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Emerson Baker on the Salem Witch Trials, Protective Magic, and Proctor’s Ledge

Emerson Baker on the Salem Witch Trials, Protective Magic, and Proctor's Ledge Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Emerson Baker enchants us in this ineffable discussion on Early New Englander and Puritan folk beliefs, protective magic and the safeguarding of the execution grounds for the Salem Witch Trials, known as Proctor’s Ledge.Pour your best beverage and sit back to take in this insight packed episode. Dr. Emerson Baker’s mastery of these topics are revealing, invaluable and instructive. You will walk away enlightened and excited to have a better understanding of the fear that gripped this culture. We have some laughs and heartfelt conversation while focusing on key facets of the witchcraft traditions of the 17th century. We connect past witch trials to today’s witchcraft fear with a discussion answering our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches? Links"A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience" by Emerson Baker"The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England', by Emerson BakerSupport our show, buy "Records of the Salem Witch Hunt" through this link."Witches and Witch-Hunts" by Wolfgang BehringerUniversity of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and TranscriptionsHuman Rights Council: Study on the situation of the violations and abuses of human rights rooted in harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks, as well as stigmatization.Support Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!End Witch Hunts Movement Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book StoreSupport Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutFact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial HistorySupport the show

Show Notes

Emerson Baker enchants us in this ineffable discussion on Early New Englander and Puritan folk beliefs, protective magic and the safeguarding of the execution grounds for the Salem Witch Trials, known as Proctor’s Ledge.

Pour your best beverage and sit back to take in this insight packed episode. Dr. Emerson Baker’s mastery of these topics are revealing, invaluable and instructive. You will walk away enlightened and excited to have a better understanding of the fear that gripped this culture. We have some laughs and heartfelt conversation while focusing on key facets of the witchcraft traditions of the 17th century. We connect past witch trials to today’s witchcraft fear with a discussion answering our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches? 


“A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience” by Emerson Baker

“The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England’, by Emerson Baker

Support our show, buy “Records of the Salem Witch Hunt” through this link.

“Witches and Witch-Hunts” by Wolfgang Behringer

University of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and Transcriptions

Human Rights Council: Study on the situation of the violations and abuses of human rights rooted in harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks, as well as stigmatization.

Support Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!

End Witch Hunts Movement 

Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book Store

Support Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!

Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Fact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial History

