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General Interest

Steeped in witch lore, Salem ‘still making history’

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Written by RODRIQUE NGOWI, Associated Press   
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 11:45
The main entrance to the Peabody Essex Museum, the nation's oldest continuously operated museum. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. SALEM, Mass. (AP) – Salem – the very name conjures witches. Witches hanged in the notorious trials of 1692, witch houses and covens, a Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum. This city of 41,000 souls is so closely identified with its witch history that flying witch logos adorn police cars and firefighter uniforms – and Salem High School's mascot is, shockingly, a witch.

A thriving, modern witch community practices witchcraft and even has a new public relations outfit, the Witches Education Bureau. Tourists flock to the Salem Common during the town's “Haunted Happenings,” a month-long celebration of Halloween.

In the offseason in this historic Massachusetts seaport, warlock Christian Day holds forth in a quiet, dimly lit room, where visitors who pay $65 for a 30-minute psychic reading watch as he moves his hands in graceful, fluid motions over a sparkling crystal ball. At a nearby mall, a ghoul dressed in black, his face painted white with fake blood around his mouth, stands near a black coffin, spooking customers for a kitschy thrill near a house of horrors.

These are typical tourist encounters in this historic Massachusetts seaport. But Salem leaders want visitors to know that the city offers a whole lot more, and they've rebranded to promote such generic attractions as dining, the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Arts Festival, which recently featured “Buckaroo Bonsai” and belly dancing.

Tourism officials and business owners hope their unwitchly emphasis on other museums, sunset cruises, exceptional architecture and a rich maritime history will encourage visitors to spend more time and money in Salem.

“We estimate that tourists coming in for a day are spending about $90 per person and those tourists coming overnight are spending over $210 per person,” said Kate Fox, head of the agency promoting tourism that also coordinated the latest rebranding. She said Salem sees an estimated million visitors a year.

“Tourism in Salem is a more than $99 million industry a year and when you look at all the businesses it affects, it's our largest industry in Salem, so it's very important, it's a huge piece of our economic development picture,” Fox said. She said Salem has not set a target for greater tourism revenue.

This is not the first time Salem has tried to remake its image. In 2004, Salem businesses could not agree whether the new brand should lead with witchcraft or maritime history, and the process collapsed in the planning stages. In 1925, the Salem Evening News pushed for The Witch City to rebrand in an article that proposed promoting its flourishing tanneries (Blubber Hollow), shoe factories (City of Shoes) and textile industries (Where We Make Your Sheets).

Salem, one of early America's most significant seaports, was founded in 1626 by a group of fishermen from Cape Ann. Its name is derived from the Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom.”

During the American Revolution, Salem became the center for privateering, a form of official piracy that authorized captains of private ships to seize British merchant vessels and confiscate valuables. That created very wealthy sailors who went on to commission the fine architecture of the grand old houses on Chestnut Street, Federal Street and Salem Common.

Salem ultimately became the nation's busiest port, with its tall ships venturing to exotic locations and bringing back fabulous specimens, artifacts and memorabilia that later formed the nucleus of the nation's oldest continuously operated museum, the Peabody Essex Museum. Its maritime dominance in the 1800s also helped Salem produce America's first millionaires and become one of the nation's wealthiest cities per capita.

“One of the problems ... is that the witch industry is pretty much a seasonal business,” said Peabody Essex Museum spokesman Jay Finney. “In fact, in Salem they celebrate Halloween for almost an entire month and 100,000 people or more come into Salem looking for that experience.”

“But after that, what happens in February? What happens in September? What happens in December? It's not necessarily a witch story. And so the diversity of attractions, whether it is live theater or restaurants or whatever, we need to be marketing Salem year round,” he said.

Some in Salem hope the new logo, featuring a witch hat that could be interpreted as a sail – with a tagline declaring that the city is “Still Making History” – would make it clear that it offers a lot more than a vibrant wiccan community and witch-related attractions.

