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...

1 comment:

Lady Spiderwitch said...

I loved reading your blog post. Wow, I am so envious. In my opinion, the only place that I would visit in the U.S. is indeed Salem, because I am more than curious and want to, am dying, to explore the Witch Museum. Being a witch myself, my curiousity is understandable. I liked your comment about Wiccans. I thought that was funny. I am not Wiccan myself. Wicca was a religion- attempt at revival by Gerald Gardner in the '50s for good intentions and some less than desirable intentions. So there is a huge difference which you seemed to pick up on in your post. The difference between Old World witchcraft like you said about the early healers, that's the old witchcraft, which I am trying to follow and learn more about, which means poring over texts. Oh my, till I'm bleary eyed. I actually posted about the ancient's methods of divination on my own blog if you are interested in reading more about that. Divination and witchcraft are closely related but not the same. I know. Thanks for the fascinating blog post. Glad you had a good time. Blessings,