Write a Connecticut Legislator 














Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to an exceptional episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson.
Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack.
Josh Hutchinson: Today we have the privilege of speaking with the esteemed professor Emerson W. Baker of Salem State University, Salem Witch trials expert. We get to talk to him about counter magic, material culture, protective magic, the Gallows Hill Project, which located the actual site of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials hangings,[00:01:00] and we'll hear a lot of great stories from him and learn about what kinds of objects were used to protect a home from magical invaders or invisible, spiritual, witches, demons, spiritual threats. We talk about objects found hidden in walls of colonial homes. We talk about protective magic. We talk about marks made on walls to protect the entrances, especially, doors, windows, chimneys, wells.
Emerson began his career as an archeologist, and he loves studying material culture. In fact, he teaches two classes on material culture. 
We'll learn about the room in his house [00:02:00] that contains a gateway to hell. We'll talk about whether these beliefs constitute superstition, and we'll talk a little bit about our modern superstitions.
And then we'll talk about Proctor's Ledge, learn about the oral history of the location of the hangings and the oral history of the secret burials of the unfortunates who were executed. We'll get to hear Emerson's dedication speech from when they dedicated the Proctor's Ledge Memorial to the victims.
And throughout our conversation, it just comes out that Emerson is a local, feels like he's from Salem, and gives you the local [00:03:00] tour of the location, the history, his stories are evocative. You listen to it, and you feel like you're actually there in that time and place.
Sarah Jack: And now Josh will tell us about the innocent victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
Josh Hutchinson: The following individuals died as a result of the Salem Witch Hunt. 
Sarah Osborne died in jail May 10th, 1692. 
Bridget Bishop, hanged June 10th. 
Roger Toothaker died in jail June 16th. 
Infant Good died in jail before July 19th. 
Sarah Good, Susanna Martin, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Wilds, Elizabeth Howe, all hanged July 19th. 
George Burroughs, John Proctor. Martha Carrier, George Jacobs, Sr., John Willard, [00:04:00] hanged August 19th. 
Giles Corey pressed to death with stones September 19th. 
Mary Esty, Samuel Wardwell, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Martha Corey, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Margaret Scott, hanged September 22nd. 
Ann Foster died in jail December 3rd. 
Lydia Dustin died in jail March 10th, 1693. 
Sarah Jack: Thank you Josh for helping us to remember the victims.
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome. I think it's important to know their names and what happened to them, and to never forget and work as hard as we can to avoid repeating our mistakes. 
And now it's my privilege to introduce Dr. Emerson W. Baker, professor of history at Salem State [00:05:00] University, Salem Witch Trials expert, and author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience.
Emerson Baker: I'm first and foremost still consider myself to be an archeologist more than anything else, but it's with a, I would say, with a small a. And so I spent over 40 years now studying material culture of one form or another. And what's really fascinating is the different ways that you can look at the material evidence of the past to even look at witchcraft in ways that I think we're only recently realizing.
Frankly, when I was in college, one reason I decided I could actually maybe make a career into this was through material culture and archeology when I realized that there are so many things about Early America that we don't know, that maybe we have all these documents that have been studied to death. Look how long we've had available, in one form or another, at least most of the Salem Witch Trials transcripts. 
So what's the new way to look at the past and something like Salem? One answer to that is material culture. So specifically we're [00:06:00] talking about things like material objects left behind, poppets, or what we colloquially call voodoo dolls, or witches bottles and other things used to ward off evil, horseshoes, old shoes, carvings essentially what we'd consider to be the graffiti in old houses. 
When we first purchased our old home here in Maine about 25 years ago, it's only a little over 200 year olds, it's built about in the 1790s. Okay. After the Age of Witch Hunts, in theory, we found an odd carving in the wall. At the time, I thought it was some board kid on a rainy day, took out a jackknife or a compass and made this unusual little design.
And then only a few years later did I realize that nope, no. In fact, that was counter magic. So long way of answering that, Josh, is it can take lots of different forms. And what's exciting about it is only really in the past, really maybe 20 years or 30 years, have scholars even begun to realize that some of these weird things that they find on archeology digs or in old houses or old churches [00:07:00] is not there by accident.
