“A Season with the Witch”

by Jenny on 13 January 2018

So, I read this book: “A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts,” by J.W. Ocker.

J.W. Ocker lived in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife and two young daughters for the full month of October 2015.

The author claims an interest in the occult, which is amusing because the first time that I tried to type his name, autocorrect changed the spelling to “occult.”

I like reading about travel, history, and also nonfiction about real-life “spooky” places. This book fit all of these categories. DON’T read this book if you get bored easily. Because I slogged through several VERY boring sections, just to get to the good stuff.

I’ve never been to Massachusetts. I googled the distance between Salem and Fall River, MA, which is where Lizzie Borden allegedly killed her parents. I could visit both cities on the same day. (Though I would have to travel through metro Boston to do so.) However, without reading this book first, I wouldn’t know the best places to spend my time in Salem.

My sister-in-law Sarah visited Salem a few years ago and took the above photo. Shortly after Sarah’s trip, she blogged the following: Later that afternoon, we went to Salem so that I could get my witch hunt/The Crucible fix.  Maybe I had my hopes set too high, but I found myself fairly disappointed in what I’ll call the over-commercialization of the witch hunts.  The National Park Service had great free exhibits to Salem’s maritime history (which is totally overshadowed by the witch hunts, in my opinion), but everything related to witches cost money.  And I wasn’t sure what would be worth the money and what wouldn’t.  I didn’t want us to end up paying $20+ for something that was ridiculously cheesy.  And the girl at the visitor center was less than helpful in giving advice.  But I got some good pictures of the memorial to the accused — which included the names of some of my favorite characters from The Crucible.

A Season with the Witch” gave me a pretty good idea of which “witch” attractions are worth the money. For instance, I would visit the Salem Witch Museum. I would skip all of the “haunted houses,” the “haunted neighborhood,” and the establishments which involve paying for predictions of the future.

The author did patronize a bunch of Salem witch shops and he paid a bunch of “practitioners” for readings. He didn’t learn anything about himself that he didn’t already know.

(Tangent: When I was a student at St. Vincent College, our dorm brought a local psychic to campus so that students could have the privilege of paying the psychic $35 each for “personal” readings. When my friends debriefed each other later that evening, we discovered that my friends had each received the exact same “prediction.” )

The author also spent a lot of time in, and writing about, cemeteries. (He looked for the graves of the key players in the witch trials.) In these cemeteries, he watched tourists eat their nachos and drunks make asses of themselves.

He interviewed Richard St. Armour, a security guard for the Old Burying Point cemetery in Salem.  St. Armour shared the following about weird things that people did in that cemetery:

  • Picnic on the tombs.
  • Attempt to dig up a grave.
  • Hide behind graves when the guard chased out the visitors and locked up the cemetery at dusk.

This last thing triggered a childhood memory. When I was a very young child with several younger sisters and cousins, we were with my mother and my Aunt Sue at playground near my grandma’s house. This playground was at one of those large parks where the park staff have to drive around in order to patrol it. It was dusk. An “official – looking” car drove towards the playground. My aunt told us that the car belonged to the law enforcement coming to chase everybody out of the park for the evening. She told us that if we all hid in a large cement tube that was part of the playground equipment, the “law” wouldn’t see us and we could stay longer. So we all crowded in the tube. And the “law” drove past us. We fought the law, and we won!

Then, we all agreed to go back to grandma’s house and eat ice cream.

I’m sure now that Aunt Sue was messing with us. I bet that the “official” car was for park maintenance or something. I say this not because the “law” would have seen my mom’s car in the playground parking lot, or because my mom wouldn’t have actually agreed to hide from law enforcement in a cement playground tunnel. I say this because my family is LOUD, and the “law” would have heard us.

Yeah, so I went off on a tangent after I ripped on Sarah Vowell on Goodreads for doing this too often. Anyway, you might like “A Season with the Witch” if you have any interest in visiting Salem one day.




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