“We are trying to communicate that Salem is contemporary, it's current – but since the history we are most known for is the witchcraft trials of the 1692, we are still making history,” Fox said.

Sandy Vargas of Houston, who handles investments for a financial services firm, said she recently visited to see the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter and areas associated with the infamous 17th-century witch trials. She was surprised to find open to visitors the old mansion that inspired Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables.

“I got a lot more out of it than I expected. I thought it was just going to be about witches, which it wasn't, so that was good,” Vergas said.

Ruth Mannis says she often travels from neighboring Lynn, Mass., to see new museum exhibits, browse gift shops and dine at Salem restaurants.

“It's got a lot to offer to anybody, really, between the regular sights that anyone would want to see – you know, the witches' house and the various museums, the cemeteries, it's all very interesting – so no matter when you come, there is always something interesting to see, really,” she said.

Salem's latest effort to promote its diverse assets was influenced by the prolonged economic downturn that saw state officials cut funding for tourist marketing by 41 percent from $11.6 million in 2008 to $6.8 million in 2011. The situation became increasingly urgent in recent months, as energy provider Dominion Resources Inc. finalized plans to shut down the city's largest taxpayer, Salem Harbor Power Station, by June 2014.

The $200 million reinvention of the Peabody Essex Museum helped fuel the rebranding push. The museum began “attracting 200,000 to 300,000 people that are a different kind of audience that might go to the tarot-card reader down the street,” Finney said.

That, in turn, helped lure new restaurants, retailers, condos and residents to a rejuvenated downtown Salem.

Visitors still flock to Salem to explore the dark side of human nature, shop at witch emporiums – to buy spell kits, voodoo dolls, hoodoo powders, mojo bags, witchy wear and witches' brooms – or participate in “Haunted Happenings,” Day said.

But many visitors “don't always know what they're gonna get when they come here ... they have something in their mind that ranges from the 1692 witch to a kitchen witch,” Day said. “Or maybe somebody that's going to twitch their nose and turn them into a frog ... Then they get here and they realize that Salem is a whole spectrum of incredible things.”

Still, Salem's re-rebranding might not solve all its problems.

“Do I think that re-branding is the be all and end all that's gonna whip Salem's economy in some different direction? I don't think so,” said Salem Chamber of Commerce President Juli Lederhaus, an avid blogger and general manager of the Hawthorne Hotel. “I think it's really just a way to consolidate, polish what we already have and make it easier for tourism promoters to market Salem cohesively.”



Destination Salem:

The House of The Seven Gables:

Hex Old World Witchery:

Salem Maritime National Historic Site:

Peabody Essex Museum:

Salem Chamber of Commerce:

Witches Education Bureau:

Witch City Segway:


Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-13-11 1412GMT


Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 June 2011 12:07

Archaeology students explore 19th-century 'ice age'

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Written by DIANA DILLABER MURRAY, The Oakland Press (Pontiac)   
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 09:01
Primitive tongs made of iron were used to handle cut blocks of ice. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Burley Auction Group. PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) – The old saying goes, “What's one person's trash is another person's treasure,” but to an archaeologist, that trash can be the key to unlocking mysteries of local history.

Oakland University Professor Richard Stamps and his students have uncovered the remains of an icehouse that was built adjacent to the summer kitchen and the home of former Gov. Moses Wisner, the 12th leader of the state of Michigan, to store huge blocks of ice from local lakes. The blocks of ice were cut into smaller blocks and carried daily into the kitchen or the mansion and stored in an icebox to keep the food cold and unspoiled.

All that was visible when Stamps and his group started the dig last year was an herb garden surrounded by a decorated row of bricks on the grounds of the mansion that is now part of the Pine Grove Historical Museum.

Stamps had seen an aged photo of what looked like an icehouse located near the mansion's smokehouse. So, after some research, the archaeologist determined it was worth a dig.

The careful work of uncovering the site is being done with federal grants obtained by Carol Bacak-Egbostaff, the development consultant for Waterford Schools and the director of Project Dig Into The Past. The project is a partnership between Waterford School District and Oakland University.

