I am not exaggerating when I say that J.W. Ocker’s A Season With the Witch : The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, made me immediately look at travel websites to see if I could afford a trip out. Ocker’s book is part travelogue, part pop culture road map, and part local biography. If you combine the Salem Witch Trials, Hocus Pocus, and a twisted version of Eat, Pray, Love, you might get close. The man is no stranger to the weird. His website, Odd Things I’ve Seen (better known at O.T.I.S.) is a cornucopia of graveyards and strange adventures.
J.W. Ocker and his family definitely committed to this book. In October 2015, Ocker, his wife Lindsay, and their two little girls moved from their home in New Hampshire to Salem. Over a month they lived in two different residences and sampled as much of Salem in October as they could handle. This ranged from a month’s worth of parades and costume parties, to visiting creepy waxwork museums. Ocker traced the path of those killed during the Salem Witch Trials, modern day witches, as well as those of fictional witches. My two favorite chapters were on Fictional and Real Witches. The Fictional witch chapter discussed the giant statue of Samantha from Bewitched that takes center stage in town and the fact that much of the beloved film Hocus Pocus was filmed in Salem and its surrounding area. Yes, that’s right; Disney’s ridiculously popular Halloween offering was filmed in Salem. You can even go to Max’s house, see their high school, and check out Allison’s house. The chapter on real witches focuses on those who practice the pagan faith in town. Some, like Laurie Cabot, are well known for their contributions to pagan culture. Others are a bit on the controversial side of things, like the Warlock Christian Day. The book also covers the importance of the nautical culture and local museums as well.
A Season With the Witch is the first book that has ever made me reconsider Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works. After having The Scarlet Letter forced upon me in high school, I found it hard to care. Ocker has single-handedly convinced me to give Hawthorne a chance.
A Season With the Witch is a must read for October, especially if one is considering a trip to Salem in October. It is now available and should be read immediately.