SALEM — The city’s most controversial statue is being taken care of under an agreement with the private company that owns it — an arrangement in place since the statue was first erected in 2005.
The “Bewitched” statue honoring TV witch Samantha Stephens at the intersection of Essex and Washington streets is being restored by TV Land, according to City Solicitor Beth Rennard. Restoration is needed after it was vandalized with red paint on June 6, and the initial cleanup effort left a two-tone statue in its wake: one part cleaned to perfection with a gunmetal shard, and the rest remaining intact by cleaning agents. and displaying a more tanned tone.
The statue, permanently preserving the likeness of Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha character, has been a polarizing landmark in Witch Town. While many in Salem celebrate the statue and the tourist interest surrounding it, others oppose it for the same reason.
“I don’t like Samantha. I don’t appreciate it, I want it to go,” said Donna Seger, a professor at Salem State University and one of the city’s leading historians. “I wrote a post…I don’t know, seven or eight years ago. People just beat me. They were so mad at me for saying Samantha should leave.
Renard, for her part, said she loved the statue and the festivities surrounding it. That said, restoring Samantha’s shine isn’t up to the city, as the statue remains legally private property even when it sits in the center of a public park.
“There is an agreement,” Rennard said. “We need to contact TV Land to have it restored.”
The deal, signed in 2005 between then-Salem Mayor Stan Usovicz and TV Land (then “a programming service of MTV Networks”, now part of the Viacom and Paramount entertainment networks), established that TV Land “would loan the sculpture to the City of Salem, and the City of Salem agrees to display the sculpture. Paragraph 3 of the agreement solidified where: “A mutually agreed location in Lappin Park , corner of Essex Street and Washington Street.”
The seventh paragraph left Lappin Park in city custody. “TV Land will be responsible for repairs to the statue,” it says, adding that the company has 60 days to make repairs after being contacted by the city if necessary. If TV Land fails, the city can charge the company for repairs; if the company finds the costs too high “due to significant instances of vandalism, TV Land will give the city 30 days notice and after which will have the right to repossess the sculpture”.
City officials recently reached out to TV Land asking for restoration efforts, Rennard said, and TV Land responded.
“They’re going to fix it,” Rennard said. “DPW took the paint off, and now TV Land is coming.”
“It’s comforting,” added Rennard.
Yet the vandalism has resurrected the debate behind Samantha. Seger said his stance on disposing of the statue had actually evolved.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people, and I think Samantha means different things to different people,” she said. ” I feel that. It represents something that I don’t understand. So maybe she should stay… but maybe she should move.
Central to that idea is what Lappin Park represents, Seger said: A piece of Town House Square, which is tied to a lot of important history along Washington Street.
“It’s the first meeting house, the first church, the courthouse (Salem Witch Trials) on the road,” Seger said. “It just seems wrong to me to have a fake TV witch in the center of Town House Square, when we had a real tragedy here, and real people were accused and executed.”