Witch City: the Paper Trail

Throughout the (almost) year that I’ve been writing this blog, a consistent topic and theme has been Salem’s transformation into “Witch City”, either through private marketing efforts like Daniel Low’s “witch spoons” and Frank Cousins’ branded products and photographs, or through public campaigns like the city’s official schedule of  “Haunted Happenings”.  We’ve seen it all:  from witch creams to witch plates.  It seems like an appropriate time to showcase the “Salem Witch” postcards that must have blanketed the nation throughout the twentieth century, even though these postcards are not selling Halloween, they’re selling Salem.  As time went on, however, the two things became increasingly connected (and now it seems like they’re inseparable!)

I’m relying on the Salem vintage postcard seller Iconic Postcards for this first postcard because I do not possess it and I think it really encapsulates the early “Witch City” message.  It’s not from Germany, but from local publisher W.B. Porter.

The “ye olde” language is utilized in the first of a succession of more standardized witch images, as if to capitalize on both Salem’s colonial and witchcraft associations.  And while the language changes over the decades, from the turn of the century to the 1930s, the image remains the same.  This is basic branding.

And now from the other direction……… two witches from Germany, including an interesting “stamp witch”, and one published by G.W. Whipple of Salem.

These are the standard “Salem witch” postcards, but of course there were lots of other paper witches in circulation, in the first half of the twentieth century and beyond.  Here are some of my favorites, beginning with two “adaptations” forwarded to me by local historian Nelson Dionne.  The first pair is the famous painting The Witch of Haarlem by Frans Hals, recast as the “Witch of Salem” (which strikes me as a very brazen move!), while the second shows one of illustrator Frances Brundage’s most famous Halloween cards adapted (rather sloppily) for Salem. Finally we have a rare 1908 German card showing several Salem witches, and a (relatively) recent card marking the worst day (September 22, 1692) in the history of the Salem Witch Trials.

Frans Hals, Malle Babbe, the "Witch of Haarlem", c. 1630

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