Friday, August 31, 2012

EEK! A Boob!

Howdy, Loyal Readers.

After my recent trip to Salem, I began to think about the impact of Puritanism and how shades of this still linger in American culture.  Although these fanatical, guilt-ridden, sad-sacks helped settle North America over four hundred years ago, I firmly believe that their own, unique strand of repression is still present in the DNA of contemporary American "values".  Hell, after hearing about snippets from the official Republican party platform I'm convinced that at least 40% of American voters could self-identify as Puritanical.

Before we go any further, does anybody remember this wonderful little gaffe from way back in 2004?

After this mistakenly aired during the Super Bowl XXXVIII half-time show, a cadre of self-righteous morality nuts totally lost their narrow little minds.  Even if this had been a deliberate publicity stunt (which I don't believe it was), it didn't require a hysterical, country-wide freak-out and Janet Jackson certainly didn't deserve to be branded with a permanent scarlet letter.  In fact, the entire time this was going on, us Canadians (and Europeans to an even greater extent) were all standing around looking at each other and saying "Um, ooookay, it's a just a boob.  Big deal."

As such, I've always assumed that us Canuckleheads are a tad more progressive then our slightly more uptight and sexually confused brethren to the south.  But then, after reading this story in our local paper, I began to have my doubts.

For weeks leading up to the grand opening of their new store in Halifax Shopping Center, Victoria's Secret power-bombed the mall with banner ads, some of which featured models wearing lingerie.  Now although the company can be accused of objectifying women and fostering unrealistic body-images (seriously, girls, eat a friggin' sandwich), that's not what most of these outraged parents were having a conniption about. 

"The kids just get completely grossed out by it, it embarrasses them and they don't know what to say." said one flustered mom.

"Grossed out"?  "Embarrassed"?  Really!?!

Unless kids are brainwashed into associating nudity with sex, shame and concealment, they usually don't give a crap.  In fact, if any segment of the population is likely to experience a willful wardrobe malfunction, it's a kid.  I'm pretty sure that every parent has, at some point in time, caught their toddler trying to make a break for the front door after they've gleefully thrown off the diaper-shaped shackle of their oppressor.

Ergo, these extreme negative reactions are often picked up from patents.  So, instead of covering their eyes and steering them back to the parking lot, why don't you...oh, I dunno, talk to your kids for a second.  I'm willing to wager that the very same kids that are getting "grossed out" at the sight of a partially-nude figure probably wouldn't even bat an eye while performing sniper-rifle head-shots in Call of Duty.

All of these stories reveal our arrested and puerile obsession with linking of nudity to sex.  Here, let me give you an example of how such mores can change.  Did you know that as late as 1936 it was illegal for men to be topless in public because it was considered indecent?  Which is why all of the olde tyme beach photos had dudes dressed up in ridiculous get-ups like this:

"It's for the best, gents!  This way we shant risk enflaming the passions of the gentler sex!"

"I say...are we having fun yet?"

This went on until some crusading young chaps got pissed up and started going topless on Long Beach in 1936 which eventually resulted in the law being changed.  Nowadays, female activists like Moira Johnston are doing their best to earn the same rights that their male brethren have enjoyed for the past seventy-plus years.  Many of them are quick to point out that both genders essentially have the same anatomy, its just that women were "cursed" with a few bonus fat cells.

Okay, okay...I know people what people are thinking: "C'mon, man, women clearly have something more...significant happening up there."  Sure, but what about that dude in the neighborhood who never wears a shirt while he's mowing his lawn?  Y'know, the same guy who'd be hard-pressed to fit into a C-cup?  The same guy who secretly wears nipple clamps under his dress shirt to work?  Sorry, but it doesn't make sense that women have to stay trussed up on the hottest days of the year while guys get a free pass.

Unfortunately reality calls and I'm forced to end this rant on a sour note.  Despite the best efforts of public breast-feeding activists and topless protesters, until North American males start growing the f#@k up, things aren't likely to change.  If a women were to sunbath topless in a public park, I fear that she'd quickly be swarmed by packs of leering, overheated chimps armed with camera phones.

It's sad to say but here we are in 2012 and we've still got a lot of growing up to do.

EPIC  NSFW, ironically.

FAIL  Douchebags.  That is all.  


FAIL  Things are getting so hysterical down in the States that it's even starting to have an impact on public works of art.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Four

What's Happenin', Witchfinder Generals?

