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The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News



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Salem’s ‘Haunted Happenings’ brings hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city and disruption to locals’ lives

Gitana Savage
Tourists walk along the Salem streets. The influx of tourists in October has disrupted many locals’ lives.

Attracting nearly one million visitors every Halloween season, Salem, Massachusetts is notorious for its Halloween-themed offerings and witchy history. During October, Salem’s streets are flooded with tourists from all over the country hoping to relish in the “spooky” spirit of the city and take part in “Haunted Happenings,” Salem’s month-long celebration of Halloween. But the boom in tourism during the fall months doesn’t exclusively mean light-hearted fun. Many locals’ lives are frustratingly interrupted by the influx of tourists, causing some to even leave their homes for the entire month in October.

At the core of Salem’s popularity is the infamous Salem witch trials, during which nearly 20 innocent people were executed between 1692-1693 after being accused of witchcraft. However, many Salem residents feel that the commercialization of this deeply tragic historical event can be problematic and, in some cases, disrespectful.

Leanne Marrama, cofounder of the Pentagram Shop, opened her store three years ago alongside her best friend Timothy Reagan. Offering spell books, divination tools, altar materials and psychic readings, the Pentagram Shop is a hub of all things witchcraft. Marrama’s goal is to educate people about what the occult and witchcraft really are and to spread knowledge to those curious about the practices.

“That’s why we don’t sell any of the tchotchkes, pointy hats or any of that stuff,” Marrama said. “We don’t because this is our religion, this is our faith, people died for this –– not just the people on Gallows Hill [and] not just the Salem witches –– people have died being accused of paganism and being called heretics and now it’s a sideshow.”

However, despite some negative witch representations in Salem, the city also contains a high concentration of practicing witches and pagans who were drawn to Salem for its history, including Marrama’s cofounder Reagan. 

“What I think is the biggest takeaway is this all started with exactly the opposite of what happened,” Marrama said. “It started with bigotry, people being killed, fear, hate. Now our streets are paved in rainbows and we really embrace the name Salem, which means peace.”

Two tourists laugh with an entertainer. Many locals have expressed discontent over the commercialization of the Salem witch trials. (Gitana Savage)

Rockafellas of Salem, a restaurant located in the city’s downtown area, opened its doors 20 years ago when it was founded by Terrance Marachino, Kevin Marachino and David McKillop. Kevin Marachino was drawn to Salem for its live music scene and deemed it the perfect place to open up Rockafellas. When he first opened the restaurant, he recalls the tourist boom occurring much later than it does today.

“October like it is today didn’t used to start until the fifth or 10th of October,” Kevin Marachino said. “Haunted Happenings literally starts the 15th of September now, the lines, the no reservations for the restaurant. We do no reservations now because it’s impossible to keep track.”

Despite some criticism, the tourist boom the season brings to Salem also benefits local residents and businesses. The Halloween season provides a host of jobs to those in the community. Businesses located in the heart of Salem, such as Marachino’s, also gain a lot of traction during the month which brings unprecedented revenue into the community.

“[Tourism] brings a ton of money to the downtown and Salem altogether,” Kevin Marachino said. “It helps the city thrive and it gives everybody jobs, but I feel for the people who live in the downtown area because it does get tough to maneuver.”

Stacia Cooper, assistant director of Destination Salem, Salem’s official visitor center, shared a nuanced perspective on what tourism is like in the city as someone who has lived there for 26 years.

“It’s like a fifth season we have here,” Cooper said, “You have spring, summer, winter and fall and we have October. And with that fifth season, just like any other season, you have to prepare for it. As a local, you have to adjust your day-to-day way of navigating the city. So on the weekends you can’t just go out and do your grocery shopping, you have to adjust according to the traffic.”

Working at the visitor center, Cooper gets a front row seat to the influx of tourists during the season, and, like Marrama, Cooper has witnessed an uptick in disrespectful witch representation in the city.

“This year we’ve noticed there’s a new shirt that everyone wears that says 1692 in big numbers and underneath it says ‘they say they missed one,’” Cooper said.  “People are always saying ‘We want to see where the witches are buried,’ but they were not witches, they were innocent people. Some people don’t think they’re being disrespectful, but to some locals, it’s very disrespectful.”

Cooper has lived and worked in Salem for 26 years, and her favorite part of October is seeing the joy Salem brings tourists and getting to observe people having a genuinely good time.

“I’m kind of lucky,” Cooper said. “Yesterday we were standing here at the info center. It was the end of the day and there were three girls dressed as the Sanderson sisters and they were laughing and enjoying themselves. That’s what it’s all about –– revelry and fun.”

A packed crowd moves through the streets of Salem. Tourist season has led to an increase in disrespectful witch representation. (Gitana Savage)
About the Contributor
Gitana Savage, Deputy City Editor
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