Salem Witch Trials Walk at PEM
Dinah: Welcome to this self-guided audio tour at the Peabody Essex Museum. I’m your host, Dinah Cardin. The tour starts inside the museum with stops at three different galleries and will take you outside the museum to visit a half dozen locations around Salem. The average length of the tour is about 90 minutes, but you set your own pace as you listen to PEM curators offer an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at some of the most compelling objects and stories in Salem. We start in a gallery featuring Native American and American art, with a few objects related to the Salem Witch Trials. If you haven’t already done so, please make your way to the Putnam Gallery. There is a sign there about this tour, outside the gallery entrance. Each of the stops on the audio tour will conclude with this sound. [SOUND] That's your cue to scroll to the next slide and click play. You'll find detailed maps on the bottom of each slide to help orient you inside and outside the museum. We will stay right here for a few moments in this light filled atrium where we’ll give you some background. More than 300 years after the Salem Witch Trials, the personal tragedies and grievous wrongs continue to fascinate us and provoke reflection. The infamous series of events in 1692 led to the deaths of 25 innocent men, women and children. The Peabody Essex Museum has the largest collection of original Salem Witch Trials materials and serves as the leading authority of the tragic events. Today, we seek to provide a more complete story of what happened. We're joined now by Dan Lipcan, the Ann C. Pingree director of PEM's Philip Library. Dan has become an expert on this topic, having curated several exhibitions at PEM that featured the Salem Witch Trials. Dan, can you set the stage for us for the events of 1692?
Dan: 1692 was a little bit of a crazy time. The inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were experiencing things like extreme weather, very hot summers, very cold winters, bad crops. There was hunger. There was a border war on the Northern edge of the colony with the indigenous populations at the time. This contributed to a sense of panic and threat. Settlers had come over to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England, where they were searching for religious freedom. This was a Puritan society run by Puritan elders. In some ways, this was very close to the frontier. This was not America yet. It was a very early stage in New England's history. There were indigenous populations along the borders. There was a lot of conflict with them and with the French, in fact, who were also trying to colonize the area. It was a time where there wasn't electricity or power. It was dark. It was mysterious, probably very scary. That all contributed to this sense of unease and suspicion. It was a scary time. Life was very, very difficult. You add the extreme weather, the border wars, disputes among people for property lines, people struggling to gather resources and fend for themselves and their families. All of those factors contributed to conditions where accusations, revenge, and suspicion could come to life. Over 200 people were accused of these heinous crimes which were, if you were found guilty, punishable by death. Ultimately, 25 innocent men, women, and children lost their lives to this crisis.
Dinah: Dan, we know that the events in Salem in 1692 have fascinated people for centuries. What's the appeal?
Dan: That is true. It seems every generation has a new take on what the trials meant, what caused them, what the factors were. The term "witch hunt," if you're paying attention to the news at all, you know that it's pervasive in our society. Witch hunts have a very long history. They've taken place throughout the world, particularly in Europe. They've been around before and after Salem. For some reason, even though hundreds more people died in Europe, we are talking about Salem in 1692. This is the iconic case of witchcraft. The history here has inspired artists, writers, and historians around the world. We've got hundreds of books, plays, movies, TV shows, and podcasts. All sorts of amazing material of people taking a crack at interpreting and understanding these events. I think part of the fascination is that 1692 was a very long time ago. The trials were not on TikTok or Instagram live. There's a certain amount of mystery. There's a certain amount of information that we just will never know.
Dinah: Now it's time to go inside the Putnam Gallery. Go to the halfway point of the Native American and American installation where you'll see a sign on the wall that says Salem Witch Trials. We will meet you at the large dramatic oil painting of a courtroom scene.
Dinah: This large oil painting by Tompkins Harrison Madison depicts a dramatic courtroom scene. To tell us more is PEM Associate Curator Sarah Chasse.
Sarah: You can see, as we approach this painting, it is a very dramatic scene. There are numerous people filling the room that we see. There are very rich jewel tones throughout the costumes of the people. In the right foreground, you see George Jacobs Sr kneeling and pleading for his innocence in the courtroom filled with people. There’s swirling action, color, drama, people are fainting, people are raising their arms in protest. In the immediate foreground, a young woman reclines in another woman's arm and points towards George Jacobs. We believe that is meant to depict his granddaughter, Margaret Jacobs, who was his principal accuser in the trials. This was painted by Tompkins Harrison Madison, an American painter who is very famous for painting history scenes, and also scenes from famous works of literature, like those of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Matteson reimagined the examination and trial of George Jacobs almost 150 years after the Salem Witch Trials. This painting really stands in for many people as a visual representation of the trials, even though it was painted so long after them in what is really a romanticized, imagined fashion. You can see at his foot lies a black hat. Under the hat is a walking stick. And, to the left of the painting, you can see one of the walking sticks on view.
Dinah: This is the actual stick?
Sarah: This is actually George Jacobs' walking stick.
Dinah: Now look to the lower left of the painting, where you’ll see the walking stick.
Sarah: PEM owns the two walking sticks that belonged to George Jacobs. He was known to walk around town with both his walking sticks. And, in particular in terms of the testimony against him, several of his accusers claimed that he used his walking sticks to beat them in spectral or spirit form.
Dinah: If we look at this stick, would we know anything about when it was carved? How it was made? It's so very old.
Sarah: Yes. It's a very simple form. We can presume that it was made here in Salem in the late 17th century. We do not know who made it.
Sarah: The Peabody Essex Museum is extremely fortunate to be the caretaker of all of these original objects that survived from people involved in the trials. Both people who are accused in the trials and accusers.
Dinah: How does it help us better understand the story when we see this stick that was in this man's hands every single day?
Sarah: I feel like the actual objects are a portal to understanding that time and period, and the culture in which these events happened.
Dinah: Move to the right of the painting where there is a small cabinet in a case.
Dinah: What is this really cool chest over here?
