The 2011 Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball - THE Place for Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts

A party might not seem like it would be a travel destination but it most definitely is when that party is held at the historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts and it's their annual Halloween Ball!

It goes without saying that The Witch City - aka Salem - is one of America's top destinations for travelers during the month of October as the city rolls out its month long celebration "Haunted Happenings" with one special event after another including tours, haunted houses, psychic fairs, parties, children's events, theater productions, Halloween balls and an extensive list of activities for both young and old alike.

Even though Salem has a very extensive maritime history and was once one of the richest cities in America due to its involvement in the East India Trade, it seems to be better known as the location of the 1692 Witch Trials during which time over 150 people were accused and arrested and 20 men and women were put to death - 19 by hanging and 1 by pressing when he refused to enter a plea. Salem wasn't the only town in Essex County that held witch trials but it became the most well-known and hundreds of years later, rather than hide from its notorious past, the city has chosen to embrace it and throw its doors open every October to thousands of tourists who come to the city to celebrate Halloween.

One of the premier events of Haunted Happenings is the Hawthorne Hotel's Annual Halloween Ball - an event that generally sells out faster than you can say "Is that a wart on your nose?"!  Held on the Saturday before Halloween, all of the public areas of the hotel are closed at 2:00 p.m. so that the decorating can begin before the doors are thrown open at 7:30 and up to one thousand party-goers get together to eat, drink, dance, and show off their costumes.

This year I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend the Halloween Ball titled "Saturday Fright Fever" with the theme of Dancing Through the Decades but I wasn't attending as one of the costumed revelers, instead I would be there as a VIP Judge charged with the duties of picking out several choices for best costumes in the categories of Individual/Couple, Group, and Theme.

Another of my duties as judge was to cast a vote for my choice of Best Decorated Room.  Each year, the various departments at the hotel are given a cash stipend along with access to the vast stores of Halloween decorations from previous years and assigned a room to decorate based on the theme of the ball.  With a nice cash prize and year-long bragging rights up for grabs, the competition is fierce!

Arriving at the hotel early Saturday evening, one of my fellow judges Rhonda (who I am happy to say has become a new friend that I met on Friday as she was also staying at a mutual friend's house in Salem for the weekend) and I toured the various rooms so that we could start thinking about which room to vote for.  The ball is held on three floors of the hotel from the Library in the basement to the Essex Room on the second floor with several other rooms on the main floor so Rhonda and I decided to start in the Library and work our way up.

The Library - Last Days of Disco
Sophia's - Saturday Night Fever
Decorations in Sophia's
Nathaniel's - Prom Gone Wrong

Decorations in Nathaniel's
The Tavern - Dancing With the Grateful Dead

The Grand Ballroom - Bride and Groom's "Last" Dance

The Essex Room - Techno Cemetery

Following our tour of the rooms and after checking out some of the other great decorations around the hotel, Rhonda and I, along with the other three VIP Judges for the evening, joined the hotel staff in the Grand Ballroom where they gather to go over some last-minute instructions for the night after their rooms are all decorated, everything else is made ready, and before the doors to the hotel are opened and hundreds of party-goers arrive.

Juli Lederhaus, General Manager of the Hawthorne Hotel, along with Claire Kallelis and Christine Turner, Senior Staff Members, address the employees working the party.

Needless to say, with the number of guests in attendance for the Halloween Ball, it takes a lot of people to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible so in addition to the regular employees of the Hawthorne, temporary helpers are brought in for the night (including my daughter Amanda who spent the evening working in Coat Check).  With their marching orders for the night in place, the meeting ended and it was time for the most anticipated night of the year at the Hawthorne Hotel to begin!

Guests of the Ball who were not staying at the Hawthorne entered through the main lobby doors where they went through a quick security scan to make sure there were no weapons or outside alcohol entering the building. With that many people in attendance, it's important to be safe!

It didn't take long before the lobby was filled with pirates and zombies and clowns and whatever that guy there with the mask was! 

Rhonda and I had stationed ourselves near the main entrance in the hopes that we'd be able to see a lot of the costumes that we were going to be judging as they came in but it wasn't long before we realized what a daunting task picking out just two choices in Individual/Couple, two choices in Group, and one choice in Theme that each judge was tasked with was going to be as there were some really good costumes coming through those doors! And they were coming through quickly too!

Red Riding Hood and her Big Bad Wolf
Thor minus his mighty hammer which had to be left at the door!
A couple of Star Wars guys
A Victorian Couple
A King and His Princess
A creepy clown
A Skeleton and a Witch
A Laundry Basket
Freddy Krueger and a Nurse
The Queen of Hearts and Her Jester

Oh but hey ... wait a minute, what do we have here??

