Life in Salem, MA at Halloween

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When you live in Salem, Massachusetts, and people mention the “holiday season,” believe me, they aren’t talking Christmas.

In Salem, October is a month-long Halloween festival.

The party starts the first week with a grandiose opening parade, and doesn’t end ’til the fireworks are finished, late into Halloween night.

A lot of peeps ask me what it’s like to live here during October.

Honestly? It’s BANANAS.

It’s great most of the time. (OMG, I just saw the entire major cast of Star Wars walk by, Wookie and all!)

It’s challenging some of the time. (OMG, get out of my yard with your camera, my house isn’t a public attraction!)

But it’s always interesting. And we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

If you’ve never been here, there’s something deliciously Twin Peaks-y about the city. If you ask me, it’s one of the most magical places on the planet.

That said, it does get a little hairy the last week of the month, as Halloween approaches. If you’re a local, you plan your day around how easy it will—or won’t—be to get around.

There are events every day. The garages are always packed. The streets are lined with tour buses. And there are throngs of people out and about at all hours.

Like, throngs.

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Most of them will be really polite. Some of them, predictably, won’t be.

But, as a local, you learn how to get around.

You go grocery shopping at 9 o’clock at night during the week, when the streets are more likely to be a little quieter.

You go out for drinks with friends over the bridge in Beverly, where the bars won’t be standing-room only. Your friends who live in Boston say things like, “See you in November.”

That kind of thing.

So, we’ll do our big annual photo extravaganza the night of Halloween itself, but here’s a peek at what it’s like to walk around during the month.

The Ghost of Salem Halloweens Past

If you’re itching to see some Halloween-night action and don’t want to wait for my post this year, take a peek through pics from past years. The costumes and festivities are always top notch.

Halloween 2012

Halloween 2012 Salem MA The Hungry Mouse

Halloween 2011

Halloween 2011 Salem MA The Hungry Mouse

Halloween 2010

Halloween 2010 Salem MA The Hungry Mouse

Halloween 2008

(2009 must have gotten spirited away…)

Halloween 2008 Salem MA The Hungry Mouse

Down on the wharf

We live on the wharf-end of town, which means that our tourist season actually starts in May, when the tour buses start to roll in for maritime attractions.

Salem, despite popular belief, is about a lot more than witches. 😉 There’s a TON of historical venues dedicated to New England’s shipping history.

This is the Salem harbor.

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You can just make out the lighthouse at the end of the wharf, to the left of that pointy little hat.

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This is The Friendship, a reconstruction of a 171-foot Salem East Indiaman built in 1797. (Hint: If you come to visit, don’t call it a boat to the dudes from National Parks. It’s a SHIP. 🙂 )

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And the Custom House grounds.

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This is the actual Custom House, built in 1819.

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There’s a ton of great detail all around the city.

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The Mary statue at Immaculate Conception church on Hawthorne Boulevard has a hidden Coi pond at her feet. It’s one of my favorite hidden spots in the city.

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The Peabody Essex Museum actually reconstructed a complete Chinese house from the Qing dynasty. It’s super cool and definitely worth a visit. Learn more about it here.

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Burying Point Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Salem, will be crawling with tourists all month. Most of them are respectful. Some of them aren’t, and leave their sodas on top of the stones. With graves that date back to the 1600s, the boneyards in town are always a big draw for folks from out of town.

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It couldn’t have a more perfect, creepy house next to it. (Right?)

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Someone always puts this spot to good use on Halloween night. Like the Michael Myers (from the movie Halloween) we saw in 2010. He was just standing on the steps, swaying. Super scary.

michael myers the hungry mouse salem ma

Salem Open Market

Part of Derby Square and Essex Street play host to Salem Open Market, an outdoor crafty-type market on the weekends.

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One of my best friends runs Witch City Wicks and sells her amazing, all-natural candles there.

Shameless plug: Lizzie hand pours her soy candles right here in Salem, and they’re some of the best smelling candles I’ve ever used. Buy them online here. You won’t be sorry. (She does funky flavors like bacon, whiskey, and cranberry marmalade…)

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Derby Square Books is always packed to the hilt with used books.

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And then there’s Essex Street

Essex Street is one of the main arteries for Halloween activity. The street is packed with vendors and shops.

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People come to town all month in costume.

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You can find a bunch of common and not-so-common goods in the shops here.

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And people (and their pets) come out in force, many in costume.

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There are a bunch of street performers that we see year after year.

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This guy does a great Jack Sparrow.

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There was even a guy with a circus act. (He’s BRAVE. Our streets are cobblestone here, and very uneven.)

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I managed to catch him mid-back flip.

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There are also a bunch of really neat living statues around town all month long.

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And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the pedicab guys…

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…and the handful of fire-and-brimstone types who invariably make their way into the city, loaded with pamphlets and literature.

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Need a break?

Me, too. (Right?)

I’ll leave you with a look around the tea garden at the Peabody Essex Museum’s Atrium Cafe & Restaurant. It’s a very welcome pocket of serenity in the middle of all the seasonal craziness.

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There. Much better.

So, what do you think?

Inspired to visit? Think we’re crazy for living in such a tourist-y town?

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It’s funny. When you live in Salem, you look forward to October every year in a lot of ways. And then, once it gets here, you look forward to it being over.

I’ll tell you this.

When you wake up on November 1st, there are practically tumbleweeds in the street. It’s quiet. The locals start to come out and get back to business as usual.

And you have a few months of blissful peace before the countdown to the next holiday season officially begins.

Stay tuned for more on Halloween in Salem in the coming week!

Until then, happy haunting!

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie works as an advertising copywriter in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

3 COMMENTS

  1. My friends call me *Starr)o( Thank you so very much for this. I am planning on moving to Salem, Massachusetts next year. I am an *Eclectic Green/Kitchen Witch* It has always been my dream, my goal, my desire to move to Salem, Massachusetts. Thank you for all of these wonderful pictures and I can't wait to try all of your delicious recipes. Have a beautiful day (wish I was there:-) & a *Magickal Samhain* *Blessed)o(Be*
  2. Hello there. I Just wanted to drop a line to tell you that your pictures are amazing!!! Your writing about Salem makes me want to visit more and more. I would love to live there. I am a witch and live in a very conservative community. I think Salem would be like a breath of fresh air. I love how you describe After the party. Like you could see a tumbleweed rolling down the street. I lived in Grand Bend Ontario for about 8 months working at the tattoo shop (I was a piercer) and when the summer season is over its like a ghost town. Goes from 10 ' s of thousands of people to 200 people. Lol was so quiet beautiful and refreshing. The party is great but I loved the peace and quiet after. Refreshing. All the best this year to you and thank you again for the lovely page you have. I really enjoy it!!! Blessed Be Moon

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