If You Build it, They will Come

Two very different tourist towns during the Pandemic of 2020: at the beginning of the summer, I was up in my hometown of York, Maine, so I wrote about its opening in the midst of Covid with every intention of writing a comparative “bookend” post on Salem. I am only getting to this now, with summer over and Salem’s Halloween season, 2020 version, gearing up. Yes: Halloween has arrived in Salem: apparently nothing can stop it, even a pandemic! The traffic and the crowds have increased noticeably over the last few weeks, and on Saturday I went for a walk to see to see what was up: I turned around after 5 minutes, it was simply too crowded for me to feel safe, after so many months of relative isolation. Then I went back on Sunday, and it was much better: less crowded, masks much in evidence, enough space away from the restaurants. I am wondering if social distancing downtown will be possible on October weekends: shops, restaurants, and attractions have limited capacity under the Covid conditions, so lines will form—and grow longer with each weekend until Halloween I expect.

Sunday 9/27/20: Salem downtown: not too bad! Most people had on masks, as the whole downtown is a mandatory mask zone. Mask ambassadors out and about. Longer lines at restaurants than the museums, with the exception of the Witch “Museum”, of course—which is not really a museum. This year, it finally gets some stiff competition from the Peabody Essex Museum with TWO Salem exhibitions on view: “Salem Stories” and the “Salem Witch Trials, 1692” (with authentic artifacts, expert curatorship and current historiography, as opposed to mannequins, narrative, and interpretation from circa 1968).

So I was originally going to title this post “City of Mixed Messages”, but after walking around, reading, and thinking a bit, I decided that wasn’t fair: I don’t think the City is putting out mixed messages. All the official events are canceled: people are just coming. There are attractions of course, like the traditional schlocky ones and the new PEM exhibitions, as well as a new Destination Salem app and a Frankenstein-esque Hampton Inn, but apart from the specific draws, I just think people like to come to Salem for (a very extended) Halloween. Witch City has been built with a very solid foundation, and they will come. Away from Essex Street, all was pretty quiet even in the city center: the Charter Street Cemetery has been closed for repairs for quite some time, and I saw only respectful wanderers at the adjacent Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial: certainly a far cry from thisThe City’s message this year seems to be come with a mask and a plan (like voting!) and hopefully that’s what people will do.

Six feet apart was possible at the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial this past weekend.

But it’s still September. I am wondering how state protocols can be observed with more crowds. I saw lots of out-of-state license plates downtown: have these people quarantined for 14 days before they descended upon Salem? Last week when I visited the Beverly Historic Society, there were contact-tracing questions before I could enter the exhibition: is this happening in Salem? What’s going to happen on Halloween night, which is (of course, 2020) on a Saturday this year? No candy from me, kids; I’m sorry, I’ll double up next year.

As you can see, all was pretty quiet in the McIntire Historic District this past weekend, even in the Ropes Mansion garden, which is just GORGEOUS now—it’s the ultimate late-summer garden. The owners of this beautiful Italianate never do anything in half measures, but I suspect they must be part of Historic Salem’s  Halloween event: Halloween in Salem, a “festive virtual house tour” which will go live on October 9. A great idea and a safe way to experience Halloween in Salem.

7 responses to “If You Build it, They will Come

  • Jane Stauffer

    I thoroughly enjoyed your Blog today, but you said. and what keeps being said by the Mayor and other’s, is that even thought Halloween is canceled people “just come.” They are mixed messages because even though city Halloween celebrations are cancelled the businesses are marketing heavily on-line to encourage people to come. So we probably won’t see the families that come to city events, but the “Witch” shops, creepy tours and all the haunted houses will have lots of customers. I am sure if they were not marketing Halloween in Salem there would be much fewer people.

    • daseger

      I see your point and your concern, Jane–and as a downtown resident myself I share it! There is an apparent conundrum: we want our local businesses to thrive but at what cost? The school are closed but the shops are open? Does Salem exist to serve the interests of the Witch Musem? These are questions I am asking myself, but I don’t have the answers yet. So I’m going to keep thinking about them, and keep walking downtown. I think we did so well all summer, and would hate to see us blow it for Halloween.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for the great pics of Salem in late September, obviously building up to a Covid- style Halloween crescendo.

    Such a lovely city…

  • fairlynch

    Hi Donna, An enjoyable post from you as usual, and this one of interest to our East Budleigh Devon residents in view of Conant 400. So I will share the link if that’s ok with you. One tiny typo in the Beverly Historical Society section: I think you mean ‘contact’ for ‘contract’. And indeed, good point about the contact tracing. I imagine that if there is any effort to record contact details at museums etc it’s probably not very efficient, here in the UK at any rate. But maybe I’m wrong. We haven’t been going out much!!!

  • MsBravefighter

    Wow, beautiful pictures here. It paints a thousand words truly.

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