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Haunted Times Return to Salem

The Reporter's Notebook

By Jason T. Benowitz

SALEM, Mass.--A tradition of great Halloween spectacles is returning to this city, a small community still remembered for the infamous witch trials held centuries ago.

"When I first moved here, the Haunted Happenings thing was hardly anything," said Beth-Anne Williams, a Salem resident since 1981. "Now it's getting bigger and bigger."

Haunted Happenings is the city's name for its month-long Halloween celebration, which includes parades and street shows.

Williams said she got so caught up in the Halloween fever here that she began working for one of the dozen or so haunted houses in town.

"I started out ghouling at Horror-wood with a black robe and a black faceless mask," she said.

Now she cashiers at Dracula's Castle, a haunted house that is modeled after many aspects of vampirism.

"The front hallway is dedicated to the scene [in Brahm Stoker's Dracula] where Dracul, Lord Dracula, stuffs his sword into the cross," said Marshall A. Tripoli, part-owner of the castle.

"Dracul finds Mina dead there because she committed suicide," he said. "It teaches you that not only will a vampire drink your blood--it can drain you of your love, hope, luck."

Tripoli, who helped design and build much of Dracula's Castle, said that the construction, which is repeated year after year, is long and arduous.

"Planning starts November 3rd for the following year," he said. "Building haunted houses is a full-time business. We don't just start in October."

He said that Dracula's Castle is remodeled every year because otherwise "people say 'We've been there last year--we don't want to go there again.'"

Tripoli worked with co-owner John Denley, who is known as "Professor Nightmare," and Jim Derotti, of Boneyard Productions, to plan the details of Dracula's Castle.

"We've been watching The Lost Boys, Brahm Stoker's Dracula, old Bella Lugosi movies to see how they created horror," Tripoli said.

Much like the movies, Tripoli said that there is one rule which guests in the castle must never break.

"You never want to wake the master," he said. "If you wake the master, then there's a spike wall, an entire wall of spikes that falls on you."

Besides the wall of spikes, employees at Dracula's Castle sometimes improvise new ways to frighten the customers.

"We had people stuck in a maze," Tripoli said. "Every time they turned around the same person would be in front of them, saying 'You're going the wrong way, go back.'"

Of course it was a trick.

"One of the walls was actually a black curtain," Tripoli said. "They could disappear in and out of the curtain and reappear in front of the people again."

It is tricks like this one that make Michael P. Bollettiero return every year to scare the customers of Dracula's Castle.

"You're getting paid to do something that's totally insane," said Bollettiero, who has worked Halloween at the castle for the past eight years.

One of his favorite performances takes place before the customers have entered the house.

"You peek out of the curtain at the people and say something like 'Anybody seen Joe?'" he said. "Then you take a hand with a monster glove and pull your head back into the curtain."

Bollettiero said that after that scare, "the people are already petrified as soon as they come in."

Although everyone at the castle searches for new ways to frighten the customers, workers said that the city's current population of "witches"--those who practice wicca, a pantheistic religion that has a following in town--prohibits them from mimicking witchcraft.

"At each one of our haunted houses you won't find witches," Tripoli said. "We respect the witches of Salem."

"They don't like to see themselves mocked," Williams added. "It's very serious to them."

The workers of Dracula's Castle had an unusual explanation for their attraction to the occult.

For the two owners and at least one employee, Halloween has always been a special time of year.

"Jim Duratti's birthday is October 21," Tripoli said, "and mine is October 18."

Williams' birthday is October 19, in the same vicinity.

"We grew up with warlock birthday cake," Tripoli said. "It's like Christmas to us--we get presents. and we get to scare people."

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