Sarah: This is an incredibly rare 17th century American made cabinet. It was made by the Symonds shop of joiners, here in Salem. They brought back carving and joining traditions from England where they had emigrated from. This is a valuables cabinet. It was made to commemorate the marriage of Joseph and Bathsheba Pope in 1679. In the octagon shape that's carved onto the front of the panel, you can see their initials and the date commemorating their wedding. Thirteen years after their wedding, the Popes became principal accusers in the witch trials. This cabinet is important in terms of craftsmanship in American furniture, but beyond that it has this extra layer of power and meaning.
Dinah: Do we know who they accused or a little bit about that story?
Sarah: The Popes accused many people of witchcraft during the course of the trials. Their testimony led to the conviction and execution of three innocent people…Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and John Proctor.
Dinah: What sort of things would have been kept in this cabinet?
Sarah: Great question. You will notice we have the door open on purpose so that you could peek inside of it. It has 10 drawers inside. The chest was one of the most valuable possessions that the Popes would've owned in that time period, in addition to textiles. In this, you would keep small items, money, documents, and other valuable items. You can see that it has a keyhole on the front. It was designed to be a locking cabinet to keep your possessions safe. One of the reasons this cabinet is so rare is for its craftsmanship and the original finish of the cabinet is preserved. This makes it one of the most outstanding examples of 17th century American cabinet making. At the time of English colonial settlement, Salem became known for its cabinet making and this carried on for several centuries. To us now, it looks like a worn, brown with black accent cabinet. In its time, the natural colors of the wood would have made this bright red, brown, yellow, and black colors overall. It was really a dazzling object.
Dinah: Now exit this gallery and join us in the main Atrium to listen to some background on the next part of the tour.
Dinah: Pause here in the Atrium. Before we go to the next gallery, I’ll re-introduce Dan Lipcan, the Ann C. Pingree Director of PEM’s Phillips Library to share with you some background on the 2023 Salem Witch Trials exhibition.
Dan: This exhibition is entitled "The Salem Witch Trials Restoring Justice," and that subtitle gives you a clue to the different kind of angle we're taking this time. With this iteration, we are focusing a bit more on actions that were taken by victims, by victims' families, by the community. Salem area residents knew, in the course of the trials, that they were not fair, they were not just, and some actions actually were taken during the height of the trials to try to counteract those injustices. We also look at the aftermath and how the community reacted, how victims and family members tried to petition for restitution for exoneration so that the reputations and records of the accused would be cleared. It's been 330 years since 1692, and frankly, the harm and the trauma can never fully be healed. People were murdered, but one of the things that we've attempted to do in this exhibition is to look at the actions taken between 1692 and today through this lens of restorative justice. The hope is that we can encourage folks to model our actions on those concepts of compassion, on tenacity, of shared responsibility to be inspired to honor the victims of 1692 and to continue to persevere in the face of injustices that we might encounter today. If you're paying any attention at all to the news, you see lots of different kinds of legislations and bans being passed in States all over this country and I think looking at these injustices from 300 years ago gives us an idea of how we might approach the injustices that we see today.
Dinah: Now, to get to the next gallery, go up the stairs or take the elevator one flight. Follow the walkway away from the stairs with the Atrium to your right. Follow signs, take your next right and we’ll meet you at The Salem Witch Trials: Restoring Justice. When you get there, enter the gallery and go to the first object, which is an old window.
Dinah: To tell us about this old window is longtime PEM Curator Paula Richter. Paula has also helped curate several exhibitions at PEM about the Salem Witch Trials.
Paula: This is a 17th century window. It has a wooden frame, and it has diamond shaped glass panes. Then, it has a wrought iron hardware. It's a rare window, rare in part because we know who made it, a person named Joshua Buffum who lived in Salem. He was a Quaker. He was a member of the Quaker community in Salem. He knew many of the people who became wrapped up in the Salem Witch Trials, people who were at the accused, or some of the defenders. Joshua Buffum and his brother each owned houses in the vicinity of today's Essex Street, where it intersects Boston Street, not far from the area known as Proctor's Ledge, the site of the executions from the Salem Witch Trials. The Buffum's lived very close to that site, and it's highly likely that they would have been able to see what was going on at the execution site. They were certainly witnesses to the events that were going on in 1692 in Salem.
Dinah: I'm thinking that there are so many old windows and old houses in Salem, but for a lot of people, this is truly the oldest window they're likely to ever see up close like this.
Paula: Yes.The Peabody Essex actually has two windows that are associated with people who had some involvement in the Salem Witch Trials. Windows were a sight of fear that relates to why the Salem Witch Trials happened. First of all, in a number of documents in testimony that people gave about apparitions. These are visionary or dreamlike experiences where in the night, in the dark, some would suddenly feel like they were seeing something coming in the window. It could be an animal, which might represent someone, or it could be a person themselves. People said they saw apparitions of specific people that they later accused during the trials. This is part of the spectral evidence, the unverifiable evidence that was given during the trials. I think the fear that was associated with the spectral evidence is a particularly gripping and potent part of the testimony. It reveals an aspect of their fear that we might not understand, otherwise.
Dinah: It helps us get to know how these fears that, to us, seem irrational, rose up among the community, right?
Paula: Yes, that's absolutely right. Pardon the pun, but it does give a window into their mindset.
Dinah: Now move to your right and find a panel about Tituba. This is where we’ll meet up with Dan Lipcan again who will tell us about Tituba, one of the first Salem community members accused of witchcraft.
Dinah: We are here with Dan Lipcan at a document about one of the most remembered people from the Salem Witch Trials: Tituba.
Dan: Here at the entry to the exhibition is a small section on Tituba, who was enslaved by the Reverend Samuel Parris. One of the first warrants for arrest in the entire scope of the trials is this warrant for the apprehension of Sarah Osborne and Tituba. This was issued on February 29th. You see the report of the constable, Joseph Herrick, on the reverse here, Joseph Herrick. He's reporting back to the magistrates what he has done. What's interesting is that he says, "I have made diligent search for images and such like, but can't find none." He's looked for evidence of witchcraft, but he's admitting right here in writing that he hasn't found any evidence. This is our first clue from the very first day of this crisis that there was no real evidence, that these charges were made up, that these crimes were invented.
