Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Irony of Salem

On March 1, 1692, the Salem Witch Hysteria really began to kick into gear as the Salem Witch Trials officially began. On this date Judge Hawthorne and Judge Corwin interrogated Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good and the slave Tituba. Those accused of witchcraft found themselves in a really bad spot. They weren't considered innocent the moment they were accused. A plea of innocence inevitably led to death by execution. A plea of guilt could set you free, but you had to name other witches in what became a deadly version of the game of tag. The people named as witches would then find themselves in the court's hot seat as well.

Once an accused victim chose a plea (whether guilty or innocent) the property of the accused was considered forfeit and seized by the local sheriff. This led to torture of any accused who would not enter a plea. Witch Trial victim Giles Corey died while being tortured in Salem's Howard Street Cemetery (see Howard Street Cemetery, Salem MA) because he refused to enter a plea. The silver lining to Corey's tale is that his sacrifice made it so his family didn't lose their land and belongings. Many others who declared their innocence were then found guilty by the court and sentenced to death by hanging, with the hangings taking place in what would later become Danvers, Massachusetts (see Danvers, Massachusetts).

The main irony of the Salem Witch Hysteria is that centuries later the history of the trials drew actual practicing witches to the city of Salem. Occult book stores abound in an area where Christians once killed each other in imagined fear that witchcraft was being practiced. The further irony is that the city has a thriving tourist trade thanks to the harm that the community once did to itself. There are modern memorials for the accused, while the gravestones of the judges who passed sentence on them crumble (see Old Burying Point Cemetery & Witch Trial Memorial). Also, thousands of revelers descend on the city each October to celebrate a holiday that would likely have been considered sacrilegious to those dwelling in Salem County back in 1692. Lastly, a witch silhouette is used as the symbol of Salem's law enforcement on the sides of their cars and on patches worn on the uniforms. They wear an example of the thing that the law enforcement of 1692 feared and hated. Salem is rife with irony.

Pay a visit to modern day Salem, Massachusetts.

-Tom G


frgodbeyjr said...

Tom, really nice post on the witch trails... I have a special interest in this subject because I have written a vampire book that will deals with this. Hoping to publish it this year.

wiec? said...

thanks for the informative post. always good to see the New England sense of humor is alive and well.