Salem's So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival

Hot Dog, Cold Ice

For an eight month period beginning every November, Salem Massachusetts becomes – pun shamelessly intended – a ghost town. The crowds of credulous tourists that buy candy apples and line up outside the Salem Wax Museum of Ghouls and Goblins have all gone home, and spookiness beds down for a long-overdue winter of hibernation.

Eight months of dirty snow banks and shuttered storefronts create a commercial vacuum – an awkward interim between Halloween and the beginning of summer when no one really cares about witches. But those broomstick-riding, spell-casting old hags power the town’s economy, and without them, Salem is just another Lynn or Danvers! Imagine! To fill this disconcerting dearth of commerce, the Salem Chamber of Commerce created a puzzling event called the Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival.

In its seventh year, the ‘festival’ runs from February 7th – 14th, timed to coincide with Valentine’s day, another man-made creation designed to suck money from the shivering masses. The festival is just as transparently commercial as that February holiday, but with less chocolate.

Walking down Salem’s Essex Street pedestrian mall, I came across the first sign of the festival: a four-foot-high ice sculpture in the form of a margarita glass, conveniently placed in front of a local restaurant. Down the street a similarly diminutive sculpture of a movie projector sat melting in front of the local cinema. A few blocks down in front of Cornerstone Books sat Curious George, reading a book.

I looked everywhere, but the chocolate advertised on the event’s website (free samples in almost every store downtown!) was nowhere to be found. Recognizing the event’s ice sculptures to be advertisements for local businesses, I realized that I had been duped! This so-called festival was really just a way to get people into local businesses in the dead of winter! There would be no chocolate, not unless I chose to have lunch at the expensive Hawthorne Hotel, which would give me a free chocolate mousse dessert afterwards.

My girlfriend and I really just wanted the chocolate. But at least we live in Salem, and didn’t expend any effort getting to the festival. Since it was advertised in the ‘Events’ section of earlier in the week, there must have been hundreds of very disappointed, and slightly chilled people roaming the streets of Salem this weekend.

One local business, the Army-Navy store, decided to break ranks with the festival, refusing to buy into to its chocolate lies and sugarplum daydreams. In the window it posted a sign: “There’s nothing in here! The chocolate is a lie!” Walking past the store, my girlfriend and I, with nary a cocoa bean in our bellies, took it as truth. Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival was, indeed, bittersweet.


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