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 willâ€”or won’tâ€”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.
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.
(2009 must have gotten spirited away…)
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.
You can just make out the lighthouse at the end of the wharf, to the left of that pointy little hat.
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. 🙂 )
And the Custom House grounds.
This is the actual Custom House, built in 1819.
There’s a ton of great detail all around the city.
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.
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.
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.
It couldn’t have a more perfect, creepy house next to it. (Right?)
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.
Salem Open Market
Part of Derby Square and Essex Street play host to Salem Open Market, an outdoor crafty-type market on the weekends.
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…)
Derby Square Books is always packed to the hilt with used books.
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.
People come to town all month in costume.
You can find a bunch of common and not-so-common goods in the shops here.
And people (and their pets) come out in force, many in costume.
There are a bunch of street performers that we see year after year.
This guy does a great Jack Sparrow.
There was even a guy with a circus act. (He’s BRAVE. Our streets are cobblestone here, and very uneven.)
I managed to catch him mid-back flip.
There are also a bunch of really neat living statues around town all month long.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the pedicab guys…
…and the handful of fire-and-brimstone types who invariably make their way into the city, loaded with pamphlets and literature.
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.
There. Much better.
So, what do you think?
Inspired to visit? Think we’re crazy for living in such a tourist-y town?
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!