A Halloween history lesson


By Blythe Alspaugh - balspaugh@sidneydailynews.com



SIDNEY—Most of the houses in Sidney are decorated with pumpkins and colorful lights, and the occasional spider’s web or two. But one house in particular stands out, displaying something out of the Salem Witch Trials on its front porch.

“It’s very much a homemade recreation of a lot of things you learn being in Salem, going to the witch museum, talking to people, those sorts of things,” David Johnson said when asked about the inspiration behind his decorative porch display. “It’s a fun thing to decorate for Halloween, and to really enjoy it, almost like a set design. That’s kind of the creative outlet of it. It’s really enjoyable.”

Johnson, who lives at 709 S. Miami St., started planning his decorative porch display in August. Part of it involved taking a vacation to Salem, Massachusetts, for the first time in 20 years to re-familiarize himself with the history behind the witch trials and inspire what has become something of a tradition for him every October. Last year, his nickelodeon theater replica garnered a lot of attention from the community and took months of preparation. At the end of October last year, he had already started planning for 2019, wanting to do something more natural.

“We were definitely tossing it around, but then after being able to be there [Salem], I could definitely visualize it a lot more. Once we pretty much got done looking at it and taking a step back, we realized, we’re going to need so much more,” Johnson said. “I really did think it would be nice and simple, and it ended up just not being [that].”

With the Salem Witch Trials theme, Johnson wanted it to be informative while still being decorative. There are 19 nooses hanging on the porch to represent the 20 people who were executed for crimes of witchcraft during the witch trials. Five shackles hang on the porch railing among sticks to represent the five people who died in prison while awaiting trial. There are grave markers for Abigail Williams and John Hawthorne. Sheriff George Corwin stands behind John Proctor in a re-imagining of the executions at Salem in 1692.

Perhaps the most sinister part of the display is the devil in the front window, looming menacingly in the background, illuminated by deep red light. Completely home-made, the devil in the front window is inspired by a devil statue at the witch museum in Salem. The memory of the statue, shrouded in red light with a voice-over of what Johnson described as “creepy-sounding music from 1973 with wind sounds and people wailing,” has stuck with him for 20 years.

“Out of everything in Salem, that was the biggest memory I had, because that legitimately just creeped me out. I just remember that being like something out of a movie, the creepy glow of it. It wasn’t meant to be shocking, it wasn’t meant to be scary. It was kind of meant to say, ‘here’s what people were afraid of, here’s what people thought was actually out there in the woods.’ It was definitely supposed to creep you out in the museum, and make you feel like, this is what they felt like, this is what they were afraid of. That way you can understand more about what was going on,” Johnson said.

Johnson estimates he spent around $3,000 last year on his display, and roughly half of that this year. He also believes he put more time into his display this year. At the end of the day, the joy comes from creating something visual for the season with his girlfriend, Renee, and their five-year-old daughter, Rachel.

“We would do this for Halloween, even if nobody did come by. This would still be fun, it’s just this time in particular, I’m hoping people get a little more out of it, because this way they can learn a little bit about something that you’re not going to get when you read a history book or watch a history channel documentary.”

By Blythe Alspaugh

balspaugh@sidneydailynews.com

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.