemed to be pretty good in the shopping district/town hall area. Of course there were tons of witch and pirate museums, but what could you expect for a city that makes its living off its old reputation of hunting down every last witch?

Along the way, Annette and I asked a few passerby what brought them to Salem. One Francophone family said that their son had just studied the Crucible in school and thought it would be interesting to take a family day trip out to Salem. Another family said that they lived in Massachusetts but had never been down to this part of the state.  Interesting reasons, I supppose, but if this trip hadn’t been for the express purpose of work, I think I’d save my family day trip to Salem for Halloween when the witchery would be abundant and truly spooky. This trip was a great way to think about city tourism, but there really isn’t much to do in Salem except gawk at the witch museums that pop up every block.

Or, you know, to gawk at the pirates outside the pirate musuem. That’s legit too.

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