“Haunted Happenings,” an annual Salem, Mass. festival, is celebrating its 35th year as the most comprehensive Halloween family destination in America.
By Maureen Mancini Amaturo
“Haunted Happenings,” an annual Salem, Mass. festival, is celebrating its 35th year as the most comprehensive Halloween family destination in America. During October, 250,000 people visit Salem, not including the additional 75,000 revelers who swarm the streets on Halloween night to see and be seen. And that is why you must book your room a year in advance. “More families come now, people of all ages, couples, empty-nesters. There’s something for everyone. Halloween is so appealing to such a broad swath of people,” says Kate Fox, Executive Director, Destination Salem. Kate, (nee Longbotham) former Rye resident and Rye Country Day student, has been involved in Salem tourism for the past twelve years. “Salem has changed a lot. There’s been a culture, arts, and culinary evolution. It’s more than a haunted experience.”
The first thing that surprises people about Salem is that the fire and police department emblems feature a witch against a crescent moon. Second, is that its name comes from Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. Third, there’s plenty to do all year with its rich history, the Peabody Essex Museum, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House Of The Seven Gables, and more. But October ups the experience, for obvious reasons. Since I was at the first “Haunted Happenings” and still attend, I’ve watched this celebration mushroom. Originally only a week long, today it runs the entire month of October.
Now way beyond witches, it includes the area’s pirate, literary, and cultural history. New attractions: free family movies on the commons (more free events, www. salem.org/ten-free) street fairs, psychic fairs, live theatre, vendors, exhibits, historical reenactments, harbor cruises, trolley tours, lectures, children’s parades, festivals, witches’ balls, ghost stories, eerie candlelight tours, and a heritage trail to name a very few. Essex Street is the hub. For 2015, the Salem Witch Museum is looking back at how Samantha bewitched Salem during the filming of “Bewitched” in the early 1970s. BTW, the Halloween classic, “Hocus Pocus,” was filmed in Salem.
Halloween in Salem is Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, Oscar® night, and a surprise party rolled into one. “The most popular attractions include the Salem Witch Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Pirate Museum,” says Fox. But the fan-favorite is the Hawthorne Hotel’s Official Salem Witches Ball on October 31. “People work on their costumes for the balls for six months or more.”
Speaking of the Hawthorne Hotel, it now stands where, in 1887, Parker Bros. – of Monopoly fame – rented a store for $12.50 a month, hired their first employee, and began their board game business.
And there’s the witch history. Salem, a creative, all-embracing city, has an active witch community. “In October, we feel there is a strong presence of the witch community. Many are business people, and they dress accordingly for the tourists,” Kate says. “We want people to have a better impression of witches and their traditions.” Laurie Cabot, named The Official Witch of Salem by Governor Dukakis in the 1970s, founded The WLPA, Witches’ League for Public Awareness, there in 1986. You’ll spot Laurie, now in her 80s, around Salem. There are endless options to learn about witch history and today’s witches. On October weekends, Artemisia Botanicals on Hawthorne Boulevard offers “Ask A Witch, Make A Wand.” You can ask local witches questions about witches and witchcraft.
Now’s the time to plan your 2016 Halloween trip. Visit hauntedhappenings.org for the range of events you can expect. Want a Haunted Happenings brochure mailed to you? hauntedhappenings.org/guide/index. The Hawthorne Hotel and the Salem Waterfront Hotel are the only two big hotels and offer parking, but there are many B&Bs in the area.
“If you’re coming to Salem for the first time, take the Trolley Tour,” Kate suggests. I say leave time for shopping. I’m still haunted by the amazing necklace I didn’t buy last year.