Review: Haunted Happenings, Salem MA (4.5 stars)

Last year, the team from Events INSIDER went on a 10-day Halloween blitz! In October 2013, I visited 28 attractions to bring you reviews and information on everything Halloween in New England. We went indoors and outdoors as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Rhode Island, and as far west as Connecticut. Don’t forget to visit, where we list more creative October events than anyplace else!

Haunted Happenings is the name that the Salem Tourism Office gives to all the events and destinations in Salem and the region during October. It’s quite big!

Let me say this frankly: Salem is a lot of fun during Halloween time but you have to choose carefully. Avoid the most hyped tourist traps and bars, which seem to overwhelm the humble traveler when partying students are out in force. But it is possible to do Salem right. Visit the USS Friendship, the reproduction trading ship from old timey days, which you can ogle even if it was strangely closed for boarding. See the House of the Seven Gables and their shows. Eat dinner in town and buy tickets to one of the masquerade balls. But avoid the haunted houses — those in town are too commercial, except that you should definitely see Terror in the Village.

I would also see the Salem Witch Museum and the Pirate Museum, and go from shop to shop browsing all the curious goods. It’s also fun just to stroll around town, to watch people and see their magnificent costumes. Just walking around town we also got to be front and center for a TV news spot. You should definitely go into the Peabody Essex Museum as well, which is a top New England museum and does not focus on the witch trials. But note that these attractions are open all year, so you don’t necessarily need to do them on Halloween or even in October.

Salem is a place of conflicts. The businesses want as much as much tourism as possible, but the rest of the locals just want the tourists gone. So the city of Salem produces an outdoor stage of music. If you are smart, do not drive to Salem. Instead, take the commuter rail and by the end of the evening (9:30pm) position yourself by the outdoor stage which is near the train stop. That is also the best place to watch the fireworks from that “end the night” before an official curfew and police politely hustle you out of our city! so that you don’t get too drunk and cause vandalism or whatever they are afraid of: loud noise keeping people awake I guess.

Another conflict in Salem is the belief in the paranormal. The main lesson of the Salem witch trials is that when you listen to people with crazy ideas (that witches exist, that spells work and curses too) it leads to bad things like executions. And yet, a community of Wiccans have embraced Salem as their home, and you’ll find tarot card readings and stores with potions all around. If it’s just for fun, this is fine, but when someone is making money telling you that this rock crystal will heal you, or that your grandmother is sending her love from beyond the grave, that’s predatory. That’s con man stuff, and fortune telling is actually illegal in much of the country, maybe Salem too. The game is that if you ask officially, a tarot card reader knows the laws and will say it’s just for fun, but if you prefer to be stupid and ask informally, they will assure you that it’s all real, pay $30 please. Anyway, that’s always the worst part of Salem to me. I love Halloween so much, but not taking advantage of the gullible. The best way to honor the innocents killed in Salem would be to give up superstitious thinking, but I feel sometimes that nobody gets that but me.

Towards the end of Halloween night the place did get flooded with college students in amateur costumes, boozing it up. If you have kids or just want to keep your sanity, visiting Salem mid-month is perhaps wiser. Although you’ll find a few things early in October really the big stuff does not get going until mid-October. Visiting the 3rd weekend of October is perhaps ideal if you’re not crowd-loving. You’ll get to experience everything except the outdoor stage and fireworks. Earlier in the month, you’ll find kids parades, an outdoor carnival, outdoor movies, and just enjoying the beauty of nature. Those are real treats. Really, Salem is a great place to visit any time of the year.

In short, Salem has a little for everyone. While I can’t give it a full 5 stars because I do wish it had a few more brainy / arty attractions to add to its bars and potion stores, depending on your point of view and savvy about choosing your activities, it is 5 stars all the way.

This review was from Events INSIDER’s 2013 10-day Halloween blitz, where we visited 28 attractions across New England. Visit, where you’ll find more fun Halloween and October events than anywhere else!