Tag Archives: Salem witch trials

A Week to Remember

It’s a rare week in Salem that the Witch Trials are the focus of commemoration rather than commerce, and this week is just such a time: the combination of the 325th anniversary of 1692 and the completion of the new memorial marking the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge is creating a perfect storm of remembrance. Maybe I’m a bit more focused on it than the average person because I’m also teaching a graduate institute on early modern witch-hunting all week and moderating a panel on Proctor’s Ledge on Thursday, but I think many people in Salem and its environs will be thinking about the victims of 1692 this particular week. I find the timing very poignant: we had our 325th anniversary symposium on June 10, the date of the execution of the first victim, Bridget Bishop, but on July 19 the Trials intensified with the execution of five women: Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes. Even though more executions were to follow in August and September, July 19 was also a turning point in the village consciousness: if such a venerable and pious woman as Rebecca Nurse could fall prey to accusations of witchcraft, then surely anyone could. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll of Salem will dedicate the Proctor’s Ledge memorial on Wednesday the 19th at noon, the Danvers Alarm List Company, the stewards of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, are hosting a commemorative event that evening, and Governor Charlie Baker has proclaimed the 19th Rebecca Nurse Day.

Week 5 Hill

Week Rebecca Nurse

I went by the new memorial this morning, a glorious Sunday, as I wanted to spend some contemplative time there—it’s a small neighborhood site so I’m sure Wednesday will be a bit more busy. I’m so grateful to both the city and the neighborhood for making this memorial happen, as well as to the Proctor’s Ledge team of historians and geologists and interpreters who were not going to be satisfied with a generic “Gallows Hill” (earlier “Witch Hill”) execution site. Gallows Hill remains a neighborhood, however, and I sure there are those who live there who fear that their community will be overwhelmed by the witch-trial tourism that overruns the city in the fall and has transformed the downtown tricentennial Witch Trial Memorial into some less than sacred space. I hope that doesn’t happen too. I find the two memorials to be very complementary; if fact, when I was looking at the new one this morning I kept thinking about downtown, especially with reference to a poem about the latter by Nicole Cooley, from her 2004 volume of poetry inspired by the victims–and resonance–of 1692, The Afflicted Girls.

Week Text

Week Text 2

The absence she speaks of seems somehow less present at Proctor’s Ledge (if absence can be less present).

Week Memorial

Week Memorial 2

Week Worst Day

The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial in Salem, to be dedicated on July 19, 2017.


Heated July

I’ve got a lot going on for the rest of this month, so I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to post, except for the easy stuff maybe: gardens and cats, the occasional door. No long historical or architectural ramblings for a while; instead I’ve got to focus on the events and offerings of a new initiative of my university: Summer at Salem State, which encompasses both academic institutes and community events on successive Thursdays in July, all tied to the common theme of social justice in recognition of the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. Here’s the poster for the community events, all of which are going to be held at the Salem Maritime Visitor Center in downtown Salem and are free and open to the public.

Summer at Salem State Community Events - All_PRINT1

The first event, coming up this Thursday, features Salem native and documentary filmmaker Joe Cultrera and Boston Globe Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendes, is focused on the sexual abuse crisis within the Archdiocese of Boston in particular and the process of “uncovering truths” in general. I first met Mr. Cultrera years ago when my department sponsored a screening of his documentary Witch City, about the intensification of witchcraft tourism in Salem coincidentally with the 1992 tercentenary of the trials, and I can testify that he is very adept at uncovering truths. Witch City captured some of the most telling quotes from the two people with the most vested interests in a witchy Salem, Official Witch Laurie Cabot, who claims that the victims of 1692 “died for our freedom”, and Salem Witch Museum owner Biff Michaud, who has quite a lot to say in the film: the witch trials are “the sizzle of the city….I don’t think that we commercialize it at all. We give the people what they want. The witchcraft hysteria of 1692 is no different than the Holocaust in 1942. Is it more important to lose 19 of those lives on Gallows Hill than 6 million in Europe? In any case, they’re dead”.  I’m really looking forward to more uncovered truths in Cultrera’s film Hand of God, which will be screened prior to the discussion between the filmmaker and reporter Rezendes, who knows quite a bit about the particular subject matter and the general quest, obviously.

spotlight-ruffalo-rezendesBoston Globe investigative reporter Michael Rezendes and Mark Ruffalo, who played him in the Academy Award-winning best picture for 2016, Spotlight.

