, Salem, MA

November 1, 2013

A star-studded Halloween

Crowds pack Salem to hear one Idol, honor another


---- — SALEM — It was a Halloween to remember in “Witch City” as an American Idol from across the bridge drew a crowd to Salem Common and a few serious cases of World Series fever were evident in a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands.

After a rainy afternoon turned into a balmy evening, Angie Miller of Beverly, who rose to musical fame on the TV reality show “American Idol,” took the stage on Salem Common before a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Dressed in a long, black cape with red lining, Miller reminded the audience that this was the second time she has sung at Salem’s Halloween celebration.

“I was here last year on a small stage, and nobody was there,” Miller said as the crowd laughed. “It’s crazy to be back here, and all you guys are here.”

One night after the worst-to-first Red Sox won the World Series at Fenway Park, there were Ortiz shirts in the crowd, a few fake beards and some people in full Red Sox uniforms. A Peabody man even came in a Pedroia uniform, beard and all.

“As soon as they clinched the (playoffs), I said, ‘What the heck, I’ll start growing one,’” said Tom LeBlanc, 55.

The street preachers were out in force, railing against the wages of sin from one end of the Essex Street pedestrian mall to the other. As a speaker in front of Rockafella’s restaurant warned of eternal damnation, two men in their early 20s stood nearby holding handmade signs poking fun at the preacher. The signs said: “Free Condemnation.”

It was a particularly good year for signs. They ranged from “Evolution Is A Lie” to “Obama Is A Moron.”

It was also a good year for costumes.

One man came as Zoltar the fortuneteller from the movie “Big.” He was even inside a fortuneteller’s booth on wheels and drew a crowd as he rolled down the mall.

Asked how long it took him to make the elaborate costume and contraption, Josh Witham, 32, of Amesbury said: “Couple of weeks ... couple of paychecks.”

It was hard to say whether there were more ghouls, goblins or Ghostbusters. There were several groups of Ghostbusters, all inspired by the 1984 movie, including a pack of nine that included Neal Devlin, 28, of Salisbury, a member of the Bay State Ghostbusters.

“We’re worldwide,” he said.

The worst idea for a costume may belong to Dave Ladasky, a 21-year-old IT professional from Connecticut. He walked around with his head inside a large carved pumpkin.

Asked how he was doing, Ladasky replied, in a voice that was barely audible, “It’s heavy.”

The best street performer of the night may have been John Stork of Burlington, Vt., who drew a big crowd as he did a handstand on top of six stacked chairs.

The rainy afternoon forced the cancellation of a state police helicopter that was going to help with security and also wiped out appearances by bands on Hawthorne Boulevard and Front Street.

However, in addition to Miller, the music played on at a Radio Station 92.9 bandstand on Washington Street and at a bandstand on the pedestrian mall hosted by The Gathering, a local church.

As of 10:30 p.m., no serious incidents had been reported.

Salem police Lt. Marc Berube said this year’s crowds were about average, no larger than last year.

Berube was stationed downtown, at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets, throughout the evening. As of 10:15 p.m., there had been no arrests or altercations in his sector.

Police confiscated a few weapons from people who had brought them as part of costumes, he said, but overall, the crowds were cooperative.

Berube said his main role on Halloween is to “stay vigilant.”

“We make sure everyone has a good time but stays orderly,” he said.

Police get a lot of complaints about the preachers that come to Salem from out-of-town and set up downtown, he said. However, most of them finish for the night at 10 p.m., when city rules dictate they can no longer use amplification.

When asked why he opts to work on Halloween in Salem, Berube smiled and said, “I like the people-watching.”

Without the mounted horse units of past Halloweens, police planned to use a phalanx of motorcycles and officers on foot to clear the crowds as the fireworks went off over the North River.

Tom Dalton can be reached at Bethany Bray can be reached at