Dinah: What does he mean by images?
Dan: Well, he's talking about possibly spectral images, so ghosts, demons, perhaps other indications that there had been some witchcraft activity. He might mean symbols carved into homes. It's a little bit unclear, but he's saying there is no evidence here, no images, nothing real to point out that you could actually display or show in court.
Dinah: Not what we would consider as evidence today.
Dan: [laughs] Spectral evidence is not what we would consider evidence today. If somebody who had been accused of witchcraft were brought into a preliminary examination, there were large crowds of people who would come to these examinations as a spectacle. During the course of the examination, some of these young women who were making these accusations would cry out or claim they saw a ghost or a familiar that would be a creature associated with a person practicing witchcraft. These were accepted as evidence despite the fact that nobody else could actually perceive these supernatural beings.
Dinah: What is it like for you to see the actual authentic handwriting? What do you think that does for people?
Dan: Well, I hope that seeing the authentic handwriting brings home the fact that there was somebody writing this document. This was an artifact of their hand. This is the closest thing that we have to the real facts of the trials. I think these documents bring home the fact that there were people involved in this crisis at all different levels.
Dinah: Looking at this, what lesson does it teach us today to be like, from the very beginning of this crisis, there were voices that weren't being heard that said, "This is wrong"?
Dan: It would be interesting to know. What did they think when they got this document back from him, and he said, "Well, I actually can't see any evidence"? It didn't seem to make any difference because the examinations began that day, the 1st of March.
Dinah: The next panel tells the touching story of one of the Towne Sisters.
Dinah: Here we are at a selection of witch trials documents. In this next part of the tour, you’ll overhear Dan Lipcan and me in PEM’s Phillips Library a few years ago, as we examined the original 1692 court document, before it was returned to the Massachusetts archives.
Dan: This is the petition of Mary Easty, who was one of three sisters from the Towne family of Topsfield. Two of whom were eventually hanged. Rebecca Nurse, who many people know of, she's one of the more famous victims of the witchcraft trials. She was the oldest of the Towne sisters. And Sarah Cloyce is the third member. Sarah did survive, she was imprisoned until 1693 and was eventually released. There was also Mary Easty who wrote the petition you see in front of you. Mary was hung on September 22nd, in the last group of murders. And I'll need a second to find the passage here, but this one has a very moving and kind of heroic passage. “I petition to your honors, not for my own life, for I know I must die and my appointed time is set. But the Lord, he knows it is, that if it be possible, no more blood, innocent blood, may be shed.” I mean — I mean that's actually really very moving. And very powerful. And I'm hoping that when we put this in front of people, and when people can see the handwriting, the hope is that visitors can identify with the people that are behind these documents and they can realize, again, that this happened to real people. And that these people had emotions and fears, just like we do. And that they were innocent. And they knew it and there was nothing they could do about it.
Dinah: In what situation would she have written this? You're calling it a petition, was she in jail when she wrote this?
Dan: So this was, would have been essentially right before she was sent to the gallows. Whereas some people may have been accusers of Mary Eastey, there were several people who stepped forward to say Mary is innocent and she is a God-fearing woman and she should be released. This is something that Mary would have written to the court to plead for her innocence and to plead for a stay of execution. But as I just read, you know, you can see that she knows her destiny is set and there's not much she can do about it. Which is a really, really, really sad.
Dinah: We have all these tourists come to Salem, they're looking for some sign of the witches, they're looking for something.
Dan: This is the truth of the story we're presenting, not the cartoon version of it. And I think it's really important that people realize this really happened, these were real people that went through this. And to come face-to-face with that, I think is a really powerful thing.
Dinah: Now move through the gallery until you see a panel for John and Elizabeth Proctor. Paula Richter and I will meet you at the sundial.
Dinah: Now move through the gallery until you see a panel for John and Elizabeth Proctor. Paula Richter and I will meet you at the sundial.
Dinah: Now here we are at a shiny and beautiful sundial.
Paula: Yes. This is another very rare and very important 17th century object in the Peabody Essex collection. A brass sundial that was owned by John and Elizabeth Proctor who both were accused during the Salem Witch Trials. They lived to the west of Salem Town in an area that was part of Salem Village. It's now part of Peabody, not far from Salem. It's inland a bit. They rented a large piece of property for agricultural production. They also ran a tavern. They had a license to sell alcoholic beverages and serve food as taverns did in the 17th century. The couple likely enjoyed some affluence because they had multiple revenue streams. This sundial descended in the Proctor family and came into the museum's collection just after 1900. It has the date inscribed on it, so 1644 was when it was made. It was likely made in London. It's covered with a variety of design motifs. There's a pinwheel underneath the part of the sundial that would cast a shadow on the numbers on the face of the sundial. The corners of this square plate that forms the base of the sundial have been stamped with stars.
Dinah: Someone might have a sundial in their garden now, but these were used. They had a function for real.
Paula: Yes. They helped people organize their lives and how they spent their time. The Puritans also had philosophical views about time, how to use your time effectively and productively. It also, however, was a reminder of mortality to make the best use of your remaining time however long your life might be. There were these two threads of thinking related to time in addition to just keeping track of the hours so to speak. The Proctors’ stories are really quite gripping in a lot of ways. John Proctor petitioned on his own behalf but also on behalf of others who were being falsely accused during the Salem Witch Trials. He wrote to Boston ministers. He asked them to intervene. Many people came to the defense of the Proctors. Their neighbors, other family members came forward at great risk to themselves to say that they could not imagine that this couple could have been accused of the crime of witchcraft. There was a Boston merchant named Robert Califf who, shortly after the trials ended, authored a book in which he gathered up a lot of information. Robert Califf recorded that John Proctor pleaded for a little respite of time, but it was not granted.
Dinah: What happened to his wife, Elizabeth?
