Halloween Die-ary: October 4, 2018

Friday night, Lindsey and I went to Salem, Massachusetts. To watch a Halloween parade. And see Elvira in person. The Headless Horseman himself could have arrived hoisting the Great Pumpkin in the air while humming Werewolves of London, and it still would have only been fractionally more Halloweeny than our actual night. Like, you can’t be more drenched after you’re drenched.

Epitaph that last line for me, would you, kids?

We arrived in Salem early, around 4:30 for the 8:00 Elvira show. We started with a relaxing dinner at Rockafellas, a restaurant I told you about earlier this season. You’ll be glad (or horrified) to know that I did in fact indulge in another candy corntini, and I also made it another drink or two deeper into its Halloween menu. But nothing beats Rockafellas’ candy corntini for Halloween substance abuse.

At one point over dinner, we starting talking about that short space of time, right after our 31-day stint living in Salem in October of 2015 for A Season with the Witch, when we were seriously considering moving to Witch City permanently.

“Do you wish we would have just done it? Moved here?” I asked Lindsey.

“You know, I don’t think so,” she said. “I love this place…but I don’t think I need to be here all the time.”

It was kind of a false question. When we had contemplated moving here, we were living in a house and a part of town that we were ready to get out of. However, now, we’re in a new, more spacious house that we love, in an extremely unique location that we also love, and it would be hard to trade it for a more urban locale. Even if said urban locale had witches on its street signs and blue vampires performing on its cobblestones. In the end, I think we’re irrevocably suburbanite. When we’re watching TV or out tending our yard, we need to be at least 300 yards from the nearest person and that nearest person needs to be hidden in their own house.

After dinner, we headed into the throng for the Salem Haunted Happenings parade. The city does this parade once a season, on the first Thursday of October. What other city throws a Halloween parade this early? Or at all?

I always say Salem feels more like a town than a city, and this parade’s a good example. You’d think a Halloween parade in Salem would achieve Macy’s Christmas levels of Samhainulousness. But, honestly, it’s mostly locals with their kids walking around in costumes, a few spooked-out family cars, and a handful of small floats towed behind pickup trucks. The theme this year was Hocus Pocus, in honor of the 25th anniversary of that movie, which was set and filmed in Salem, so there were plenty of Sanderson Sisters in the flow. One group dressed up like toast because of that one line from Winifred Sanders, “You know I’ve always wanted a child. And now I think I’ll have one… on toast!”

Speaking of the Bette Midler witch, the highlight of the parade for me (and for a lot of other people from what I’ve seen on the socials) was the fifteen-foot-tall Winifred Sanders…dressed as a National Park Ranger. It was the parade entry for the rangers of the Salem Maritime National Park. That’s right. Salem has a national park. And you could drive right through it without ever realizing that fact. Which would be your bad. It’s a great park that encompasses some dozen extremely historical buildings and the replica tall ship, the Friendship, that’s usually docked in the harbor.

Later, I’d run into the group of park rangers responsible for this new wonder of the world at the line of port-a-johns. They were breaking down the massive puppet, her giant severed head sitting there on the concrete with an undersized Smokey the Bear hat pinned to the red conflagration of her hair. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had enough candy corntinis to summon the courage to ask one of them to take my photo with it. Which is fine. Just add it to the list of regrets of my life. Can’t get more drenched than drenched, remember?

I recorded the parade during my Season of the Witch stay, so if you want to check that out, it’ll give you a good idea of the scope and tone of these linear festivities.

Finally, we needed to get in line at the Peabody Essex Museum for Elvira and the kickoff to the two-week-long Salem Horror Fest that has recently become one of the highlights of the Salem Halloween Season. But the parade route cut us off from getting there. So we did what Ferris Bueller would do and dived into the parade, walking along with it for about a block and a half before we exited stage right.

It was a move we should have done half an hour or even an hour earlier. The line at that point to get in to see Elvira was longer than the parade itself. But it was still cool. I mean, where else can you wait in line while various monsters pass by en masse to the strains of Thriller and (for some reason) Footloose.

