Saturday, June 11, 2005

Salem News article on Bewitched statue redux

Reprinted from the June 10th edition of the Salem News

Fans flock from far and wide for statue ceremony

By Ben Casselman
Staff Writer

SALEM - Maybe they won't fly in on broomsticks, but by plane, train, and automobile, fans of "Bewitched" will soon be sweeping into the Witch City.

They're coming for the dedication of the much-debated bronze statue of Samantha Stephens, Elizabeth Montgomery's magical character from the 1960s television comedy. And with fans flying in from Florida, witches driving down from Syracuse, N.Y., actresses jetting in from California and protestors marching over from their Federal Street homes, Wednesday's ceremony could be quite the scene.

"In some ways, I'm almost expecting it to become a 'Bewitched' episode," quipped fan Fred Bals, who will drive down from New Hampshire for the dedication.

The statue, and the controversy surrounding it, has generated national and even international headlines in recent weeks-which in turn could generate quite a crowd Wednesday.

I'm very interested in what the whole hubbub is about," said Lisa Chapman, a practicing witch in Syracuse, N.Y., who is bringing a group of witches to next week's ceremony. "I look forward to seeing exactly what it's like so I can make a fair determination."

Chapman is still undecided about the statue-she's reserving judgment until she sees it-but most Salem-bound travelers are unabashed supporters.

I've been bewitched since birth," said Sean McHugh, who will fly up from Florida for the dedication. "It was my mom's favorite show, and she was actually pregnant with me at the same time as Samantha was pregnant with Tabitha (on the show).

Samantha's influence didn't end in utero. McHugh, 39, said he went into advertising to follow Darrin, Samantha's TV husband, and he and his niece have co-authored a children's book inspired in part by the show.

"She was my dream wife," McHugh said of Samantha. "Fictional character or not, she's had a major impact on my life."

McHugh will be joined in Salem by his 31-year-old niece, Katie Parker, who will fly from Kentucky for the event. The pair booked a room at the Hawthorne Hotel, where Darrin and Samantha stayed when the show came to Salem in 1970.

McHugh and Parker aren't the only ones whose lives have been changed by television's favorite witch. Bals, a writer in New Hampshire, said he, like McHugh, followed Darrin into advertising. Bals has been tracking the ups and downs of the controversy on his Web site.

"The whole thing amused me," he said. "The whole controversy amused me, that people would have such strong feelings about a statue one way or another."

Bals has posted some of the more overheated quotations from the battle on his site, and he even wrote a list of the top 10 reasons he'd rather have a photo of Samantha than one of Nathaniel Hawthorne-a response to mayoral candidate Kim Driscoll's fear that tourists would point their cameras at the statue, not at the city's more historical attractions.

No. 3 on Bals' list: "House of the Seven Gables bombed in syndication."

No 2: "Sam never called Salem 'that abominable city'" (as Hawthorne did).

Not everyone finds the controversy funny. "Bewitched" fan Stephen Howes said he worries that anti-statue demonstrators will cause an "ugly scene" Wednesday. But that won't stop him from making the two-hour drive from Holyoke to be there.

"I've always been a real fan of Elizabeth Montgomery," Howes said. "She was just so attractive and beautiful and very strong."

Beautiful, sure. But worth round-trip airfare and two days vacation?

"I had a hard time getting off work, " McHugh said. "My boss thought I was, of course, crazy."

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