To the editor:
Why is this question of putting carnival rides on the Common an issue at all? Has Halloween in Salem really become so out of control that we require neighborhoods to agree to their historic treasures being jeopardized, to take on traffic jams, fight for new funds to repair the damage, and deal with the noise and the drunken crowds?
Political forces in Salem are trying to remove the city ordinance from the books that prohibits carnivals and large mechanical rides on the Common. Which sets the stage for this situation: If the carnival is allowed in October on Salem Common after the ordinance is nullified, what’s to stop future political forces in the city from allowing a less-responsible carnival franchise from taking it over and causing great damage to the fence and all the parts of our historic park?
There is a long history of trying to preserve the Common. In the 1960s, it was a disastrous mess and a major restoration took place. Since then, it’s still been a struggle for those of us who care greatly about protecting this historic treasure.
There was a time when elephant acts, circuses, and large rides were allowed on the Common. But that was before the realization that the historic parts of the Common could be destroyed by not managing the events there carefully. These large events were part of the reason the Common had fallen into such disrepair by the 1960s.
I feel that if carnival rides are allowed on the Common from now on, there will be great damage done. And it only takes one year of very bad damage for Salem to not be able to find the funds to be able to repair it. Look at the current status of the fence around the Common. A sign stating that the fence is going to be repaired has stood at the entrance for a very long time ... and yet there are still huge chunks of the fence missing. The fence was built in 1850; the Common itself was cleared by the early settlers of Salem in 1667.
The history of the Common is quite amazing. George Washington reviewed the troops there in 1789 (hence the name “Washington Square”). Samuel McIntire, the famous carver and architect of Salem, designed and built wooden arches at its entrances. There is much more history to be told about it, but we’ll just leave it at the assertion that Salem Common must be protected as a historic treasure.
I have no problem with all the other events on the Common. Some of them can be loud, but it’s what I signed up for when I moved to the neighborhood. What I enjoy about living in this spot is that I get to see the year-round culture of Salem’s diverse community. How is the Common not already serving the purpose it was meant for ... to be a place where different groups and people can celebrate their pride in their various nationalities and cultures?
Why have neighborhoods been pitted against other neighborhoods in this battle? I know I am hesitant to get involved in the battle to keep the carnival out of Riley Plaza, because I’m afraid the political forces that be will say, “Well, then let’s put it on the Common.” But I’m not so afraid that I won’t say that I think Riley Plaza is another ridiculous location for the carnival.
Likewise, I think people from other neighborhoods who are against putting the carnival on the Common are afraid to speak out because of the very real possibility the rides may end up in their locations. I’m even already getting some comments from people who had to suffer through the location of last year’s carnival -- they do not want it there again, and if it can be plunked down on the Common, they won’t have to worry about it anymore.
Which brings us back to the basic premise that seems to be driving the search to find a spot for the carnival ... supposedly, the city will be safer if we have a carnival! Where is the data to support such an assumption?! And has Halloween in Salem gotten that out of control that we need to do something as desperate as destroying our historical landmarks to keep the city safe?