How Salem Became Halloween Central – Part Two
The subtitle for this episode of my ongoing Salem Halloween series should really be Rise of the Witch City. And that’s exactly what this video talks about. I begin where we left off in the last video and examine the pivotal impact the 1970’s had on Halloween in Salem. As always, the full transcript and link to all sources used is below. Enjoy!
How Salem Became Halloween Central Part Two Full Transcript Below
What’s up witches and welcome to Salem, the weirdest place on the earth. Today we are continuing our exploration of how exactly Salem Massachusetts became Halloween-central. If you missed the first episode, watch that before you get into this one or you’re gonna be lost.
Before we get started, please take a second to subscribe to the channel and hit the notification bell so you’ll be alerted when I post new stuff. Also, a lot of the information in this series came from the book Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory. It features a bunch of Salem history experts and covers the Witch City’s various eras going all the way back to its formation. I highly recommend reading this if you’re into Salem history at all. And, if you’d like to support To Salem, you can use the link in the description to purchase this book and I’ll get a little cut of that. Thanks so much to everyone who decides to do that. Now, let’s get spooky witches.
So, it’s the 1970s. Up to this point, Salem has largely ignored its witch history. Sure, there have been a few forays into the witch city tourism market, but nothing significant. Two Salem-focused episodes of Bewitched have just aired and sparked renewed interest in the town’s Puritanical past.
The 1970’s would go on to be the pivotal decade for Halloween’s explosion in Salem. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at what Halloween was generally like at this time.
This is Halloween
In the post World War 1 United States, money was sprinkled over what we now call the middle class like pixie dust and this led to a lot of interesting developments, the roaring 20’s for example. It also was a significant turning point in the Western commercialization of holidays. It’s around this time that Halloween (along with Christmas, Easter, and a few others) start transforming from cute little events you did with your neighbors to cultural signposts that represented us as a people. Salem was, for a long time, reluctant to join in this fun as were a lot of the New England towns with deep-rooted Puritanical belief structures.
But eventually, Salem couldn’t escape the joyous disintegration of societal norms for one blessed night, so by the time the 1970’s rolled around, the soon-to-be-called Witch City was as interested in All Hallow’s Eve as the next town. While there was no formal city-wide celebration of the holiday yet, you’d likely see trick-or-treaters, costumes, and decorations floating about on Samhain-eve.
Crucially, though, Salem was positioned uniquely to take up the mantle of Halloween-central for a few reasons. First, it was, in the mid-70’s, in the midst of totally revitalizing its downtown area. This changed a lot of the character of the town, transforming Salem’s long-thriving Essex Street into a pedestrian walkway meant to encourage shopping and tourism. It failed, at first, to generate much of either.
Second, and most significantly, Salem was on the brink of economic failure and had been for some time. Something a lot of tourists don’t necessarily understand about The Witch City is that the whole tourism trade is a really recent development. Up until this point, Salem’s economic livelihood was provided by an array of industries, none of which were touristy. Some of these include international maritime trade, manufacturing, and a few more. I’m sure, in time, I’ll have a look at each of these industries on ToSalem (yet another reason to subscribe), but for now just know that by this point they had all failed and Salem was in a bit of an identity crisis. Pretty much all it had going for it was the oncoming American Bicentennial celebration in 1976, a year-long tourism boom that many historic cities enjoyed the benefits of.
The Scene is Set
So, in the early 1970’s Salem has the eyes of America upon it due largely to The Crucible a couple decades prior. And a recent Bewitched storyline. The economic situation is dire in town. No prominent industries have yet emerged in the wake of the decline of others. Despite the hardship, Salem has geared its central area towards pedestrian foot-traffic. Halloween is on the rise as much in Salem as it is everywhere else in America. And finally, the American counter-cultural movements of the 1960’s have been fully adopted into the fabric of the country. This has led to a greater emphasis on individual fashion, sexuality, and religion especially among those who were teenagers or in their 20s in that decade.
The scene is now set for a huge shift in Salem’s cultural, spiritual, and economic identity. Into this now-boiling cauldron came the real witches. And what they brought with them would change Salem Massachusetts forever. It was a small town previously ashamed of its Puritan history. Proud of its maritime contributions to the expansion of America as a global financial force. Reeling from the failure of industry after industry, unsure of who it was and who it wanted to be. The Pagans came in the early 70’s. And in one fell broomstick-riding swoop, they shifted the popular cultural identity away from all of that. And Salem Massachusetts officially became The Witch City.
What’s Next for Halloween in Salem?
In the next episode we’ll explore the final component to how Salem became Halloween-central: the witches themselves. If you’re interested in the sources of this video, check out the description for a link. Please visit tosalem.com for all the witchy goodness your black heart can handle. Stay weird witches, I’ll see ya next time.