And so it begins. Haunted Happenings, the city’s month-long celebration of Halloween, officially begins tonight with the Grand Parade from the harbor to the Common. If you scroll down the schedule of events, you will see that the celebration consists primarily of offerings by local businesses: Halloween in Salem is a commercial happening more than anything else. Rather than join in the festivities, I tend to hide out in my house during this long month; I never really accepted the connection between the Witch Trials and Halloween or understood the compulsion to profit on the persecution and death of innocent people. That said, Salem is far more than Witch City, and maybe more than a few people among the crowds who descend upon the city in October will come to realize that.
October in Salem: A commercial awning invades the sacred space of the Witch Trial Tercentenary Memorial and the Old Burying Point beyond.
Actually, Halloween has become increasingly bearable over the past few years as the focus of activities has shifted to family fare and the logistical problems associated with thousands of people descending on a compact city have been addressed: the police have become far more efficient in dealing with crowd control, and the city tries to clean up after everyone. A decade ago, it seemed as if no one was in control and that was scary. And everything is relative: more and more real businesses have been established in the city, to balance out the pop-up tee-shirt shops, sausage vendors, psychic parlors, and haunted houses. This particular year, I am also cheered by the fact that visitors who really care about what went on in 1692 have, for the first time really, several places to go for substantive information, orientation, and context: the new Salem Museum, on the first floor of the Old Town Hall, and the National Park Service Visitors’ Center down the street, where the new film Salem Witch Hunt. Examine the Evidence, featuring some of the most eminent historians in the field, will be on view four times a day during Haunted Happenings.
So if you’re coming to Salem, my advice (instructions): take the train (or the ferry), get oriented, look at some architecture besides the Witch House, go to a real museum like the Peabody Essex, have a meal at a great restaurant before your fried dough, and bring home more than a tee-shirt: the ensembles of witch hats and aprons at Pamplemousse are actually pretty cute.