Sunday, 28 Nov 2021

‘Salem Satan’ and ‘Uncle Boogieman’ on life and death in spooky ‘Witch City’

The city of Salem in Massachusetts, US, is famous for its history of witch trials, but it has also been dubbed the unofficial Halloween capital of the world, having a long list of spooky and 'haunted' buildings.

Between 150,000-200,000 tourists descend on the New England city on Halloween night alone, with thousands more visiting in the run up to October 31.

With a population of less than 50,000, the town's economy relies heavily on the spooky season, with many buskers dressing up as spooky characters in order to engage with visitors.

One of these is Dan Lavoie, 46, who for the past nine years has been dressing up as the 'Salem Satan' and has become a bit of a "local celebrity".

Dan originally decided to dress up as Satan in 2012 when he saw Christian preachers shout at a young girl and telling her she "would go to hell" for dressing up in a Halloween costume.

He told the Daily Star: "I decided to dress up as Satan and just stand in front of the preachers with a sign offering free hugs, as I felt I had to do something in protest.

"People absolutely loved it and I've done it ever since, it's been a huge success.

"I'll meet and take pictures with around 1,000 people a day, it's very full on. People stop me all the time and ask for a picture, it's like being a celebrity."

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Because of Salem's 'haunted' reputation, many tourists come seeking a scare or to have a supernatural experience.

That's why buskers like Jason Paul, 45, have "so much fun in Salem, as the city has embraced what I do as an artist and a horror enthusiast".

Jason dresses up as 'Uncle Boogieman', often taking pictures with tourists, or he's seen walking around carrying a 'dead body'.

"Have the police shown up to make sure I'm not dragging a real body? Yes they have," he revealed to the Daily Star.

Some however can't handle the occasion, with screams often heard during walking tours and in some cases even people fainting.

Lee Roberts, 51, has worked as a tour guide in his hometown for nearly 25 years and claims to "have seen it all".

He described an incident where an ambulance had to be called for a woman who fainted.

He told the Daily Star: "I was giving a private tour to this corporate group and we were by this spooky looking building where all the lights were off.

"I was telling a story about people who were tortured and killed in the building, when all of a sudden, this homeless man pops his head out of a bush and says "hey".

"People just started screaming and one woman actually fainted right then and there, she just collapsed onto the ground. We actually had to call an ambulance to come and make sure she was okay."

Lee himself is a firm believer in ghosts, claiming his best friend lived in a haunted house.

He said: "We always knew her house was haunted and this one time when were having a sleepover, her mum took a picture of us on her polaroid and you can see a figure very clearly in the photo with us."

The tour guide also mentioned that he had several supernatural experiences while working, describing his scariest one.

"We were outside this house and as I start moving away to lead my group to our next stop, I felt my cape get tighter and tighter as if it was caught on the door," he said.

"Three women jumped forward and helped get the cape off me but it turns out it hadn't been caught on anything, it was just hanging in mid-air, just getting tighter and tighter… it was terrifying."

The 51-year-old has also experienced two graverobbing incidents first hand, with the first being when he was giving a private tour to a group of bikers.

He explained: "As we had stopped in front of a building, I see this woman kick over a tombstone, pick it up, put it in her pram and start walking out of the cemetery. I was flabbergasted, I didn't know what to say, so I just pointed at her.

"The bikers all turned around and ran after her shouting. She ditched the pram, grabbed her kid and just legged it. I almost wet myself laughing so hard.

"This other time I saw a man in broad daylight start digging up a grave. The cops came over and asked him what he was doing. The guy seemed to be stoned and replied, 'this is my ancestor's tomb and I read that he was buried with treasure.

"The officers were like, 'this isn't Pirates of the Caribbean, get the hell out of here', and once again I just died from laughter."

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