One of the first couples that really caught my eye was The Demented Dollmaker and His Doll.  I'm going to chalk some of that up to the fact that I live with a daughter who has a favorite band named Creature Feature who have a song titled "Death of a Dollmaker" which she played fairly regularly. As soon as I saw their costumes, I immediately thought of that bit of music as well as Tim Burton and all of the other slightly twisted things that you learn of as the parent of child whose zombie make-up is about as realistic as it gets and who adores Vincent Price and all things macabre!

In addition to the female half of the couple looking and acting like a real doll complete with porcelain skin and doll-like eyes (courtesy of contacts), I was very impressed with the details that they they had gone to in order to make their costumes as authentic as possible right down to a gearbox attached to the doll's back with a key to wind her up and the scrolls with the detailed plans of the dollmaker for the building of his creation. It was easy to see that they had put a lot of time, effort, and thought into their costumes so they were easily my first choice in the category of Couple/Individual.

Meanwhile, though, while I had been oohing and aahing over the Demented Dollmaker and His Doll and all that had gone into the creation of their costumes, fellow judge Rhonda had found herself a Knight in Shining Armour ...

Whom she was perfectly happy with until from across the crowded room she spotted them ... the men who would become her own greatest creation of the night ...

Combining Edward Scissorshands, Captain Jack Sparrow, and the Mad Hatter with Sweeney Todd (pictured below with a meat pie-carrying Mrs Lovett), Rhonda put together what could only be described as one of her greatest fantasies ...

The Johnny Depp Group!

Before presenting them with one of the sashes for Best Group which would get the quartet into the Costume Competition in the Grand Ballroom at 10:00, we found Juli and asked her if it was okay to put a group together or whether they had to arrive at the party as a group to begin with.  Juli said that there were no rules against it so it was with great pleasure that Rhonda presented the four guys who had never met each other before that night with a sash and gave them their instructions for the judging.  They were pretty excited about it but probably not anywhere near as excited as Rhonda who apparently has a bit of a thing for Johnny - not that there's anything wrong with that! I think all of the guys would have done Johnny Depp himself proud had he happened to drop by that evening!

Before moving on, I'd like to take the time here to mention that the Edward Scissorshands costume was made by the wearer's very talented wife who spent a year making a movie-accurate costume right down to the last buckle and snap and "sharp" implement on the ends of his hands which were fortunately made from foam board and able to make their way through security with a special hotel dispensation.  The poor guy couldn't eat, drink, or sit down all night but he looked absolutely fantastic and major kudos should be given to his wife for her fantastic costume work!

While we were wading and wending our way through the crowds in search of more Costume Contest nominees, a fine time was being had by all throughout the hotel while guests at the party enjoyed delicious food, a great band in the ballroom, DJs in several of the other rooms, and fun on the dance floors:

Sampling some of the food

Time was flying faster than Harry Potter on a Nimbus 3000 though and before we knew it, it was 10:00 and time for the Costume Competition to begin. Even though Rhonda and I had seen a lot of the costumes we hadn't seen them all so it was great to see who the other three judges had chosen as their nominees.  I don't have pictures of all of them but I was able to find pictures of some of them from the Official Picasa Web Album for the party to add with those of my own:

Marie Antoinette - Individual
Jack and Sally Skeleton - Individual/Couple
The Black and White Swans - Theme
The Disco Ball - Theme
The Fairy and the Gnome - Individual/Couple
The Colonial Ghosts - Individual/Couple
The Rocky Horror Picture Show - One of My Choices for Group
Back to the Wizard of Oz (complete with a tornado!) - Third Place for Group
Back to the Wizard of Oz - Group
The Phoenician Couple - Individual/Couple
The Queen of Hearts - Individual/Couple
The Scarecrow - My other choice for Indivdual/Couple
Disco Chicken and Muscle - Theme
The Peanuts Gang - My other choice for Group
Carrie and Her Prom Date - My choice for Theme

For those that were nominated but for which I don't have any pictures, I sincerely apologize as they were all quite good though I obviously had my own favorites and were rooting for them when it came down to the final judging which is done by Juli along with any of the other hotel department managers who wish to vote. The VIP Judges are allowed to vote in the final determination also so Rhonda and I made sure that we were there to cheer our choices on. After all, if we picked them then they had to be the best, right??

