Considering Of Visiting Salem This Month? This is What The Witch Metropolis Wants You To Know
No haunted houses. No large gatherings – so no costume parades or balls. No creepy street performers scaring happy tourists on Essex Street’s pedestrian mall. These are some of the steps Salem – also known as Witch City – is taking to cut the crowd on this most unusual Halloween.
“I don’t know if you’ve been here on the October weekends and it’s shoulder to shoulder,” said Kate Fox, referring to past years on the brick sidewalk flanked by witch-themed shops. In 2020, she said it was “a COVID nightmare”.
Destination Salem’s executive director Kate Fox stands on Essex Street in Salem, which usually fills with a river of people in October for the high Halloween holiday season. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)
Fox is the managing director of the city’s Destination Salem marketing organization. We spoke within sight of a large new banner spanning the wide mall corridor. It’s one of many visual reminders for Halloween and history lovers that masks (not the creepy types) are required anywhere, anytime. The signage hangs where the Destination Salem tourist stand is usually located. This year, however, this is out of order as Halloween marketing has been reduced.
“Our priority is to protect residents, visitors and employees. We therefore expect everyone to follow the applicable public health rules and guidelines,” said Fox, adding that the annual Haunted Happenings are also on hold . “The events have been canceled, the programs are different, and research ahead of time is key.”
A Wicked Good Books employee on Essex Street is manning the main entrance preventing customers from entering to keep the store under the maximum occupancy guidelines. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)
It’s a delicate balance of wanting and needing visitors who fuel the city’s economy while being nervous about their arrival. “We’re really happy that so many people have kept their plans to support the business community,” said Fox. “When you come we want you to have fun and enjoy the experience – but it will be a challenge.”
The city urges all tourists – from day-trippers from Massachusetts to long-distance drivers from other states – to adhere to Governor Charlie Baker’s travel orders and to book all activities in advance. The Mayor of Salem, Kim Driscoll, wrote on Facebook: “This is not the year to come to Salem spontaneously and without a plan” and called this month “an October like no other”.
The number of meetings in Salem was limited, as was the number of people taking part in guided outdoor tours such as the one outside Burying Point Cemetery on Charter Street. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)
There’s still a lot to do for visitors, including spooky walking tours of the city, now limited to 10 people. Museums, including the Peabody Essex Museum (with a new exhibition on the Salem Witch Trials) and the Witch Museum, are open with reduced capacity and timed tickets. Visitors will likely wait three feet apart in front of witch shops or read tarot cards until there is enough space inside. Fox said 50 of the city’s restaurants have outdoor seating and are encouraging people to make reservations.
She explained that it was a “wild year for tourism” in Salem, starting with the shutdown of COVID-19 in March. The city has been working to rebuild the industry, which attracts more than a million people annually, which, according to Fox, spends an estimated $ 140 million. Typically 30% of the annual tourism income is generated in October. “We initially thought we wouldn’t have tourism this year, that the virus would keep people away,” said Fox, “and we were wrong.”
Labor Day was so busy that city officials had to reassess their strategies for the Halloween season. “Lots of people are from New England and from lower risk countries. But there are also people who come from far away, ”said Fox. Visitors from high risk states must complete a Massachusetts health travel form.
The usual long lines on Liberty Street in front of the Salem Wax Museum did not exist on the first day of October in Salem and the haunted house of the alley was closed. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)
Salem was classified as a pandemic red zone in the summer. This status has been reduced to yellow and the city wants to keep it that way. Mayor Driscoll is not pushing governor’s move to step two of phase three until November, which means restaurants currently only have six tables and public gatherings are limited to 25.
To help budding tourists explore the city, the Fox organization has redesigned Destination Salem’s website and travel app. She said there will be push notifications for traffic, parking and health advice. There is also an online crowd display in the city center that tracks the number of cars in the MBTA and Museum Place car parks. A graph that is updated Friday to Sunday shows the density in six levels, with red being the highest.
One of the most popular attractions for tourists in Salem in October is the famous Samantha statue, abandoned in an afternoon earlier this month. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)
According to Fox, Salem expected well over half a million visitors in the course of October with its five weekends, two full moons and the summer time on November 1st. “So Halloween technically has an extra hour,” Fox mused. “I mean it was going to be great. We were prepared for our biggest year. “
The new Adam Sandler film “Hubie Halloween” has just opened and filmed on location in town. It is the first Hollywood production since “Hocus Pocus” in which Salem Salem plays.
The production left orange lights in the city, which Fox says has become a popular and safe place to take selfies. The film is one of many ways to visit Salem without actually taking a physical trip, adding, “We hope it inspires people to want to come back next year.”
Many of the shops, museums, and attractions have created virtual alternatives, including the Haunted Happenings Merchant Marketplace and the 360-degree video tour of the House of Seven Gables.
Here are some other ways to visit Salem from home this year: