The self-declared Halloween capital of the world formally kicked off its month-long Halloween festivities Thursday night with the largest-ever-on-record Haunted Happenings Parade. About 100 organizations, schools, groups and candidates for office made up the downtown parade, about 15 floats more than seen in 2016, according to Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the city's Chamber of Commerce.
"It's Salem growing, but also people having more fun with Halloween," Oosthoek said, taking a break from directing volunteers and participants into Shetland Park prior to the parade. The theme of the year — parade and all — focuses on movie monsters. That emphasis runs in tandem with Peabody Essex Museum's "It's Alive!" exhibit of horror movie posters, marking the first time the massive cultural juggernaut has taken part in Halloween. "We are classic horror movie monsters," said Carlton Innovation School art teacher Kate Bouffard. Carlton, one of several schools who took part in the parade, boasted recreations of Frankenstein, mummies, vampires and even children donning popcorn boxes for hats. A makeshift movie screen on the back of truck was broadcasting snippets of classic Universal Pictures horror movies."We absolutely love it," Bouffard said, "and the kids always love it."
For many, the nod to movie monsters was perhaps the best possible theme this year. Just ask Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter franchise... otherwise known as Joshua Madruga when not in costume. "I love this. This is for me," Madruga said. "It's my theme." Ditto Benjamin Selecky, co-producer of Chambers of Terror by Pickering Wharf. Dressed in a white lab coat and carrying a half-box crate with a hideous, pet-sized monster inside, Selecky said the parade is an opportunity for Salem in general to come out and see itself in spectacular fashion. "It's always helpful when the locals can embrace something that's so beneficial for the city as a whole," Selecky said. "Rising tides lift all ships." Of course, Halloween can be just as much a boom for Salem as it can be a headache. As the season reaches its peak each year, traveling to — never mind through — the city becomes its own nightmare. Tourism triggers tension at that point... but the parade itself marks the Salemite's chance to get in on the fun before things really get messy. That wasn't lost on Michael Montano, who had just moved to Salem in June with his family and was seeing it all for the first time. "We love it," he said, watching the parade through antique-accented goggles worn as part of a timeless steampunk costume. "I think this is really why we're here."
By Dustin Luca DLuca@salemnews.com