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Christmas/Holiday: It's a Witch's Brew for Hallowe’en in Salem, Massachusetts

For most kids, next to Christmas and their birthdays, Hallowe’en is the highpoint of the year. And nowhere else celebrates it with quite the same abandon as Salem, Massachusetts, a coastal city just 20 miles north of Boston. There, the city fathers have turned the scariest night of the year into a three-week festival. The “Haunted Happenings” celebration begin last weekend with a Fright Train Ride from Boston and torchlight parade and last until November 2 with ghost tours, and villages peopled with ghoulish personalities.

Last year, some 300,000 “spooktaters” journeyed here from all over the world to partake in the Hallowe’en hijinks. And why not? A celebration that includes witches and the spirit world comes naturally to this seaside city. For it was here in 1692, that the famous witch trials took place. Twenty persons practicing witchcraft were executed. Others were hunted down and chased out of town.

But today, the witches are back and not just at Hallowe’en. Hundreds of modern witches have gathered here from all over the continent and made Salem their permanent home. And the city almost seems to relish the connection. There’s an elementary school called Witchcraft Heights. The mascot of Salem high school is a witch. Even the local police departments get into the act. The officers wear shoulder patches sporting their official emblem - a flying witch.

You can see real 1990’s witches too as they go about their business - buying herbs at the local shop or delivering potions to Salem residents who may be down with the flu. In fact part of the for the Hallowe’en festivities is to dispel the myths of those mysterious creatures who carry on the traditions of the ancient Celtic customs of witchcraft. During the Haunted Happenings, families can talk to one of the Salem witches in a weekend Hospitality Tent. For just one dollar, a modern-day witch can tell you everything you want to know about modern sorcery.

Even if you are not bringing the kids during prime haunting time, there’s a lot to do in Salem for families. Begin your tour at the Witch House, a restored home of one of the witch-trial judges. Preschoolers and even school-age kids may be frightened by the audiovisual presentation of the court proceedings with its loud incriminations and eerie music, but older kids will be interested in learning about these troubled times. Slightly more calming is the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers. Because the town acted as a coastal port for trade from China, the wax figures show both witches and sea captains. All ages should enjoy the hands-on activities. Kids can learn how to tie real sailors’ knots, how to do a gravestone nubbing or how to replicate a china pattern.

Real “Goosebumps” fans may enjoy the Witch Dungeon Museum which presents a live reenactment of a witch trial and a tour of the dungeon. Also in Salem is the House of the Seven Gables, a brooding dark house made famous by the novel of the same name. Kids may not know Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story but they’ll appreciate the 10 minute retelling of the tale and love climbing up the twisting secret staircase.

And if you are lucky enough to visit Salem during their Hallowe’en Happenings? Little kids should head for Salem common where amusements include a big bouncing pumpkin where they can jump, and Hallowe’en arts and crafts. School-age ghouls and boys should enjoy the haunted caverns at the New England Pirate Museum. In addition to learning about pirates, they’ll encounter some frightful ghouls. Teens should head for one of the eight haunted houses scattered about town, with names such as Dracula’s Castle and Terror on the Wharf. On weekends, ghostly walking tours let families stroll by candlelight with the spirits.

And how do the locals feel about all these “spooktaters” coming to celebrate Hallowe’en Salem-style? They’ll probably need those witches potions to restore peace and calm. For information on Hallowe’en Happenings or special ticket packages such as Salem’s Fright Pass or the Terror Ticket, call (978) 744 0013.

For little spooks who run home the first time they see a one-eyed monster on their back perhaps Hallowe’en at Walt Disney World in Orlando would be a better destination. Mickey’s “Not-So-Scary-Hallowe’en Party” includes a seasonal stage show at Cinderella’s Castle, a parade, hayrides and pumpkin-carving demonstrations. No big spooks in sight.





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