Paula: She was also tried. She was convicted. She was granted a reprieve because she was expecting a baby. She was pregnant. The Puritans did not want to have a pregnant woman executed. They thought that was morally inexcusable. They did not do that. Elizabeth remained in jail. In January, she gave birth to a baby, a son. She named him after John Proctor. Then she did survive and was released from jail in the early summer of 1693.
Dinah: This is one of the saddest stories I've heard us tell.
Paula: It is very sad. How compelling some of these stories are I think is what really makes us want to reflect today on the injustices of 1692. What it meant then and how we can still learn about these stories and different things going on, even to the present.
Dinah: Now turn to the opposite wall where the story of the English family is featured.
Dinah: You should be standing before a textile. Paula Richter and I recorded this while in museum storage. This was just weeks before the objects were put into the gallery. Listen as she carefully unpacks this 17th century hand-sewn textile from its box.
Paula: Just removing layers of packing materials. I'm going to turn this around so you can see this.
Dinah:This looks quite old and delicate.
Paula: Yes. This is another textile treasure in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. The museum does have a fairly large collection of historic samplers in needlework done primarily by women. It was part of the formal curriculum for how young women were educated in the 17th, 18th, into the 19th century, and even into the early 20th century. Many school girls and young women would make some kind of sampler, which are typically embroidered with needle and thread on a piece of cloth. They often include the alphabet. They did teach a level of literacy by learning your ABCs as people still do today. In the case of this sampler, which was created by Mary Hollingsworth. As an adult, she married Philip English. Philip and Mary English were both accused of witchcraft in 1692. This gives us a glimpse into her earlier life. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her mother owned and ran a tavern in Salem. This is quite a beautiful sampler in the late Elizabethan tradition of embroidery. It has a number of rows of different types of motifs. Some of them are geometric designs all done in things like cross stitch and a variety of other stitches. It also has a lot to do with floral motifs and these wonderful undulating vines and these knot like patterns, which were also utilized in garden design at the time. There are a number of recognizable plants or flowers. These are strawberries with green leaves beside it and then a variety of other types of flowers. It gives a sense that this was a young woman, who was being trained to live a more genteel lifestyle. These types of flowers and particularly the letters were used in inventoring household linens that women would continue to manage throughout their lives. There are a few other 17th century New England samplers in existence. But this is the only one related to someone involved in the Salem Witch Trials.
Dinah: How does this set these ladies apart in terms of learning to read?
Paula: they had a much higher level of literacy than in Europe at the time because they were so committed that everyone needed to be able to read the Bible. That included women. A lot of Puritan women may have been able to read in some fashion. Then, some women were able to write. You see it in some of the court documents for the Salem Witch Trials, some clearly did have the extra level of education at the time that would enable them to write. Mary Hollingsworth signed her sampler, I'll point it out to you. When she got down to W, X, Y, and Z on the left side of the bottom row, then she began her name and then she ran out of space at the end of the line. She dropped the last two letters of Hollingsworth onto a lower line. It's evidence that she essentially signed this with her needle and thread. Her story and Philip English's story is a little different from some of the other people. They both were accused during the Salem Witch Trials, even though they were probably one of the most wealthy couples in Salem at the time. Philip went on to be a wealthy merchant. He owned ships. He owned wharfs. They eventually built a house in the 1680s here in Salem. They may have been quite surprised, but their wealth offered them no protection in 1692 from the accusation of witchcraft. Perhaps, their affluence had been a source of jealousy or may have made them targeted for that. Philip was also becoming more involved in local politics, which were quite contentious at the time. We don't know exactly why they were accused of witchcraft, but they both were. Mary was put in jail first and Philip a few weeks after. But then the jails by the late spring of 1692 were already overflowing in Salem. The English's were sent to Boston, and they remained there awaiting trial. They were aided by friends and potentially even some ministers in Boston and they fled to the colony of New York until after the trials ended. However, while they were away, all of their vast property was seized, and that happened to anyone who was accused of witchcraft in 1692. The local sheriff came and emptied their home. And Philip English petitioned the court and the colony of Massachusetts to reclaim his property and receive restitution, and to clear his name and his wife's name, really for the rest of his life.
Dinah: Now go to the last section of the exhibition marked by a timeline on the wall that traces actions taken by people through the centuries to restore justice. Find the document to the right of that timeline. Dan Lipcan and I will meet you there.
Dinah: You should be standing in front of a document by a timeline up on the wall. This petition was written ten years after the witch trials ended, showing how the community continued to wrestle with the tragedy.
Dan: In this group of documents, you see certain ministers in Essex County recommending that some measures be taken to clear the reputations of persons who had been accused of witchcraft upon insufficient evidence. Right above here on the wall, here there's this quote that we have. It says, "There was not sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of such a crime," which is taken directly from this petition of several ministers. They were writing to the Massachusetts Bay government to ask them to do something public to clear the names and reputations of those who had been accused. The ministers are essentially saying, "In 1692, some of our neighbors were apprehended and imprisoned upon suspicion of witchcraft, but there was no evidence of such crimes. It was completely invented, and therefore, we have to right that wrong." As ministers, their words do carry a great deal of weight, particularly in 1703. What I think is really interesting is that Nicholas Noyes did not sign this petition. We know Noyes was instrumental in having a couple of folks executed. It's possible that he was off in Boston on that day [laughs] when they wrote this petition, but it's a very curious fact.
Dinah: Why did it take them 10 years to do that?
Dan: Initially, I think there was a lot of shame in the community. I think there was confusion about, how do we deal with this? How do we restore our reputations? How do we face each other as community members? These processes take a very long time. At the end of the exhibition here, we have a list of restorative actions that have been taken from 1692 all the way through 2022. Over 300 years of people saying, "Hold on. Here's another instance of damage that we need to act to repair."In some ways, the healing will never be complete.
Dinah: You think about 10 years afterwards, you were looking at the family members of the executed, they had to live together.
Dan: They did. They had to face each other in the street, in church. It's really hard to imagine what that must have been like.
Dinah: Now, to go to our last stop, turn to your right to find the story of Elizabeth Johnson Jr. You will see a petition from 1712 and a recent act that finally exonerated her.
