Spending Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts
There are more witches than ever in modern day Salem—especially on Halloween.
Where better to celebrate Halloween than Salem, Massachusetts? A town infamous for its witch trials—by 1693 they had executed 19 people and accused over 200—Salem has softened towards the subject of the supernatural in recent decades, reinventing itself as an epicenter for magic and its enthusiasts.
This was spurred in part by by four Bewitched episodes filmed in Salem in 1970, earning Elizabeth Montgomery's cheery witch her own statue in town. The Massachusetts town was also the backdrop to the 1993 cult favorite Hocus Pocus, which proposed that the innocents killed four centuries earlier really were witches, but also that one of them was Bette Midler.
These days, Salem embraces Halloween. Their annual Haunted Happenings festival begins on October 1 and continues throughout the month to culminate in a day long festival, complete with music and fireworks. Arrive early, stay late, and don't forget to wear your costume. (Seriously, wear your costume.)
Strike a Bewitching Pose
The glamorous Samantha Stephens made it okay to talk about—and even like—witches again in Salem. Tip your pointed hat to the sitcom that helped make Salem one of the Halloween capitals of the world and wiggle your nose for a picture.
Shop for Spells
There's a crystal or candle for everyone in Salem, and too many stores to name that offer one or the other—or both. A few standouts are Pyramid Books on Derby Street, the largest metaphysical book store in New England; Artemisia Botanicals on Hawthorne Street, an herb and essential oil retailer; and Hex: Old World Witchery on Salem, for all your other magical needs. If you need something to nip to keep you warm through the chilly New England night, Bunghole Liquors on Lowell Street, has an ample supply, in addition to its striking neon signage.
Walk through History
Though the Peabody Essex Museum warrants a visit nearly any other day of the year, on Halloween the place to be is the Salem Witch Museum. The museum, which occupies a former church, features a deeply charming (if a little dated) animatronics show replete with dramatic lighting and prerecorded voices. Tickets are first come, first serve, with no online purchases, so make sure you swing by early. They're open until midnight.
The Salem Witch House, a few blocks beyond the din of downtown on Essex Street, offers a general look at what 17th-century life was like as well as, for the month of October, an exhibit on the history of Halloween. It's the only home in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials—Judge Jonathan Corwin, who helped preside over the trials that sent the 19 executed to their deaths, lived there for more than forty years. At night they offer a ticketed performance, "Tales of at the Witch House."
If you are feeling particularly romantic—that is, like the 19th-century literary genre—head over to the House of Seven Gables for a historic tour of a 17th century home that, two centuries later, inspired (and sometimes hosted) writer and Salem native, Nathaniel Hawthorne. His famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, opens at the Customs House, right across the street. Hawthorne's Puritan ancestors participated in the witch trials, a shameful fact he wore as his own kind of scarlet letter. The house hosts two ticketed 7 p.m. performances, Spirits of the Gables and Legacy of the Hanging Judge, the night of Halloween. These also fill up fast.
Dance with Demons
While you should check out the Haunted Happenings website for all of the events taking place the night of the 31st, the best thing to do is simply walk. The streets are packed with revelers, and most will be wearing some of the funniest and most elaborate Halloween costumes out there. Live music and sponsored tents, in which alcohol can be purchased, abound. Fireworks go off at 10 p.m.