Tag Archives: Witchcraft


Nearly every year, someone from “outside” writes an opinion piece on the exploitative, hypocritical, and tacky nature of Salem’s month-long celebration of Halloween which is pretty much ignored here in the Witch City. Last year, there was a riveting piece by a Huffington Post columnist, and this year we have a column by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff, who just happens to have a book coming out about the Trials entitled The Witches: Salem 1692. Schiff’s piece has a great title, “First Kill the Witches. Then Celebrate Them”, and asks the key question, “How did Salem, Mass. repackage a tragedy as a holiday, appointing itself Witch City in the process?” but offers few new insights in the way of an answer. It’s the same old inevitable story, told time and time again: economic decline, Arthur Miller, Bewitched, entrepreneurial “Museum” owners, shopkeepers, and Wiccans. She really dwells on the dreadful Samantha statue (which I don’t think Salemites take a seriously as we perhaps should) and concludes that “You can leave Salem today without a hint of what happened in 1692; in a sense we’ve moved from tragedy to farce without the pause for history in between”. At first reading, this seems like a great line, but I’m not sure about the use of the collective “we”, nor of the reference to history–as the Salem Witch Trials is one of the most intensely researched topics in American history. Every year we get a new Salem book or three or four, while notable trials in Europe during the same era have yet to receive even sufficient attention. Yet we seem to learn very little, or just want to read the same old (inevitable) story, over and over again. I haven’t read Schiff’s book yet–it comes out this week–but I did read her preview article in The New Yorker last month and found it to be rather….conventional, and quite dependent on the well-worn path of context and causality charted by historians like Richard Godbeer, Mary Beth Norton, and my colleague Emerson Baker (and generations before them). Nevertheless her publisher asserts that the book is “historically seminal” and I keep seeing the words “masterful” in initial reviews. The word “new” crops up a lot too but it seems like the same old story to me. In terms of novelty, I’m a bit more interested in the book that seems to be paired and compared with Schiff’s Witches in reviews due to their coincidental, opportunistic publication dates, Alex Mar’s study of contemporary Paganism, Witches in America. The most recent scholarly publication, Benjamin Ray’s Satan & Salem. The Witch-Hunt Crisis of 1692, seems to be getting squeezed out by these two blockbusters, although it was published earlier in the year.

Colburn Illustrations

Witches 2015

Martha Coburn’s illustrations for Stacy Schiff’s Oct. 25, 2015 column in the New York Times: “First Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them”. Just three witchcraft titles published in 2015.

There is a great review of Schiff’s work by a historian who I really admire, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, in the Wall Street Journal which praises the author on her narrative abilities and contemporary allusions but faults her on her knowledge of the historical context: he observes that  “Her knowledge of the 17th century is less secure than her grip on journalistic topoi.” Indeed it is difficult to develop mastery of personages as diverse as Cleopatra, Véra Nabokov, and the victims of Salem. Despite the glut of Salem Witch Trials studies, Fernández-Armesto believes we have room for one more: “We still need someone to do for 17th-century Salem what Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie did for 14th-century Montaillou in his work on the Cathars”. That would be a dream as Montaillou: Promised Land of Error is indeed one of my favorite books, but I don’t think Salem–the city, the “problem”, the industry–is ready for that kind of definitive l’histoire totale: “we” need to continue our search for the “real” story and feeding the beast.

Montaillou Cover

Witch Houses

Central to Salem’s evolution as the Witch City was the Witch House, a first-period structure that was the residence of one of the Trials’ judges, Jonathan Corwin. It was referred to as the Witch House back in the nineteenth century, when it housed a number of businesses–a longstanding drug store, later an antiques shop–and looked quite different than it does today, but it really became the Witch House when its evolving image was published on variant postcards from around 1900 on. The Corwin House acquired its seventeenth-century look in the middle of the twentieth century through a “restoration” under the direction of Boston architect Gordon Robb, and was opened to the public as the official “Witch House” by the city of Salem in 1948. As I’ve written about this House and its history before, I want to widen its context today by featuring some other Witch Houses, near and far, past and present, material and immaterial. There are at least two other houses in Essex County which were identified as such on postcards from a century ago, a time when there was a limited effort to turn the entire region into “Broomstick Country”. This was historically correct–the “Salem Witch Trials” were indeed a regional phenomenon–but commercially tricky, so Salem eventually claimed its exclusive title as the one and only “Witch City” with the Witch House.

