Every year, during one special weekend in February, people walking around Salem are struck once again by just how magical a mid-winter ice sculpture can really can be. “It happens mysteriously, overnight,” explains Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets. “They last as long as they last. That is both the exciting part and the hard part. We’ve had years with blizzards and they lasted for weeks. We’ve had years they are melting by illumination.”
By illumination, Sullivan means the colorful light show that takes place Saturday evening from 5 to 9 p.m. against the ice sculptures, which are in place by about 11 on Saturday morning. For those who need a tip on this 18th year of the Salem’s So Sweet Festival from February 7 to 9, take an early morning stroll on Saturday and you may witness the masterful sheering of an icy edge by the South Shore based sculptors themselves, Ice Effects.
In past years, ice sculptures have included a precise rendering of the Friendship, the square rigger that lives in Salem Harbor. A couple of years ago, Turner’s Seafood requested a fish and Sullivan didn’t think much of it until the big reveal. “Ice Effects knocked it out of the park,” she says, “and really showed the artistry of what you can do with ice. They did all the scales and everything. It was just a beautiful fish.”
Many favorites are not crazy themes, explains Sullvan, but instead simply work well for ice. One year Adriatic Restaurant and Bar proudly displayed a squid and Maria’s Sweet Somethings featured a mermaid. “Aquatic does really well in ice,” says Sullivan.
This year, with the Star Wars craze continuing, look for Baby Yoda, which, surprising no none, will be outside Flying Saucer Pizza, everyone’s favorite sci fi-themed pizza and beer hot spot. The Peabody Essex Museum will fittingly provide a frame made of ice for selfie works of art. Some places are getting literal. The Hawthorne Hotel will feature an ice sculpture of the Hawthorne Hotel. The Witch Museum is showcasing an ice sculpture of the actual historic building that houses the Witch Museum, once serving as a church and a vintage car museum.
Then there is the wine and chocolate, which is what this festival is all about. The chocolate and wine tasting on Friday night at Colonial Hall above Rockafellas sold out faster this year this usual. PEM’s new event, a wine tasting and lecture on a 19th century Salem winemaker at the museum’s restored Cotting-Smith House, is sold out too.
But there is plenty of fun to be had around town with local businesses offering unique Valentine’s gifts, chocolates, and discounts, especially when shoppers have their Golden Ticket, found inside the festival brochure. It’s a good time to indulge and hit up Kakawa Chocolate House on Essex Street or Goodnight Fatty off Salem Common. Salem’s growing dining scene should also not be missed as restaurants offer up chocolate-themed dishes.
Increasingly each year, Sullivan says, people travel to the event from Boston or down from Maine. About 3,000 brochures are given out and more people than that are usually in town for the weekend. Salem Flea will host their quirky handmade and vintage market in Old Town Hall. Tour companies are getting in on the Valentine’s theme. The Salem Night Tour, for instance, is offering a walking tour through tales of murderous marriages and love gone wrong in Salem. Meanwhile, the Salem Trolley will offer tours of the ice sculptures, weather permitting, from 12 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday for $2 for adults and free for kids.
The event is meant to be a shop and dine initiative in a slow time of year, created nearly 20 years ago when Salem was a different place, to bring people to town and stir up business. “The last couple of years, that has caught on,” says Sullivan. “This is a big winter weekend. What’s really been interesting to see is that now, this often becomes the first active weekend that kicks everything off. Then school vacation week comes with activities for kids happening at PEM and a lot of people downtown. We now see three busy weekends in February and that was hard to imagine before.”