HUNTING FOR WITCHES

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SALEM 

Salem is a city on the north coast of Massachusetts above Boston. It's famous for its 1692 witch trials, during which several locals were executed for allegedly practicing witchcraft. Landmarks from this episode include the Witch House, the former home of a trial judge. The Peabody Essex Museum has a massive collection of global art and artifacts, including a rebuilt Qing-era Chinese house.

The Salem witch trials have fascinated the general public as well as historians for over 300 years. But few people really know much about them despite their global fame. Tourists flock to Salem by the thousands out of curiosity about the town where both women and men were put to death for supposedly practicing witchcraft. Some may think bent old crones really did mutter curses over boiling soup full of weird ingredients but most will know the so-called witches were framed - though not why. When most tourists leave the town they may well have had fun in the shops full of witch books, clothes and souvenirs and the amusements featuring ghouls and zombies but be none the wiser about the extraordinary, tragic events of 1692. They may have missed the informative and intensely evocative sites with direct links to the witch trials. What they needed was a copy of Frances Hill’s HUNTING FOR WITCHES, A VISITOR’S GUIDE TO THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS, Second Edition. 

The first part of the book explodes the myths around the trials and witchcraft in general and tells the true story of 1692 concisely but fully. Illustrations and sidebars make it an attractive, accessible read. If you want to know if the alleged witches in Salem were burned at the stake turn to page 13. (Spoiler alert: No.) If you’re curious about whether the young girls who started off the witch hunt were hysterical or faking go to the sidebar on page 22. (Spoiler alert: Bit of both.) For a detailed description of the killing of one unfortunate alleged witch, Giles Cory, by pressing to death, go to page 63. (No spoiler alerts.) 

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The book’s second half is a guide to everywhere you can visit that has links with the witch hunt in both Salem and surrounding areas. It’s smart to get hold of your copy of HUNTING before your visit so you can plan side trips to Danvers or even further afield. It’s good to get it beforehand anyway, for familiarising yourself with the witch trials and planning for Salem. Danvers is where Salem Village was situated, the place where the witch hunt started, when the hysterical (or not?) girls had their first fits and accused the Indian slave Tituba and two other disliked village women of bewitching them. The spot which formed the village centre is essentially unchanged from 300 years ago. You can take a tour of the house where the hanged alleged witch Rebecca Nurse lived and walk over its 27-acre property with views of fields and hills Rebecca would have known well. Near the house is a splendid reconstruction of the meeting house (Puritan church) in which many of the pre-trial hearings took place. 

 

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In Salem itself my book will direct you to the evocative spot now proved conclusively to be that on which 19 hangings of accused witches occurred. And to the picturesque cemetery where the leading judge in the witch trials, John Hathorne, is buried, next to which stands a fascinating memorial to all the executed witches, erected in 1992 as part of the tragedy’s 300 year anniversary. The book will explain where the Salem courthouse and meeting house once stood and direct you to the “Witch House,” open to visitors, where one of the trial judges lived. 

This book is a 2019 update of the original, first published in 2002. All changes to museums’ and sites’ opening times are here, as well as substantial alterations on the subject of the whereabouts of the gallows, based on scholars’ recent evidence.