Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Real Legacy of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Having grown up in Salem, I was surrounded by the folklore of the Salem witchcraft trials.

Say No to Drugs, but practice the Dark Arts at this school. 
Witchcraft Heights Elementary School is the actual name of this school. It is where my husband, my neighbors, and many of my friends attended elementary school. (I managed to complete my elementary education under the tutelage of the Sisters of St. Chretienne at Saint Anne's School before it closed. My husband missed that educational advantage by one year.)

In addition to the crazy-ass name for an elementary school, the good folks of Salem Town seemed to go through a witch renaissance - if you will - in the sixties and seventies. One particular area of town, Witchcraft Heights, is graced with some interesting street names.

I didn't grow up in Witchcraft Heights, but I
did practice cheerleading at Gallows Hill Park.
(Oh yeah, I was a cheerleader in middle school.) 
And our high school took full advantage of the infamy.

All the teams were named The Witches.
I'm not sure that was best for team morale. 

The witchcraft trials took place in Salem Village. Oddly, this is the modern-day town of Danvers, not Salem, Massachusetts; it is there where the memorial to the innocent victims is located. 

According to Richard Trask, local historian of the Salem witch-hunt:

Salem Village (Danvers) was ground zero of the witchcraft events of 1692, with virtually the entire 500 person population involved. Salem Town (Salem), though they had several accused witches who lived there and had the formal trials there, escaped the social and religious maelstrom that followed. When witch times were over, Salem Village didn’t want to be reminded of those dark days. When the Village became independent in 1752, it was given the new name of “Danvers” and their association with the witchcraft was happily obscured. By the late 19th century, Salem became a tourist destination and the witchcraft events took on a caricature of a non-threatening witch riding a brookstick and wearing a conical hat.

The spirit of Salem (Town) is not riding the broomstick of the horrendously evil murder of innocents. Rather, with an iconic caricature, it is capitalizing on the bizarre: a wildly irrational, but brief time in our history. This was a time when people believed that someone's actions could actually be forced by another person's thoughts, and that accusation alone was proof enough to hang the offending thinkers.

Now we know better and can laugh at its crackpot irrationality.

Can't we?

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