The Old Witch House--Scene of Examinations at Salem. Illustration from Columbus and Columbia (Manufacturers' Book Co, c 1893).

Witch House Salem 1905

Witch House Danvers

Witch House Rockport 1910

Salem’s “Witch House” in 1893 (Columbus and Columbia Manufacturers’ Book Co, c 1893) and 1905: the George Jacobs “Witch House” in Danvers in 1907 (located in what was then Salem in the seventeenth century) and Rockport’s “Witch House”, also known as the “Old Garrison House” and still standing, in 1910. Supposedly two brothers from Salem built this house as a refuge for their accused sister or mother (depending on the source).

Farther afield, Witch Houses don’t have anything to do with witch trials: they just look like the sort of gothic structure that a romanticized witch might inhabit, like the Spadena “Witch’s” House in Beverly Hills, California, a storybook-style house built in 1921, or the famous Carl Van Vechten photograph of a long-lost “Witch House” in rural Maine during the Depression. The fairy-tale witches of the nineteenth century had created a more whimsical images of their houses in the twentieth, and clearly gables were seen as integral architectural details, so it is quite suitable that Salem’s Witch House would soon be enhanced with several.


Witch House Van Vechten

Witch House Pyle 1887

Witch House Key Nielsen 1921

The California “Witch’s House’ in its original Culver City location, courtesy Beverly Hills Heritage; Carl Van Vechten, “Witch House”, 1936, Library of Congress; the Prince visits the Witch’s House in Howard and Katharine Pyle’s The Wonder Clock: or, Four & Twenty Marvelous Tales, Beind One for Each Hour of the Day (1887); The Witch’s confectionary cottage from Hansel and Gretel, by Kay Nielsen (1921).

Even farther afield in terms of both space and time is the woodcut print of a Witch House from the later sixteenth century by an anonymous English artist. This image, quite unusual as witches were generally depicted outside, in the wild, at this time, is often cited as appearing in the Swiss theologian Thomas Lieber (Erastus)’s Two Dialogues Concerning the Power of Witches (1579), but as Charles Zika points out in The Appearance of Witchcraft. Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe, the image appears to have been simply inserted into a 1579 English edition. Another fantasy house, although in this case it’s more about the exit than the architecture!

Witch House 1590

The Pardoning of Ann Pudeator

As is my custom on this date, the day on which the final eight victims of the Salem Witch Trials met their deaths, I am writing about this enduring event in the spirit of commemoration and remembrance. This late September day proved to be the beginning of the end in 1692; conversely in our own time everyone in Salem is now getting ready for a celebratory Halloween season. The fear must have been palpable then; the excitement so now. The fact that we celebrate tragedy here in Salem always saddens me, every single day, but particularly on this poignant one at the very end of summer. I’d like to focus on one of the “eight firebrands from hell” who died on this day long ago, but also about the process (es) of exoneration for the victims of 1692: a more hopeful topic. Or is it?

Salem Witch Trial Memorial Danvers MA

Salem Witch Trials Memorial Salem

Ann Greenslit Pudeator was just one victim of September 22, 1692. She fits the traditional stereotype of an accused “witch”:  older ( in mid-70s), widowed (twice), and a healer of sorts–she definitely functioned as a nurse; I’m not sure I would go so far as to call her a midwife. She was often in a vulnerable position, but was nevertheless assertive. When her first husband died she was left destitute and with five children. To provide for her family, she began nursing, and included among her patients her neighbor Isabel Pudeator, the ailing (alchoholic?) wife of Salem blacksmith Jacob Pudeator. Isabel died, Ann remarried the much younger and wealthier Jacob, who himself died five years later, leaving his not-inconsiderable property to Ann and her children: a conspicuous inheritance which enhanced her vulnerability. Several years later the finger-pointing and Trials began, and Ann was accused, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang for “Certaine detestable Arts called Witchcraft & Sorceries Wickedly Mallitiously and felloniously practiced and Exercised At and within the Township of Salem”. A succession of neighbors gave evidence against her, but not a single person–including any of her five children—spoke for her: not in 1692 or for 265 years thereafter.

