Those hoping to visit Salem this month to celebrate Halloween will need to alter their plans. The mayor of the city world-famous for the famous witch trials of 1692 is urging people to stay away due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has canceled all festivities.

Salem is a middle-class commuter suburb of Boston with an enviable location by the sea, and its true claim to fame lies with its glory days as a center for clipper-ship trade with the Far East. However, its name conjures up images of the infamous witch trials that occurred in the 17th century, when more than 200 people were accused of practising witchcraft and 20 were executed. The colony subsequently admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted.

The Burying Point graveyard in Salem, Massachusetts
Old Burying Point or the Charter Street Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Salem © David Parsons Photography/Getty Images

Salem normally goes all out to celebrate in October, when the town dresses up for Halloween parades and parties, and shops sell all manner of Wiccan accessories to more than half a million visitors. This year, in light of the pandemic, the city announced in August that it was canceling its month-long series of 'Haunted Happenings' events, but people are still arriving there in anticipation of the entertainment.

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“If you’re not in Salem yet and are thinking about coming, my advice to you is skip it,” says Salem's mayor, Kim Driscoll. "Skip it until after October. We still can’t allow the sorts of crowds that are gathering here to continue. While we have seen around half the visitors to Salem this October than we’ve had in previous years, we still have had large numbers of people here throughout the month.”

A woman dressed as a witch statue at the Halloween Fair in Salem.
Salem has canceled its usual Halloween events © xeni4ka/Getty Images

The city is implementing additional public safety protocols for the weekends of October 23 to 25 and October 30 to November 1. There will be no events on Halloween night in Salem, and downtown businesses have to close by 8pm at the latest. Salem police will close roads to through-traffic and pedestrians as circumstances warrant.

“Ordinarily, there is no better place to celebrate Halloween than Salem," says Mayor Driscoll. "Our first priority from the outset of this pandemic has been keeping residents, employees and visitors healthy and safe. To help ensure we can meet that goal, we are taking action to limit the number of people who will be in Salem on Halloween and the day prior.”

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