Dinah: Now, here we are at the story of Elizabeth Johnson Jr.
Lucas: We called her EJJ. It made it more like she was not just a historical figure, like she was a real person.
Dinah: This is Lucas, now going into his sophomore year after working on the project at his school in North Andover to exonerate Elizabeth Johnson Jr.
Lucas: She was about 22 when she was accused of being a witch, and she was described to be simplish as best by her grandfather, which probably means she had a mental disability, and that's why they accused her of being a witch. Ms. LaPierre introduced it to us at the beginning of the year as our civics action project. Our class was the second class to do this project. The first class, they're going into their junior year of high school now. They created a bill that they sent to the state legislature. Our class's job was to get that bill further throughout the process. Unfortunately, that bill did not make it any further, so we had to find new methods to exonerate her. First, we were trying to get the governor to pardon her in one easy step. We were calling the office of the governor. We were writing letters to him, but we didn't get anywhere. Then, Senator DiZoglio decided to add Elizabeth Johnson Jr. to the state budget bill, which means if the state budget bill got passed, then so would she get exonerated. We had to then call the offices of the House of Representatives in Massachusetts to get them to keep her in their version of the state budget.
Dinah: Were there times you guys talked about what that must have been like, what that must have felt like to be in her shoes?
Lucas: Yeah, we talked about that a lot, how all those people must have felt so alone.
Dinah: What do you think are the lessons that people should be thinking about that came out of the Salem Witch Trials?
Lucas: First of all, don't judge a book by its cover, because a lot of people were just judging based on how people fit in society, and that's why they were being accused. Also, to speak up for people who don't have their own voices, because Elizabeth Johnson Jr. had no voice. She was a woman in Massachusetts in the 1600s. She had no power at all, and now, we were able to speak up for her.
Dinah: I asked teacher Carrie LaPierre what she thinks the students learned.
Carrie: That they have a voice. Even as eighth graders, they can take action. They can change something. They now know how to approach people in the government, and if they have something they're passionate about, what steps they can take to pursue it.
Dinah: What were the conversations like in the classroom?
Carrie: The biggest lesson is about bullying that, obviously, in terms of middle school kids, resonates. Treating people who are different poorly. Some of them were even able to connect it to how women are treated in the world today as they were then, what are the parallels? There were some exciting conversations. I'm so proud that they stuck with it as long as they did and that they were successful, that they can see that their actions had mattered in the long run.
Dinah: Now we will meet you in an exhibition called Salem Stories. Exit this gallery and take a right. Go to the end of the hallway and take the stairs up to the next level. When you reach Level 3, take a left and then a right into Salem Stories. If you need the elevator, please retrace your steps, take the elevator and we'll meet upstairs in that gallery at the letter O for October.
Dinah: As we walk into the gallery, let's first address the whale in the room. This giant, suspended, long finned pilot whale skeleton has no doubt caught your attention. It was collected in next-door, Beverly Harbor in 1873. We're here today to look at smaller objects, things related to the Salem witch trials. Salem Stories is an exhibition that presents 26 vignettes about this unique city. Salem is home to many stories with local, national, and international significance. Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell completed the first successful long distance telephone call from Salem in 1877? Did you know that Parker Brothers produced the game Monopoly here? Then, of course, there is the Salem witch trials . PEM curator Paula Richter will tell us more.
Paula: We are at the section, which is O for October, and it explores objects and artwork related to Salem's current Halloween celebrations. This month-long, very unique, very energetic series of programs and activities draws visitors from around the country and even internationally here to Salem. This had its roots in the 19th century when mass commercialization timed to some of the anniversaries of the original Salem witch trials . Beginning around 1892, with the bicentennial of the Salem witch trials , a lot of local businesses began to make specialized products using the history and mythology about the Salem witch trials in new ways. We're going to look at a product, it was called witch cream. It was a product that was made by CH&J Price. It was a skin product and they developed a cartoon like advertising Motif. They used it to promote their skin product to consumers at the time. It says it nourishes the skin. It's very cleansing and healing and it keeps it soft, clear and fresh.
Dinah: The beginning of witch kitch?
Paula: In some respect, yes.
Dinah: It seems like to me this product would completely sell now. I can see this selling in Salem shops. [laughs]
Paula: It’s one of a number of witch inspired products that were made at the time and then into the 20th century.
Dinah: What’s next?
Paula: Well, another object that is probably a little bit less commercial, is a witch weathervane from around 1900, probably, again inspired by the early interest from the time of the bicentennial of the Salem witch trials in 1892. This is by an artist whose name we don't know. It came from a local building and it's a wonderful silhouette. It's made out of iron and it was painted originally. It depicts a figure riding a broom with a pointed hat and then a bat or a bird is off to one side. Perfectly balanced as weather vanes have to be. It’s a very bold and compelling object. It also casts a wonderful shadow in our gallery, so it looks very dramatic.
Dinah: Love it. OK, and what's this? Now direct your attention to the sheet music in the same case.
Paula: Our Phillips Library here at the museum has a substantial collection of early musical manuscripts and printed sheet music. This is called "The March Of The Salem Witches" and it's by George H. Walker & Company. It was published in 1896. It was written by a local man John Masoud of Salem. It shows a parade with figures, there's a drummer in the front and there are figures carrying broomsticks, there's a little bit of the harbor in the background and a number of other elements. John Masoud was involved with a band here in Salem. This is an example of locally composed music along the Salem witch theme.
Paula: Another object we have in this case is a very rare and early mechanical toy. It was produced around 1868, so just after the American Civil War really at the height of the Industrial Revolution. There were a lot of small manufacturers who also found inspiration with The Salem witch trials and this is a mechanical Fortune Teller. It's of a figure mounted on a base that has a drum. The drum spins around and when it stops, it points at a fortune. It's kind of a game or a toy, but it also draws on some of the interest in fortune telling spiritualism. That was also very popular in the late 19th century. I can imagine a family clustering around this toy and spinning it, and then one by one learning what the fortunes were.
