The second series of the American Towns project is dedicated to Salem, a city that became famous thanks to the witch trials at the end of the 17th century. As a result of the witch hunt, dozens of people were executed on false charges of witchcraft.

What really happened during the Salem Witch Trials – Brian A. Pavlac

The Voice of America Russian Service journalists visited Salem, Massachusetts, talked to local residents and found out how Salem residents managed to transform a heavy historical legacy into a fashion brand – to transform a city where people were once executed without any special trial and without investigation on suspicion of practicing black magic, in the “witchcraft” capital of New England.

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American Towns: Salem



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Salem is one of the oldest cities in New England and the United States. The first British colonists settled at the mouth of the Naumkeag River as early as 1626. Before the arrival of the British, there was an Indian village on the site of Salem. The existing and to this day urban agglomeration Salem – Peabody – Danvers was founded by a colonist, salt merchant Roger Conant. The city owes its name to the biblical city of Salem (Hellenized form of the Hebrew word “shalom” (“peace”)).

Another eight American cities in Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia bear the name Salem..

It was in Salem in 1635 that the very first Puritan church in New England was built – it is called that: the First Church of Salem. The building has not survived in its original form to this day.

The trial against witches, which resulted in the execution of 19 people, began in Salem in 1692. The witch hunt was announced after the cousins ​​Abigail Williams and Betty Parris were “possessed by the devil”: the girls began to have seizures, they fought in a seizure and even, judging by court documents, “tried to climb the chimney.” The village doctor quickly realized that this was a powerful witchcraft, and it immediately became clear who was to blame – of course, the black slave Tituba, who lived with a family of girls.

The cemetery where the victims of the witch trials are buried

Further events are weakly amenable to logical analysis: in February 1692, three women were arrested on suspicion of witchcraft at once – the aforementioned slave and two colonists, Sarah Goode and Sarah Osborne. Apparently, they turned to Tituba with a request to tell fortunes. In total, more than 200 residents of Salem were accused of witchcraft in 1692 and 1693. 19 people, 14 women and five men, were found guilty by the court and sentenced to death by hanging.

The Salem witch hunt is now considered one of the most striking episodes of mass hysteria, which now and then covered the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America in the distant past. The events that took place in Salem became possible thanks to the isolation of the colonists from the outside world, the religious exaltation inherent in the Puritans, and imperfect legal procedures..


According to the results of the 2010 census, just over 41 thousand people live in Salem. The number of people living in this city has remained virtually unchanged since 1910.

Salem Witch Museum

Salem is still home to the descendants of women accused of witchcraft in the 17th century. We managed to speak with one of them – John Keenan, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Rebecca Nurse. She was hanged on charges of witchcraft. Keenan has lived in Salem his entire life – he is now President of Salem University.

By the way, the local university is the largest of the nine colleges that are part of the unified higher education system in Massachusetts. About 10 thousand students study on the university campus.

Real witches also live in Salem. One of them, a modern witch named Jackie, agreed to tell the authors of “American Towns” about the rituals that she performs in honor of the goddess Hecate and admitted that she felt much safer in Salem compared to “some Ohio”.

The numbers

16 full-length feature films and documentaries tell about the Salem witch trials, or the heroes of these films are related to the mythical witches from Salem. Among the most famous films made about the Salem witches are the 1993 mystical comedy Hocus Pocus, starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker, and the 1996 drama Crucible, starring Winona Ryder..

Hollywood movie posters &# 171; hocus pocus&# 187; and &# 171; Ordeal&# 187;

In addition, some episodes and even seasons were devoted to Salem by the writers of the cult series My Wife Bewitched Me, Sabrina the Little Witch, The Simpsons, Charmed, The Vampire Diaries, Bones, and WGN even shot three season of the TV series “Salem”, the plot of which is entirely based on the trial of 1692. In 2002, a miniseries titled Trial of the Salem Witches was released on CBS..