Needless to say, I was none too pleased to hear tornado warnings flying all around Salem that day.  After all, I'd struck Kansas off my short list of places to visit just on the possibility of encountering such a thing.  Now some of you may think that my fear of twisters is irrational but to those braggarts I'd like to ask: Is it irrational to fear a weather phenomenon that has the power to put a cow's face straight through an oak tree?

The weather certainly felt conducive to producing extreme conditions.  Earlier that day it had been well over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and by late afternoon the temperature had dropped dramatically.  As we made our way down Essex Street the dark and pregnant storm clouds sunk lower and lower until they were poised overhead like bad thoughts.

Our destination that afternoon was the 17'th century home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, more commonly known as The Witch House.  Just seconds after this photo was taken, the clouds opened up and we barely managed to get inside just ahead of the deluge:

We found ourselves deposited in a dark, cosy and tastefully arrayed little gift shop.  Whereas so many souvenir stores in Salem feature cheesy tchotchkes like Black Cat shot glasses, Witch City chowder mugs, and "My Other Car Is A Broom" bumper stickers, the Witch House had a lot of informative books, local crafts and genuinely unique decorative items.

Even though we were now "safely" inside the horrible thought of a tornado hitting the house kept nagging at me.  Eventually I reasoned that if I was going to get killed by a cyclone, I'd rather it happen in a cool historic building rather then some crappy Starbucks or KFC.  Eventually I became distracted by my sober surroundings and found myself lost in thought.

The museum provided plenty of resources to help us understand the conditions which sparked the hysteria in the first place.  As we wandered amongst the period furnishings, architecture and decor, we start to gain some real insight into the culture and prevailing mindset of the Trial's major players.  Unlike so many other local attractions, The Witch House eschews sensationalism in lieu of likely theories and documented facts.  

The insanity all started in the winter of 1692 when Betty, the nine-year-old daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, and her eleven-year-old cousin Abigail Williams started acting completely squirrelly.  From out of the blue they started writhing on the floor, screaming gibberish, chucking random objects and presumably using gobs of sarcasm.

Clearly freaked that these two previously angelic little girls were suddenly going all Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist, Reverend Parris called in physician William Griggs to get his professional opinion.  After a cursory examination, the not-so-good doctor immediately declared that there could only be one culprit and that was SATANIC INFLUENCE.

And with that these two sheltered and highly-suggestible little girls immediately had the collective attention of an entire village riveted to them.  When prompted to reveal the source of their affliction they were quick to finger at anyone in the village who was vaguely "iffy".  As a result, the first person to fall under the cross-hairs of hysteria was Tituba, a slave owned by Reverend Parris.

Tituba had an unfortunate habit of reading lurid tales to Betty and Abigail from the Malleus Maleficarum a witchfinder's handbook which was loaded with references to divination, mind control and sexual congress with dark forces.  At first she denied any wrong doing but as time wore on Tituba began to offer up some of the most creatively bizarre admissions that you can possibly imagine.

One of the most fascinating and disturbing documents in The Witch House is a transcript of the interrogation between Tituba (T) and John Hathorne (H):

Here she admits to witnessing all kinds of kooky hi-jinx: broom-flight, winged familiars, odd
animal/human transmutations.  Although a lot of this is creatively inventive, it's also pretty damning.  As such, I had to inquire as to why Tituba would ever do such a thing.

"Well at this stage she'd been abused and coerced for quite some time," replied one of the guides.  "So it's very likely that she was just telling them exactly what they wanted to hear.  Although she admits to witnessing a lot of this bizarre stuff, she also stops well shy of any sort of confession.  It's as if she's saying 'Okay, this is what I saw but I wasn't personally involved in it'."

Hearing this made me think of all the chickenhawks out there who think that water boarding is an acceptable form of interrogation.  As Jesse Ventura once said: "You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour and I'll have him confessing to the Sharon Tate murders."

So, by evoking Satan and witchcraft in an act of self-preservation, Tituba ended up validating the hysterical accusations of two impressionable young girls and adding major fuel to the fire of paranoia.  It wasn't long before a hundred and forty two people were legally charged with witchcraft and many others fell under the sort of suspicion that destroys a reputation.  By the time the fervor finally died down, nineteen innocent people had been hanged and at least five others had died in prison.