Dinah: Next, we’re going to look up at a poster from a beloved movie that was filmed partly in Salem.
Dinah: One of the most eye catching things in the O section for October is the Hocus Pocus poster here that people might see right away and recognize people like Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker. What can you tell us about this?
Paula: In 1993, there were a variety of places in Salem that were filmed for the movie Hocus Pocus. One of them was one of the historic houses of the Peabody Essex Museum, the Ropes Mansion. I had the experience of being present in the house as one of the staff who were supervising the use of the house during the filming. This poster shows the three main characters who are Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. They're portrayed on top of a full moon, and they're riding, not the traditional broomstick, but it's actually a vacuum cleaner, kind of a funny twist in that movie. They're shown hovering over what is presumably the landscape of Salem.
Dinah: What was it like at the Ropes Mansion back when this was being filmed?
Paula: The street was closed for over a block in front of the Ropes Mansion. There was an incredible pumpkin display outside the fence and the walkway that leads up to the front door of the house. The only actors who were there at the Ropes Mansion were the child actors. They filmed the scene where they walk up to the door, anticipating a party inside, and knock on the door and it opens and then it goes to an interior that was filmed in a studio. People in the neighborhood were hovering around the edges of the filming watching it. Then these incredible pumpkins out front glowing in the dark. There also were a fairly large group of extras. These were actors and actresses who lived locally. They were hired to populate one of the front rooms of the Ropes Mansion. They appear in the film as kind of shadowy silhouettes having a party in the downstairs room. It took all night to film what is a very short segment in the film, but it was a very memorable experience. In recent years, we've been inspired by Hocus Pocus and have begun decorating the exterior of the Ropes Mansion with lights and some pumpkin decorations, drawing inspiration from the film. There has been tremendous interest in that film and I think it may be more popular than when it was first released.
Dinah: We will move to the letter L, which is to the left of where we are now.
Paula: We're going to look at another letter in Salem Stories and it's the letter L, which in this gallery it stands for Daniel Low & Company, which was a company founded in the 19th century. They initially were silversmiths. They grew into silver and jewelry, a kind of department store actually, where they had giftwares and other specialized products. The company was in business for almost a hundred years. It had a very long run as a local business. One of their best known products was something that they introduced in 1892. It really fed into a wave of souvenir products that were developed here in Salem and elsewhere. It was the Salem witch spoon. It's sterling silver. There are a couple of different versions of it. It does have a depiction of a witch. One version of it has a cat on it and some other symbolism. They were meant to be a kind of high end souvenir that people could buy here in Salem. We know that local residents were also interested in them. The museum has several examples of these in the collection. We have two spoons on display, as well as an advertising sheet on what they called witch novelties. Daniel Low developed a number of products that included a thimble, stick pins which were a jewelry item, as well as spoons and other silver flatware that have these related motifs.
Dinah: My grandmother got me started on the spoon collection when I was a child. You put them in the little wooden spoon holder on the wall. Is that what you would have done with these?
Paula: You can display them like that. Many people did have displays with their own version of a rack or another means of displaying them. But some people also seem to have used them. They might have a small collection of these. The late 19th century was also a time of a lot of expansion of transportation, so people could get them up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or different other tourist destinations. They could also use them and entertain their guests at tea or that kind of thing.
Dinah: Keep moving left to the letter H for historic preservation.
Paula: Another section of the Salem Stories exhibition where you find witch trial related objects and images is H for historic preservation. It looks at a number of historic buildings in Salem and the beginnings of the historic preservation movement that was so active here in the late 19th century and early 20th century. One of the buildings that is featured in this letter is the John Ward house which was built about 1685. It was originally sited on St. Peter Street in Salem and then later moved around the corner onto an adjoining block on Brown Street, where it was restored by the former Essex Institute, which was a precursor of the current Peabody Essex Museum. During the restoration, they uncovered some interesting objects. The John Ward House was a stone's throw away and within view of the Old Salem jail, which was the original jail, which was the original jail where some of the accused were held awaiting their trials. We can imagine the members of the Ward Family as bystanders watching the events unfold around them. It must have been an incredibly dramatic and disturbing occurrence in 1692. George Francis Dow, the preservationist, found a number of objects that were hidden in cavities in the house. These are seemingly random at first, but there's been a lot of scholarly interest and research in historical archaeology and the archaeology related to building sites. There were a number of ways in which people during the 17th century try to protect their homes, and the people who lived in the houses using objects as protective devices. One of the interesting objects found in the Ward house, it's a bundle of twigs with a kind of fiber around it. It's actually an example of what we're called poppets. Now, poppets were dolls. They could take many forms, but some of them were simple and made out of rudimentary materials and rudimentary forms. We are now re-evaluating this little bundle of sticks and seeing it as perhaps one of these protective devices. It's an interesting subject area because, of course, this reflects the worldview of the local settlers, many of whom were from the British Isles and who emigrated here to Salem in the 17th century. They brought with them things like their Puritan religious beliefs. These are Christian beliefs, but they also had folk rituals that they brought. They might inscribe pinwheels on the door casings or they would tuck shoes or coins or these poppets that were meant to either protect the inhabitants of the house. It's a very intriguing object, adding a lot to our understanding of life in the 17th century as well as what happened during those 1692 witch trials.
Dinah: Once you've finished touring Salem Stories, it's time to leave the museum and head outside to some key sites around the Witch City. We begin right behind the museum at the Salem witch trials Memorial on Liberty Street. Exit the front of the museum, turn right and right again to go down the Axelrod Pedestrian Walkway. Make a right at the end and the memorial will be on your left.
Dinah: If you have joined the tour halfway through, it will make more sense to go back and start at the beginning. The tour starts outside the Putnam gallery on the ground level of the museum. Here we are at the Salem witch trials Memorial with Dan Lipcan, Director of PEM’s Phillips Library, who has been actively involved with the organization that maintains this memorial.
