As the air grows crisp and the trees shiver away the last of their leaves, the most discerning ghost hunters head to New York and New England, where Halloween is an artful affair. Here (listed in order of how gung-ho each community is) are some of the most breathtaking places to tour “haunted” mansions and graveyards, delight in glowing jack-o’-lanterns and snuggle up to that special someone when things go bump in the night.
Is there a more fitting place to spend Halloween than Salem – a town where at least half a dozen attractions begin with the word “witch”? In Salem, beginning in 1692, dozens of people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 19 were hanged, according to the Salem Witch Museum.
For a tour of some of the more famous sites of murders and executions, climb aboard Salem Trolley’s Tales and Tombstones, a nearly hourlong ride at dusk during which passengers will hear of haunted hotels, ancient curses and ghost ships. Tickets: $20, $15 for 60 and older; $10 for ages 6-14. Reservations required: www.salemtrolley.com.
But this is hardly the only way to explore the town; you can see it by boat, foot, even Segway. On the Haunted Harbor cruise by Mahi Mahi Cruises and Charters, passengers will learn about pirates, haunted lighthouses and monsters during a 90-minute tour on a heated boat with a bar and grill, through October. Tickets: $25; $15 for children. Details: www.mahicruises.com. Meanwhile, Witch City Segway ( www.witchcitysegway.com) has Halloween tours on what it refers to as a “futuristic broomstick.” And Derby Square Tours ( www.derbysquaretours.com) offers two special walking tours in October, Witch Trial Trail and Terror Trail.
The House of the Seven Gables, owned by a cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose visits to the property are said to have inspired his 1851 novel of the same name, has live performances throughout October, including one that aims to transport visitors to the witch trials. Performances last 35 minutes. Reservations recommended: www.7gables.org.
At the Salem Witch Museum ( www.salemwitchmuseum.com), visitors can learn about the trials and take advantage of extended hours for “haunted happenings” (some until midnight) through October.
On Halloween, there will be music and dancing on stages around town, and fireworks over the North River at 10 p.m. Check out more festivities, including costume parties, performances and events with self-described witches and paranormal experts, at www.hauntedhappenings.org, www.festivalofthedead.com and www.witchescottagesalem.com.
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
Hoping to unearth some ghosts? Then consider the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery walking tour in this picturesque Hudson River town, best known as the setting for Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
There are daytime tours, but for an even eerier atmosphere try a two-hour after-dark lantern tour, in which participants walk more than a mile atop some of the cemetery’s best known residents, like Irving and the industrialist William A. Rockefeller Jr. Visitors will also learn about the cemetery’s art and architecture and may even descend into a more than 100-year-old underground vault (temporarily, of course). Some tours are led by Tara Van Tassell, a descendant of the Van Tassells of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Tickets: $24.99; reservations required. Details on this and other lantern-light walks: www.sleepyhollowcemetery.org. If you want to take a self-guided tour, free cemetery maps are available on the grounds and at www.visitsleepyhollow.com.
On Oct. 26 and 27 from 7 to 11 p.m. and Oct. 28 from 7 to 10 p.m., beware the headless horseman during the Haunted Hayride that begins at the firehouse on Beekman Avenue in Sleepy Hollow. Tickets ($20) available at www.sleepyhollowny.gov.
Other events include the Legend Celebration at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside ( www.hudsonvalley.org), where visitors –who are encouraged to arrive in costume – can tour the grounds where Irving lived, and Horseman’s Hollow at Philipsburg Manor, where guests can walk a frightening trail into a town “ruled by the undead, the evil, and the insane.” It is not recommended for small children or for adults who still have nightmares about Freddy Krueger: hudsonvalley.org.
At Belcourt Castle ( www.belcourtcastle.com), completed in 1894, visitors will find 13th-century European stained glass, 17th- to 20th-century paintings, a gold coronation coach and – on certain nights in October – talk of ghosts. During late-night ghost tours of the house, Harle Tinney, the owner, will talk about ghosts she claims to have encountered while living there for more than half a century. Tickets: $25; $15 for 18 and younger and older than 65. Reservations required; children must be 8 or older.
On the Legends, Ghosts and Graves tour from New England Curiosities ( www.newenglandcuriosities.com), visitors swing by the most haunted spots in town, including the state’s oldest burial ground (1600s), Point of Graves. Oct. 26 at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets: $20; $10 for children under 12. Reservations recommended.
The group also offers a Haunted Pubs tour, a nod to the city’s beer- and ale-making history. But don’t let the name fool you: Attendees will not drink their way through this two-hour walk but rather will visit historic taverns that some say are haunted. After the tour, guests can join their guide for spirits of a different sort. Reservations are required. Oct. 21 at 3 p.m.; Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 (not including drinks).