SALEM — Rain and the threat of Hurricane Sandy failed to blunt the spirit — or the spirits — of Haunted Happenings this weekend.
“Tons of people” filled downtown Salem on Saturday, according to Salem police Lt. Mary Butler. Somewhat smaller crowds visited yesterday as the weather turned wet and chilly.
“I think people were focusing on the weekend,” Butler said.
Not only is the Wednesday Halloween date menaced by Sandy, but in the middle of the week, it becomes more difficult for working people to celebrate the holiday.
In what might be a measure of the popularity of Haunted Happenings, however, Butler noted that between midnight Saturday and 3 a.m. yesterday, police brought in 17 people, the bulk of them for being intoxicated. “People were having a fun time,” Butler said. “In some cases, they were having too much of a fun time.”
Even yesterday, with foul weather advancing Sandy’s expected arrival, the atmosphere on the street was almost uniformly positive. Witches, ghosts and people walking about with apparent bullet wounds in their foreheads could be seen filling the Essex Street pedestrian mall and spilling over into the surrounding areas.
“It is a rotten day,” said a smiling Samantha Miville of Providence, R.I., “but I still came out because I only do this once a year.”
Dressed in black, complete with a witch’s pointed hat, she pronounced the city “very festive.”
Hao Tian of Zhejiang, China, is a student living in Cambridge. He arrived accompanied by four Chinese friends, all students. Tian had visited Salem last year, knowing nothing about the Halloween tradition. Now he wanted directions in order to take his companions to a “ghost house.”
The five Chinese were clearly stunned, their eyes growing wide when told that it’s not make-believe for everybody and that there are actual witches in Salem.
“Yesterday was fantastic,” said Paula Graziani of Graziani’s Restaurant. “Last week was fantastic.” She pointed to her husband and chef, declaring, “Giovanni and Paula love Halloween.”
The verdict was just as enthusiastic from Anastasia Arutkowski of Swampscott, selling hot cider outside Pamplemousse on Essex Street. “It’s been a great weekend,” she said, saluting the “top-notch costumes” she’s been seeing.
“I live for this day,” Dyan Iapicca of Salem said. “I love creepy, scary things. I love being scared. And my birthday is on the 25th.”
Dressed in black and orange, Iapicca was taking a shift at the information booth on Essex Street, helping to make sure that people’s fright didn’t include getting lost.
“Oh, my Lord,” her colleague Susan Larson said, describing the crowds, “yesterday was mobbed. It was so much fun. And last week the same thing. People kept coming and coming.”
On Liberty Street, Sidal Agdogan and Kaan Vatanper explained that they are students originally from Istanbul. “Last year, we were here,” said Agdogan, who dressed as a glamorous Little Red Riding Hood. “It was much more colorful.” Even so, she continued, “For us, it’s very different. We don’t have Halloween in Turkey.”
Vatanper, in convict stripes, stressed, “We enjoy this.”
“Even with the weather,” Agdogan said.
Asked about his companion’s eye-catching outfit, Vatanper conceded — shaking his head — that in Turkey “it wouldn’t go.”
Joe Higgins at Joe’s Fresh Fish Prints on Artists’ Row near Derby Street said he hadn’t seen a lot of foot traffic, as he’s situated at some distance from the scare shops found largely in the vicinity of Essex Street. “The Halloween crowd is not my target market.” But then he gave it a second thought and noted that he did sell a few prints thanks to the weather.
“I get people coming in to get out of the weather,” he said.