Next week is all about witches, or should I say those who were accused of practicing witchcraft, and died after their conviction, and are therefore forever identified as witches. I’m teaching a one-week intensive institute on “Witchcraft in the Atlantic World”, which I’m hoping will emphasize the connected and comparative histories of witch-hunting on both sides of the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Too often the historiography is separate, so I consider this a rather daunting task, especially in the all-day, one-week format. Thank goodness I have some great texts (we’re going to focus on primary sources in general and trial testimony in particular) and help from my friends, particularly Emerson Baker, author of The Storm of Witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience. Dr. Baker is one of the members of the team that verified the Proctor’s Ledge site (below Gallows Hill–long called “Witch Hill” in Salem) as the location of the execution of the victims of 1692, and the dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial is happening on Wednesday the 19th, followed by our second “Thursdays in July” event on July 20th featuring a panel on the process of verification and memorialization. What a week!

Witchcraft

Proctor's Ledge collage

Our last community event, on July 27, focuses on contemporary wrongful convictions. A screening of the film The Exonerated will be followed by a discussion between journalist and Salem Award recipient Anne Driscoll and Sunny Jacobs and Pete Pringle, both of whom were wrongly accused and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and exonerated, later to meet and marry. Theirs is an incredible story, with (again) very particular, personal, and universal resonance.

Exoneration Witchcraft 1711An Act to Reverse the Attainders of George Burroughs and Others For Witchcraft. Regni Annae Reginae Decimo. Boston: B. Green, 1713. Printed Emphemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Appendix:  One more event! The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is commemorating the 325th anniversary of her execution on July 19th at 6:30 pm: http://www.rebeccanurse.org/.

 

 

 


Forward and Back, Present and Past

It was an interesting weekend in Salem, full of events, exuberance and achievements, as well as a bit of contradiction, from my perspective. Salem’s Trials, the symposium that my department organized in collaboration with the Essex National Heritage Area and Salem Award Foundation for the 325th anniversary of the Trials, was on Saturday and then the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary was on Sunday: I came away happy and optimistic from the first event, convinced we had remembered and honored the victims of 1692 in the best possible way, and a bit confused by the second. It was certainly festive and forward-looking, focused on an array of six-word memoirs on the theme of inclusion as well as the recognition of two (extraordinary!) “rising leaders” newly-graduated from Salem High School and Salem Academy, but also on the contributions of the owner of the Salem Witch Museum–who happens to be a major beneficiary of the cumulative tragedy that is the Salem Witch Trials. One day I was sitting on a panel titled “The Making of Witch City” (filmed by C-Span) in which we discussed the unfortunate exploitation of the “witches” of Salem, the next I was observing a very public expression of gratitude offered up to the driver of Haunted Happenings! It was a bit surreal for me but I think I was the only one: one savvy Salem insider observed that he pays for shit in response to my bewilderment. Ah well, the memoirs did look lovely, shimmering in the sun on a beautiful, breezy day.

Salem's Trials SAF

Salem's Trials Memoirs

Salem's Trials Memoirs 2

Like everything, it’s about perspective: ultimately the Salem Award Foundation, whose full name is the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice, is more focused on the present than the past and needs the resources, network, and flexibility to achieve its goals and mission: I have the luxury of being able to remain laser-focused on the past and the victims. That’s just what we did on Saturday morning, but in the afternoon we shifted to a more layered discussion of how these victims have been remembered, driven as much by the symposium attendees (including several descendants of victims of 1682 who recorded their “testimonies”) as presenters. The keynote address by geographer Ken Foote, “Salem Witchcraft in Landscape and Memory”, was particularly resonant for me. Dr. Foote laid out the full spectrum of “marking” sites of tragedy, from sanctification to obliteration, and viewed Salem in this context. He noted that when he first came to Salem in 1984, no one could really tell him where the victims of 1692 were executed, and now there is not only the 1992 tricentennial Witch Trials Memorial but a new memorial on the site of the recently-confirmed execution site at Proctor’s Ledge (now scheduled to be dedicated on July 19). As I was listening to him, the question that kept running through my mind was: what if the sacredness of a site is challenged–or not even recognized? as that seems to be what happens to the downtown Witch Trials Memorial every October when Haunted Happenings is in full swing and it is transformed into a convenient place to eat fried dough. It seems like contradictory commemoration will remain in force in Salem until the sanctification of that site can be realized, and I don’t know if that will (can) ever happen.