Sarah Jack: Why is it important to understand the early modern New England Puritan worldviews?
Emerson Baker: In special relation to that material culture. What's I think the most important point that I would make is several, but one is what we are seeing in here regularly are evidence of what we would call white magic, right? And well in some degree, some would say, would say maybe even black magic. What it really talks about is the fact that early New Englanders, be they Puritan or whatever faith, have these underlying folkways and folk beliefs, which in many ways are pre-Christian, indeed really anti-Christian, right? And that, in fact, if the minister knew what they were doing, he would be rather upset.
And the same time, it goes along with the, and I'm sure you folks are well aware of these things, but the differences between black magic and white magic and how they were viewed. And we all know this, because we've all watched the Wizard of Oz, and we know we have the wicked witches of the east and the west. And of course, if you didn't know that they were wicked they're dressed in black. [00:08:00] And then you have Glenda, the beautiful, dressed in white, good witch from the north who's there to help Dorothy and help her find her way home, and to some degrees here's the problem. Cotton Mather and Increase Mather would say it doesn't matter, because even though Glenda's a good Witch, she's still a witch, and she's still invoking the dark powers of Satan to try to help Dorothy, right?
And so when you are using counter magic, even if it's to ward off witches, it is not God that's helping you. All that you really should need is praying to God and God will hear you and hopefully answer your prayers and will protect you from evil. As opposed to though, but when you are doing things like using witches bottles or horseshoes or things like this, you are, whether you mean to or not, you are invoking dark powers. You were invoking Satan. 
So the simple fact that you have material evidence of witchcraft demonstrates these underlying folk beliefs in white magic, or really the idea of cunning women and cunning men that we assumed were there, but you don't have a lot of evidence of it, because, again, not many of these folks wanna get up in front of the congregation and announce the fact that, by the way, [00:09:00] afterwards, I'll be leading a charm circle next door or something, because it's going to get them in trouble.
So that's one important thing. But I think maybe, to me, the bigger issue is the continuation of belief. When you're dealing with old houses, and you find things like shoes buried in the wall or horseshoes buried under the sheathing or other things like this or carvings like daisy wheels, hexagrams, which is what we found in our house.
They can be incredibly difficult to date, because if you're in a house like ours as it was built in the 1790s, that daisy wheel could have been carved in 1790 when the people arrived, or frankly, it could have been carved maybe a year before someone sold the house to us. But at least you can know, for example, and a house is built in 1790 that we're talking like a hundred years after the Salem Witch trials.
And people still have some kind of belief and fear of supernatural and of witchcraft. And so it speaks to that continuation of belief, and particularly to me, it talks about the changing nature of belief and also the ways to stop witchcraft, right? People, many people, and I know you folks know better, many sort of members of the puplic would [00:10:00] just say, "wow. So the Salem Witch trials, those were the last Witch trials. So after that, people stopped trying witches, because they stopped believing in witchcraft," and no, absolutely not, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. 
They stopped the witch trials, because they realized it was, well as Increase Mather said, I'll sort of paraphrase, "better that 10 witches live than one innocent life be shed." The point being that we cannot, it's so hard to be sure that we actually have a witch as opposed to an innocent person. And the fact that, of those 19 people that died, the Mathers would tell you, I'm sure, they were all guilty. Cotton Mather would say, "absolutely." Increase would say, "I hope so." 
 So the problem is, if after 1692, the courts have pretty much decided that they're not gonna be able to successfully try witches, especially when Massachusetts says we can't use spectral evidence, which again, frankly was, thank God.
How are people gonna protect themselves from witches, when they still know that they're real? And what you really have to go to is the home security system of colonial [00:11:00] America, which is counter magic, right? You have to protect your house with things from boughs of greenery under the threshold, horseshoes over the threshold.
 I think what we see evidence is of, like, people finding other ways to try to protect themselves against witches and against Satan. And to me, the fascinating thing there is, again, it's not just houses from the 17th century. It's not just things before the Salem Witch Trials, it's houses that weren't built until the late 18th century or the 19th century.
