Standing on Washington Street with his girlfriend and two costumed dogs, John Spofford watched as marching bands wearing costumes, decked-out hearses, and other attractions went by.
"It's like Mardi Gras for Salem," said Spofford, 48, of Salem.
Salem's annual Halloween Parade kicked off the Halloween season in Witch City last night. The event attracted thousands of spectators and marchers from more than 50 organizations to the parade from Congress Street to the Salem Common.
This year's festivities, sponsored by the Salem Chamber of Commerce, had a theme of "around the world."
"This time we linked [the parade] to the fact that the maritime history of Salem has linked it to the rest of the world," said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Oosthoek estimated the Chamber of Commerce had hosted the parade for eight years. Each year, he said, planning begins at the end of spring when a theme is announced. Those involved in the parade meet again in the beginning of September to work out the finer details such as placement of different organizations marching, he said.
Certain measures are taken to ensure the spirit of the parade remains celebratory. Political signage, Oosthoek said, is barred from the parade.
"It's really a family parade, it's for the kids," Oosthoek said.
Before the parade, Stephen Ryan, a 41-year-old lifelong Salem resident, sat on the sidewalk on congress Street with his three children.
"They wanted to watch it, they didn't want to participate," Ryan said as his son Rocco, 4, dressed as a dinosaur and daughter, Paige, a 7-year-old Witchcraft Elementary School student, dressed as Jasmine from the movie "Aladdin" scurried about the sidewalk.
At the Shetland Park property, groups lined up behind Salem High School's marching band, preparing to march at 6:30 p.m. Salem's Saltonstall School's Drum and Flag Corps broke into an impromptu drum and xylophone rendition of "The Addams Family" theme song as they waited for the parade to begin.
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll led the parade, waving to spectators under darkened skies. Following her were marching bands, costumed community groups, and even the original car from the 1984 film "Ghostbusters."
Several floats in the parade celebrated the international theme with themed floats, some featuring flags and stand-ups of world renowned land marks such as the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben.
"I haven't missed one," said Spofford as his German shepherd, Lady, wearing a prison jumpsuit, and Husky, Cody, wearing a chicken hat, sat by. "I'm a Peabody firefighter, and if I'm working, I take it off."
Harley Lightizer, 16, of Lynn, who stood with John Hines, 18, of Lynn, said she'd come to the parade, "Pretty much my whole life."
Hines, who said he's attended about four, pointed at marching clarinet player Nick Hartmann, who dressed as a popular picture book character. "I found Waldo," he said.
At the end of the parade route, throngs of people gathered at the Salem Common, where a D.J., dressed as a zombie, played music and encouraged people in the crowd to dance.
Hartmann, 16, and other members of the Swampscott High School marching band stood in the common talking.
"This [parade] is more relaxed," said Ryan Kelley, who said the band marches in several parades throughout the year. "Everyone gets to wear costumes."
Hartmann agreed. "All the other parades, we have to wear uniforms," he said.