Salem, Massachusetts: Witch trial town warns off Halloween tourists

A new surge of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts is coinciding with a deluge of Halloween visitors to the witch-trial town of Salem, prompting officials in the historical city to barricade streets and request that visitors stay home this month. Today Salem enacted new protocols to limit visitors, including restricting parking and alcohol sales and implementing crowd-control measures.

"Our message to those planning a trip to Salem this October at this point is to postpone your visit" Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said at a news conference introducing the measures on Friday. "This is not the year to come to Salem."

Until November 1, Salem is limiting pedestrians on its popular Essex Street mall and discouraging all activities that are not confirmed with a reservation. The city announced limits on parking, business hours and train service to the area. Barricades have been set up to limit lines outside shops and other businesses, which have been directed to create reservation systems and close by 8pm. Weekend commuter trains will not stop at the Salem station after 7 pm through November 1, and all city parking garages are closing to nonresidents, except for exiting traffic.

Police detours will prevent nonresidents from parking in residential areas, and weekend alcohol sales at restaurants will be required to end by 11pm. Police will enforce crowd control in the downtown area and may close off pedestrian areas entirely "as deemed necessary," according to the mayor's office.

Salem is designated at a "yellow" level on Massachusetts' stoplight-color system indicating communities' virus risk, with about seven cases per 100,000 residents.

"We've been seeing a crescendo in visitation since Labor Day, with the crowds getting substantially larger every weekend," Destination Salem spokesperson Kate Fox told The Washington Post. "The weekends have been the most challenging and problematic, with shoulder-to-shoulder crowding outdoors as people wait to get into businesses."

Fox says visitors now have little to do except congregate outside and at retail shops since the city cancelled all of its large Halloween events, including most of its month-long Haunted Happenings programming - a move it announced in August.

As of October 18, Salem restricted access to downtown areas including the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, which has seen the majority of crowds. Businesses that would typically set up outdoor tents in the area are now prohibited from doing so.

Essex Street's retail shops, which sell souvenirs and witch-themed retail, have been seeing lines of 50 to 100 people despite only having capacity for several shoppers at a time. While most visitors are wearing masks and visitor numbers remain at about 50 per cent of normal levels, according to the mayor's office, Fox says the focus is on further reducing the number of people crowding into pedestrian areas.


The mayor's office and Salem police are also focused on limiting house parties in the area, which is home to Salem State University.

Salem "residents, including Salem State University students, should avoid gathering for Halloween house parties during this season," the mayor's office said in a statement. "Indoor gatherings are limited to 25 percent of the maximum permitted occupancy and no more than 25 persons in all."

The city said it is assisting businesses in creating reservation systems if they don't already have one in place.

"Due to capacity restrictions, most businesses have changed to advance ticketing or, for restaurants, reservations are required . . . if you do not have a ticket or a reservation right now, you won't be able to get in anywhere," Driscoll said Friday. "We want our residents, visitors and workers to be safe, and our visitors to have the best possible experience when they come to Salem, and that's just not possible this year."

The Washington Post