A Treasury of Trick-or-Treat: The Salem Halloween Museum

June 10, 2019 — My family has been to Salem, like, a lot at this point. We even have a routine. We slide into the city on an angle that takes us past the Salem Witch Museum and the Roger Conant statue to the (extremely cheap in the off-season) parking garage on New Liberty Street. That dumps us right onto the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall. Which is mostly where you want to be in Salem.

Depending on the time we arrive, we’ll get some food, usually at the Lobster Shanty so that I can get a Connecticut-style lobster roll and a hot and spicy pickle martini. If not there, then Rockafellas, because that’s a comfort spot for us in town. By the way, I’m talking about in the off-Halloween season here because there’s no such thing as a routine in those calendar squares.

After that we’ll wander Essex Street and its shops, stop in at Count Orlok’s Monster Museum, and then make our way to the Old Burial Ground before heading home.

It changes if we want to do the maritime section of the city or if we’re there for a specific purpose like a new exhibit at PEM or showing friends around. But that’s the average jaunt for us in spring or summer.

This past Saturday, as we walked Essex Street, we saw something...different. Not the group of people in Addams Family costumes. Or the hockey-masked Jason dragging a disconcertingly human-shaped clump of plastic across the cobbles behind him. I’ve seen that a million times in this town. What was new was that the town now has a Halloween Museum. A 3D Halloween Museum.

Opening just last month, it was in the space where the 3D Salem Time Machine attraction used to be (OTIS article here). Inside, a giant orange jack-o-lantern loomed over the admissions counter. “Hey,” I said to the woman behind the counter, feeling friendlier than is my norm after a hot and spicy pickle martini. “Last time I was here, this was the Salem Time Machine. Is it completely different now?”

“Yup, all redone back there,” she said, motioning to the curtain that was labeled “Entrance.”

“But it’s still 3D?”

“Still 3D.”

“I’ll take four tickets.” They cost $10 for adults, $5 for children, and she told me it would take about 20 minutes to walk through.

“Is it scary?” asked my nine-year-old. She meant would something jump out at us. A valid question in Salem, even in June. When we’d exited the parking garage earlier we were greeted by adolescent screams and a chainsaw roaring as somebody fled from Witch Mansion.

“Nah. It’s a Halloween Museum,” I said, like I even really knew what a Halloween Museum was. We all slipped on pairs of paper 3D glasses and parted our way through the entrance curtain.

And, just like that, it was Halloween in June. Which is all Salem, true, but this was an extremely concentrated does of it.

The concept behind the museum is goddamnitall brilliant. A museum not just dedicated to Halloween, but also to a Salem-style Halloween. Inside were decorative displays covered in multi-colored, glowing 3D paint, all repurposed from the old Salem Time Machine. It gave the rooms a carnival ambiance, which was pretty much the whole reason you visited the Salem Time Machine. But at the Halloween Museum, you come for the exhibits.

On display were vintage Halloween masks and cards of the type you think of when people say “vintage Halloween.” And then there were my-vintage Halloween items like McDonald’s McBoo Pails and a set of Halloween McNugget Buddies.

Various Salem Halloween objects were present, including a collection of Salem Haunted Happenings banners from over the years, a pumpkin with the Salem Witch Museum painted on it that had been displayed at the White House, a plate owned by Laurie Cabot (the “official witch of Salem”), and a genie Halloween costume by Brandon the Shapeshifter, a legendary cosplayer from these here parts.

The place also had movie props, one of which was a small, generic pumpkin supposedly used in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, and a spider pumpkin creatures that was supposedly used in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

This last one bugged me a little. As many times as I’ve seen that movie, I don’t remember a spider pumpkin in it. Looking around online, I see a record of the piece on the auction sites, which all tout it as from the movie (and its style looks straight out of the movie), but it must not have made it on camera, right? Help me out on this one if you can and drop me an email or a note on Twitter or Facebook. I did a Halloween Museum in June. You can watch The Nightmare Before Christmas in the same month for me.

So some really cool stuff in here. But, honestly, the whole things seems like a work-in-progress. They could lose the 3D gag, in my opinion, and focus on executing the ambiance in other, less-recycled ways. And the space was small and the quantity of exhibits sparse. Basically, it’s not going to be worth everyone’s ten dollars, I don’t think, but it was definitely, definitely worth mine on this June day.

But, more than that, the possibilities suggested by this museum are staggering. A large, encompassing museum dedicated to both Halloween and how Salem celebrates the holiday is exactly what this city needs. I hope the museum grows and becomes that ideal. If it does, the place will definitely get auto-added to my Salem routine, no matter what time of year.