More Salem ghouls try to be kid-friendly

By Justin A. Rice
Globe Correspondent / October 16, 2011

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With blood and guts popping out all over the place, haunted houses usually aren’t for the faint of heart, and are particularly ill-suited for young children who are afraid of the dark. But the parents of little ones can breathe easy knowing a new haunted attraction in Salem’s Museum Place Mall was made just for young kids.

“Sometimes people would say ‘there’s nothing for little kids and the haunted houses are too scary,’ and we had an opportunity to do a children’s haunted house and really tone it down for a lot of kids,’’ said Jonathan Scoglio, who opened Griswold’s Ghostly Grove last month along with the owner of the Nightmare Factory, Marshall Tripoli. “It’s more of a children’s haunted attraction; it’s not like a haunted house with a maze and people jumping out at you.

“If the kids get really frightened, we can turn on the lights, and the kids can look at the paintings in there and the animatronic characters. . . . It’s usually pretty obvious if they don’t want to go in because they are going to get scared, because kids get scared when the lights are off.’’

In fact, Griswold’s Ghostly Grove is among a slew of temporary attractions and events geared toward children and families at the 30th annual Haunted Happenings this month in Salem. From Family Fun Days to free films on the Salem Common, there are more offerings for kids in Salem this Halloween than there have been in recent years.

Kate Fox, director of Destination Salem, which promotes Haunted Happenings, said some people have come to view Halloween in Salem as an adult playground each October.

“A lot of the attractions and haunted houses, there’s a gap in entertainment for kids ages 5 to 12 where things might be too scary. . . . It all depends on the child and what they are used to,’’ Fox said. “We’ve definitely tried to have more activities for all the people in the family to do.

“There are so many 21-and-over parties and costume parties and the street-party aspect to Halloween night itself,’’ she said. “But over the last three or four years we’ve made a conscious effort to promote to families. We want to promote to everyone and not just appeal to one demographic, because Halloween should be for everyone.’’

The Radio 92.9 Haunted Movie Series began on Salem Common with “Monsters, Inc.’’ two weeks ago. “Hocus Pocus’’ will be shown Saturday and “Beetlejuice’’ is slated for Oct. 29. All the movies start at 6:30 p.m. and are free.

Last year, “Wizardly Wonders at the Witches Cottage’’ was only performed on weekdays, but it is now being extended to Saturdays and Sundays. The dramatic presentation is geared toward children, Fox said.

On Oct. 29, 30, and 31 there will be trick-or-treating from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Pioneer Village, which is a replica of Salem in the 1630s.

While last week’s Chamber of Commerce Grand Parade, this Saturday’s Salem Halloween Children’s Day, and the Stop by for a Spell Children’s Costume Brunch at the Hawthorne Hotel on Oct. 23 have long been staples of Haunted Happenings, Shara Sobelman also saw a need for even more family fun this year.

That’s why the owner of New England Parties and Parties over Boston has organized two Family Fun Days on Salem Common, featuring interactive inflatables, games, entertainers, and contests during the last two weeks of the month.

The Goodtime Stringband, which was part of the film production of “Furry Vengeance’’ when it was filmed in Topsfield, will also make a cameo at the Family Fun Days. Proceeds from the first weekend will benefit Salem Main Streets and the second will benefit Salem Common Neighborhood Association.

“I’m from Salem and I live in downtown Salem,’’ Sobelman said. “Last October I would walk my dog through the common and say ‘Why aren’t there more family-friendly activities going on?’ We approached the city and the mayor and they were very open to it.

“I think there are a lot of things just geared toward adults and teenagers, and so many people come from around the world and even locally. It’s important to encourage people to stay around and participate.’’

No attractions are geared toward adults and teens more than the haunted houses.

“That’s what we’ve heard, that there’s not a lot for kids to do,’’ Scoglio said. “That’s why we really wanted to change it up . . . You go to some haunted houses, and it’s all blood and gore, and we’re staying aw

ay from that. You can still have fun without getting too gory.’’

Justin A. Rice can be reached at

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