A couple of weeks ago, on Friday, November 2nd, I posted a photo on Facebook that I thought would get some good laughs.
It got WAY more than just that.
As I write this, the post has gotten more than 2 million views on Facebook. And so I wanted to get to know the subject of the photo, the Salem Satan.
Dan Lavoie has spent six Halloweens in Salem, Massuchesetts where he has become a fixture of the town's Halloween extravaganza. Salem in October becomes a spectacle of monsters, street performers, tourists, witches, and more.
Among the gaggle of ghouls you can find The Salem Satan walking the streets offering free hugs.
In the photo posted on my page (which you can also see below), Christian street preachers are in the background, and Satan is about to give someone a hug in the foreground.
I asked Dan if the street preachers harass him (they often show up to Salem with signs and bullhorns in October to recruit people from the dark side and bring them to Jesus).
"They leave me alone for the most part," Dan said. "[From] 2010-2015 they had multiple groups not associated with the man in the pic. Most of them were cool and shook my hand or hugged me and wished me well. I liked those preachers."
So what gave Dan the idea to dress up as Satan and offer free hugs to people in Salem?
"I started my trips to Salem in 2010. I was there twice before. Once as a kid and once as a day trip honeymoon in 2002," he said. "Typically I hate crowds, but the energy there was unlike anything I felt."
And then inspiration struck after a particularly cruel moment. "I watched a preacher telling a little girl dressed like Elsa that she was going to Hell. That pissed me off to no end. So I went home and started researching devil masks and I found the one I liked," Dan continued.
"Anyway, found the mask, got the robes," he added. "Then I made my sign. First one read 'What Does He Have to Offer? I Have Sex. Debauchery* and Rock and Roll. *Drugs are bad.' [The] flip side said 'Satan '012. No matter who wins, I'll be running the country.'"
Talking about the reaction, Dan said, "People thought this was great. Then Free Hugs came about and I ditched the political joke."
The energy of the crowd in Salem provides Dan with a lot of his drive. "The crowds in Salem seem to have an overly positive vibe," he explained. "Aside from the street preachers, nobody is there with an agenda other than learning or enjoying the costumes. Everybody seems happy, even the small select few who don't like what I do seem happy. Sometimes someone in the crowd will be negative towards me and try to save me. I say, 'Thank you for the concern' because that's what I view it as. I don't get upset if someone blesses me. To me, that's them wishing me well."
That seems like a really healthy outlook to me. But from my conversation with Dan I got the sense that those people who try to "save him" are in the minority. He really does enjoy the positivity that seems to infuse the crowd at Salem.
Of course, given the focus of my page, and the fact that he dresses as Satan, I asked Dan what, if any, religious beliefs he had. "I'm agnostic. I'd like to think there's something after we die. Not so much the Christian concepts or any deity, but something. On the flip-side I don't know and we won't know until we do pass," he said, adding that he was raised Catholic, but has not practiced the religion since he was young.
I think it is great that Dan could take a moment like a preacher telling a little girl she is going to Hell and turn it into something like this that brings a lot of joy to people who are looking to have some fun every Halloween. We need more Satans giving hugs in this world.
Check out The Salem Satan Facebook page, and below you can see some more fun photos of this very friendly Satan.