Salem's Trials BB

Salem's Trials Tad

Salem's Trials Foote Just one weekend in Salem: The Salem Award Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Celebration and Salem’s Trials Symposium. Below, the Witch Trials Memorial off Charter Street, yesterday: for much less contemplative times, click here.

Salem's Trials Memorial


Memorial Trees

I’ve been thinking a lot about memorialization lately: the process and purpose, as well as its vehicles. Like most historians, I’ve always found public/collective memory fascinating (mostly in terms of what is remembered and what is not) but I think the combination of the pulling down of Confederate statues and our upcoming symposium on the Salem Witch Trials as well as the imminent dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge memorial site to its victims has shifted my interest into overdrive at this moment. Given my penchant for the built landscape, it should be no surprise that my favorite (this word seems odd in this context) memorials are artistic and architectural: images of the Korean War Memorial in Washington and the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” ceramic poppies installation at the The Tower of London in 2014 are forever etched in my mind. But last year, there was an even more moving memorial in Britain which piqued my interest in “living” memorials: the “we’re here because we’re here” commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 2016, during which thousands of volunteers played the part of “ghost soldiers” in remembrance of the 19,240 men killed on just that first day of the battle.

Memorial‘we are here because we are here’, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Topher McGrilli.

The Great War inspired (again, the word seems wrong) all sorts of memorialization on this side of the Atlantic, primarily in its immediate aftermath and into the 1920s. I don’t see Americans yearning for a poignant remembrance of the doughboys now, but maybe next year? In any case, one of the most national initiatives of remembrance following World War I was the planting of trees, another form of “living” memorial. Across the United States, from 1918 over the next decade or so, communities planted trees in memoriam of their lost loved ones. This was not a spontaneous movement, but rather one that was vigorously encouraged by the American Forestry Association, which asserted that the The Memorial Tree, “the tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray”, has become the tribute of the people of the nation to those who offered their lives to their country in the Great War for Civilization” and placed the article below in a parade of papers in January 1919.

Trees Memorial

Maybe there was some spontaneity in this campaign, or at the very least it catered to ingrained instincts; trees had long been symbols of personal mourning in American culture—think of Andrew Jackson’s White House magnolias, planted for his beloved wife Rachel, and all those weeping willow samplers. But I think World War I marks a moment when tree memorials became something more collective and more public. In Europe, trees had been utilized as memorials of collective achievement, not loss: the French were so inspired by Boston’s Liberty Tree (later stump) that they planted their own, “perpetuating the memory of Liberty” in 1789.

Tree Englands Deliverance

Tree of Liberty 1789England’s Memorial of the Glorious Revolution, or of ” its Wonderfull deliverance, from French tirany and Popish oppression. Performed Through Allmighty Gods infinite goodness and Mercy By His Highness, William Henry of Nassau The High & Mighty Prince of Orange 1688′, British Museum; The French Liberty Tree, Lesueur Brothers, (18th century); French. Medium: gouache on paper. Date: 18th Century. Perpetuating the memory of Liberty; plantation d’un arbre de la liberte; Provenance: Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France / Giraudon. 

And back across the Atlantic we go, a century and more later. President Warren G. Harding responded to the Memorial Tree campaign with a statement in May of 1919, in which he offered his approval and encouragement (“I can hardly think of a more fitting testimonial of our gratitude and affection than this”) and noted that these plantings were “one of the useful and beautiful ideas which our soldiers brought back from France. The splendid avenues of France have been among the great delights and attractions to travelers there, and a similar development would equally add to the beauty and attraction of our country”. And so it began: judging by the photographs at the Library of Congress, Mrs. Harding (Florence) spent a lot of time planting trees, as did both Coolidges after her.

Tree Planting 1924 Boy Scouts LC

Tree Planting Mrs. Harding 1921

Tree Planting 1923 Mrs Harding LOC

Tree Planting Coolidge 1922

Tree Planting Mrs. Coolidge 1929Memorial Tree planting, 1919-1920: Boy Scouts, Mrs. Harding (2), President Coolidge, Mrs. Coolidge and Girl Scouts, Library of Congress.