To this day there are several theories as to why Betty and Abigail behaved the way they did.  Some experts postulate that the girls were suffering from ergotism, which is said to produce wild hallucinogenic effects.  Others suspect that the girls were merely craving some badly-needed attention and were afraid to recant after necks started getting stretched.   Some postulate that things only got out of hand after a bunch of petty, vengeful assholes seized upon the girl's initial claims and used the excuse of a witch hunt to exact revenge on their rivals.

But there's another major factor to consider: Puritans had a lot to be terrified of.  Some of these things were very real (native attacks, disease and starvation) and some of them were imagined (like sin, eternal damnation and Satanic influence).  As the daughter of a Reverend, Betty Parris would have been particularly fearful, guilt-ridden, stressed out, bored and likely brainwashed to the point of psychosis.

Just think about the most sheltered, naive and religious kids that you knew back in grade school.  Think about how socially maladjusted and weird they seemed to be.  Okay, now multiply that to the power of ten.  Betty Parris and Abigail Williams probably would have made the Duggar brood from 19 Kids and Counting look like characters in a Larry Clark film.    

As a magistrate and civic leader, it would have been Judge Jonathan Corwin's duty to investigate these claims of witchcraft.  After Bridget Bishop was hanged on the basis of "spectral evidence", Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall quit the tribunal and Corwin served as his replacement.  Ultimately, it was this Court which eventually condemned nineteen innocent men and women to their deaths.

When it comes to his exact involvement in the trials, the records are pretty spotty at best but we do know that Corwin's name appears on the arrest warrant for Giles Corey, Mary Warren, Abigail Hobbs, Rebecca Nurse and Bridget Bishop.  He also took statements against Bridget Bishop and witnessed her "confession" as well.

The Witch House is the only structure in Salem with direct ties to the Witch Trials.  Corwin purchased the house in 1675 and lived there for over forty years.  Although Corwin probably heard several early accusations of witchcraft from villagers in his own home, there's no solid evidence to indicate that official legal proceedings or any interrogations ever occurred on the premises.

The house itself is a marvel.  There's still considerable debate as to how old the structure is, but most historians place its construction somewhere between 1660 and 1670.  In 1944 the house was threatened with demolition so a group of conservationists in Salem raised the scratch required to move it to its current location and perform some badly-needed renovations.  In 1948 the house was rechristened as a museum, which is now open seasonally every year.

Although the atmosphere in The Witch House was both ominous and oppressive, this probably had less to do with bad karma and more to do with the howling wind, driving rain, peals of thunder an lightning.  Even more dramatic was the stifling gloom imposed by the storm clouds lingering just above the house.  All of this added up to the perfect atmos-fear for our grim visit.

"This is definitely the darkest it's ever been in the museum during the day," one of the curators observed during our tour.

Even though we'd spent a fair amount of time in The Witch House, it was still raining pretty heavily at the end of our visit.  Just before we left, we popped into the gift shop and picked up our only souvenir of the entire trip: a glass sun catcher fashioned after a wax seal.

We also picked up a couple of four-dollar umbrellas in an effort to get back to the car in a reasonably dry state.  This turned out to be a wise investment since it continued to pour quite heavily, threatening to derail our plans to finish up our trip with a Salem Night Ghost Tour.

We'd pretty much made up our mind to forego the tour until mother Nature intervened and declared "Y'know sumfin'?  These wacky kids deserve an awesome capper on their vaycay.  Let's banish these tiresome clouds so that they can can get their spook-on!"

But I'll leave that for the inevitable conclusion!

EPIC BOOKS  If you're looking for some non-sensationalistic accounts of the Salem Witch Trials here are two recommendations straight from the staff at The Witch House:

EPICLY FAILISH  Speaking of sensationalistic, this episode of Ghost Adventures is amped up so much it's almost laughable.  Having said that, the facts are essentially accurate and it's always cool to get more info about The Witch House.  

Ghost Adventures - Salem Witches by f100003542948733

FAIL   Hey, Zak Bagans: Joe Jonas called...he wants his fauxhawk back.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Three

Greetings, Fellow Adventurers!

Before I regale you with more tales from beautiful and historic Salem, Massachusetts, I really have to mention a place where we had lunch on Day Two.

In addition to their charmingly mongoloidian mascot, the Gulu-Gulu Cafe on 247 Essex Street had some truly delectable eats (like their fresh n' crunchy Garden Wrap) as well as fine selection of tasty beverages.  I had a chance to sample the Brooklyn Brown, Peak Pale Ale, Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout and the Pretty Things ¡Magnifico!, which is an adjective I'd prescribe to any of these fine refreshments.

