Category Archives: Other Oddities

From Witch City to Ghost Town

Patrick Dougherty, Sticksworks, Salem, Massachusetts

After the tourists leave, Salem’s witch shops try to make ends meet

(This feature article was originally written for a class. The names of people and places have been changed by request–I have no desire to piss off a witch!)

It’s the beginning of November, and Essex Street stands abandoned.

Three weeks ago, the pedestrian mall in downtown Salem was so crowded, it seemed half the world had converged on a single spot. The street’s paving bricks were obscured by the crush. Its t-shirt carts nearly foundered amid a flood of goths, New Agers, and drag queens. Like a black-and-orange beacon, the approach of Halloween had drawn together hundreds of refugees from the fringes of society. Their houses were in Newton, Beverly, or a dozen other suburbs scattered across the country. But during the month of October, Salem was their home. Continue reading


Halloween Special: Spooky Stories from China (and Elsewhere)

Luo Ping, Skeletons

I’m currently attending graduate school at the Boston University College of Communication. One of the best things about BU COM is that it’s full of international students, most of them from China. As a result, I have a lot of Chinese classmates and friends. A few of them shared their favorite ghost stories with me for this year’s Halloween special. Continue reading

Who Loves a Corn Maze?

Corn maze

I am a Midwestern girl through and through. There’s no denying it–my quasi-Canadian vowels and insistence on thanking the bus driver always give me away. Being Midwestern means making vague, self-deprecating gestures with one hand, while voting against your own interests with the other. It also means going to corn mazes.

Are corn mazes fun? That’s a surprisingly philosophical question. The idea of a corn maze–wandering around in the dark, eating cinnamon donuts, giggling with your friends as you run up against yet another dead end–is certainly appealing. The reality, though, is often hellish. Blame it on my bad sense of direction, but I always end up stuck in a corn maze for three or four hours. During that time, I can’t pee, or drink, or stop to rest. I can’t even kill myself, unless someone invents a way to make a pipe bomb out of corn. I’m trapped. Stranded in purgatory without any hope of salvation. Buried so deep in crops that not even God can find me.

Corn Maze, Danvers

This is the end.

Here are some experiences I’ve had in corn mazes:

  • I was trapped in a one maze for 2.5 hours while a group of boombox-wielding teenage boys elsewhere in the field played Gangnam Style on repeat. A monster jumped out at me and my husband, at which point my husband panicked and accidentally pushed me into a mud puddle. The monster paused for a moment to question my husband’s masculinity.
  • A girl I was with suddenly got the runs and decided to crap in the middle of the path. We got lost and wound up walking past the same pile of crap five times.
  • A golden retriever appeared in the maze, and my sister and I were so desperate that we decided to follow it, reasoning that the dog was bound to find its way out–because of its acute sense of smell, I guess? Eventually, the dog decided to cut through the corn instead of sticking to the path, and my sister swore at it.

Somehow, though, I always manage to forget all this by the time the next corn maze season rolls around. You know how a new mother’s brain floods with bonding hormones to efface the memory of her labor pains, thus encouraging her to breed again (or maybe not)? It’s like that. But with corn.

But I was with friends, several of whom are from China, and I wanted them to have an authentic Midwestern autumn experience. So into the corn maze I went.

Corn maze, Danvers

Last known photo.

And…it actually wasn’t that bad. I don’t know if it was smaller than the corn mazes I’ve been to before, or if my companions just had a better sense of direction than me, but we were out in less than 45 minutes.

So maybe the lesson here isn’t to avoid corn mazes. Maybe it’s to always enter corn mazes with people who are smarter than you are.

Tales from the Charnel House: A Return to King’s Burying Ground

King's Burying Ground, Boston

I promised myself I’d give the graveyards a rest after this post. And this one. And this one. But something happened to me at King’s Burying Ground this past weekend that was so exciting, I’m still shaking. Anyway, I’m entitled to post about spooky stuff all I want–it’s Halloween month, damn it!

It was Saturday night, and some friends of mine were in town. I was giving them a tour of Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. King’s Burying Ground–which, as you’ll recall, is Boston’s oldest cemetery–is situated toward the beginning of said trail, and we were walking past it when I noticed something strange.

It was a man. He was strolling idly behind the locked cemetery gates. And he was dressed as a ghost. Continue reading

Dreams in the Witch House: Five Things I Learned in Salem’s Oldest Home

Salem Witch House, Salem, Massachusetts

When Judge Jonathan Corwin moved into the big black house at the corner of North and Summer in Salem’s Chestnut Street District, I doubt he had any inkling of its future place in history.

“Now here’s a place that’ll never be associated with anything unsavory,” he probably said to himself.

“Especially not witch trials,” he likely added.

Three-hundred-fifty years later, we know just how wrong he was. The Witch House is the only extant building with a direct link to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a tragic bout of mass hysteria during which 19 people were killed and dozens more imprisoned. I visited the Witch House for the second time last weekend. Here are some of the things I learned. Continue reading

The Anti-Credential Biography: Highlighting Your Worst Qualities

Most of us have encountered a situation in which we’re asked to describe our accomplishments. Often, this happens in a job interview. For writers, it happens when you have a piece accepted for publication. The publisher will ask for an “author bio,” which is just a truncated version of the more general “credential biography.”

Here’s credential bio about Neil Gaiman.Neil Gaiman, credential biography
Here’s another about Apple CEO Tim Cook.Tim Cook, CEO Apple, credential biographyNot thrilling pieces of literature, but they get the job done. No matter your field, you’ll spend much of your professional life marketing yourself. The credential bio is an advertisement for the product that is you.

I got to thinking, though–sometimes I don’t want to be a product. It’s a lot of effort, putting your best foot forward. Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to give your worst qualities some air time?

Here, for your consideration, are some anti-credential biographies I wrote on the train this morning.

white businessman, stock photo

David Burrows is an accomplished salesman and sociopath. He has achieved an 80% success rate in convincing his sex partners to call him “Your Majesty.”

Black businesswoman, stock photo

For ten years, Letitia Nichols has languished in public education. Every time one of her students misuses the word “literally,” a part of her literally dies. Letitia oversees PTA meetings and her own personal campaign to keep the screams inside.

white businessman, stock photo

Hugo Bloughampton left his job at Chrysler to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a children’s author. He currently sleeps in a ditch and has developed a strange growth at the base of his spine.

white businesswoman, stock photo

Carol Martin smells like nothing you’ve ever smelled before.

Japanese businesswoman, stock photo

In cultivating career success, Kyoko Menendez tramples anyone who gets in her way. Sometimes, at night, she can hear the sobs of those she has wronged. She is pursuing a Master’s degree at MIT and keeps her old scabs in a photo album.

Memento Calvaria: Boston Burial Grounds and Puritan Death Obsession

The Granary Burying GroundTwo gravestones stand on a quiet hill.

Judy Brown, the first stone reads. Wife, mother, teacher, friend. Went home to the Lord September 13, 2010. ‘He maketh me lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters; He restoreth my soul.’ Above the epitaph sits a cherub, bright-eyed and gentle, reminding all passersby that the next life is a place of peaceful repose.

The stone next to it, by contrast, is a crooked slab bearing a grimacing skull. Its inscription is only two words: YOU’RE NEXT.

Here we see encapsulated the difference between modern and colonial attitudes toward death.

I won’t delve too deeply into the psychology of the colonial American death obsession. For a scholarly take on things, Jeffrey A. Hammond’s The Puritan Elegy and David E. Stannard’s The Puritan Way of Death are available on Google Books. Look there for analysis. I’m just here to show you some nifty pictures.

Continue reading