Saying that Halloween in Salem is “a big deal” is like saying the U.S. presidental elections are “extremely important.” It’s an obvious fact, and its mere acknowledgement feels like redundancy. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Still, in 2022, the holiday might be even a bigger deal for the Massachusetts city of 45,000: the month of October has brought crowds in numbers destined for the record books. Salem has thrived on its image as Witch City for the better part of the last half century, and the October tourists are vital to its local economy. Even with a Monday-night Hallow’s Eve this year, a typically slow weeknight could bring in floods of eager visitors.

Tourism numbers for the entire month of October, including those for Halloween itself, won't be available until a few days into November. But according to Destination Salem Executive Director Kate Fox, through the 28th — just before Halloween weekend — visitor numbers are up 7% from 2021, and 19% from the pre-COVID 2019.

Even in 2020, when much of the world’s activity ground to a halt during the first tubulent months of the pandemic, visitors still showed up — despite appeals from Mayor Kim Driscoll and ad campaigns urging tourists to remain home in the interest of public health.

“Salem tried to plead with visitors not to come in order to not spread COVID,” recalled Greg Coles, a Salem dance instructor and musician. “But there was traffic nonetheless.”

That traffic has only grown, whether it be in the form of queued automobiles inching west on Norman Street, a clogged detour to the pedestrian-friendly closed streets; or heavily packed commuter rail cars, chugging up through Chelsea and Swampscott and picking up scores of reveling Top Gun combat pilots, nurses, comic-book heroes and Victorian-era nobility.

And while there are undoubtedly Salem residents annoyed by the crush of tourists every year (“I want traffic to be less than what it is right now — enjoy your life back in Missouri, Montana, wherever the heck you're from,” admonished one frustrated partier waiting to enter a bar), a great deal of locals welcomed the diverse Halloween observants over the holiday weekend.

“Out here, you’ll see about 100 people getting off of a tour bus every 30 minutes,” said Jason Rodriguez, who moved to Salem from East Boston seven years ago. “It makes me happy. I love meeting people from Minnesota, Iowa, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas. It’s all types of backgrounds and cool ethnicities.”

Though the crowds have returned in record numbers, some businesses are still on the slow road to a more deliberate recovery. Coles’ partner Carrie Francis Cabot, for instance, has a tradition of teaching Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance to students so they can perform it in the annual parade. But it was different this year.

“We’ve just kind of been bouncing back after COVID,” Coles said. “The effect of the season, however, has been to kind of slow things down, because people are a little hesitant to come into Salem. My private lessons aren't really affected, but group classes — we had to make them earlier to beat the traffic.”

Cars lined up, on the street, in the night.
The traffic on a Saturday night in Salem, in late October, moves at a crawl.
James Bennett II GBH News

Halloween 2022 is bringing with it another air of unpredictability: the holiday proper falls on a Monday.

“Welcoming huge crowds? 100%,” said Olivia, a tour guide at Black Cat Tours, which takes guests through Salem’s haunted history. “We’re used to that and we love it. We’ll accommodate as many people as we can within the city guidelines — but the infrastructure and the traffic of that many cars coming in is almost to the point of being nonsensical.”

As a work and school night for many, some workers are having a difficult time gauging how that will factor into the truth of the enormity of the crowds.

“Unfortunately, this year is very tough to gauge,” said C.T. Hannon, who works security for Black Cat Tours. “We've obviously already had record-breaking numbers all season. Normally, a Monday night Halloween would be a slower evening, but looking at the numbers, I have no idea what to expect.”