Stamps and Bacak-Egbostaff recently showed off the group's work.

Where there was only the herb garden visible last year now sits, behind a protective fence and deep below the ground, is a mammoth, brick-lined underground room. Stamps said the aboveground portion of the building had long ago been pushed down into the hole after refrigeration took away the need for storing ice at the beginning of the 20th century.

The 9-by-12 foot room is lined with a foot-thick wall of bricks, and the bottom floor is seven feet deep into the ground.

The floor is sand, which Stamps explains would absorb any water from melting ice. Wisner and his staff would have had to use a ladder to climb down into the room to retrieve the ice as it was used up over the year.

There were no stairs except those put in for the dig. Stamps and his students, who did the laborious job of digging out the mammoth room, carefully picked through the earth and debris for historical artifacts. The items they found tell a lot about life as it was from the 1840s through the 1940s.

On a tarp spread over the ground are large items that were found in the dig as the students slowly dug down seven feet to the floor of the room. The items include rusty carriage wheels from the 1800s and old balloon tires from the 1920s.

Oakland University juniors Bree Boettner and Orlando Benedict, and senior David Haddon cleaned and documented the items using drawings and recording measurements.

Stamps showed off some “amazing artifacts,” which are smaller finds such as a blue enamel sauce pan; a small collection of ceramic and shell buttons; and a broken glass milk bottle with the head of an Indian and part of the words “Pontiac Dairy.”

“They have no value to collectors. They are broken,” Stamps said. “But to archaeologists they tell a lot.”

There is also a chamber pot that was used before indoor bathrooms, a tricycle wheel and a metal racing car.

Bacak-Egbostaff is especially excited about finding pieces of a yellow “baby plate” that has a rolled rim that prevents spills. There are still portions missing, but the found pieces pulled together show most of the “Hickory Dickory Dock'' rhyme and a picture of children in pastel colors on the bottom.

While the dig site is used as a field methodology class for Oakland University students, it has become an educational field trip site for students from Waterford schools. Bacak-Egbostaff has arranged for third-graders and teachers to visit the site and tour the buildings, and for high school students to screen artifacts.


Information from: The Oakland Press,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-13-11 1254GMT


Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 June 2011 09:13

Storage unit bidder: There's lots more trash than treasure

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Written by BRUCE C. SMITH, The Indianapolis Star   
Monday, 13 June 2011 09:04
Orderly stacked and taped boxes in a self storage unit are a sign of valuable contents, while unmarked plastic are not. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Take a quick look at the boxes and bins stacked inside the storage unit.

Uh-uh. No peeking under that tarp. No opening up the boxes.

Now, how much cash are you willing to risk on the chance that maybe, just maybe, those boxes are filled with bags of gold doubloons, or that a hidden tin inside a bin is keeping safe a rare Babe Ruth baseball card?

Not likely, of course. But that's not stopping folks here and across the nation from participating in the latest real-life treasure hunt: bidding at auctions of abandoned self-storage units.

Whether they are lured by tales of yard-sale Picassos – or more likely, just the hope of finding a good deal in tough times – people are flocking to these auctions, which have been popularized by reality TV programs.

“Some people do get the fever. Some do get a rush,” said Allen Haff, co-star of the popular Auction Hunters on Spike TV. “And some people getting into it are gambling because they hope those boxes contain treasure.

“Sometimes, it's just dirty laundry.”

Here's how the auctions work:

The owners of self-storage buildings are legally allowed to sell the contents of unclaimed lockers when the rent is at least 90 days past due.

At a sale, auctioneers cut off the locker renter's padlock, throw open the door and give the gaggle of bidders a minute or two to squint into the dark room. They must keep hands off and stay outside the door, but they can shine flashlights to peek into the nooks and crannies of a pile.

Then, the bidding begins.

“You can make money,” Haff said, “but the best advice is to only spend what you can afford to lose.”