So that brings me to the topic of the legal exoneration of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, a process that occurred in three distinct phases over several centuries: in 1711 the Massachusetts colonial legislature reversed the attainders of “George Burroughs and others” (22 in all, “some put to death, others living still under the life sentence”) for witchcraft and paid a total of £600 in restitution to their heirs. For whatever reason, several victims did not have family members serving as advocates in this process, including Ann Pudeator. It was not until 1946 that her descendant H. Vance Greenslit of New Orleans commenced his campaign for her pardon, which remarkably took eleven years to accomplish via a Massachusetts state legislature resolution in March of 1957. A very illuminating 1954 New York Times article explains the hold-up:  concerns that tourists would be less inclined to visit a witchless Salem (!!!!), that descendants might expect reparations for a sullied escutcheon, which would be costly, and the opponents’ main argument that Massachusetts has no business tampering with the Crown’s work anyway–Massachusetts was a British colony in 1692; if anyone is going to absolve witches, it will have to be Queen Elizabeth II. One petitioner offered this solution: Take the whole matter to the United Nations.” Both Her Majesty’s Government and the United Nations neglected to rule on the matter, and so the Massachusetts Legislature quietly passed an oddly-worded resolution that relieved the descendants of “Ann Pudeator and others” from “disgrace or cause for distress”. It took another 44 years–and the energetic initiative of one of our Department’s graduate students, Paula Keen–for the “others” to be formally exonerated in a bill signed by acting Governor Jane Swift on November 1, 2001. And just like that and their fellow victim Ann Pudeator before them, Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, and Wilmot Redd were cleared summarily with the simple stroke of a pen.

1711 Reversal of Attainder

Ann Putnam

October 18, 1679 marked the beginning of the short and miserable life of Ann Putnam, one of the principal accusers in the “circle” of girls who initiated and sustained the Salem Witch Trials in the spring, summer and fall of 1692. She claimed to have been afflicted by 62 people, and testified against many before the Court of Oyer and Terminer, in a series of well-attended dramatic performances (you can read her testimonies here). It is easy to paint Ann as a villain, despite her youth, but many historians believe that she was manipulated by her powerful and vengeful father Thomas, along with her equally-afflicted mother Ann Sr., who shared the stage with her.

Ann Putnam Pyle 1893

“There is a flock of yellow birds around her”: Ann Putnam and the “Afflicted Girls” in the courtroom in an illustration by Howard Pyle for “Giles Cory, Yeoman,” a play by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume LXXXVI, 1893.

I am wondering how the Putnams were perceived by their neighbors after Governor William Phips dissolved the Court in late October of 1692. One very strong indication might be the fact that Thomas and Ann, Sr., who both died within weeks of each other in 1699, are buried in unmarked graves in the Putnam family cemetery in Danvers, Massachusetts, along with their daughter Ann, who died in 1716 at the relatively young age of thirty-seven. Ann’s post-Trials life seems to have been characterized by drudgery (caring for her nine younger siblings after their parents’ deaths), isolation, and contrition: she is the only one of her Circle to apologize for her actions in 1692. This very public apology, written as a condition for her re-admission to the Salem Village Church and read aloud to the congregation by the Reverend Joseph Green in 1706, remains a powerful statement merely because of its exclusivity, even though its references to the delusions of Satan might be unsatisfactory for modern mentalities:

“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.”

A variant on Ann’s proclaimed desire to “lie in the dust” is the title of a new graphic novel, Lies in the Dust. A Tale of Remorse in the Salem Witch Trials, written by Jakob Crane and illustrated by Timothy Decker. If you are in the Salem area, there is an accompanying exhibition at the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University. I looked at the illustrations yesterday, and then drove over to look for the Putnams’ grave, which is a slightly-elevated, unmarked mound in the family cemetery, wedged between the Massachusetts State Police headquarters and a professional office building off Route 62 in Danvers–which was then Salem Village, where it all began. The site of the cemetery is so Danvers, which quietly and respectfully acknowledges its role in the Witch Trials, in sharp contrast to SCREAMING Salem Town, the Witch City.


