Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has seen her share of Halloweens.
“We've been doing this for 40 years,” she told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston. “It's a fun holiday. It's a mischievous holiday. It works for all ages. We have as many adults dressing up in costumes and participating in parties and events and street fairs as we do little ones. So I'm not surprised to see more people wanting to rock the Halloween game.”
Salem has not always embraced its dark past of witch trials and hunts. But these days you can find pop culture witches sprinkled across town in landmarks and costumes: Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” Sabrina Spellman of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and the Sanderson sisters (Winifred, Sarah and Mary) from “Hocus Pocus.”
“We’ll typically have easily a half million visitors” every Halloween season, Driscoll said. “If Halloween's on a Saturday or Sunday — this year, it's on a Monday — you'll even see those numbers balloon up more.”
Driscoll, who has been Salem’s mayor since 2006, shared some tips for a spooky and safe Salem Halloween.
Leave the car at home
Driscoll’s first tip: Don’t drive into downtown Salem.
“Salem's a nearly 400-year-old city, so our roads were built for horse and buggy, not for the influx of cars that we have on a regular basis,” Driscoll said.
For weekend visitors, she recommended driving to a satellite parking lot and taking a free shuttle downtown. The parking lots are at Salem State University’s O’Keefe Center, 225 Canal St.; Salem High School, 77 Willson St.; and behind Salem Hospital, 108 Jefferson Ave. Shuttles run every Saturday and Sunday in October from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Commuter Rail is also operating more trains to keep up with demand, with a stop right in downtown Salem. Find the Commuter Rail’s October schedule here.
Boston Harbor Cruises can take passengers from Boston to Salem by ferry.
Once downtown, it's easier to get around. In fact, most destinations are close together.
“Everything's in walking distance,” she said. “You'll have a much more enjoyable time if you leave your car at home.”
Fake guns or swords are not welcome
Costumes are welcome, but weapons — even if they are fake — are not. People who dress up as weapon-wielding characters are encouraged to leave such props at home. Consider that there will be many people in downtown Salem, and a weapon could cause panic in large crowds.
“Those sorts of things that sound fun in a costume can be dangerous in a large crowd,” she said. “We have folks who, you know, don't always think about what their costume attire is or what they're bringing. So we always want to remind folks to be mindful.”
With half a million people expected over the season, public safety planning for Halloween starts a year in advance.
“We spend a lot of time with our public safety team, locally as well as across jurisdictions, making sure we're mindful of any potential threats or activities,” Driscoll said. “We will have lots of additional police in and around the community just wanting to make sure everybody's safe.”
Check out some of Salem’s history
Among the tricks and the treats, people can find some fascinating history.
“It's such a rich history,” Driscoll said. “Salem played a prominent role in the founding of our country, and certainly at one point was a major economic force for the commonwealth.”
The city’s tourism department has a list of museums on its website and its app.
Dress up and have fun
There are plenty of attractions and costumes to enjoy alongside other Halloween-lovers.
Driscoll herself is not getting too creative with her costume this year.
“Halloween's a working holiday for me,” she said. “So I will not be dressed up as anything other than the mayor of Salem.”