Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts
 

Shawn and Christian weigh in on Samantha again in the Salem News!

City Bewitched by Statue
By Tom Dalton and Alan Burke
The Salem News, June 16, 2005

SALEM — The unveiling of the "Bewitched" statue yesterday was pure magic and even purer spectacle.

The very moment TV Land President Larry Jones pulled the blue cover off the 9-foot bronze statue of actress Elizabeth Montgomery, the late actress who played Samantha Stephens in the 1960s TV sitcom, there was a puff of white smoke. Then, as if on cue, rain fell from the dark skies.

A crowd estimated at 1,000 had braved unseasonably cold weather for just this moment, and many of them — including a large contingent of black-clad witches — cheered happily.

But minutes earlier, a window opened on an adjacent Essex Street building and a white banner unfurled with the word "SHAME," one of several displays from a small but determined contingent of protesters.

In fact, one was determined enough to get arrested, carrying the message that locating the statue here trivializes the deaths of 20 people in the Witch Trials of 1692.

The unveiling of the city's newest art work — and controversy — spurred an impromptu debate on Washington Street between local witches, dressed in black hats and robes, who love the statue, and residents of the city's historic neighborhoods, decked out in sport coats and bow ties, who hate it.

A mass of media and TV cameras fled the press platform in an effort to catch every word.

"We don't make fun of the Holocaust," said Bill Burns, who lives in the McIntire Historic District. "Why are we making fun of (the people who died in the Witch Trials)?"

"The Samantha statue is art," shot back Shawn Poirier, a local witch. "I would rather take the events of 1692 and turn it from tragedy to triumph."

When Poirier kept talking, the 79-year-old Burns accused him of filibustering and said: "There's one thing about witches. They never know when to shut up."

Sign-holder Meg Twohey summed up the opposition when she said, "There's a lot of wonderful history in Salem, and Samantha is not a part of that."

In fact, the only connection between Salem and "Bewitched," a TV show about a housewife who is really a witch, is that a few episodes were shot here in 1970.

But Christian Day, a local witch, countered to an onlooker: "This is all about fun. People come to Salem to have a good time."

This street scene just before the noon ceremony at Lappin Park was followed a few minutes later by a friendly exchange between John Carr, a former member of the city's Historical Commission, and a visitor from out of state who was delighted that a statue to "Bewitched" was going up in Salem.

"I'm from Texas" is all the man got to say before he was interrupted.

"So this is your idea of culture," Carr said with a laugh.

When the man said he learned about witches by watching "Bewitched," Carr replied: "Then your school system has failed you."

It was that kind of day.

Fun and protests

Although most of the crowd enjoyed themselves and seemed thrilled at the gift that cable channel TV Land had given to the city, there was one incident.

A protester, Richard Sorell, 64, of Peabody, was arrested for disorderly conduct. Dressed in a brown suit and bow tie, he was led off carrying a sign.

The antics of the protesters drew angry reactions from many in the crowd, who were there to see the statue and the real-life stars of the TV show who flew in for the ceremony.

"I think it's terrible, it's disgusting," said Diane LeBlanc, 57, of Salem.

"It's kind of disrespectful to the cast to have protesters here," said Christina Fox, 38, of Lexington. "It was a TV show. It brought people laughs."

Even Larry Jones, the president of TV Land, touched on the city's eternal struggle between witch attractions and cultural tourism. Standing on a platform at the corner of Washington and Essex streets, he mentioned the Peabody Essex Museum and made reference to Salem's maritime history in a speech to the crowd.

"But we're here today," he said, "to celebrate a little bit more of the whimsical side, the magical side."

Mayor Stanley Usovicz, who also spoke during the brief, formal program, picked up on that theme of peaceful coexistence.

"We do, in fact, have a great and rich history," he said, "and there is more than enough room for contemporary art and modern culture."

In an interview later, the mayor joked about the handful of protesters from his own historic neighborhood. Asked if the city feared vandalism, he said with a smile: "I guess the list of suspects would be small."

Lots of fans

The unveiling ceremony did not lack for atmosphere.

In the warm-up, a television camera at the end of a huge crane swept over students from the Carlton School, who waved wands topped with stars. Fifth-grader Rachael Pelletier held a sign that read: "Salem Loves A Good Witch."

Asked why he was here, classmate Chris Bradley said, "to see the statue of a witch."

"She's not a real witch," said friend Tyler Leger. "She's a TV character."

Off to the side, a group of witches didn't seem to appreciate the difference as they chanted "Long Live Queen Samantha," in honor of the character Montgomery played. They upped the level of chanting whenever anti-statue protesters could be heard.

It rained hard just before the ceremony, but the rain held off for the unveiling, and then started up again.

"Roger Conant is crying," Marge Reynolds, 70, of Salem said good-naturedly. The reference was to a statue of the city's founder on the other end of Essex Street.

Reactions to the "Bewitched" statue as a work of art also reflected the city's schizophrenic personality. Most of those interviewed liked it, but some didn't.

"It's pretty. It's really pretty," said Sarah Sandborn, 24, of Michigan.

"It's gorgeous," said a witch from Syracuse, N.Y., who goes by the name of "Morgan."

When Salem resident Susanna Brougham was approached, she hesitated before giving her opinion. "New heights of tacky," she finally said.

The most diplomatic comment was made by Jayson Walker, 27, of Salem.

"It's the nicest 'Bewitched' statue in Salem."



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