If you only associate American beer with swill like Coors / Bud / Miller Light then you obviously haven't tried some of the amazing microbreweries out there.  Honestly, go off the beaten path a little bit and you'll be duly rewarded with a host of tasty concoctions.

The first thing we did on Day Three was pop into Jaho Coffee and Tea on 197 Derby Street for a light breakfast.  In addition to featuring a pretty decent ba-egg-el (bacon/egg/bagel) sammich, the place has some pretty awesome dark roasts and iced coffees.

En route to our first stop, we paused to admire some of the beautiful houses within the Salem Maritime National Historic grounds including the West India Goods Store built in 1804:

The stately Derby House constructed in 1762:

And the unique-looking Narbonne House which dates all the way back to 1675!

But our ultimate goal that morning was The House of the Seven Gables, which is considered to be the oldest surviving mansion house in North America.  Constructed by seafarer extraordinaire John Turner in 1668, the imposing-looking structure inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his book of the same name in 1851.

Hawthorne himself was a pretty interesting cat.  The product of Puritan ancestry, Nathaniel's great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was a ruthless and unrepentant judge during the infamous Salem Witch Trials.  Rumor has it that Nathaniel was so repulsed by his family's dark legacy that he added a "W" to his last name in order to distance himself from them.

Hawthorne's work often reflected on hysterical thought, self-righteousness, ethical persecution and mob rule.  His romantic classic The Scarlet Letter tells the tale of a 17'th century adulteress who goes through untold miseries in order to make peace with herself and reclaim her life.  In a day and age when people aren't merely content to have their own moral ethos without cramming it down someone else's throat, I really believe that this book is more relevant now then ever.

And then there's The House of the Seven Gables; a clam-chowder-flavored Wuthering Heights filtered through Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher.  It's a crackerjack yarn filled with revenge, murder, death, madness, retribution and whispers of witchcraft and all manner of shady dealings.  And, oh yes, there's a l'il dash of implied snoggery thrown in there for good measure.            

As soon as you set eyes on the imposing black manse that inspired Hawthorne, you're brain automatically starts to conjure up shades of well, shades.

A forward thinking lady by the name of Caroline Emmerton purchased the heavily-modified house in 1908.  Using Hawthorne's classic novel as a blueprint, she had all seven gables restored to the home and even added Hepzibah Pyncheon's fictional "cent shop" to the first floor.

But there were even cooler revelations to come.  At one point during the tour, our guide popped the back panel out of an innocuous-looking wood closet and led us into a bone-fide secret friggin' passage which spiraled up through the house's massive central chimney, eventually depositing us in a creaky, schizophrenic-looking attic.  I mean, c'mon, how awesome is that?!?!  

Despite the house's creepy countenance and oddball design, neither of us felt particularly ill-at-ease during our visit.  The same could be said for Hawthorne's birth-home, which was originally constructed in 1750 on Union Street but moved to the properly in 1958.  Both historic sites are well-appointed with
thousands of rare items of antiquity like furniture, dishware, bedding, art, books and photographs.  The Hawhorne House even features a perfectly preserved 18'th Century kitchen presided over by a friendly matron who was quite keen to field questions in return for a few answers of our own.

Also adding to charm of the site were the immaculate splendors of the Seaside Gardens:

And then there was this playground supposedly for "kids" (*Pffffttt!*...labels) which had a cool little wooden boat to play around in.  Naturally I couldn't resist the opportunity to bust out my world-famous Captain Ahab impersonation:

"Thank ye!  Thank ye!  Thou art an audience both noble and true.  I shall be here anon.  Pilot thine carriage with care and prithee try the kidney pie!"

Hey, man, why should they get to do all the 18'th century gags?

By the time we left The House of the Seven Gables the temperature in Salem had risen to about 38 degrees Celsius, which, if my calculations are correct, is about 70,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  By noon both of us were shuffling through the streets like vampiric sloths, seeking shade at every turn and sticking our heads underneath air conditioner units to catch the sweet, sweet run-off.

Motivated by self-preservation, we crawled into just about every shop that boasted air conditioning.  But a completely different motivation led us into Ye Olde Pepper Companie.  After all, it's not everyday that you get to visit "America's oldest candy company".