Ann Putnam 063

Ann Putnam 076



Dancing Witches, Disciplined

Everything is seasonal, and for those of us that live in Salem the Witching Season begins on October 1st. You can feel everyone getting ready, getting on guard, as our city turns into Witch City. Tomorrow night is the grand Haunted Happenings parade, sponsored by the Salem Chamber of Commerce, of course. The carnivalesque atmosphere is apparently good for business, so we’re all supposed to forget that we are trading on a tragedy. I can never do that, so I’m kind of annoying to be around in October: this is my fair warning for new readers not yet exposed to my October rants. Despite the fact that I disdain absolutely everything about Halloween in Salem, I do like all the other seasons, and I also have an intellectual interest in the creation of Witch City, which definitely took some time–at least a century, maybe more. I’ve explored many of the contributing ingredients here before (including witch spoons, German witches, witch postcards, witch plates, and the Witch House), but there is a lot more that can be added to the mix. Casting witches in a celebratory environment is really nothing new: in the late medieval and the early modern periods they were stereotypically depicted in a hedonistic way: partying and dancing and whirling in wild abandon. One of the most graphic texts on early modern witchcraft, Francesco Maria Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum (1608) presents dancing as a key ritual of demonic homage, as do many other contemporary texts. Witches dance with the Devil.

Witch Dance Guazzo

Witches Dance 1720 Wellcome Library

Guazzo, Compendium Maleficarum, 1608; Wellcome Library woodcut illustration, 1720.

Most people stopped believing in witchcraft in the nineteenth century but yet still witches danced, in more of an entertaining (as opposed to threatening) way. The best example of the “romantic” dancing witch is of course Niccolò Paganini’s Le streghe (‘Witches’ Dance’), composed about 1813. The subject matter, combine with  Paganini’s seemingly “unnatural” skills on stage, created another variation on the Dance with the Devil:  perhaps his virtuosity was the result of a Faustian pact!  When the Witches’ Dance was published in the middle of the century, Paganini actually assumes the traditional position of the Devil on several sheet music covers. The popularity of Paganini and his Witches’ Dance inspired many variations on the theme, musical and otherwise, including one by Salem’s famed band leader, Jean Marie Missud (1852-1941), the (very) long-time director of the Salem Cadet Band: March of the Salem Witches (1896).  Appropriately for Salem, which by that time had marshaled witchcraft as a marketing tool, and for the March’s commissioner, the Winslow Lewis Commandery, Knights Templar, Salem witches marched rather than danced to this particular tune.

Witch Dance Paganini

Witch Dance Paganini 2

Witch Dance 1909

Salem Witches

Witches March Music JMM

The Celebrated Witches’ Dance transcribed for the Piana Forte by Wm. Vincent Wallace, William Hall and Son, New York, 1852, Library of Congress; J. DeLancey, Witches’ Dance. Grand Galop de Concert, 1909, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Jean M. Missud, “March of the Salem Witches” Sheet Music, Journal of Antiques and Collectibles and Digital Library of America.



Holy Horseshoes

The Anglo-Saxon Saint Dunstan (909-988) has been much on my mind lately, even though his Feast Day (May 19) is months away. He has popped up in both of my classes coincidentally and then I rediscovered the most charming little book that focuses on his most enduring claim to fame: the horseshoe as protective talisman. Dunstan was the most popular early medieval saint in England by far and many things contributed to his legend and popularity. In his time, Dunstan served in every high-ranking position within the English church: Bishop of London and Worcester, Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was a dedicated servant of the Church but also an adviser to Kings–this dual role was not quite perceived as a conflict of interest at this time, but it provoked envy on more than one occasion. Dunstan clearly had the political skills to mentor princes and effect an ambitious program of monastic reform, but he was also skilled in the arts and crafts: whenever he retreated from the world to Glastonbury (where he was brought up), he kept busy in humble solitude, as a scribe, a painter, an instrument-maker, a silversmith, and even a blacksmith. It was during these times that Dunstan’s legend was crafted through duels with the Devil–who tried to tempt him on more than one occasion. Dunstan defeated the Devil not with words but with tools: when the Devil (disguised as a beautiful woman) tried to lure him away from his forge while he was working (piously) one day, Dunstan waited until his tongs were red hot and then seized the Devil by the nose, and when the Devil appeared as a weary traveler in need of hospitality and a new shoe for his horse, Dunstan duly nailed the shoe to the hoof not of the horse but of Satan. Before he removed the nails, which were causing the Devil considerable pain, Dunstan made him promise that he would never enter a house where a horseshoe was displayed above the door, and with one stroke of the Devil’s pen a utilitarian object was transformed into a talisman. Talk about muscular Christianity!

