Questions For. . . Lesley Bannatyne
Soon, Salem may not be the only S-town in Massachusetts to have worldwide acclaim for its witches. Lesley Bannatyne, a Somerville-based writer, will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of Halloween Witches Reciting Poetry on October 27 to celebrate her new children’s book, Witches’ Night Before Halloween. We talked to Lesley about how she became an expert on Halloween, why we love the holiday so much, and the paperwork involved in setting a Guinness World Record.
You’ve written several books about Halloween. When did you develop your interest in the holiday?
I started researching Halloween history in 1986. I was throwing a party, and I couldn’t find the story of Halloween in America in any one book, so I wrote Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. It took off from there.
What inspired Witches’ Night Before Halloween?
It’s part of a Pelican series that built on the idea of “The Night Before Christmas.” There were books like Nurses’ Night Before Christmas, so why not one about witches? I wrote this as a Christmas book originally, but it was too grim so Penguin asked me to write one about Halloween instead.
What is it about Halloween that appeals to people so much?
There’s a lot of things, but it’s the expressive part of Halloween that people like. It’s also one of our very few holidays that celebrates darkness. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship, because it’s getting dark and cold and nobody likes that, but Halloween is this last big burst of creativity before it gets cold.
Why are you attempting to set a world record for Largest Gathering of Halloween Witches Reciting Poetry?
You think there would be an easy answer, but it’s actually complicated. I want to bring attention to the friendlier parts of Halloween. I wanted to start the season in a ritualistic– but not spooky–way. And I’m in favor of any event that brings people together to do something creative.
How many witches will set a record?
I would be delighted with anything over 50. I’d be ecstatic to have hundreds of witches. We need some sort of substance to make it work, and it should look impressive. Witches take up more space than regular people. They have the big capes, pointy hats, and brooms.
And it’s not just for women. Men and children are also welcome. A dog or any other pet you can coerce into a costume can come too. The costume is important– participants have to wear the costume for at least 15 minutes, and people can’t share a costume. So your dog will have to keep the costume on.
How difficult is it to set a World Record?
You have to start a good deal in advance. There is an application process with a lot of paperwork, then a documentation process after the attempt that takes just as long. You need to document the attempt thoroughly. They like to have DVDs and you need to have independent verifiers who are “people of repute” in your community. And without advance approval, the attempt doesn’t count.