And, in fact, a few miles from where I live here in York, Maine, and down in Elliot, there was a house museum, which was built in 1896. And when they were doing some work on it a few years ago, what did they find in the attic? But in the attic, in the louver, they actually found a bottle with a pentagram on it, scratched into the side, probably a witch's bottle. And a couple other things, too, that were clearly counter magic. We are talking about something that took place almost in the 20th century, where those beliefs continue to some degrees. And in fact, it really continued to some in that way today, too.[00:12:00] 
Think of the horseshoe, right? To us it's become a symbol of good luck. But if you start pushing harder on that, you can tie it directly back to the belief that it was protection against witches. And you see them showing up in the records of some of the witch trials, particularly, the Morse case in about 1680 in Newburyport. A neighbor comes in and scolds the family for having a horseshoe over the door. And he says, "this is basically witchery and superstition." And he takes it down and then they say, "but the next day, our neighbor Goody Morse who never came in the house, all of a sudden she came in. So you see, it was warding off witches, cuz everybody knows she's a witch." To me, it's a fascinating way to try to tease out those beliefs, cuz the problem, of course, with studying witchcraft is for the most part, right? Again it's not tangible, right? It's intellectual history per se.
And to be able to find a horseshoe buried in the wall of an old house and it's not, and it never served any purpose as a barn, you can say, and we find these on my archeology sites, we say, "boy, if you find a horseshoe on a barn, it means one thing, you find a horseshoe about where the threshold of a house was, that means something very different."
Josh Hutchinson: My [00:13:00] parents several years ago purchased a house in Arizona that had a horse-themed room with a big horse mural on one of the walls, but they found a horseshoe in there, and so they hung it above the mantle, purely decoratively. A friend came over and said, "you've got your horseshoe upside down. You're letting all the magic out, or the good luck out." And that was five years ago or so. 
Emerson Baker: And there's all sorts of debate over that as to whether it needs to be upside down or right side up. There's all sorts of stories about where that belief comes from, but one aspect of it seems to be that iron artifacts, in particular, believe to have magical properties. And again, if you go back to medieval Europe, iron was a pretty amazing thing, right? And particularly sharp iron objects. So horseshoes, maybe not in that sense, but, so for example, the same room of our old house here that we found the daisy wheel or hexafoil, which again is a counter magical symbol [00:14:00] carved into the doorjamb inside that room. When work was being done, we had to pull up the floor, cuz the sills were rotting. Buried in the wall of that house, we found a broad ax that was 200 years old and razor sharp, still complete with the handle. You could have gone out and hewn wood with it. And the same thing too, like in witches bottles, where you usually find nails or pins. So iron is a pretty amazing thing. It's considered to be magical. 
And then also too sharp iron objects, again, are one direct way to ward off evil. So when you, again, like when you just finding that ax buried in the wall wouldn't be one thing, but when you find it in comparison with other things. And then when we pulled up the floor in in that room, what else did we find? We found that was the old laundry room in the house cuz there was a well under the floor. 
 Evil seems to me is not all that bright. Evil tries to get into houses kinda through the openings, through the doors, windows, the chimney. And we could have a long talk about different kinds of spirits, this could have been your Christmas show, either [00:15:00] evil or nice coming down the chimney. 
But think about this. What room would you be worried about in your house if you were worried about evil coming in? How about the room that has the direct passage down into hell? Through the well, right? Again, these things and if you look at old houses, I would say, too, the other thing to me that really is fascinating about this is if you look at most old New England homes built certainly before 1800 and maybe before the Civil War, you almost invariably will find some form of magical slash superstitious kind of protection, be it a horseshoe or some carving, even one of these different types of, if not a daisy wheel or hexagram, maybe a Marion mark or was known as a demon trap, all kinds of things like that. And the issue is until people started to think about this again, like maybe 20 years ago, people said, "boy, the carpenters made this odd mark here, didn't they?" Yeah, no, they didn't.
Sarah Jack: And would've it been like the husband that would do it? The wife?
Emerson Baker: These are the kinds of things. Here's the problem again, no one writes down in their diary, "today the wife and I carved the hexafoil in the barn door to keep evil out of the [00:16:00] barn, because old Bessie hasn't been milking really well lately." We really don't know.
