Oct 15, 2020

Halloween Web - The Witchfinder General of Salem

 Today we've got another Salem Halloween fixture, the Witchfinder General himself!

Thanks for taking some time away from your persecutions. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Eric Dwinnells but you may know me better as the one-and-only Witchfinder General of Salem, Massachusetts. This is both a character I perform and my actual title. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only licensed Witchfinder in the world. Each Halloween season (well except this one; thanks COVID!), I patrol the streets of Salem putting suspected witches (aka tourists) on trial. It is a darkly humorous yet mostly historically accurate portrayal of an actual 1692 witchcraft hearing. Yes, I may sentence them to die, but at least they get fun pictures for their Instagram!  
Of course with COVID ruining the party this year, times will be awful tough for us street performers which is why I’ve set up a GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/witchfinder20) to help recoup a little of what I’ll be missing out on this year. But, I’m not asking for money for nothing! I’m currently working on a series of YouTube videos that you’ll be able to find my my channel. In these videos, I’ll be sharing some of the lesser known stories of the Salem Witch Trials and some fun videos about Salem in general. You may also know me as the host of the paranormal/true crime/spooky pop culture podcast, Spooky A S. Or perhaps you’ve seen me singing, acting or telling jokes at theaters and clubs all over New England.

What was Halloween like for you as a kid?

I had pretty much the ideal New England Halloweens growing up. Just like you see in movies or on TV. Lots of kids, lots of foliage, no concern for a child’s safety other than “carry a glow-stick”. I grew up in Ashland, MA. It’s a small town and I lived in a little cul-de-sac so you pretty much knew all the neighbors. There were a group of kids around my age in the neighborhood so we’d all go together. And I ALWAYS insisted we wait until it got dark out. Trick or treating while the sun is up is for punks! Actually, just last year I recorded an episode of my podcast while walking around my old neighborhood talking about trick or treating. That was fun and it was a popular episode.

Do you have any favorite costumes, past or present?

I take Halloween very seriously and to me, they are Halloween Uniforms, not costumes! When I was a kid, I LOVED werewolves. Still do. I was a werewolf for like three years straight. I remember being The Phantom of the Opera in middle school. It sticks out in my mind because I did my own make-up with one of those latex kits so under my phantom mask, my face looked real messed up. Anyway, I wore that costume to a CCD Halloween party. When I took my mask off, the prettiest girl in my grade came up and asked to touch my face! For a shy 12 year old boy, that’s HUGE! 

I still dress up. My day job has a big Halloween party every year and I’ve thrown one or two myself. Some more recent favorites include Captain Spaulding, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Edward Scissorhands. Oh, and I’m not afraid to cross gender lines; I made a pretty good Lizzie Borden!

How do you celebrate Halloween these days?

Well of course A LOT of my Halloween season is taken up entertaining the masses that come to Salem every year and I LOVE being a part of it. It’s literally my favorite thing to do. It’s such a fun atmosphere; there’s no place else like it. Seriously, dear reader, if you love Halloween and you’ve never been to Salem in October, you simply must join us. You know…when there isn’t a world-wide pandemic, I mean. Other than that, I try to take my nieces/nephews on at least one spooky road trip. This year, we’re going to the Cryptozoology Museum in Maine. I usually take them trick or treating too.

Do you have any yearly traditions for the holiday?

I have this VHS tape that my mom started all the way back in 1986. It has various Halloween specials and Halloween-related sitcom episodes on it. Recording in EP mode (Google it, kids) we added to it each year until the late 90’s. I’ve watched it at least once each and every year since 1986. I’ve transferred it over to digital formats, but I still insist on watching the real deal off the VHS. Sure, the picture quality has diminished, but over 30 years later the tape is still totally watchable! My mom has since passed so I think of her when I watch it too. She loved Halloween almost as much as I do.

Inside the Spookster's Studio

The worst thing to get while trick or treating was harassed by older kids! They never took our candy or beat us up or anything, but they’d follow you and scare the crap out of you. I remember getting really freaked out by a teenager dressed as The Grim Reaper one year. He made such an impression on me that I dressed as the GrIm Reaper the very next Halloween. Just like Bruce Wayne, I became that which I feared!!!

My favorite thing to get was peanut-butter cups! Anything chocolate really.

My favorite monster cereal as a kid, was Boo Berry, but it wasn’t a fair contest. Remember, in the 80’s, it was just part of the kid culture that there was definite “boy stuff” and “girl stuff” and god help you if you ever crossed the line. You’d be called “sissy”…or worse! Frankenberry was pink. Pink was “girl stuff” so he never had a shot. These days, I (and perhaps the world) have a much more enlightened view. I’m proud to say I LOVE me some Frankenberry!

Where can folks follow your adventures online?
You can follow The Witchfinder on Instagram (@witchfinderofsalem) and you can support by donating to him on GoFundMe. People can check out my podcast by looking for Spooky A S on your podcast streaming service or by going to www.spookyas.com
Thanks to Eric for dropping in and sharing his Halloween memories.

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