Get in the Halloween spirit visiting these spooky local haunts

Here are 13 (yes, 13) Spooky Sites in Canada and Around the World That Promise to Give You Chills.

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Published in Parents Canada in September 2015

According to The Boston Globe, “Salem owns Halloween like the North Pole owns Christmas.”

This Massachusetts city just 25 kilometres north of Boston owes this distinction to its dark past. In 1692, after a group of young girls began exhibiting strange symptoms of fits and babblings, a local doctor pronounced them possessed by the devil.

The girls began to name names, claiming various townsfolk were witches who had cast spells on them. Their hysterical behaviour, combined with Puritan paranoia, was a potent mix that resulted in the execution of 20 people and the imprisonment of 150 others, five of whom died awaiting trial.

More than 320 years later, Salem promotes its witchcraft heritage as a tourist draw. There’s a whimsical statue in town of Samantha Stevens, of Bewitched fame, perched jauntily on a broomstick. Local police proudly wear badges of a witch on a broomstick on their uniforms.

And Salem is one of the few places in the U.S. where proclaiming you’re a witch barely raises an eyebrow. (About 10 percent of Salem’s population is estimated to be practising Wiccans and Pagans.)

More than 250,000 visitors flood the streets of this New England seaport town in October (about 70,000 on Halloween night alone) to take part in Halloween Happenings, a month-long celebration with costume balls, ghost tours, street parades, a psychic fair, tombstone tours, witchcraft expo, séances, haunted house tours and a zombie walk.

While the celebrations create a festive atmosphere in Salem’s streets, the gruesome facts of the witch-hunts, in which innocent people were hanged, could be disturbing for very young children. There are plenty of books about Salem geared to young readers that can help prepare school age kids for a visit, including You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Salem Witch! (Franklin Watts) and The Salem Witch Trials (Scholastic).

Begin your stay with a one-hour ride around town on the Salem Trolley, where knowledgeable guides cover 400 years of the town’s history. The Salem Witch Museum offers a mesmerizing theatrical demonstration that provides a good understanding of the events that led to the witch trials.

Cry Innocent is a live reenactment of the arrest and witchcraft examination of Bridget Bishop, one of the first women accused of being a witch. The Bewitched After Dark Walking Tours, led by a local modern witch, stops at 12 sites related to Salem’s nefarious history, including the moving Witch Trials Memorial, dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in August 1992.

The memorial features 20 granite benches, inscribed with the names of the accused. It’s here in this peaceful spot, away from the carnival-like atmosphere of the town square, that the injustice of what happened to these victims really hits home. Haunting, indeed.

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