It probably could have been any adult member of the family. And for lots of different reasons. My former grad student, Alyssa Conary, and I just published a really short piece in a new book on Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Portsmouth in 101 Objects. And we published a piece on the the daisy wheel or hexa foil that's in a partition room upstairs at the Jackson House. Now, the Jackson House was built in 1664 or so in Portsmouth, but the upstairs room was divided in the 1710s. So again, we know this has to be an 18th century piece.
But in this case, we know that the room, one side of that room, the partition was occupied by a member of the family who had mental illness we would call it today. But at the time, in the 18th century, mental illness was the belief to be something that Satan sort of inflicted people with. So in this case, some member of the family, well-intentioned, member of the family, and again, we don't know if it was a brother or sister or aunt or uncle, were trying to protect that member of the family from evil. And I suspect it would be, it could well be any member of the family who's trying to look [00:17:00] out for them.
But these are the kinds of things that we just, we're still trying to figure out. And sometimes you can figure out by maybe who was living at the house at a certain time as who would be, but it's, I'll tell you, Sarah, it's a brave, new frontier. If people are interested, they can start studying their houses and others, and then looking at the house history and trying to figure out when and how did this get here?
Josh Hutchinson: We probably don't know then if they had a little ritual to go along with placing the object or the mark.
Emerson Baker: No, but I think you're on the right track there, Josh. I'm assuming it's not something where you just randomly do it right. If you're considering that you're like blessing and protecting the house, one would assume there would be some kind of ritual with it you know, It'd be really, be interesting to try to sort some of these things out. I just came across a talk. I think we must have been an 18th or 19th century like magic book that was just found down in the South somewhere. Have you heard about this? There's a talk being given about it.
And so I'm thinking, like, to what degree would people have had known spells and charms or would've had [00:18:00] access to physick books or those sorts of things to aid them. And again, in England too, they're beginning to find more of these sorts of things, and they go later into history than one might think into the 18th and 19th century.
 I think, too, as these are things that would not have been done, again, like offhand and lightly, would've had a probably a degree of ceremony to it as well, too, right? 
Josh Hutchinson: You'd think they'd at least say some words along with it. 
Sarah Jack: Do you think they would've mixed maybe a prayer with the magic symbol to cover both ends? 
Emerson Baker: That is a really wonderful question. I wish I knew. I will tell you this. I think a lot of these times these things are deliberately hidden. My favorite example of this is the Zerubbabel Endicott house down in what's now Danvers. And I actually have the artifacts from it in the in Storm of Witchcraft. But when that house was being disassembled by Richard Trask, and they had to make, they were in the seventies, it was the old, this is governor Endicott's grandson, it's a Harvard graduate, I believe, right? He was a doctor, Zerubbabel Endicott. [00:19:00] And he built a house in the 1680s. And, unfortunately, it had to be taken down in the 1970s when they were putting in a new shopping center and a supermarket in Danvers. 
But in this case, the owners of the new plaza there allowed Richard Trask and volunteers from the Danvers Alarm Company to disassemble the frame. And it's actually reassembled today, as you probably know. That is the Rebecca Nurse Farm that is actually, they've reassembled it as a as a barn. And that's where the visitor center is. And you can go in there and see what they found. What they found when they took down the house, they took down the sheathing, the outer boards over the frame, and then nailed to the frame under the sheathing, they found a horseshoe on one side of the doorway, and on the other side was a three-pronged eel spear trident, which we would also know as the Devil's Pitchfork.
So here's a sharp iron object that has associations with Satan. So the interesting thing is, in these cases, as I mentioned, is because these were hidden under the sheathing of the house and only the Endicotts and maybe their carpenter [00:20:00] would've even known these things were ever there. 
And so on the same time when Reverend Parris came over to have dinner with the Endicotts, he would've had an enjoyable dinner. And the Endicotts, when he left, they probably kind of of smiled and said, "you know what? He didn't even realize he was walking through a threshold that had magic in it, and good thing we buried into the wall cuz otherwise he would've spent the evening giving us a lecture." Because, again, white magic. But having said that, too, I think it's clear, and if you look at some of the work, oh, like David Hall's work, really, of looking like a sort of folk magic within Puritanism, some of his writings.