As is seemingly the case with every free-standing structure in Salem, the shop's origins are truly amaze-balls.  In 1806 an Englishwoman by the name of Mrs. Spencer was shipwrecked near Salem.  She and her son became hopelessly destitute until a rumor started to circulate around town that she was an accomplished candy-maker.  I imagine the following conversation too place not long after:

"Hey, I gots me a hardcore cravin' fo' some candy, right now.  How 'bout you, dawg?"
"Hells to the yeah!"
"A'ight!  Where we gonna score it?  Can you make that shit?"
"Um, well, naw, G..."
" it, y'know that shorty wif the funny accent that's always be bangin' on about spare change down on Buffum Street?  Doctor J (the "J" is for Jeremiah, BTW) say she make candy like a mother-f#@%er!!!"
"That MILF be a candy-maker too?  She's like...the perfect woman...except fo', y'know the kid."
(awkward pause)
"Ummmm, yeah, so I be thinkin'....since I can't make no candy, and you can't make no candy, and we all got a sweet toof, why don't we all jus' get a coupla Lincolns together, procure a few keys o' that fine white granulated pure cane shit, give it to her and see what she can do?"

And so the town collectively raised enough cheddar to set her up in her trade.  Little did they know that Mrs. Spencer would parley this act of charity into the now-famous "Salem Gibraltar", the very first commercially produced candy in America as well as a staple treat on many a naval vessel at the time.

I walked away with several nummy confections, including some vanilla and orange cremes and chocolate caramels.  Naturally I had to jam every single one of them in my food-hole just as soon as I crossed over the threshold 'lest the poor, delectable, compulsively-edible artisan sweeties melt away into the best-tasting bag of hot chocolate EVAR.

We slowly oozed our way down Derby Street and up Washington Square West, popping into antique stores and witch shops as we went.  Then, in the distance, we spied the stately visage of Nathaniel Hawthone himself and slithered up to it for a photo op before back-tracking down to Charter Street.  

While trundling down the refreshingly shady Charter, we passed by the Witch Trials Memorial, which was regrettable being refurbished.  But right next door was The Burying Point, the oldest cemetery in Salem.  Interred within its gates are several original Mayflower passengers as well as John Hathorne, the aforementioned ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne who was a fervent and unrelenting lead judge in the notorious Witchcraft Trials.

Even in broad daylight this place was kinda creepy...      


The really weird thing is: I shot all of these in color!  Kidding!  

As if this wasn't unnerving enough, several gun-metal grey clouds began to form overhead and the air adopted a heavy ozone smell which usually heralds rain.  While beetling out in and out of the stores along Essex Street we began to hear the shop-keeps talking in hushed tones about some sort of warning.  It was the threat of something dreadful, something dark, mindless and viciously destructive.  Something I've mercifully never encountered and certainly don't ever care to.  Something I have a stark, irrational fear of.  


Check back on the 'ol ECD soon for the super-spooky continuation!!!  



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Two

Hello, Fellow Kerouacians!

As we got closer to Salem certain town names in Massachusetts (like Newburyport, Ispwich and Gloucester) began to ring a bell with me.  Then it suddenly occurred to me: I was entering H.P. Lovecraft country!

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890, Lovecraft is often cited as a major influence on the modern horror genre.  In addition to being one of the most gifted descriptive writers of all time, Lovecraft also created his own mythos, dominated by the ancient, all powerful cosmic entity Cthulhu.  A slew of contemporary scribes like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore all cite Lovecraft as a profound early influence on their writing careers.

Seeing these places immediately made my mind up about going back some day.  Except this time I'd be on the trail of the Deep Ones.

I also had to thank Crom for giving me the foresight to pick up a GPS unit.  The only time the thing screwed up was when we made a programming error or if recent construction had altered our route somehow.  This happened right at the end of our journey when it prompted us to loop around to access an on-ramp which had obviously been re-fashioned into a direct left turn just days earlier.  Otherwise, its guidance was flawless.

Without it, we probably would have driven around for hours just trying to find our hotel.  After following its prompts through the Amity-from-Jaws-like town of Beverly, the GPS put us on a labyrinthine, winding country road which eventually led to our destination.  As we pulled into the parking lot of the Wylie Inn, we were suitably impressed.  The place was located on some of the nicest  grounds I'd ever seen:

In fact, the story of the two main buildings (Tupper Hall and the Conference Center) is actually a pretty interesting read.  Although our room was fairly modest, we still couldn't shake the distinctive feeling that we were guests of the Carringtons for a few days.  

