What Will Happen to Museums?

Thanks to the City’s infamous witch trials, the historic homes and gardens on the Salem, Mass., waterfront usually get about a third of their annual visitors in the Halloween season. But the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lock-downs have created a scary situation for these places: most of the rest of their visitors arrive in the spring and summer. Thanks to the pandemic, this year’s busy time has been a wash, and it’s not looking like the fall will be much different.

At the site of Salem’s The House of the Seven Gables and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace, tickets and gift-shop sales made up more than 80% of revenue in 2019. That money doesn’t just keep the home open for visitors; it also keeps an essential organ of the community running. Without it, the organization’s English-language and citizenship-prep classes as well as summer programs for kids–parts of a century-old immigrant-assistance project–are at risk. The institution is trying to work out whether it can host tours small enough to allow social distancing in the two historic homes. Otherwise, Kara McLaughlin, executive director of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association, says, “I don’t see us being able to open our buildings for the foreseeable future, or until there is some sort of treatment or vaccine.”

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