I think while Reverend Parris would've shuttered the thought of this even being in the house and would've been unhappy with the thought of any kind of prayer there. Who's to say what even God fearing Puritan families might have done in any effort to protect their home? So it's certainly not beyond the realm of reason. 
I keep on still waiting and hoping that we'll find some kinds of diaries or something that might give us some insight into this, into how some of these, what the spells were and how they might be used and what relationship they [00:21:00] might have to the Christian faith of these folk. To me that's why it's fascinating, and to me, at least, a physical manifestation of it gives you evidence that this stuff really was taking place, and it's not just something we're making up.
Sarah Jack: Finding somebody's writing about it would be fantastic. 
Emerson Baker: There is the only and there is one, it's a very famous image, at least in these circles. There is, oh, it's like a print from late 16th century German print of Walpurgisnacht, I think, the Witches Night. It shows the house that's torn down, really, and nothing's left of it except for the hearth and the fireplace and the chimney. And you have, guess what? You have all kinds of marks carved into it. Again, too, it's see it's real. But again to what degrees is someone going to want to commit to that in writing for posterity? Probably not likely, but again, maybe you can find something in a wall sometime or something that the curse or the chant that was put in there, cuz we do know that people had these sort of rituals, again, like using of poppets. We know in the Salem Witch trials transcripts, there are what, five or six of the people testify about the use [00:22:00] of poppets, including several that are using them as counter magic. The one woman even, who said, they say, " so well here, you might have poppets" and says, "oh yeah, absolutely, because I use it to get back at that witch. He's trying to get me." 
Of course, this one woman I'm talking with is Reverend Higginson's own daughter, and he says that she might have been having some mental difficulties of her own, which is the reverend's excuse for it. But at the same time too, she sees it the best way to protect herself from witchcraft is to take the offensive, right, with poppets. They're used as evidence against Bridget Bishop, right? Where the carpenters say, "yeah, I've always wondered about her, cuz like 10, 11 years ago when I was working on her house and working on the foundation in the basement, found puppets in the holes in the stone foundation," right? And as I like to point out, that's one of the reasons that Bridget Bishop was one of the first, I think was the first one to be tried, because the case against her was so very strong. The crown's attorney was no fool. He knew he wanted to go from the strongest cases first. Even though people talk about 1690s people being executed for [00:23:00] witchcraft, I really think that if they'd presented the Bridget Bishop case before a court in London, sadly, she probably might have lost her life, too. 
And again, by our standards, it's, "okay, so you say you saw a poppet there 10 years ago. Where is it? Do you have any evidence of it today? Can you show it to me?" And you'd say, "what?" But at that point, they would, by our standards of the day, it was the King's Justice and it was English common law, but not quite as we'd recognize it. But I really think that kind of testimony, again, made under oath, and if you're lying, you're gonna be eternally damned in hell. To make that kind of testimony, it would've probably might well have gotten someone executed in London in 1692, I think. Combined with the other complaints about all the things that Bridget had apparently done to people over the ensuing 10 or 12 years.
Josh Hutchinson: You've mentioned that the well in your house, the wells were like a gateway to hell. Why would they believe that?
Emerson Baker: It's a large hole that goes directly into the ground, right? And in that sense again, it's an any [00:24:00] opening to the house. Is dangerous. And this the, probably you've seen this, the famous illustration from Saducismus Triumphatus where he shows the demons flying around a house and trying to get in an attic window, right?
Again, if you consider that the demons are minions of Satan, Satan controls the underworld, it makes perfect sense to think that they're gonna, why bother trying to come down the chimney and we just have to come up from hell and just come right into the place? And how are you going to protect that? And in fact, again, if you read some of the literature, particularly in England and books like, Keith Thomas's work and others, they will talk to you about the magical power of wells. Look at again, today, what's the tradition? You know, there's old well, throw in a penny and make a wish, right? So again, wells have always considered to to have some sort of perhaps supernatural power to them. In the back of your mind, you said, "oh yeah, it's a wishing well." Be careful what you wish for, right?
Josh Hutchinson: I guess they work both ways.