After much discussion amid the process of elimination, in the end the winners of the First Place Prizes were:
The Disco Ball - Theme 
The Demented Dollmaker and His Doll - Individual/Couple
The Johnny Depp Group aka Rhonda's Group!
The others to win prizes in their categories were for Theme: Second Place - Carrie and Her Prom Date and Third - The Black and White Swans; for Group: Second Place - The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Third - Back to the Wizard of Oz; and for Individual/Couple: Second Place - The Phoenician Couple and Third - The Fairy and the Gnome. Honestly, it was really hard to choose as there were so many fantastic costumes but Rhonda and I had such a good time trying to pick them out that I don't think you could have found two happier judges anywhere that night! And just to show you how hard it was, here are a few more of the really good costumes we saw that night:

The Fifth Doctor (Who)
Doctor Who (the Fifth Doctor specifically!)
Ash and a Candarian Demon from Evil Dead 2
Ash and a Candarian Demon from Evil Dead 2
The Baker and His Cupcake
The Baker and His Cupcake
The Exorcist
The Exorcist Couple
The BeeGees (Oh! Now I get it!)
The BeeGees - which took me a minute or two to 'get' but once I did - duh!
A Boston Bruin player and his manager
The Witch and a Witch Doctor
Barbie Cenobite and Pinhead of Hellraiser fame
Barbie Cenobite and Pinhead from Hellraiser
Mrs. Scissorshands, Mrs. Lovett, and Captain Jack's latest!

The lovely ladies pictured above were the female companions to three of Rhonda's very happy winners in the Group category and I believe that they were just as happy about the win as their guys were! You'll notice though that when we took the picture below, the Hatter had gone missing. We weren't sure where he had disappeared to after splitting his cash winnings with the rest of the group (yes, the Hawthorne gives out some very nice cash prizes as well as certificates giving the winners' bragging rights for the next year!); we think he might have been out Fudderwhacking over his win or something but he and the Disco Ball disappeared - never to be seen again that evening!  Rhonda, in the meantime, was quite in her glory!

Rhonda and

As was I as I posed with my winning couple! As a rule, I don't normally like to have my picture taken but I made an exception in this case!

The Demented Dollmaker and His Doll and Me!

By the end of the party, email addresses and Facebook contacts had been passed all around and it's my hope that the folks in the group below who may have shown up at the party as strangers, left as friends as the evening wound down.

Some of the First Place Costume Contest Winners

All in all, it was a totally fantastic evening in spite of the unseasonably nasty weather outside which included rain that had turned over to snow causing quite the mess and a delay for those party-goers who had arrived by taxi in being able to get a ride back to their respective locations.  Should you ever choose to go to the Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball and you want to have a big smile on your face by the end of the night like this couple:

... then you might want to plan ahead and book reservations at the hotel.  The only way to stay at the Hawthorne for the Ball is to book one of their package deals, the form for which can be found on the homepage of the Hawthorne's website - just scroll down and look to the left. Don't wait too long though as the hotel most definitely sells out every year! And just to entice you even further, guests of the hotel receive several more perks other than just being able to take an elevator ride back to their room after the party including some really cool swag in the form of a VIP gift bag. Items this year included a limited edition t-shirt and ball cap, flashing sunglasses, an insulated lunch bag, a magnet for your refrigerator to remind you what a good time you had every time you go to get a snack, a bit of Halloween candy, and a major wicked cool and awesome coffee mug that I am proudly using at work!

VIP Gift Bag aka Cool Swag!!!

For more on the Halloween Ball, be sure to check out the blog for the hotel, the Hawthorne Daily Diary, which has lots of posts and pictures not just on the Ball but on lots of great events at the hotel and the surrounding community. You can also follow the Hawthorne on Twitter and be the first in line to learn about any great deals or happenings in Salem.  

Trust me, if you want to go to a great Halloween party then this is most definitely the one to make as your destination!  Don't believe me yet?  Check out the rest of my pictures from the night at my SmugMug Gallery or click on over to the gallery of great photos that were taken by Peter Cornellisen who was the night's roving photographer. If that still doesn't convince you then you're just not a fan of Halloween! 

Oh, and lest I forget! The winning room for the night as chosen by 80% of the judges was the Tavern and their theme "Dancing with the Grateful Dead" which was done by the Kitchen Staff. I think what sold all of us was the attention to detail when it comes to the Grateful Dead ...

Congratulations to all of the winners and a very big thank you once again to the Hawthorne Hotel for inviting me to be a part of such a fun event! I'm hoping to be there again next year if not as a judge again (though that would be mega-cool) then as an attendee complete with my own awesome costume! Care to join me?? I bet these guys do!

Carrie & Her Prom Date along with Sweeney Todd & Mrs. Lovett (complete with meat pie!)


  1. Great Post. And I saw a few of my pals in there (dollmaker/doll, witch/witchdoctor).

  2. Really enjoyed the post, wasn't sure how fun a party in a hotel was going to look, thought it might be a bit too formal, but this looks like a lot of fun!