The protagonists of the third season of the hit American Horror Story series, sorceresses who study black magic at a private school in New Orleans, are descended from Salem witches. The black sorceress Queenie, played by the actress Gaburi Sidibe, is a direct descendant of that very slave Tituba, one of the first victims of the witch hunt in Salem.

The second series of the American Towns project is dedicated to Salem, a city that became famous thanks to the witch trials at the end of the 17th century. As a result of the witch hunt, dozens of people were executed on false charges of witchcraft.

The main characters of the third season &# 171; American Horror Story&# 187; – Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who declared war &# 171; thieves&# 187; – white-skinned witches from Salem; High Witch Fiona Gudd (Jessica Lange), who directs all the descendants of the Salem witches, and Dolphin Lyalori, whose role in the series is skillfully played by Katie Bates. Dolphin Lyalori, who lived in New Orleans at the beginning of the 19th century – a real historical figure, something like the Louisiana Saltychikha – brutally mocked her slaves, as a result of which several people died from torture

The war that unfolded between white and black witches in the third season of the series is also associated with the events in Salem: Marie Laveau, a powerful priestess of the voodoo cult, believes that all witches from the “Salem” clan owe their power to the black slave Titube, who shared her witchcraft abilities with English colonists who lived in Salem during the witch hunt.

250,000 people visit Salem annually in October – it’s all about Halloween! Residents of Salem deliberately cultivate the image of a “witchcraft” city. This attracts crowds of tourists to Salem who want to stroll through haunted houses and listen to horror stories of mass executions of witches..

0 (zero) It costs dollars for the residents of Salem to enter the local museum, which houses one of the largest collections of Asian art in the United States. The Peabody Essex Museum is one of the Top 10 Art Museums in North America. Here are kept 840 thousand works of art brought to the United States from different parts of the world. The museum was founded in 1799 by a group of Salem sailors.

1664 year – it was in this year that the oldest and surviving building in Salem was built – the Pickman House. It is also the second oldest building in the United States. The historic house adjoins the 1992 memorial to the victims of the witch hunt, and the local cemetery, which, incidentally, is also one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. The house belongs to the Peabody-Essex Museum and is closed to the public.

Pickman House is the oldest building in Salem

However, tourists can get inside other ancient buildings that were built around the same time – the house of Gedney and Cox, built in 1665. Or to the famous House of Seven Gables – a mansion built a little later, in 1668 (remember, before the trial of the witches then there were still 25 years left!). This house became famous thanks to the novel of the same name, written by the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851..

House of Seven Gables

What residents say about the city

&# 171; If there is anything good about all this hysteria [during the witch hunt], it is that the foundation was laid for our judicial system. In fact, what happened in Salem is the source for modern evidence. Largely because of its history, Salem has become a much more progressive city, focused on social justice.&# 187;

&# 171; Is it acceptable to create an entire commercial industry out of the Salem litigation? For me, the answer is yes! This is an opportunity to teach people. Many are attracted by the very idea of ​​witchcraft, the dark side of the story with witches is intriguing, but when people come here for this, they learn new things – the story of Salem and the tragedy of the trial, they learn how to avoid this in the future&# 187;

&# 171; Salem is a kind of Mecca for witches. There are at least more of us here, so it’s safer here. If I went to an ordinary town somewhere in Ohio, where people are not so tolerant of such religions, it would hardly have ended well for me.&# 187;

  • Evgeny Baranov

On «Voice of America» since 2017. Worked as an analyst at the Expert and Analytical Center of the Far Eastern Federal University.  Graduate of the Central European University


  • Artem Gurevich

    In journalism – since 2001. From 2005 to 2009, he was responsible for public relations at Nokia in the Russian Far East. He worked in Singapore, Thailand, Brazil and Argentina, developing corporate publications for Coca-Cola and Kaspersky Lab companies. In 2017, he participated in the restart of RTVI, worked as an Internet news editor at the channel’s New York office. On «Voice of America» – since 2018.


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