Dunstan 1

Dunstan harp


Dunstan shoe

Dunstan 5

Dunstan last arms

HOrseshoe p 22

Centuries later, with more whimsy than reverence, Edward Flight and George Cruikshank presented the story of St. Dunstan, the Devil, and the lucky horse-shoe in The True Legend Of St Dunstan And The Devil; Showing How The Horse-Shoe Came to Be A Charm Against Witchcraft by Edward G. Flight with eight woodcut illustrations by George Cruikshank, engraved by J. Thompson, London, 1871. And here I see that my own horseshoe is pointed in the wrong direction!

Eight Firebrands

September 22, 1692 was an unfortunate verification of that trite proverb that it is always darkest before the dawn: it marked the worst day of the Salem Witch Trials and the beginning of their end. Eight victims were executed that day: Ann Pudeator and Alice Parker of Salem, Martha Corey of Salem Farms (Peabody), Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker of Andover, Wilmot Redd of Marblehead, Margaret Scott of Rowley, and Mary Easty of Topsfield. Theirs were the last executions: Massachusetts Governor William Phips dissolved his specially-commissioned Court of Oyer and Terminer a month later as both the hysteria and confidence in its procedures had dissipated. But on September 22 the Devil was still very much present in Salem: in More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700), Robert Calef reports that the cart, going to the hill with these eight to execution, was for some time at a set; the afflicted and others said that the devil hindered it, etc. and just after the executions, the Reverend Nicholas Noyes of Salem remarked that “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there!”

PicMonkey Collage

Illustrations from Winfield S. Nevins, “Stories of Salem Witchcraft,” The New England Magazine Volume 5 (1892).

It has always seemed to me that the Reverend Noyes, who was associate pastor of the First Church in Salem Town, has escaped indictment for his rather involved role in the Trials. Of the participating pastors, Samuel Parris and Cotton Mather seem to get a lot more blame and attention, but Noyes seems to have been an eager attendant. Earlier in 1692 he had tangled with Sarah Good during her trial, calling on her to confess to witchcraft and prompting her famous reply that  I am no more a Witch than you are a Wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink, a curse that was later incorporated into Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables in varied form. Noyes called Martha Corey’s witchcraft “apparent” and went after Alice Parker with zeal. Later in life Noyes (who is always described as a rather corpulent bachelor) apologized and repented for his involvement, which might have gotten him off the hook–but at least Frank Cousins refers to him as “rabid”.

September 22 is my own personal day of reflection and remembrance for the victims of 1692: typically I read some of their testimonies, wander over to the Witch Trials Memorial, and then up to Gallows Hill–a vaguely-located place then and now. The downtown Witch Trials Memorial, designed by Maggie Smith and James Cutler and installed for the Tercentenary of the Trials in 1992, is wonderful in every way, but even at this time of year, just before Witch City shifts into high gear, it feels encroached-upon to me: a little island of propriety in a sea of vulgarity. So I like to go up to Gallows Hill–or hills. We know that the victims of 1692 were hung somewhere up there (see Calef’s first quote above), but not precisely where, which I think is a good thing. An elevated area along the western border of Salem, the Gallows Hill area features rocky ledges, rather barren soil, and woods interspersed among older houses and a 1970s residential development named “Witchcraft Heights”. The site where the victims were executed was thought to be the most elevated spot, in what is now Gallows Hill Park, in the nineteenth century, but the research of Sidney Perley in the early twentieth seems to have shifted the location to a smaller copse of ledge and trees down below–a rather forlorn lot behind a Walgreen’s parking lot–nearly the same location where the Great Salem Fire began a century ago. Both locations–the park above and the copse below–are actually rather forlorn and very still, so they are nice places in which to reflect and remember with little danger of encountering a fried-dough-eating sexy witch.

Worlst Day Scribners Popular History

Worst Day 013

Worst Day 019

Witch Plat

Witches’ Hill, encompassing Gallows Hill, Salem, including the Park above and the “Gallows Plat”, below, behind the Walgreen’s parking lot on Boston and Proctor Streets. Illustrations from Scribner’s Popular History of the United States, William Cullen Bryant, et. al., 1892, and Sidney Perley’s article “Where the Witches were Hanged”, Essex Institute Historical Collections 57 (January 1921).




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,255 other followers

%d bloggers like this: