Salem Museum Gives In, Exhibits 1692 Witch-Trial Materials

Samuel Sewall, a witch trial judge, painted by John Smibert (Peabody Essex Museum).

In 2017, Donna Seger, a history professor at Salem State University (Massachusetts) wrote an open letter to the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum, a big, rich institution in downtown Salem that along with being a major art museum, controls (and usually hides) the town’s historical archives.

Her letter stated,

Please reconsider your decision to remove Salem’s historical archives from Salem.

I consider the Peabody Essex Museum to be an extraordinary asset to our city, fostering engagement, awareness, and edification. Furthermore, I understand that in order for it to flourish, it had to become greater than the sum of its two parts: the former Peabody Museum and Essex Institute. Yet those two institutions, the products of the fruits and labors of generations of Salem residents, created a foundation on which the PEM was built: a strong foundation that is acknowledged in the museum’s mission statement, which asserts its 1799 foundation and status as “America’s oldest continuously operating museum”. There are no explicit references to history in this statement, but it is implicit everywhere, especially in the aim to transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. A key path towards self-knowledge and knowledge in general is historical understanding, which is grounded in historical archives full of people as well as papers.

Shortly before that, the travel writer J. W. Ocker[1]Say it with a long O, like “oak-er” wrote in his highly entertaining book A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusettsthat the Peabody Essex, “the oldest continually operating museum in America,” was well, sort of embarassed by its local-history collection, including the surviving documents from the 1692 witch trials.

“We don’t talk about Salem, we talk about the world,” the PEM’s chief marketing officer told Ocker. “The October [witchy] crowd, they don’t go to art museums.[2]I think that M. and I proved him wrong, although admittedly we did not visit in October. . . . . We are a museum of art and culture, not a museum of social history.”[3]J. W. Ocker, i Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (New York: The Countryman Press, 2016), 78–79.

Somoone must have suffered a change of mind though, because the Peabody Essex is offering a new exhibit through April 4: “The Salem Witch Trials, 1692.

Follow the links there and you will find more, such as a podcast on the trials’ legacy.

Join [Dinah Cardin] and Chip Van Dyke, your hosts of the PEMcast, as we go beyond the often-told story of the Salem witch trials to give you a deeper understanding of what happened. We’ll explore what life was truly like in a 17th-century home, go to key sites around the city and even find ourselves on a hilltop in Maine. A selection of the largest collection of Salem witch trial documents goes on view at PEM on September 26, with the opening of The Salem Witch Trials 1692. Visitors can also see, from PEM’s collection, possessions related to the judges, and the 25 innocent people tragically died.

Watch it if you can’t visit the exhibit, and be glad that perhaps peace has been made between the high art-focused museum leadership and the events three hundred twenty-eight years ago that remain spirituall potent today.

Notes

1 Say it with a long O, like “oak-er”
2 I think that M. and I proved him wrong, although admittedly we did not visit in October.
3 J. W. Ocker, i Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (New York: The Countryman Press, 2016), 78–79.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

Candace Aguilera trained in Guatemala’s jungle (Colorado Springs Independent).

“Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1” here.

Continuing . . .

• One more “high” priestess joke, and you’re out of here. From the Colorado Springs Independent, the weekly that gets all the cannabis advertising because the chain-owned daily paper won’t touch it: “Meet Colorado’s High Priestess of Cannabis.” Yes, it’s that favorite form of American creativity: Let’s start a church!

• The Catholic News Agency views the number of self-proclaimed witches with alarm: “Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise.” With video.

• If you dare . . . “Go inside a Wiccan ceremony.” Also with video. Fairly mild sauce, actually.

• It’s the Guardian again: “The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co [sic] are casting their spell over TV.”  “Diverse, digitally savvy and definitely feminist” — yes, that’s all it takes to be a media witch.

• And on public [sic] radio, “When you hear the word ‘witch,’ what does your mind conjure?” Damn, that’s clever writing. This time it’s the 1A show: “Hex in Effect: Why Witches are Back.” (Were we gone? Did I miss that memo?) A teaser for the radio show, which you can listen to if you have unlimited earbuds time.

• On Halloween, Vox.com covered the Sephora witch-kit kerfuffle, which is already old news. “The occult is having a moment. Companies want in, but not if witches can help it.” So much is wrong with this. Is there something measurable called “the occult”?  Sigh. I wanted to list everything Vox gets wrong, I would need a bigger blog. At least The Onion tells you that it is non-serious. Anyway, this one is over.

Maja, photographed by Frances Denny of Brooklyn. Denny is descended from a Salem witch-trial judge of 1692. That qualified her to “explore what it means to be a witch today.”(Daily Mail).

• Ah, those millennials. Now they are “ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.” I could be snarky and say, “Hey, the Seventies called and they want their headlines back.” Or I could say that this is something that is always going on. Decades. Centuries.

The Daily Mail just goes for the photo shoot. If you don’t look like these “actresses, authors, and a technician,”  are you a real witch?

At least the photographer was inspired by a a worthwhile book, Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692. (What does it say that the Daily Mail cannot even get a book title right?)

Link fixed — sorry.

Don’t go away. There will be more. And guess what is missing from almost all of these articles.

Sherlock Meets Poe? Sherlock Meets Lovecraft?

I am reading one of the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child “Agent Prendergast” mysteries right now ,Crimson Shore.

Pendergast is a New Orleans-raised rich eccentric (New York mansion, manservant) with a twenty-something assistant/ward, Constance, possessed of “an old-fashioned beauty.” He has FBI credentials, but apparently answers to no one in the J. Edgar Hoover Building on a regular basis, instead taking cases that engage him intellectually.

Crimson Shore is set in a lonely, decayed Massachusetts fishing village [1]Are there really any un-gentrified ports left? and the plot involves events in Salem in 1692. And someone once was walled up in a wine cellar and left to die — there is your Edgar Allen Poe reference, as the characters make clear. Lovecraft? How about a reference to the Necronomicon delivered with a literary elbow to the ribs? Also mysterious creatures in the salt marshes.

So is that more like the Murder, She Wrote TV series meets Poe, etc? A little toward the “cozy” end of the spectrum as opposed to the hard-boiled “police procedural” end?

“What I would like you to do, Constance, is to go to Salem tomorrow morning. I understand there are many attractions, including a ‘Witch house,’ a ‘Witch Dungeon Museum,’ and the famous Witch Trials Memorial, not to mention the ‘Witch City Segway Tour.'”

“Segway Tour? Surely you’re joking.”

“More to the point, Salem is also home to the Integrated Wiccan Alliance.” He passed her a card. “A certain Tiffani Brooks, also known as Shadow Raven, is head of the league and the leader of a coven there.

Constance took the card. “Wicca? White magic? And what am I supposed to find out?”

But then it gets considerably weirder. Still, after all my Salem-related posts earlier this yea, there is room for more!

Notes

1 Are there really any un-gentrified ports left?

Salem—It’s an International Brand

Photo from the Salem Witch Store & Coffee page on Facebook.

On August 3, 2018 Jason Mankey posted his list of the “25 Most Influential Living Pagans” on his blog—a good list, but slanted toward the English-speaking world (the “Anglosphere”).

On August 10, Jaime Girónes responded at The Wild Hunt with “The 15 Most Influential Pagans in México.”

I read it with interest, but I broke into laughter at his mention of Casa Salem Witch Store & Coffee.

I wrote all those posts last spring and summer about Salem, and I thought I had said everything I had to say, but I was wrong.

Salem—it’s an international brand for witches. ¡Es la verdad!

John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and all the other victims of 1692 (now numbered among the Mighty Dead, Christians though they were) also gave their lives that there might be specialty coffees in the Colonia Narvarte district of Mexico City.

But turnabout is fair play. As I mentioned, Aztec-style coffee will soon be on sale in Salem, Mass.

Not Everyone in Salem was a Puritan

Just a post-postscript to my earlier series of posts about witchcraft and Salem, Mass.

We tend to phrase the story of the 1690s as Puritans hunting “witches,” and it is true that members of the Puritan churches set the moral tone in most of New England.

Skull of a Scot killed in the battle of Dunbar. He was young, yet his teeth showed wear from smoking a clay pipe (the circled area). (Jeff Veitch, Archaeology magazine.)

But they were not the only colonists. Most came in the “great migration” of the 1620s–1640s, and most were middle-class people or skilled artisans.

And there were lots of indentured servants. Some of the “bewitched” girls fit that category.

Indentured servitude was sort of like slavery with a time limit — after a contracted period of time, say five or more years — the servants were to be given their freedom and a small bonus of money, a set of clothing, or something. In the meantime, they could be bought and sold.

Some came voluntarily. Others were prisoners of war, and some were vagrants, orphans, and street kids rounded up in English ports. One ancestor of mine shows on a ship’s passenger list as an unaccompanied 12-year-old boy, so he probably was already someone’s servant or else the ship’s captain planned to sell him on arrival.

During the Salem witch trials, therefore, there were a significant number of Scots ex-indentured servants in Massachusetts, former POWs (mostly teenagers) from Oliver Cromwell’s campaign against his former Scottish allies during the English Civil War, who were treated terribly after their side lost the battle of Dunbar.

I learned of them when reading about the discovery of a mass grave in English city of Durham, dating to 1650. Now there’s a plaque.

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, was a real piece of work. He probably had more blood on his hands than did any actual English king.