Dan: The memorial is maintained by the volunteer community organization, Voices Against Injustice. This organization uses the lessons from the witch trials to educate and inspire people to confront social justice with courage and resolve. It took 300 years for an official Witch Trials Memorial to finally be built in Salem. We're standing here at the site. You'll notice if you look around the stone benches, they are arranged along the perimeter. Each one of them bears the name and the execution date of one of the 20 victims. It's a quiet and contemplative environment. The memorial was dedicated in 1992 by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and "The Crucible" playwright Arthur Miller. Here’s Bridge Bishop. She was the first to be hanged.
Dinah: The marker for Bridget Bishop is the first one on your left as you enter the memorial.
Dan: Historical research reveals a picture of Bridget Bishop as a witty and independent, although a little bit quarrelsome, resident of Salem. She had been accused and acquitted of witchcraft 12 years earlier, so she may have been an easy target by association. Multiple accusers claimed that her specter was responsible for various damages and physical afflictions. Their testimonies were the result of longstanding suspicions or misattributed gossip about Sarah Bishop, who was a different person entirely. Tragically, this injustice against Bridget Bishop set the pattern for the remainder of the trials. So, today, ancestors of the victims and people who resonate with this story, come to visit the memorial. This happens year round. They leave flowers and tokens on each of these benches. As we look around today, we see sunflowers and coins left on all of the benches, in fact. There are folks wandering around here, and looking at each of the benches. Perhaps one of the things they don't realize is that the memorial was positioned and oriented in such a way that the backs of the gravestones in the neighboring cemetery, the Charter Street Cemetery, is what faces the memorials. That is essentially a metaphor, a gesture that the community of Salem turned its back on the victims of the witch trials. It's remarkably moving. I'm getting goosebumps actually as I'm talking about it because it's such a powerful image to think about how people rejected these folks unjustly for invented crimes.
Dinah: Right next door to the memorial for the Salem witch trials is one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. So, go now and enter the Charter Street Cemetery at the corner of the memorial. We'll meet you there.
Woman: Hi, folks. You're welcome to walk through if you're interested. Please, don't touch the grave markers.
Dinah: When you enter the cemetery, stay on the gravel path. Keep going at the first small intersection and then stop at the second one, where you’ll see a large, light stone. There are many notable figures buried here and today, we'll tell you about one.
Dan: In front of us is the tombstone of John Hathorne, one of the most vocal participants during the Salem witch trials . He lived just south of the Salem Courthouse in 1692. His gravestone here, you see the skull on top with the wings on either side, some floral rosettes along the bottom, and on the left and right. The inscription says, "Here lies interred the body of Colonel John Hathorne Esquire, Aged 76 years, Who Died May the 10th, 1717." His first examination took place on March 1st when he questioned Sarah Osborne, Tituba, and Sarah Good at the meetinghouse in Salem Village. He had a way of questioning the victims in a way that presumed their guilt, basically. "Have you made no contact with the devil?" he would ask. Kind of answers itself in a way. Salem's literary son, Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a descendant and actually quite a harsh critic of his ancestor. It's said that the W was added into the last name Hathorne to distance the descendants from this judge. Perhaps it was his great great grandfather's participation in these tragic events that led Nathaniel to create some of his darker writings.
Dinah: Our next stop is the 17th century historic property called the Ward House. We will walk to the front of the museum on Essex Street and behind the National Park Service Visitor Center to find several historic structures, including the darkly painted Ward House.
Dan: Oooh, darkly painted.
Dinah: Here we are at the museum’s John Ward house. You might notice a sign here for PEM Walks. More than a dozen of the museum’s historic properties in Salem feature these signs with QR codes that connect you to behind-the-scenes architecture audio tours. We are joined now by Steven Mallory, PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes who will share the connection between this house and the Salem witch trials . While Stephen was showing me inside the house, the tour will stand outside the house for now.
Steven: John Ward was a currier, who prepared hides for the leather working industry. He also was appointed by the city of Salem the Sealer of Leather. He was very much a middle class person and this is a very high quality house for 1685. But it was multi-use rooms. People living in rooms that were set up for household industry during the day, and then those furnishings might be moved aside and beds set up for sleeping. They lived with tools. They lived with vegetables. You know you think of root cellars and all that sort of thing, well there's plenty of information to indicate that, you know, the rooms of the house had everything from fine bed linens to a pile of squash in the corner. Because that was life in seventeenth century Massachusetts. This house originally stood directly across the street from the prison. People who lived in this house most likely would have heard the cries of people who were living in terrible circumstances, some of them even dying in prison.
Dinah: Potentially they would have sat at discussing the news of the trials and the news of people.
Steven: We do know that it was daily conversation around the dinner table. The city, and really, Massachusetts Bay was gripped with this hysteria, and as the hysteria went on more and more prominent families were accused, which became a terrifying thing. It wasn't just the poor, it wasn't just people with disabilities, it wasn't just the fringe. It wasn't just somebody that had been suspect before. Now, it was leading families. But people still needed to be fed, they still needed to earn a living, And so it's kind of an interesting point that life still went on despite the terror of 1692.
Dinah: Now, we’ll walk to another house that looks a lot like the Ward House and is referred to now as The Witch House, located at 310 Essex Street. We’ll meet you there.
Dinah: Now, we're standing at the Witch House, a 17th century structure where Jonathan Corwin, a judge in the Witch Trials, lived. To tell us more is Steven Mallory, PEM's manager of historic structures and landscapes. Do we know why it's called the Witch House?
Steven: This is referred to colloquially in town as the Witch House because it's one of the only surviving structures in Salem that was directly connected to the 1692 trials. Built about 1675, this restored home on the corner of Essex and Summer Streets offers a glimpse of daily life at the time of the trials. This was the residence of Jonathan Corwin from 1640 to 1718. He was a merchant and political figure who held various positions in Salem, including serving as magistrate during the 1692 pretrial examinations. Corwin remained on the bench until October 1692, when the governor officially disbanded the court. We do not know much about how Corwin felt about the trials because he spoke little during the examinations and never made any public statements. He never apologized for his role in the trials.
Dinah: What else do we know?
