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Crowds pack Salem streets for Halloween celebrations after last year’s were canceled

Sisters Pam Hicks (left) and Joanne Mahoney of Maine took in a Halloween rainbow over Salem Common in Salem on Sunday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

SALEM — Spooky season reached its spectacular peak in Salem Sunday as thousands of people filled the city’s streets to celebrate Halloween, a year after festivities were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Revelers were dressed as vampires, movie monsters, superheroes, villains, and, of course, witches with pointy hats and brooms.

For many participants, it marked a big step toward a return to normalcy after spending last Halloween inside, avoiding crowds.

“The people are rabid,” Johanna Frappier of Gloucester said with a big smile. “This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen here.”

Frappier was one of several vendors selling Halloween-themed goods on Salem Common Sunday afternoon, including T-shirts and hoodies she had designed, many of them black with a chilling image of Michael Myers from the Halloween slasher movies.

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Frappier, who has been participating as a vendor since 2014, was happy to be back after last year was nixed and said working on her designs kept her busy through the pandemic.

“It kept me sane, and I built up my stock, which is a good thing,” she said.

Those enjoying the festivities were blessed with a beautiful fall Sunday, save for a light rainfall that lasted about 20 minutes and yielded a rainbow arching across the sky over the city.

Addison Williamson, 8, of NJ took in the witches circle on Halloween in Salem. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Hordes of people moved up and down Washington Street, which was closed off to traffic, with lines forming outside restaurants and shops. Energetic dance music filled the air from a stage set up at the intersection of Washington and Federal streets.

On the common, devils, angels, and lots of witches walked across the grass with fallen leaves crunching under their feet as children dashed by and played games. Some piled onto carnival rides set up on the common, while others lined up for a bite to eat from a wide variety of food trucks.

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Dona Allison and Tara Meyers, who were visiting from Vancouver, were adamant that there is something special about being in Salem for Halloween.

“This has been on my bucket list for many years,” said Allison, whose costume lit up after dark; she described herself as an electronic witch. “The history here in Salem is nothing like what we have on the West Coast. You can almost feel it — the old buildings, the trees. It’s like it’s in the air.”

The Vittitow Family (left to right) Tristin, 14, Trentin, 8, Trevin, 9, Jordan and Chad came from Fargo, North Dakota to experience Halloween in Salem.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Last year’s pandemic cancellation cut crowds at a time of year that typically brings throngs of tourists to the area and has long been a boon for local businesses.

Anticipating the influx of visitors that descend on Salem each fall, the city implemented restrictions in August requiring anyone over the age of 2 to wear face coverings while indoors through Nov. 13.

City health officials at the time said they were trying to avoid a coronavirus outbreak similar to the one in Provincetown in the weeks following the Fourth of July, when thousands were drawn to the small town at the tip of Cape Cod.

A dog named Spike sported a rainbow.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Face masks (not the Halloween costume type) were scarcely worn by people outdoors, but many who spoke to the Globe said shop and restaurant workers were strictly enforcing the indoor mandate.

“I’m surprised to see this many people [here] with the pandemic just letting up and the vaccines [boosters] have just come out,” Meyers said. “There have been shop owners who are like, ‘You need to put a mask on.’ But walking around [outside] you don’t see many people wearing masks. I think part of that is it ruins the costume.”

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Getting to Salem was a challenge with traffic clogging streets in the area and parking nearly impossible to come by. Many opted to take public transportation, with commuter rail trains heading from North Station packed with people in costume.

One train was delayed about 15 minutes as it sat near the Salem stop, where other trains were letting off hundreds of people.

Marc Cooper dressed as a Panda as he rode the Commuter Rail to Salem for Halloween.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“As you can imagine, there’s a sea of humanity on the platform,” the train conductor told travelers over a loudspeaker.

Two passengers, Rob and Mary Williamson, a married couple visiting from Richmond, Va., for a friend’s wedding in Salem on Halloween night, said they were a little bit nervous about wading through crowds with the pandemic ongoing but were also excited to soak in the celebrations.

“We’re both vaccinated and this is kind of the one big risk we’re taking all year,” Rob said.

Revelers took to the streets on Halloween in Salem. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.