Auctions have been used to sell the contents of abandoned lockers for many decades here.

Several advertised storage locker auctions a week in Central Indiana would draw a handful of regular bidders. But the idea caught fire, and the number of bidders has exploded in the past year, with some auctions often drawing hundreds of people, according to auctioneer Jason Strange of Strange Auction Services.

Most of the newcomers say their appetite was whetted by TV shows such as Haff's Auction Hunters and Storage Wars on A&E – both in their second seasons and spawning spinoffs – that make treasure hunting at storage sales look easy, fun and profitable.

Producers of the shows admit they're playing to the gambler in everyone: A touch of greed is good.

After a locker is won, the new owner searches through the boxes, pulls open drawers, upends the plastic bags – the moment of discovery known as the “dig” – to finally get the big payoff for these modern treasure hunters.

The shows sometimes portray a get-lucky and get-rich image of storage unit buyers finding bags of money, vintage automobiles and motorcycles. Episodes have shown them rediscovering rare phonograph records, antique furniture, vintage video and pinball games, personal watercraft, tools and celebrity clothing.

But reality TV and reality are often quite different.

Auction veterans Steve Jones and Kenny Goff, both of Indianapolis, have been to hundreds of storage sales during decades in the business.

“Auctions are a gamble,” Goff said, “and they are hard work.”

And they often are filled with disappointment even for a savvy bidder such as Jones, who has been at it for nearly 40 years.

Recently, Jones and anther local auction regular were competing on a locker piled high with sealed home electronics boxes.

“It looked really good,” Jones said, with the eye of an experienced bidder.

So tempting that the bids went back and forth, higher and higher, until Jones won the locker's contents – for $1,025.

Then Jones dug into his presumed treasure-trove of appliances and electronics.

“When I got into it,” he said, “I found all the boxes had been opened. Everything had been taken out, and someone had taped the boxes back up. Only two or three had anything still in them. The rest were empty.”

Goff's advice: “This is reality. This is not the TV show.”

And in reality, there is a lot more trash than treasure.

“I don't know anyone who has found a bag of gold coins or a stash of rare comic books,” he said. “Do you really think someone with a jar full of money is going to leave it in a storage locker?”

That said, the experts do have some advice.

For example, said Auction Hunters co-star Haff, nondescript plastic bags probably are filled with worthless clothes or trash. Neatly closed, taped and stacked cardboard boxes, on the other hand, indicate someone was careful with the valuable contents.

“However, just because a box says ‘crystal’ on the side of it doesn't mean it is nice glass,” he said. “It could be a girl's name.”

Even with their knowledge of bidding strategy and resale values, Haff and his co-star Clinton “Ton'' Jones might buy 10 or 20 lockers to find one with an awesome find worthy of a TV episode. They make 20 shows in a season.

“At the end of a 16-hour day, we may be worked out and dog-tired,” Haff said. “We may be sleeping in the back of the bread truck. But it is still a good day if we feel like we can collapse on the field of battle, victorious.”

Most veterans of Indianapolis storage auctions said they sell their finds in newspaper and Internet ads, at flea markets or yard sales and in their own resale shops.

Goff goes to several auctions a week and then trucks the resellable items to a family-owned auction in Kentucky.

His idea of a good buy?

“A great discovery is a sofa with all the cushions.”

At one recent auction in Indianapolis, about 150 people crowded into the All My Sons Moving & Storage warehouse on the Northeastside. Some were curious; most took bidder numbers assigned by Strange, the auctioneer.

A half-hour before the 10 a.m. start, he had handed out nearly 60 numbers, with 50 more people in line, including Jodi Bratch, Fortville.

It was just her second storage auction, “so we're cautious bidders,” she said. But she'd seen the TV shows and thought it looked easy enough.

“We hope to go home with some discoveries from the lockers she (might) buy,” said her father, David Sizemore. “We could get a building, and this could be inventory to start a shop or flea market.”