Scottish POWs were sold (there is no other word for it) in New England, where a Puritan minister commented, “The Scots, whom God delivered into [Cromwell’s] hands at Dunbarre, and whereof sundry were sent hither, we have been desirous (as we could) to make their yoke easy. Such as were sick of scurvy or other diseases have not wanted physick and chyrurgery. They have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude, but for 6 or 7 or 8 yeares, as we do our owne [indentured servants] .”

Some lived and prospered, however, becoming respectable citizens, which was the difference between indentured servitude and what Cotton calls “perpetual servitude.”

Church history: the Puritans of the 17th century became the Congregational Church in America, which later helped to form the socially liberal (quite a switch) United Church of Christ—which, is however, declining in membership year by year, as are the other liberal “mainline” Protestant denominations.

The “Salem-Santa Fe” Mystery Solved

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico

A month ago I blogged how astonished M. and I were to see that Kakawa, the Santa Fe-based chocolate house, was about to open a new store in Salem, Mass.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the [Peabody-Essex] museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Now I know. I stopped at Kakawa in Santa Fe yesterday and spoke with Tony Bennett, who owns it together with his wife, Bonnie. This is what they do.

Aztec-style chocolate: cacao, chiles, other spices, flowers.

It turns out that they were invited. It seems the director and certain board members of the Peabody-Essex museum like to come to Santa Fe for the big annual Indian-arts market. (No wonder they have the T. C. Cannon show up.) So they drop in at Kakawa nearby for some chocolate elixir, as one does.

And they decided several years ago that Kakawa would fit right into the commercial building that they own adjacent to the museum. Then their architect died, and there were other complications, but Kakawa is on-track to open in the near future. In addition, Tony said, there would be a Kakawa kiosk inside the museum. Some buenas noticias for Salem.

 

Salem Still Follows Us

My April 25th post said, “The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home.”

That has not stopped. Yesterday I stepped into the Goodwill store in Pueblo, Colorado to buy some of their 99¢ wineglasses for daily use. (Wineglasses break.) This shot glass caught my eye instead.

Trade routes!

Turning Dead Puritans into the Mighty Dead: Redefining Salem

Inscription: John Proctor. Hanged. August 10, 1692. At the 1692-1992 memorial site in Salem — which is not the execution site and not the victims’ burial place.

The last time that I walked through the Salem witch trials memorial adjacent to the Charter Street cemetery, I saw that someone had left a rolled-up paper at John Proctor’s memorial bench.[1]No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another. Was it a petition? An announcement of an upcoming workshop on Tarot reading? Maybe Proctor, a prosperous farmer before he and his wife were accused, would have been interested in a farm-auction flier.

Obviously, I did not pull out the paper and read it. Doing that might have been good journalism but poor manners.  Even though the memorial is not a cemetery, I feel that cemetery etiquette applies. But if it was a missive addressed to Proctor, that could mean that someone now considers him to be among the Mighty Dead.

There lies the paradox. I cannot explain it rationally, and neither could Stacy Schiff in her fine new book The Witches, where she writes,

In a turn of events that would have mystified [accused witch] Ann Foster, it is easy to buy a broomstick in Salem, home to a large Wiccan community. Hotels are booking now for next Halloween.

We have been talking for decades — since Margaret Murray’s time — about reclaiming the word witch from its satanic and evil-doing associations.[2]I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them. We could do that without dragging in John and Elizabeth  Proctor, Sarah Cloyce, Ann Foster, and the other 150 or so people who were charged in 1692, of whom 19 were executed.

But we have dragged them in. We are (apparently) treating them as honored ancestors, the Mighty Dead, sometimes defined as “those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil.”

Wiccan writer Christopher Penczack equates the Mighty Dead with the Secret Chiefs or Hidden Company that various occult groups invoke. Yet at least in their 17th-century lives, those Puritan colonists would have been horrified to think of themselves as “practitioners of our religion,” wouldn’t they?

Still someone is tending the memorial stones, there are Samhain processions to the execution site, people leave offerings at the execution site, and so on.

We like to say, “What is remembered, lives,” but are we really remembering the Rev. Samuel Parris, Tituba, Judge Hathorne, Rebeca Nurse, and all of them as they were?

Or are we just performing civil religion with robes and incense, “[expressing] the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag), and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, battlefields, or national cemeteries)”?[3]“Civil Religion,” Wikipedia. Is leaving flowers and pretty stones and coins and costume jewelry at the Salem witch-trial memorial merely expressing our admiration for the First Amendment?

Somehow I think that it is more than that. Parallel and occultly linked to the transformation of maritime Salem and manufacturing Salem into “Witch City” has been the transformation of the accused Christians of 1692 into “witches”  whose deaths — eventually — produced  a Witch-friendly little city today. It’s not conventionally rational, but it is what it is. And we are thanking them for that transformation.