As you can see very clearly in the Calvin Coolidge photograph, memorial trees were supposed to be registered with the American Forestry Association and have tags attached, but this didn’t happen everywhere and all the time: consequently there are memorial trees out there–“silent sentinels” in the words of the National Park Service–which are not recognized as memorials. Maybe someone remembers when they look at one of these tag-less trees, but a family memory does not a monument make!

Memorial Tree Badge LC American Forestry Association tree badge, Library of Congress.

I don’t know if any World War I memorial trees were planted here in Salem, but both memorials to the victims of 1692, the tercentenary memorial downtown and the soon-to-be-dedicated (I think July 19?) Proctor’s Ledge Memorial feature trees as integral features of their design and symbolism: black locust trees (on which the accused witches were purportedly hanged) for the tercentenary memorial and a single oak tree at Proctor’s Ledge. These trees are marked and will not be forgotten–nor will those they represent.

Memorial Tree collageThe Salem Witch Trials Memorial off Charter Street in downtown Salem, and the design for the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture.


Salem’s Trials

The registration for the one-day symposium organized in recognition of the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials is now open: Salem’s Trials: Lessons and Legacy of 1692 is co-sponsored by the SSU History Department, the Essex National Heritage Area, and the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice , and will be held on June 10 (the execution date of the Trials’ first victim, Bridget Bishop) at Marsh Hall on the campus of Salem State University. All are welcome: we are hoping that the symposium will be both academic and accessible, introductory and interactive.

Salem's Trials Poster_04_17 Border

We’ve been fine-tuning the program for quite a while, and I think it now has the perfect balance of perspective, time, and place. I don’t want to speak for all of my committee members, but to me the title of the symposium, Salem’s Trials, refers not only to the Trials of 1692 but also to their continuing legacy: Salem seems to want to replay this event over and over and over again, for redemption and for profit. We will have a trio of Salem experts on hand, including my colleague Tad Baker, Margo Burns, and Marilynne K. Roach, as well as people with expertise in other areas and  disciplines to broaden the cultural context of 1692. There will be a panel on teaching the trials led by my colleague Brad Austin featuring area educators, and another colleague, Andrew Darien, will be enabling descendants to record their oral testimonies (I think descendants of “perpetrators” too, although we should use another word—accusers is better). Because the symposium is happening close to the dedication of the Proctor’s Ledge memorial, the recently-verified site of the executions, we really wanted to focus on space almost as much as time, and consequently we chose a geographer to give our keynote: Kenneth Foote, the author of Shadowed Ground. America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy. 

Shadowed Ground

There will also be a plenary panel on “The Making of Witch City” which we envisioned as historical but will likely veer into the present with audience participation. It seems like the present always bears on the past in any consideration of the Salem Witch Trials, a tendency that was definitely cemented by the observances of its last big anniversary, the Tercentenary of 1992. That year, Arthur Miller and Elie Wiesel were present at the dedication of the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial, and the very first Salem Award was given to actor Gregory Allan Williams, who rescued a victim of mob violence in the midst of the “Rodney King” race riots in Los Angeles. All week long, I’ve been hearing anniversary reflections on these riots on the radio, and just last night the Salem Award Foundation awarded a new commendation, the Salem Advocate for Social Justice Award, to musician-activist John Legend at a packed event at Salem State University. Everything comes around again.

Salem Witch Trial Memorial

The 1992 Memorial off Charter Street by artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler, courtesy Cutler Anderson Architects.


The Spring of Presentism and the Salem Witch Trials

My department has been co-sponsoring topical symposia for the past few years, first on the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and last year on northern slavery. These are day-long events, very much open to a very participatory public. This year, we are focusing on the Salem Witch Trials, in recognition and commemoration of its 325th anniversary, as well as the imminent dedication of the Proctor’s Ledge execution site. The Trials are a rather intimidating topic to take on, especially as we are attempting to focus not only on the well-established narrative of events but also on their comprehensive impact on Salem’s own history and identity: time and place. The symposium, entitled Salem’s Trials: Lessons and Legacy of 1692, is jointly sponsored with the Salem Award Foundation and the Essex National Heritage Area, and will be held on June 10: the registration will be live in a few weeks and I’ll post a link here.

