Salem, Massachusetts, is a town of just over 43,000 residents located on the north coast of the state above Boston. Thanks to its history, the town is no stranger to tourists, especially during the Halloween season. But this year, residents and shopowners alike say they’ve never seen so many tourists–and the legions of “Hocus-Pocusers” are making it difficult for residents to carry out their daily routines.
In the 1690s, more than 200 people in the town of Salem were accused of practicing witchcraft, and many were executed because of those accusations.
The town’s sordid history is what put Salem on the map, so to speak, and in the present day, the history of the Salem Witch Trials is behind the town’s tourism. As such, residents who live in the small town are used to an annual influx of visitors during October.
The city seems to embrace its dark history as a means of boosting its economy every fall as nearly 1 million tourists visit Salem and take part in a month-long festival that includes live music, haunted mansions, ghost tours by candlelight, parades, and more.
Since 1982, the small coastal city has hosted an event referred to as “the largest celebration of Halloween in the world!” Additionally, Salem landmarks that double as points of interest include the so-called “witch house,” the former home of a trial judge during the 1690s, and there are even “Witch City Walking Tours.”
Disney fans can even go on a spooky Hocus Pocus-themed tour, inspired by Disney’s 1993 film by the same name–and, more recently, the second installment, Hocus Pocus 2. According to the website Viator, the tour invites visitors to:
“Get bewitched in Salem on a walking tour of the real-life filming locations featured in the hit 1993 Disney film ‘Hocus Pocus’ starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Fans will recognize places like Pioneer Village and the Dennison House, plus there’s plenty of local insight about Salem’s infamous witch trials, maritime history, and other interesting trivia along the way.”
But so far, the 2022 Halloween season has been quite different for residents of the small Massachusetts town, as some residents and business owners in Salem say they’ve never seen so many tourists in their city–not even in Octobers past.
Alexis Lambert owns a gift shop in downtown Salem, and she says two of the Saturdays during this month have been busier than she ever remembers seeing at her shop.
“It got to the point where I had to go take a minute in the back because there were just so many people,” Lambert said.
Kate Fox, executive director at Destination Salem, says that crowds of tourists can be good for some businesses, but they can hurt other businesses when residents who routinely use their services are unable to get to them.
“We used to do campaigns to tell residents, ‘Come downtown, it’s safe during the week,’ and that’s almost not true anymore,” she said.
During the third weekend of October, blessed by good weather and a waning pandemic, Salem, Mass. — population 43,350 — received 101,000 visitors on Saturday alone.
Here’s what it’s like to live in the so-called “Witch City” in October. https://t.co/F2n5Ha4UzV
— Boston.com (@BostonDotCom) October 19, 2022
Salem locals are reportedly frustrated with the high influx of tourists this year, and though it’s difficult to determine why this year has seen so many more visitors in the small historic town, some say it has to do with the release of Disney’s Hocus Pocus 2, which introduced a new generation of fans to the Sanderson Sisters and their history, and reignited the excitement of the 1993 film in current fans.
And perhaps resident Kyley Dolan said it best when trying to describe Salem residents’ growing frustration and concerns with crowds in their town.
“Salem is not Disney World,” she said. “Salem is a small city with historic infrastructure. The streets are small; the buildings are small. Salem doesn’t have the space to accommodate 80,000 extra people every day.”