It was an absolutely beautiful evening, so we quickly checked in and made a bee-line for downtown Salem.  We managed to snipe a parking spot right in front of the Salem Witch Museum on 19 1/2 (?) Washington Square North.   We were surprised that the place was still buzzing with activity until we realized that the staff was desperately trying to herd people out and close up for the night.  Just as the last few slack-jawed yokels were trickling out I managed to get a restaurant recommendation from a staff member.

"Oh, wow, so many choices," he replied, sounding pained by the prospect of choosing just one.  "Well, you can't go wrong with Salem Beer Works.  It's a microbrewery pub with really good food."

Good food?  Beer?  Microbrewery?  Sold!

Our guide's advice turned out to be spot-on.  Soon we were enjoying a delectable supper:

 And a cornucopia of tasty beverages:

Let the record show that when the waitress came by to offer the last four samplers, I had every intention  to say "No".  But even before I had a chance to decline my infinitely smarter half blurted out "Hells, yeah!  Bring it on!  We're on vacation!"

In fact, I'm pretty sure she even added a "WOOT!" in there somewhere.

Needless to say, after splitting twelve samplers, we both felt compelled to stroll around for a few hours before driving back to the hotel.  This worked out well, since it gave us a chance to get the lay of the land.  We crossed over the South River, went back over Congress Street and then made our way through Pickering Wharf.  

Throughout our stroll, Salem's distinctive architecture and sense of history were palpable.

As we walked out onto Derby Wharf, we stopped to admire the Friendship of Salem, a full-scale replica of an East Indian merchantman built 2000.

Notwithstanding its incredibly lame handle (Who was her former skipper?  Barney the Dinosaur?), the Friendship is a real marvel which functions as both a living museum and as a fully-certified Coast Guard vessel.

But it wasn't until we meandered back up onto Derby street that I really fell in love with Salem.  Within a few short paces of the Friendship's majestic beauty we saw this:

That's right folks: The Bunghole.

Just like everything else in Salem, there's a funny story here.  The Bunghole used to be a funeral parlor that that served as a clandestine watering hole during Prohibition.  Supposedly the Urban Dictionary version of "bunghole" was used as a secret code word in reference to the place, as in "Hey, Norman!  You wanna take a quick dart into tha' bunghole with me tonight?"  I can only imagine the sort of rumors that got started in 1920's Salem when teetotallers overheard these charming little homilies!

When Prohibition was lifted in 1933, the spot was converted into a liquor store and the name stuck.  Needless to say, the owners have a real blast with the cheeky name, selling novelty t-shirts bearing hilariously pervy double entendres.

By that time it was getting pretty late so we decided to pack it in and get an early start the next day.  En route back into the town following morning we stopped in at the Red-White-and-Blue-a-rrific Coffee Time Bake Shop on Bridge Street.

Amidst the Star-Spangled environs I heartily relished an awesome blueberry scone paired with a solid cuppa joe...

While headed back to the car I began to notice just how much Americans love bumper stickers.  They seem to use them to trumpet their opinions in the exact same way that I use the medium of t-shirts to soapbox my own unique brand of cluelessness to the world:

Hmmmm, given all the references to the Grateful Dead and Towlie, I guess it makes sense that the owner bought their car at "Green Leaf Auto Sales".  Gold, Jerry, gold!

Our first stop of the day was the Salem Witch Museum.

Converted from a church built in the 1840's, the museum has served as a major tourist destination since 1972.  The $9.00 admission price earns you a two-fer.  In Part One guests are seated in a large room where atmospheric lighting is used to illuminate full-scale dioramas depicting the scenes of hysteria that broke out in Salem in the winter of 1692 and the completely fraudulent trials that followed.  Accompanying sound effects and creepy narration adds to the effect.

The second part takes visitors through a series of displays illustrating witchcraft throughout the ages.  My favorite part honors the Celtic Pagan Midwife who often used her sage-like knowledge of herbology to cure ailments and treat wounds.  The mind reels when you ponder what course human history might have taken if the Catholic Church hadn't seen these women as a threat and re-cast them as Satanic concubines.  Perhaps Europe wouldn't have gone through such a long and pronounced Dark Age.      