POSTSCRIPT: I do not plan any more posts about Salem right now. Although no documents or artifacts from the witch trials are on public exhibit in Salem itself, thanks to the policies of the Peabody Essex Museum, which has many of them, there is a digital archive online at the University of Virginia.

Notes

1 No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another.
2 I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them.
3 “Civil Religion,” Wikipedia.

Aye, My Hearties, the Six of Coins!

Pickering Wharf today. At left is the reconstructed Salem privateer schooner Fame. The original Fame  operated during the War of 1812 against British shipping, while the newer version offers summer day cruises in Salem Sound.

The history of Salem, Mass., is more about the sea than the witches — at least through the 18th and early 19th centuries, the peak of the Age of Sail.

Kids climb an old anchor at the National Park Service’s Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

In the beginning, all the coastal communities were fishing ports, but while some like Gloucester stayed that way, Salem went mercantile, first in the coastal and West Indies trade and then — for the big money — the Spice Trade. Pepper from Sumatra, cinnamon from India, tea from China, plus other Asian goods, were all in demand. Per capita, Salem was the richest town in Revolutionary War-era America, based on importing and re-shipping West Indian and East Asian goods.

A miniature portrait of Capt. Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1776–1808.

There was risk, of course. For example, Capt. Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author’s father), a sea captain on the verge of big success, died of yellow fever in South America at age 32.

Model of original Friendship. Note cannon on deck.

The ships themselves were typically three-masted “East Indiamen” — like the Friendship of Salem, a working reconstructed ship based on a 1797 original. It is currently undergoing repairs, so I was not able to visit it last month.

The ocean was not necessarily a friendly place. There were European pirates still, plus privateers in wartime (pirates with a government license), and in the Far East there were local pirates as well.[1]Salem ship captains also turned privateer in the 1850s against the French and during the Revolution and War of 1812 against British merchant ships. So the merchant ships carried cannon and other weapons for self-defense and the crews were trained in their use.

But by the time that Nathaniel Hawthorne the writer was working at the federal custom house in Salem in the 1840s, the trade was falling off.[2]Consequently, he had plenty of time to plot “The Scarlet Letter.” But I wonder if the declining shipping trade in Salem contributed to Hawthorne’s nostalgic outlook. One reason was competition with Boston and New York.

The other was environmental. Salem’s merchants built so many private wharves (Pickering Wharf, Turner Wharf, Derby Wharf, etc.) for their ships and goods that they affected water movement, leading to increased silting-up of the harbor. Consequently, the newer, larger clipper ships of the 1840s–1850s could not easily use it.[3]Salem could still accept shipments of leather, coal, and other raw materials needed for its new era as a manufacturing town.

While I drank a beer at Jaho Coffee on Derby Street, M. revisited the Spice Trade, making some purchases at Salem Spice on Wharf Street. Somewhere, the old sea captains nodded in approval.

Wharf Street: nautical New England with psychic readings.

But today’s Pickering Wharf neighborhood looks more like Diagon Alley. Yes, there is a fishing-tackle shop and nautical-theme gifts on sale, but there are also multiple occult shops. (Gypsy Ravish’s Nu Aeon is the only that I have visited.)

It turns into another time-slip: After spending the morning ashore, the second mate of the privateer Annabelle returns to the ship.

Summoning the sailors on deck, he sits on a hatch cover.

“Feast your eyes on my new Tarot deck,” he says. “Let’s have a quick reading for the voyage ahead!

“Ah now, look at that!” he exclaims, tapping a card with tar-stained fingernail. “Aye, my hearties, the Six of Coins! We’ll be coming back rich men!”

Notes

1 Salem ship captains also turned privateer in the 1850s against the French and during the Revolution and War of 1812 against British merchant ships.
2 Consequently, he had plenty of time to plot “The Scarlet Letter.” But I wonder if the declining shipping trade in Salem contributed to Hawthorne’s nostalgic outlook.
3 Salem could still accept shipments of leather, coal, and other raw materials needed for its new era as a manufacturing town.

Witchy Cultural Tourists Do Exist

In J. W. Ocker’s book A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, Jay Finney, chief marketing officer of the big Peabody Essex Museum, tells Ocker that “cultural tourists” who visit the museum are a different crowd than those who come to Salem for witchy stuff.

And he sees no point in marketing to the latter.

But he just did, because M and I are in both categories.

Here you see two refrigerator magnets from the Salem Witch Museum, my Black Phillip pin (really from Nerd Scouts but very Salem-ish), a receipt for two museum admissions, and, good measure, a National Park Service brochure about the maritime history of Salem. (Not shown: Salem Witch Museum t-shirt.) So you see, Mr. Finney, we can be “cultural tourists” and part of “that [t-shirt buying] demographic” At The Same Time.

I need to write a blog post about the maritime stuff.