Steven: Judge Corwin is a little bit of a confusing character, because he wasn't even qualified to be a judge at the time, but because of political connections and other things, he found himself deeply embroiled in the tragedy that became the witchcraft crisis. His brother-in-law, John Hathorne, served as magistrate, and one of Corwin's children was listed as afflicted in Tituba's examination. His mother-in- law was also accused of witchcraft, but the charges against her were ignored and no arrest warrant was issued.
Dinah: What can you tell us about the architecture of the house?
Steven: This house was restored in about 1945, 1946. It assumes its 17th-century appearance, which is actually quite accurate, given the period in which it was restored. When the house was discovered, an investigation was done to restore it, they discovered evidence of the two story porch on the front, the pendant drops, and the front gables. One of the guiding lights for the restoration of this house, which includes the three part casement windows come from an 18th century pen and ink drawing.
Dinah: The Witch House is open for self guided tours. Check out their website, thewitchhouse.org, for more information. The connection between Salem and witches has been highlighted over the years by pop culture, such as the film Hocus Pocus by Disney. Please walk over to the next site now. The Rope Mansion is just a few doors down at 318 Essex Street.
Dinah: Now, we're at the Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street. To tell us more is Steven Mallory, PEM's manager of historic structures and landscapes.
Steven: This house has a connection with the modern witch craze in Salem. It's a favorite stop for fans of the film Hocus Pocus, which was filmed here in the 1990s. Visitors to the house should know that only the exterior of the house was used by Disney in the film. The interior, if you visit it, it's a gem historically, but it is not the way that it appears in the movie. Every year now, we decorate the house with pumpkins and hay bales to make it festive, like it was in the film when it served as the site of a party. But this house is also a favorite for those who love historic house museums. The house was built about 1727 and filled with stories from the Ropes family. In 1893, three unmarried Ropes sisters living in Cincinnati decided to move back to Salem, their hometown, upon hearing that the Ropes Mansion, along with a sizable fortune, had been bequeathed to them. The sisters conceived an ambitious plan to transform the mansion into a comfortable home for themselves and make preparations for it to become Salem's first historic house museum.
Dinah: Do you want to give us some details of the house?
Steven: Architecturally, the form of the 1727 house is intact. However, when the Ropes sisters moved back from Cincinnati, they underwent a massive renovation to convert it to a Colonial Revival mansion. They picked it up and moved it back from the street in 1894, put it up on a higher foundation, with an elegant fence outside, and then they renovated the entire interior in the Colonial Revival taste to become more or less a monument to their family's holdings of antiques, and decorative arts, and other family artifacts.
Dinah: What kind of things can we see inside?
Steven: In terms of restoration, the house is considered to be a fly in amber – wallpapers and carpeting, and textiles and paintings, and everything is pretty much intact. During weekends in the summer and fall, there is no charge for the 15 room house. Inside, you'll see 200 -plus-years of Ropes family furniture. Much of it was actually made in Salem or nearby. These include pieces from the Queen Anne Chippendale periods, Empire periods. There's also very important Chinese export dinner service in the house from the 1820s. The mansion includes a historic garden popular for picnics and weddings. The is a Colonial Revival masterwork by local Salem architect John Robinson, and it was laid out in a kind of English Georgian Revival style. The design of the garden and the plantings in it, by the wishes of the Ropes sisters, are a mix of things that come back every year and that are historically accurate to the garden. What you see in the fall is lots of tall sunflowers and late season plants like hydrangea and things like that. After Halloween on November 1st, the community is part of a big garden clean out for the end of the season, and they can pick the things that they would like to take home.
Dinah: Now, let's walk just a few blocks on Essex Street, back toward the museum, and make one more stop in Lappin Park at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets. I'll meet you at the Samantha statue.
Dinah: Visitors often find themselves right here at the Samantha statue. To tell us more is Kate Fox, who now heads up travel and tourism in Massachusetts and is former longtime executive director of Salem's tourism office, Destination Salem.
Kate: Bewitched is here because of the Salem Saga episodes. Those were filmed in the early 1970s when the studio in California had suffered a fire and they needed to continue filming. They brought the cast and crew here to Salem, filmed the Salem Saga and then that is recognized as a catalyst for our contemporary tourism in Salem today. Samantha is a nine-foot tall bronze statue. She's sitting astride her broom and framed by a crescent moon. She is prominently located in Lappin Park on the corner of Essex and Washington Streets. The Samantha statue was dedicated in 2005. She was given to the city of Salem by TV Land Network. It was part of a campaign they did with statues around the country to nod to some classic sitcoms.
Dinah: How do you connect this very contemporary TV witch to what happened? How does this keep the Salem witch trials in people's minds?
Kate: People don't necessarily know why Salem's The Witch City. When they come here in October, they don't necessarily know why they're here, other than they have that subconscious awareness of Salem, Witch, Halloween. It's because of that that we today have these parallel paths that coexist nicely. Where we have the really sad history of 1692, which have lessons we continue to learn from today. People continue to research, and continue to publish books, and give us new knowledge about what happened in 1692. We also have modern witches and a vibrant witch community. AND we have Halloween, and pointy hats, and costumed witches. A practicing witch once described it to me as like Christmas. You can have Jesus and Santa in the same place.
Dinah: The annual Haunted Happenings celebration includes a host of Halloween-related activities, ranging from serious to playful, bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city annually. While in town, they'll see the witch everywhere…riding a broom on the police cars, at the top of the masthead of the local newspaper, The Salem News, around the sign at Dairy Witch Ice Cream, and maybe on the shirt of a teenager. The football team is called, you got it, "The Witches.” Salem is known around the world for the events that took place in 1692. It’s known as the Witch City. But, Salem’s name is in fact taken from Jerusalem and also means "The City of Peace." Today, we look at the City of Salem – and the world – through the lens of this challenging history. Interrogating these tragic events time and again to better understand community and our shared humanity. We will continue to ask questions and to tell our story. From the Peabody Essex Museum, I’m Dinah Cardin. Thanks for listening…This audio tour was generously supported by the George S. Parker Fund.