SALEM — As the city’s Haunted Happenings festivities kicked off with the annual parade Thursday night, one thing was clear: the kids did their homework.
The adults, on the other hand? Not so much.
Ninety-five school groups, local organizations and businesses rolled through the streets of downtown Salem for the Haunted Happenings Parade, an annual tradition viewed as the official beginning of Halloween in the Witch City and perhaps one of the final moments for residents to enjoy as the city’s tourism engine hits full throttle.
The event’s theme this year was “It’s Our Future,” a concept that was left to the interpretation of float designers and parade marchers across Salem.
“It came from a whole lot of discussion about climate change and the future for kids in the school system,” said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, the event’s host. “It’s a little bit of the whole discussion in Sale on climate resiliency and climate adaptation.”
The school groups leading the parade didn’t just stick to the theme: they defined it.
Salem Academy Charter School students wore shirts identifying them as future pediatricians, lawyers, fashion designers and more.
“We wanted to represent our students in a positive way, be it college-ready or professionals, so we all have what they aspired to be,” said school history teacher Rebecca Bruno. “We felt really great, positive and proud of them that they chose not just to be presidents.”
The same was the case for Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, where a pickup truck-pulled platform was covered in crystal balls depicting what students saw in their futures. Some were doctors and veterinarians. Others were athletes and, in one case, a first-place medal earner in the 2025 Olympics.
It was such a successful float idea, that the school had a unique problem as parent and school PTO member Frank Reed held up a stack of unused submissions for the float.
“I wish I had 30 more feet of float, because literally every kid gave us something,” Reed said. “In years past, we’ve picked a theme, put it together, everybody comes... And this year, it’s like everybody had buy-in and had a part in building that float.”
Several students also carried tarot card-styled art depicting the different tenants of the school’s motto.
Some went straight with the message spread by the Chamber and kept their views of the future strictly to the world they live in. That included Saltonstall School, which had a globe on top of a float made of recycled materials, while the float was pulled by a bicycle instead of a gasoline-burning vehicle.
But Saltonstall didn’t stop there, according to parent Scott Froeschl. The school has tapped its Friday clubs to keep the energy going through October and the rest of the school year.
“There’s a group at the school who is promoting climate sustainability, so we thought we would make a bigger initiative to have everyone commit to planting trees or going greener,” Froeschl said. “We’re going to have a climate change initiative group, and they’re going to try to either write grants or plant trees around the school campus or city, or try to get more solar, more recycling, more green stuff.”
Examples of future-themed floats outside of the school groups were tough to find, as the other floats generally stuck to zombies, pirates, Ghostbusters and the usual that makes up the last two-thirds of the parade each year.
The exception there was the National Park Service, which took their stories-tall model of a park ranger and swapped out last year’s Midler Winifred Sanderson head for that of a robot.
“We DIY’d a new head for ‘the future,’” said Gavin Gardner, chief of resources for the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. “In the future, there will be robots — so we made a robot ranger.”
With a badge of binary code spelling out “R A N G E R,” the robot rolled slowly sauntered through downtown as a perhaps grim warning of a future under robotic rule.
“It’s the language of the future,” Gardner said, pointing to the binary name tag. “You better read it for your robot overlords.”