We were probably only in line for ten minutes, but in that ten minutes, Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson herself walked right past us, less than a foot away. We probably breathed the same molecules of air.

It took me a few seconds to decide it was her as I saw her coming our way. Not because I would never have recognized her without her Elvira get-up (of course I would have), but because it’s Salem, and you cannot trust your senses in Salem. She was head-down, with somebody else, trying to hide her face from the hundreds of fans she was passing, a gauntlet she was forced into because of the parade mere inches away on her other side.

After that bit of surreality, I ran into John Squires, the editor-in-chief of the horror movie website Bloody Disgusting, who is somebody I follow on the socials and have exchanged words with here or there. And then I ran into Doug Cross, who was the man who pulled me into the Salem Horror Fest in the first place. I’m giving a talk as part of this event next weekend. That makes me and Elvira colleagues. I think. We should start a carpool.

Finally, we were inside PEM, where we grabbed a seat in what’s usually the cafĂ© dining area of the museum, but which they’d transformed into an impromptu movie theater, with rows of folding chairs and a screen slightly larger than my flat screen back home. They were playing Halloween tunes on the speakers and were projecting bats on all the walls. The ambiance was, like the Werewolf of London’s hair…perfect.

The keynote speech was given by Ryan Turek, which I was looking forward to as much as Elvira. He’s a VP at Blumhouse, the movie production company that’s pretty much changing the entire movie industry with its horror flicks, but I’m more a fan of his in his role as one of the hosts of the horror movie podcast Shock Waves. He also led the Q&A with Elvira right after his speech.

And, man, did she do her thing, even without makeup, wigs, and cleavage. She had some great stories (Vincent Price once taught her how to cook fish in a dish washer. Brad Pitt once rang her doorbell to buy her house, years after she vetoed him from being in her first movie. Her TV pilot missed getting picked up by a few broomstick bristles. She gets not residuals from Mistress of the Dark) and she just appears ageless despite being in her late sixties.

And then it was time for the 30th anniversary screening of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

Which we skipped.

We stuck around until the title card flashed its blood-red letters, and then took off. I’ve seen the movie plenty of times and there was no way Lindsey could sit in a folding chair much longer in her advanced state of pregnancy. On the way out, I met Kevin Lynch, the brains and passion and sweat being the Salem Horror Fest.

It was hard for us to let the night go, though, so we made a final stop at The Lobster Shanty, where I had a hot and dirty pickle martini nightcap and ran into the bar’s owner, Lee Wolf, whom I interviewed for A Season with the Witch.

Finally, we headed to the parking garage, where we passed Wicked Good Books on Essex Street. Peering through its windows, we saw that it had A Season with the Witch front and center on the showcase table by the door. Yee-haw.

Even in the parking garage, we ran into James Lurgio, who owns Count Orlok’s Monster Museum, and his husband Mark, who heads up the haunt part of the museum in October. Those guys are awesome.

To reiterate my parade point, Salem’s more a small town than a small city. Everybody crosses paths there. And that was the theme of the night. In addition to what I’ve mentioned there were also three or four near-misses with friends and acquaintances that we only discovered later on the socials. It’s the one bit of Salem that I think I do miss in being a suburbanite. And which could also possibly exhaust me to an early grave. See, I’m both a hermit to the bone and annoyingly outgoing under the right conditions. The contradiction screws up my life regularly.

Remember, I’ll be back in Salem next Saturday morning wandering around, and then at noon, I’ll be giving my talk at PEM as part of the Salem Horror Fest, delving into the unique weirdness that is Witch City. I would love it if we crossed paths.

In conclusion, much thanks to Lindsey for randomly picking up those tickets. This night wouldn’t have happened without her. It would have never crossed my mind to have bought those tickets on my own. I usually only like seeing celebrities after they’ve been tucked under a tombstone.