As the crowd of bidders moved down the rows, the doors of 32 storage bins were pried open, the bidders got a few seconds to size up the value and Strange used an auctioneers' machine-gun chatter to conduct the bidding.

Chris Lambert of All My Sons said such auctions are necessary to clear space in the warehouse. Past-due fees may total several thousand dollars.

“I really don't like to sell them,” he said. “I give the renters as long as possible to claim them because these vaults contain someone's life.”

On this particular day, the auction of 32 vaults brought a total of $8,700.

Auction regular Michael Jacobs, who has been buying and digging through lockers for many years – he was the lucky “loser” outbid for those empty electronics boxes – came the closest to striking gold at the All My Sons sale.

Jacobs paid $675 for a locker packed with furniture and clothes that looked like they could have been the possessions of an elderly woman.

Stored in a dresser was a small jewelry box.

Inside, he found a man's wedding band, and women's earrings and necklaces. They were old and worn.

“That's about $600 in gold,” Jacobs figured, “so it pays for the locker.”

And although it wasn't a Charles Dickens-signed first edition of Great Expectations, in the world of storage auctions, it more than met expectations.


Information from: The Indianapolis Star,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-10-11 1818GMT



Last Updated on Monday, 13 June 2011 09:26

NM woman gets back $30K ring after 14 years

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Written by Associated Press   
Friday, 10 June 2011 11:47
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A woman in New Mexico has been reunited with a $30,000 diamond engagement ring that she lost while making dinner in 1997.

Santa Fe police say the ring was returned to its owner Wednesday. It had been in a police evidence room for more than two years.

The police department said a few weeks ago it would auction off the ring if no one came forward to claim it. Some did, but police told the Santa Fe New Mexican that no one could prove it was theirs.

Detectives found the right owner when the woman provided paperwork proving it was hers, including a receipt and a picture of her wearing the ring.

The owner says she lost the ring while preparing dinner.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,

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Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



Antiques Roadshow uncovers early Rockwell painting in Oregon

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Written by Associated Press   
Monday, 06 June 2011 13:21
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – Eugene delivered a “wow” moment for The Antiques Roadshow on Saturday after a Norman Rockwell painting was deemed to be worth an estimated $500,000, tied for the second most valuable item ever appraised in the 15-year history of the Public Broadcasting Service television program.

The daylong taping of the show involved about 6,000 local ticket holders who brought their collectibles to the Lane Events Center for appraisal.

John Jordan, the show's publicist, said he could not reveal the identity of the painting's owner but confirmed the person lives in the Springfield area.

The artwork is a 1919 original oil-on-canvas painting by Rockwell titled The Little Model that was used on a cover of Collier's magazine. The painting depicts a girl with a dog, posing in front of a fashion poster. The owner told appraiser Nan Chisholm, of Nan Chisholm Fine Art in New York City, that the painting had been in the family for at least 90 years after Rockwell gave it to his great-grandmother.

“As we start our 16th season here in Eugene, we couldn't be more excited about such an extraordinary, rare treasure, and we look forward to sharing it with America,” said Marsha Bemko, the show's executive producer.

A collection of Chinese jade items appraised last year holds the show's highest value at $710,000 to $1,070,000. A 1937 Clyfford Still oil painting was also valued at $500,000 in 2008.

While the Roadshow has been to Portland twice, this was the program's first visit to Eugene.

“About half of the cities (the Roadshow visits) have an item in the six figures,” Jordan said, “but we don't ever expect it. This was very nice.”

Jordan said Eugene also produced two other notable finds:

A 1935 Birger Sandzen oil-on-canvas painting was valued at $40,000 to $60,000. The painting by the notable Swedish-American impressionist has remained in the original frame since it was purchased by the owner's grandfather.

A circa 1970-80 gem-and-gold encrusted carved onyx figure from Venice, Italy, also was valued at $40,000 to $60,000.


Information from: The Register-Guard,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-05-11 1722GMT


Norman Rockwell (1994-1978). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 June 2011 16:07
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