Although I'm happy to see modern-day witches enjoy a semblance of religious acceptance, my sympathies definitely lie more with the Celtic Pagan Midwife then modern Wiccans.  With their crushed velvet robes, leafy headbands and hippy-dippy sensibilities, modern witchcraft seems just a tad too pretentious to me.  Maybe its because they remind me of elves.  And I friggin' hate elves.

"All hail, Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn!"  

In all seriousness, I still have more respect for Wiccans then I do for the Catholic Church.  At least Wiccans have the good sense to respect Mother Earth.  Plus they seem to stay the f#@k away from kids.   

The other interesting part of the display was the FEAR + TRIGGER = SCAPEGOAT equation, which likens the anti-witch hysteria to more, shall we say, contemporary counterparts.  

Although I could certainly appreciate the reference to Japanese interment, the McCarthy era and the persecution of gay people during the first appearance of AIDS, there was one modern parallel which was conspicuously absent from the board.  Needless to say, it took all my willpower not to steal a Sharpie from the gift shop and add:

        FEAR       +     TRIGGER    =        SCAPEGOAT
   TERRORISTS    +      9/11      =       ALL MUSLIMS

Just outside the museum there's a grim-looking statue of a dude named Roger Conant:

With his stern countenance, imposing cloak and witch-finder general pilgrim lid, it's easy to mistake ol' Rog for a major player during the witch trials.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Conant was actually one of the founding fathers of Naumkeag, which was renamed 'Salem' in 1629.  He actually died more then ten years before everybody lost their shit over all this crazy witch stuff.  

After leaving the museum, we wandered through the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, encountering an awesome bookstore that looked like the product of a beautifully disordered mind:


We also found a Harry Potter themed store...

So, naturally I got all gooned up on a flat of Butterbeer.  Hey, you know what they say: "When in Hogwarts..."

Unfortunately, in my inebriated state, my wife caught me flirting with a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched.  Wow, talk about awkward!   

I should have known she was a statue; the likeness isn't quite right.  Look closely: the poor girl's got a face like a half-chewed caramel.

One of my favorite shops on Essex Street was Harrison's Comics and Collectibles.   

It was as if someone had taken an old Woolworth's department store and stocked every square inch of it with toys, games, figurines, posters, books, magazines, t-shirts and, of course, a metric shit-ton of comics.  This included Batman #257, which was one of the first comic books I ever owned as a wee lad of only four winters.  Naturally, I just had to buy it!

But by far my favorite stop of the day was Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery on Derby Street.    

This place was right up my alley.  In what must have been a true labour of love, museum owner and horror film connoisseur James Lurgio commissioned a bunch of makeup and prosthetic effect artists to create a horrible host of life-sized figures honoring the greatest fiends in cinema history!  

His impressive collection spans the entire history of the genre.  In addition to Silent Era ghouls like the eponymous Count Orlok and Lon Chaney's "vampire" from London After Midnight, all of the Golden Age Universal monsters are also present and accounted for.  There's even a considerable section dedicated to Hammer's horror cycle as well as the notorious stable of modern slashers like Freddy, Jason and Monsieur Myers.     

Every once and awhile James would pop out of some secret corridor or alcove to try and scare the ever-living crap out of us.  I don't think it took him very long to realize that were were both pretty hardcore and it was gonna take a helluva lot more to freak us out!

Granted my Army of Darkness t-shirt was a bit of a tell, but it's still kinda funny how people can establish an instant rapport when they have something in common.  James and I prattled on endlessly about our favorite characters, the state of the genre and plans to expand the museum.  Honestly, if my not-nearly-as-obsessive-better-half hadn't physically dragged me out of the place, I gladly would have become a permanent resident!

When spooky musician and horror film director Rob Zombie visited the museum back in September 2011 he was quick to Tweet: "When in Salem, MA check out Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery.  Fun for the whole family.  Good times."  

I couldn't have said it better myself, Rob.

Coming up on the Emblogification Capture Device:
  • Traverse secret passages in a famous literary house come to life!
  • Enter the 17'th century home of witchcraft Judge Jonathan Corwin and come down with a serious case of the wiggins.
  • See more photographic evidence that I may indeed have a drinking problem.  
  • Heat prostration is fun!  
  • Visit a graveyard that's plenty spooky, even in broad daylight!
  • A Salem Night Ghost turns out to be so awesome, I regret not doing it first!  
EPIC   Count Orlok's owner James Lurgio wishes you bad tidings...

FAIL  'Nuff said...