Salem's Trials Card Cover Mockup Framed

The symposium committee has been meeting for a year and I think we have a great program: presentations and panels on the trials themselves, teaching the trials (a key challenge for educators in our region), some European comparisons and context, a panel on the making of Witch City, an opportunity for descendants of the victims to record their “testimonies”, the attendant expertise of Salem experts Emerson Baker, Margo Burns and Marilynne K. Roach, and a keynote address by Dr. Kenneth Foote of the University of Connecticut, author of Shadowed Ground. America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy. It’s rather late in the game to add anything, but I keep thinking we’re missing something, something about the dreaded “pit of presentism” into which the discourse of 1692 always seems to fall. I suspect presentism will pop up in several places, however, and most definitely in the discussion on the development of the “Witch City” identity.  We had hoped to keep this discussion centered on a relatively distant past–the 1890s in particular–when you start seeing witches on everything coincidentally with the 200th anniversary of the Trials–but I’m realizing that we can’t stop there: we must proceed to the 1950s, when the solid foundation of witchcraft–presentism was laid with the sequential publication of Marian Starkey’s The Devil in Massachusetts. A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials (1949) and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953). From that point on, psychological diagnoses, allegories, and moral judgements flow, and flourish. The 1890s Witch City projections are coming from inside Salem, and are strictly commercial, taking the form of logos and trinkets for the most part, but the 1950s projections are external and national, even international, derived from the massive popular reception of Starkey’s and Miller’s works–and all the publicity they both received. Just look at this lavish spread of photographs by Nina Leen taken for a feature article on The Devil in Massachusetts in the September 26, 1949 issue of Life magazine: Starkey with her cat and wandering around Gallows Hill, “the girls”, a Putnam descendant posing, the newly-restored Witch House. Salem as set piece.

Starkey 5

Starkey Gallows Hill

Starkey collage

Starkey 3

Starkey 10 Photographs by Nina Leen taken on August 8, 1949 for the September 26 issue of Life magazine, ©Time, Inc.

And onto this set strode Arthur Miller (who strangely does not credit Starkey), inspired to write the play that is continuously on stage and in print and is as much or more about his time as their time. The past as present for all time, it seems.


The Surgeon who communed with Spirits

One of the academic projects that I’m working on concerns English physicians who rendered judgements on witchcraft cases in the seventeenth century: some were skeptical but others were not, and the latter group often had to engage in intellectual contortions in order to justify their beliefs. One physician who didn’t have a problem with proclaiming that he believed in spirits and witchcraft was John Beaumont, a Somerset surgeon (and geologist) who wrote an amazing treatise entitled An Historical, Physiological, and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Witchcrafts, and other Magical Practices, which was first published in 1705. Beaumont is among the last of these men of “science” who gave credence to supernatural agency: this is the Age of Newton after all! But he is steadfast in his beliefs, and determined to contradict those who deny the presence and power of spirits, whether good or evil. An edition of the Beaumont’s book came up for auction the other day and I thought I might bid on it, but then quickly dismissed the notion (it fetched a bit over $1000, and is also available for three times that here). Nevertheless, Beaumont was on my mind, so I thought I would delve into his, again.

beaumont-cover

Beaumont’s methodology is interesting. In typical early modern fashion, he quotes a lot of classical “authorities”, as well as testimony from key seventeenth-century trials. All of this he presents as sensory evidence: “proving” the existence of spirits through their perception by four of the five senses (apparently it is impossible to taste one). His personal experience with spirits–which he calls genii–really singles him out among other authors in this genre, however: he seems to delight in giving us every little detail of these “extraordinary visitations”. We get a physical description of the genii, what they were wearing, what they conveyed, what their names were. Beaumont is also an exhaustive reader, consulting every possible source to examine how spirits might be accessed through dreams and ritual magic as well as the senses.

beaumont-collage

Beaumont is also interesting because he considers the Salem trials at length, consulting all the authorities who are not as authoritative in 1705 as they were in 1692. Ultimately it’s all about his own authority, however, his own “empirical” evidence:  I am convinced by my own Experience (which to me is as a Thousand Witnesses) that there is such a thing, as Spectre-Sight, so that one Person may see Spectres, when others present at the same time see nothing; wherefore I think it is not Impossible that the afflicted Persons in New England should see; nay, I believe they saw the Spectres of Persons, who as they conceived, Tormented them……Well there you are, even though spectral evidence had been condemned widely in both England and New England over the past decade, Beaumont remained a true believer in 1705.

beaumont-genii

Frontispiece by Michael Van Der Gucht.


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