Last Saturday, Dawn, my hostess in Boston, took me over to our friend Bart's house. (I knew both Dawn and Bart in college, and surprisingly enough, remember them.) Bart lives in Beverly, MA, in a part of town known as Beverly Hills. After an impromptu concert of Weezer covers, I turn my attention to Bart and Dawn again, who appear rather perturbed by my lack of maturity.
Beverly, it turns out, is right next to Salem, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, two young girls in the Salem colony began acting in a bizarre manner, causing some in Salem to believe that they had been victims of witchcraft. The actions of the children mirror an event that had transpired four years earlier by the children of Salem's Goodwin family. On that occasion, the Goodwins' servant had been accused of witchcraft and hanged. In short order, more children begin exhibiting signs of possession or affliction, and several people in Salem, most notably a black servant named Tituba, are identified as witches. Before the episode is over, 19 people will be hanged and one crushed to death under stones.
Ironically, many scientists in the 20th century will identify ergot as the culprit in the Salem "possessions". Ergot is a mold that grows on the rye grain. Rye bread baked with grain that has been exposed to ergot will carry the mold as well. The physiological effects of ergot on humans include hallucinations, seizures, and what is best described as "irrational behavior". Ergot also happens to be the substance Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann used when, in 1938, he first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Ironic just doesn't seem to accurately describe this confluence of coincidence for me.
Let's just stop here and let all this sink in: I went to college at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. While there, I met and became friends with Dawn and Bart. While there, I also learned to enjoy the physiological effects of LSD, a hallucinogen discovered by Albert Hofmann, who used ergot, a rye grain mold. Now, I'm visiting my friends Dawn and Bart in Boston, where they have lived for over two decades, and we're walking around a small colonial village made famous by people who, over 300 years ago, ingested ergot, causing a witch scare which ended in the deaths of 20 innocent people. This is more fun than Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
With Bart as our guide, we tour Salem. The Village of Salem, it turns out, is not altogether shy about its history. In fact, the whole witchcraft thing has been merchandised and commercialized here, with gift shops and trinkets and tour guides in costume and some very very bizarre people. The place is a magnet for weird. I feel right at home here. It is also Goth Paradise. I see more emo freaks in one place here than I have ever seen. Guys with snakes around their necks, guys made up like demons, girls dressed like witches; then there are the new age stores, the dozens of fortune tellers, tarot readers, crystal ball gazers, etc. I'm really regretting my decision not to pack a little ergot inspiration at this point.
After a light lunch and iced teas at an amusingly-named "In a Pig's Eye Restaurant", we conclude our tour of Colonial Salem and take Bart back to his house. We are to meet Bart and his lovely wife later Saturday evening at the Blondie/Pat Benatar concert (I'll be addressing this event at a later date).
On Sunday, I will begin (and finish) a book of poetry I brought along for the trip, a volume of Emily Dickinson, she of the "Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me". Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. According to biographies, she may have been in love as a young lady, with a lawyer in her father's firm, Benjamin Franklin Newton. Newton died a couple years after Dickinson met him, having succumbed to tuberculosis. It is possible that Emily loved other men as well, but never consummated her relationships. Soon after the death of Newton, she and her sister devoted themselves to caring for their ailing mother. Dickinson would rarely leave her house (called The Homestead) afterward, eventually becoming a recluse, communicating only by mail.
Pardon the digression. Dickinson obviously had a profound effect on me. Though a prolific poet who wrote about many parts of life such as love, nature, etc., Dickinson's poems on death are perhaps the most affecting.
So, after visiting Salem, with witchcraft and devilry on my mind, and reading an entire volume of Emily Dickinson's poems, I was sinking into a profound metaphysical funk. I became scared of the dark. I slept very little, while disturbing scenes from The Sixth Sense kept leaping out at me from my Lizard Brain. I began wishing I had brought something by Shel Silverstein to read, or even Hunter Thompson.
If only I'd taken Bart up on his offer to go to his sailboat, hang out and drink beer, it might have turned out differently. Or even visited South Boston to tour the sites in Boondock Saints. Maybe everything would have been different. Hmmmm................... In a Pig's Eye!