The Salem Witch Trials was a series of prosecutions in Salem, Massachusetts, resulting in the undue deaths of 25 people from February 1692 to May 1693. Although the trials were a great tragedy, they put the city of Salem on the map. As a result of this notorious historical event, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the Salem Witch Museum have turned the city into a tourist destination. Today, Salem has over 1 million annual tourists, supporting over 1,000 jobs, and bringing in about $1.4 million in annual revenue.
Traditionally, Salem is the destination for Halloween enthusiasts. Known for its month-long celebrations, Salem typically hosts Halloween themed cruises, tours, and haunted houses. For long-time Massachusetts residents, it’s a place to avoid while college students and out-of-staters take over the city. In October 2019, the city estimated a total of $33 million raised in tourism revenue. The Halloween traditions, while fun, are also critical to the city’s economic vitality.
Having grown up in Boston, just outside Salem, I’ve heard stories of these annual celebrations my entire life. Despite this, I’d never actually been to Salem during the month of October until a couple of weeks ago. While visiting a friend who lives in Salem, I was surprised that the usually empty city was even more crowded than downtown Boston has been during the pandemic. It was so crowded that my friend was hesitant to visit the restaurant she worked at, and even the city center itself.
My friend said, “Once everything opened in the summer it was okay, because the businesses were being visited by people who lived there, who cared about the well-being of Salem. Now that the tourists are coming, the visitors are people who come in for an hour or two, maybe the whole day, then leave without caring about what happens to the people who live there once they’ve had their fun.”
2020 has been an extraordinary year. Businesses across the United States are hurting. But for small cities like Salem that depend on tourist revenue during this time of year, residents now find themselves wondering if it’s better to prioritize economic vitality by keeping their local businesses open, or to stay closed and tell people not to visit this year. The loss of revenue will no doubt hurt all of Salem’s businesses, but the public health concerns regarding the influx of tourists to a small city are just as important to consider.
This year the City of Salem has canceled all city-run Halloween events such as the Salem Food Truck Festival, Lanterns in the Village, and the Great Pumpkin Walk. Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said that they “strive to explore options to provide Haunted Happenings experiences that comply with state guidelines and encourage creatives and entrepreneurs in our community to do the same,” suggesting that for local Halloween enthusiasts there are still ways to safely have fun. The city is providing virtual tours, at-home costume contests, and even virtual magic shows.
As a fall enthusiast myself, I know it can be disappointing to have traditional fall activities canceled on top of everything else that has happened in 2020. Despite this, I’m still excited to dress up on Halloween and take goofy photos for Instagram with my roommates. Just hanging out with your roommates can be really fun too, and won’t jeopardize the safety of Salem residents, even if it means sacrificing the fun of participating in the city’s traditional fall festivities.