About half a million people converge on Salem during the Halloween season, according to officials.
And for the visitors heading to the small city with a population just over 40,000 and known for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 on the holiday itself, it means finding alternative, and perhaps creative, ways to get into the city — streets will shut down by 4 p.m. “and likely earlier,” according to Destination Salem.
“Visitors should not drive to Salem on Halloween,” an announcement on road closures posted to the city’s website says.
Tourists spend about $42 million in Salem in October — more than a third of the tourism dollars spent in the city annually, Kate Fox, executive director for Destination Salem, told WBUR.
Each year seems to mean an increase in the number of visitors, according to Capt. Frederick Ryan of Salem police.
“At first it was just October, but now we’re running into the latter weeks of September,” he said. “It’s trending at an increased level.”
Preparing for Halloween season starts a year in advance, at least in the police department. Ryan said the police start discussions and planning in November for the following year. For the first time this year, the police had a meeting with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to talk about different circumstances, like extreme weather, an officer-involved incident, or other potential scenarios. Other agencies, like the state police and the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, will come in to help.
This year could also mean bringing in mounted state police, for the first time in at least five years, Ryan said. This could be weather dependent, but authorities initially planned for six horses to help with crowd control on Salem Common.
“We actually got a briefing from the FBI on the trends on large-scale events,” he said.
The department will have a separate dispatch in the station specific to downtown Halloween police units, according to Ryan. There’s five different divisions of police that night. One issue the police contend with is weapons — many people bring them as part of a costume, and authorities work to confiscate them.
Other than that, much of the police work is protective custody — taking care of people who are too drunk, the captain said.
In terms of parking and traffic, guides to the city stress that visitors shouldn’t drive, but rather use the train, the ferry, or a ride share. But if you must drive, arrive early, according Destination Salem.
“Once the downtown and central parking fills up, it’s filled,” Kate Fox, Destination Salem’s executive director, told Boston.com.
This season has been “really successful,” even with less-than-ideal weather over the last few days, according to Fox.
“I’m hearing really positive feedback from the business community,” she said.
It’s difficult to gauge just how many people each year draws — Fox said she wishes there was a gate where officials could take a count. But without something like that “we have no way of knowing.”
Aside from pushing for public transportation use, the city had shuttles from a couple of parking areas to downtown during the last two weekends prior to the holiday for those who drove.
“Our goal is always to try to create opportunities to not have to drive in,” David Kucharsky, Salem’s Traffic and Parking director, said.
Scooters were also available at the shuttle stops — they’re prohibited from downtown, but visitors could still get “pretty close,” he said.
Absent from this year’s festivities is the ability to walk through Charter Street Cemetery. Salem’s historic cemetery closed on Sept. 28 and won’t reopen until Nov. 3, according to the city. The cemetery, a real burial ground established in 1637 with the oldest gravestone dating to 1673, is set to undergo restoration starting in the spring of next year.
It’s a move that irked Giovanni Alabiso, who owns Salem Historical Tours and Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tours. He told Boston 25 News that the inability to take tourists to the cemetery meant a loss of about $10,000 in business.
“Everyone is like, ‘We want to protect the cemetery,’ so we’re all on the same page, we just disagree how to do it,” Alabiso told the news station.
While rain and wind are forecast for Halloween night, Ryan said that won’t deter police. They’re ready for the visitors and celebrations.
“That’s what Salem has been and always will be — a tourist city,” he said. “The history and attractions are here and are growing.”