When people think about Salem, Massachusetts, they think about witches, and that’s fucked up, if you think about it. Looking back on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, in which 24 people were executed after being falsely accused of witchcraft, the town should be defined by its absence of witches. Lacking witches has, in fact, never meant more to the history of a single U.S. city.
And yet, witch imagery (generally of the pointy plastic hat-wearing variety) abounds in the otherwise charming New England town where every step feels like it should be accompanied by a score of crunching dead leaves underfoot. There’s the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch House (tangentially related to the trials), and more witch-related stores and psychics (some of whom openly identify as witches) than you can shake a broomstick at. Salem’s high school sports teams, too, are the Witches.
Jezebel’s Madeleine Davies spent some time in Salem in 2014 and pointed out the apparent contradiction in her piece on the local culture. Regarding a discussion she had with Kristina Wacome Stevick, the artistic director of the History Alive! theater company, Davies wrote:
“It is ironic that out of one side of our mouths we can say that [the 24 people who died during the Salem Witch Trials] were innocent victims and at the same time say that they’re the spiritual ancestors to [these modern day witches],” she tells me. “I think the 17th century accused witch would be like, ‘Who are you and why are you claiming this affinity?’”
“At the same time,” she continues, “I’ve made peace with it, I guess. I don’t know that people would be coming to Salem as much as they do if it weren’t for that mercenary side of things. When they’re here, hopefully they can learn some history.”