  3. This party looks like so much fun. If October wasn't so crazy for your average neighborhood horror writer, I would absolutely be there in my John Wayne Gacy clown outfit. Thanks for the fabulous pictures! LOVE the Carrie couple...and the Depps...and Pinhead and Barbie...
    (had to delete and repost as I had a typo in my original post and couldn't stand it!)
    NOVEMBER 5, 2011 8:31 PM

  4. What a wonderful way to spend Halloween. It's definitely something to add to the must do list. Love the Johnny Depp group.

  5. I don't get the whole 'Horror Thing' and never watch any of it. And I also don't get the whole 'Halloween for grownups Thing', but there's no doubt... Salem takes it seriously!

  6. Bring your own Boos ~ haha

    I loved this post, Duchess!

    I would have had a tough time judging those costumes. People are so talented and creative!

    The Colonial Ghosts couple really caught my eye. I thought they were great. I also liked the Wizard of Oz people as well as the Dollmaker and his creepy doll.

    I love what you did with the photo of the Hawthorne ~ it almost looks like blood dripping down from the top floors.

    What a party!

  7. What Barb said. I'm glad you had fun.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  8. Wow! There are some awesome outfits! My fave would definitely be the Johnny Depps. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

  9. This is the ultimate place to be for Halloween. Fabulous pictures, well written. A real Quality post.

  10. Fantastic costumes! And how cool that four complete strangers would show up as characters played by Johnny Depp, be combined into an impromptu group, and then win the category.

    This is something Pam and I will have to put on the bucket list. Even thought we're not all that into the costume part of Halloween, we could make an exception for this.

  11. WOW it all looks fantastic! All the costumes are fabulous. I particularly like the Johnny Depp group. :)

  12. Hi Barb, thanks for stopping by! I just wanted to say that I totally DO get the "Halloween for Grownups Thing" as it's probably the one time of the year when we, as adults, legitimately get the chance to take a step back to our childhood and put on a costume to "be" someone that we've always wanted to be whether that's a member of royalty, a swashbuckling pirate, one of the shambling undead, or a favorite movie character without everyone raising their eyebrows and thinking our cheese has slid just a bit more off the cracker!

    Halloween is a fun holiday for all ages and it was fantastic to see so many "older" people having a really good time at the Hawthorne Halloween Ball. As a matter of fact, the older couple that won third prize in the Costume Contest for Individual/Couple - the Fairy and the Gnome - told me that this had been their very first time to the Halloween Ball at the Hawthorne and that they positively loved it and would definitely be back again.

    They weren't the only ones who mistook me for a hotel employee (thanks to my way-cool name tag!) and told me how much they enjoyed the party which I think just goes to prove that we don't stop having fun at Halloween no matter how old we get and that's a really good thing no matter how you look at it!

  13. What fantastic costumes! I can't imagine the work that must have gone into some of them. It looks like it was an absolute blast. Great pics! Thanks for sharing. :)

  14. Thank you for this post,I have been sharing it with my friends and co-workers when they ask how the ball was. This is a great condensed version of the evening with all the highlights! My husband was Edward Scissorhands and we just had too much fun. This blog helped to convey and share the experience. The night went by SO FAST, cant wait until next year!
    ~Marji (Edwards wife/80's chick)

  15. I've only one thing to say...I WISH I COULD HAVE BEEN THERE!!!! lol Oh my goodness, what a Halloween Ball and the costumes, I've never seen such fantastic costumes before! I would definitely have had a hard time choosing my winners but I think you did a great job. No wonder Rhonda was swooning over those Johnny Depp characters, I would have been pushing her out of the picture and squeezed myself between them! hehe Even the decorations in the rooms were brilliant and amazing. No wonder it's THE place to be at Halloween. Such creativity, it's unbelievable. Thank you for this post, I thoroughly enjoyed it and now I must go look at the pictures one more time:-) xoxo

  16. Love this favorite. Hoping to stay one of these years for Halloween:) everyone looked awesome!!! No place like Salem:) See you next year!!

  17. I have to say that if you cant act like a "kid" as an adult than you need to add some Halloween fun to your life! This is the ULTIMATE Halloween party to be at! So excited for 2012!!!

  18. This party is the BEST ever. We go every year with about 4 couples. Last year I had to miss it for leg surgery but this year I am GOING! Cannot wait!!! Does anyone know the "theme" this year?

    1. Hi Barbie! This year's ball is titled "Solstice of Souls" and the theme is: "Explore lost worlds, ancient civilizations, mysticism, rites and ritual of early societies and cultures, the dark and mysterious Halloween gods and goddesses, a feast of souls, an exploration of lost empires. . . a realization of the deep roots of the Halloween mystique."


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