Fun in the Halloween capital

Fun in the Halloween Capital

On Essex Street which is home to most of Halloween celebrations in Salem.

I decided to go to Salem, a Massachusetts town known as the America’s Halloween capital Friday right after my professor approved my idea of featuring a haunted house there or its ghost tour guide. I departed with a little worry. No response from Salem’s 13 Ghosts since I sent them an email a day prior.

Following streams of tourists from the train station, I headed to Essex Street where the 13 Ghosts is located. The festive atmosphere pervaded the whole street which local people see as a center of their Halloween activities.

The street is boisterous with screams from haunted houses, cries from witch trials, scary sounds from a big Kurt Barlow standing opposite Museum Place Mall, chatters from passing tourists and noises from Salem trolleys.

On strolling to the center of Essex Street, after a few chats and quick observations, I knew immediately what I should feature. Before sending an email to my professor, I walked to the 13 Ghosts some blocks away to make sure that I made a right decision.

While awaiting my professor’s reply, I kicked off my reporting at the Nightmare Factory’s makeup workshop, standing observing the hands of Tobi, one of my two subjects, and asking him for an interview when he took a break from serving continuous flows of customers.

With my patience and the generosity from Tobi, Dave and their boss Marshall, I gathered almost all I need for the story by 7 p.m. when I joined the ghost tour offered by the 13 Ghosts whose ticket I purchased online. Of course, my reporting couldn’t be complete without the help from their customers who answered nearly all  what I asked and allowed me to take their photos for my story.

To understand more my subjects, I suggested Steve who is made up as the Kurt Barlow, a fictional character in Stephen King’s 1975 horror novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, for an information interview but he refused.

“I’m sorry. I have no time. I work for tips,” said Steve who tends to stand behind his tipping wooden box adjacent to Tobi’s workplace.

This Kurt Barlow is an artwork of Tobi. In order to take a photo with this master vampire, one is expected to tip him. I’m surprised when he suggests to take a photo with me when I’m taking a seat with Tobi for an interview.

Steve prefers to be called Kurt Barlow than Master Vampire.

I grasped a customer whose left face looks like a zombie’s right after he left Dave’s shop. Observing the way he talked to Dave, I knew that he could me understand about Dave, who looked a bit scary with a white contact lense on his right eye and a septum piercing.

The customer’s name is Alex, a real estate agent from Boston. He said he has worked part-time  as a pedicab driver since the market went down.

“Do you mind if I ask you some questions for my story on Nightmare Factory?”

“Sure but I gets back to work now.”

“I understand. How much for a ride?”

“I do a 30-minute tour for $15 and a one-hour tour for $30.”

“Okay. I’d like a 30-minute ride.”

His pedicab is somewhat like “xe loi dap” (pedicab) in my hometown of Chau Doc, Vietnam. When I told him I’m from Emerson College, he surprised me by saying that he graduated there in 2008 from a film program.

Alex Citrone, a pedicab driver from Boston, is one of Dave’s customers.
The baby face of Alex is turned into a zombie’s after 20 minutes.

I wished I had more chance to talk a walk to every corner of Salem downtown. I wanted to mingle with all the Halloween activities in Salem.

On my way to the center of Essex Street, I met this moving “statue” who drew a lot of people to take photos with her.

At 4 p.m. when looking for something for my dinner, I went by her. A man in a T-shirt and jean shorts standing across from her approached me and suggested me to tip the “statue” and take a picture with her. He made me feel that he was the statue’s co-worker.

“How much should I tip her?”

“I think two bucks are enough.”

Not all performers in Salem work for tips. In the evening, a huge, handcuffed man with a pale-looking face caught my eyes when I walked away from a pirate performance. He ambled around in silence and stopped when people want to photo with him.

You want this “statue” to move, just tip her.

It’s hard to tell his facial expression. I assume that the actor is also a big man.

I felt obliged to say a bit about my broken nose as Tobi called it. I couldn’t help laughing when a woman approaching me and said:

“I’m sorry I thought your nose is bleeding.”

“Oh really. It’s just a makeup.”

“It looks very convincing.”

Before Tobi makes me bloody, I asks if the “bloody” has any chemical. “It’s all natural, corn sirup with cherry flavor,” he says.

No wonder when I stood next to her and her mom, they threw a slightly worried look at me. That was a compliment to Tobi who spent just 3 minutes to make my face gory. I gave him $5 but he first refused and said that he didn’t  expect me to pay him.

This year is the first time, I celebrate Halloween. I didn’t know that psychic readings are indispensable to Halloween celebrations until I enter a psychic fair inside Museum Place Mall after my dinner.

This fair isn’t the only place in Salem doing psychic readings.

Psychic readers at the annual psychic fair.

People lines up for a tour in Nightmare Factory’s haunted House. A ghost takes a short break after scaring visitors inside.

The haunted house of Nightmare Factory sits inside Museum Place Mall. It echoes with screams from visitors.

Tobi told me that if I wanted to enter the haunted house, just come there and tell his colleague that “I send you to that house. You don’t need to pay.”

Still I refused his privilege because I already had ghost tour-haunted house tickets  at the 13 Ghosts.

At the entrance of the 13 Ghosts’ haunted house.

The 13 Ghosts tries to decorate itself with a lot of ghosts but I doesn’t feel scary.

Before taking a ghost tour with more than 20 people, I did expect something ghoulish. I felt a bit disappointed after 45 minutes walking with a ghost-looking tour guide. I wished I had chosen a Salem trolley tour instead.

The 13 Ghosts’ tour guide who takes us to several haunted houses in Salem.

Because of the unexpected disappointment, I decided to save the 13 Ghosts’ haunted house tour for tomorrow.

(Salem, Mass. October 26, 27/2012)

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