Salem Could Be Losing Its Halloween Carnival

Haunted Happenings is in need of a relocation, but cannot find a space to call home for the 2018 Halloween events.

Nighttime carnival
Strattons.US / Shutterstock

Haunted Happenings is in need of a relocation, but cannot find a space to call home for the 2018 Halloween events.

Salem, Massachusetts has been home to the Halloween carnival Haunted Happenings since 2005, but this year the city purchased the “carnival lot” at 289 Derby St. to transform the location into a waterfront park. A proposal has been put forth, requesting to move the Haunted Happenings Halloween carnival to Riley Plaza. However, due to a rule set in 1970, City Councilors have yet to decide if this can be allowed, meaning Haunted Happenings is still up in the air for 2018, reports Salem News.

The 1970s rule that is getting in the way of relocating the carnival to Riley Plaza states that carnivals are banned from the Plaza. This happened due to years of “sketchy and less organized” ventures using Riley Plaza and causing numerous problems in the 1960s. Despite the rule being decades old and the fact that Haunted Happenings is seen by many as extremely important to Salem’s Halloween celebration, a quick sampling of the councilors from the City Council showed more either have their concerns or outright reject the notion altogether. This seems to mimic and match public opinion since most that have come forward so far oppose the idea by citing various safety issues and the loss of parking space.

No alternative location has publicly surfaced, making it seem as though the carnival’s existence for the 2018 Halloween celebration is not likely. Should an alternate location be brought up, it would still need to be voted on and put into effect by the end of September for the carnival to take place, as the Salem News explained. Two meetings are scheduled for September, but neither address the Haunted Happenings carnival or Riley Plaza.

Some believe that not having a carnival on Halloween spells bad juju. To understand why, one must be familiar with the history of Salem, Halloween, tourism, and violence. Haunted Happenings is often seen as a transformative event for downtown Salem. The influx of tourism to the city truly began in 1990, and the city was struggling to cope until around 2010. The draw of tourism put the city in a tight spot while they tried to control the increasingly large crowds flocking to the city on Halloween night.

In 1996, more than 20,000 people backed up downtown Salem with cars blocking Route 128 and preventing a commute to nearby communities, cites Salem News. By 1999 the city was seeing more than 100,000 tourists. One reveler told journalists that every year was getting “harder” to deal with.

“Every year people get crazier and crazier, and it’s harder and harder to find a place to park and a place to relieve yourself.”

Fast forward to 2005, when city planners created various stage events in an effort to spread the crowds out and lighten the mood. In the Town House Square, a stabbing victim was placed into an ambulance as fist fighting broke out and a man was arrested on Halloween night, around 10:15 p.m. Each year the headlines apparently grew darker for Salem, until 2007, when a photo atop the Ferris wheel read “Better than Mardi Gras.” Then in 2008, headlines stated: “More family-like, less frat party.” By that year, the carnival seemed to renew focus on a family friendly environment and entertainment. Salem News says that since then, “each year, for the past 10 years, Halloween has been viewed as a public safety success.” Officials frequently remark that the Haunted Happenings carnival fills “a critical finical need” as well. It does so by providing around $30,000 in revenue.

Some are asking what Halloween night will be like without Salem’s large piece of family-friendly fun. State Representative Paul Tucker had this to say:

“The more events and destinations within the smaller area of downtown for people to go to, the better. If we lose one of those? I don’t know…That’s a really good question.”