Emerson Baker: Yeah. And that's frankly the way it is with a lot of these things about magic. Ouija boards, of course, are classic example of [00:25:00] this that are really, the 17th century it was divination with sieve and shears. It's basically the, yes, no, which way it falls is to answer the question. But again, it could be this could be used for good purposes to try to help people find lost objects or things like this, or it could be used for, more dubious ones, like, "what's my future going to be like? Am I going to marry the handsome farm boy next door?" Those kinds of things, which of course is again, is an element of course in Salem in 1692, but of course has been way overplayed.
 The Crucible unfortunately, does a real bad number on this. Arthur Miller maybe is America's greatest playwright, but maybe one of its worst historians, right? In fact, no, we cannot attribute Tituba to practicing Voodoo and doing all this fortune telling. Because as my friend Mary Beth Norton, I think, has proven pretty thoroughly, is that, yeah, we only really only know of maybe one of these afflicted girls who had anything to do with sort of fortune telling and that it really does not seem to have been, there's no real evidence, contemporary evidence, that it was important to the witch trials, except to say that we do know that [00:26:00] Cotton Mather was dead set against it, and that it did seem to be very much the rage in Salem and Massachusetts in the 1690s.
Oh, and by the way, most interestingly, of course, is that when Mather writes his biography of William Phipps, he does talk about an old fortune that had been written for Phipps that was found in his sea chest, which is a really interesting thing for Mather to write, considering it's really more of a hagiography than a biography. Cotton Mather was the ultimate spin doctor of the 17th century, and here he is admitting it in a published history that, yeah, Phipps, he toyed with fortunes, as well, but then he says, but he didn't pay any attention to it. Or for something like, but he had didn't ask to have it done, he's trying to dismissing it.
When you think of what Massachusetts was like in the 1690s, people were really concerned about the future. Was it a good idea to be communing with dark spirits to try to find the future for you or the colony? No, not at all. But you can understand in those uncertain [00:27:00] times why people would really be concerned and want to know what was going on. 
And it's that you really have so many bad things going on in the colony. What does this say about the future of the puritan experiment, about that city upon the hill? And so, to some degrees, again, I even see that sort of interest in fortune telling is fitting right in very much with people's fears about really the decline of their society and everything they believed in.
Josh Hutchinson: We talked to somebody who said that during the pandemic, the sale of tarot cards went up, while people were staying at home wondering about the future.
Emerson Baker: Wow. That would make a lot of sense. If you look at what factors create Witch Hunts, and I don't know if you've read Wolfgang Behringer's witch hunts book, I can't remember the exact title, but basically his world history of witch hunts. If you haven't, really good book. And of course, Behringer's German historian who's actually I think at Cambridge or Oxford, maybe, or London. And he's an expert on two things, and they closely intersect, right? But one is witchcraft, and the other's history of weather. [00:28:00] 
And what he really says in this book is two things usually go wrong to cause witchcraft, witch hunts. One is historically bad weather. And in a pre-modern society, historically bad weather means crop failure, means famine, means death, means inflation. People can get by that as long as they have the other thing. And that is a strong government that they believe is there to help them and look after them. Because if they do that, they know that, okay, the king's gonna make good. He's gonna find food for us, we're gonna be okay. But if you have that central government that you don't trust, don't believe is going to help you. Yeah. Cause a problem. 
And of course, the other factor that we had in Massachusetts in the 1690s, as well, yeah, pestilence, disease, epidemic. In 1690, Massachusetts is hit by a smallpox epidemic. And it's the most unfortunate named person maybe in the witch trials, Martha Carrier, right? Because it [00:29:00] is her family who are the ones that are believed to have carried smallpox into Andover, killing several members of their family, as well as others that may have singled the Carriers out for, shall we say, special attention that led to the witchcraft charges.
So in this sense, too, I think about this, right? When I think about witchcraft and belief again in supernatural, if you think of things like what we faced during the epidemic, historically bad weather, lots of concerns about stability of government, combined with epidemic. And especially, too, for our society, because here's the deal, folks, we all grew up thinking that we were gonna live long, healthy lives unless something really horrible happened. That we had antibiotics, and we had almost no one died in childbirth anymore. And unless something really horrible happened we probably would live really old lives, and all of a sudden all bets were off. And I think it caused a lot of people to turn into some really interesting ways. And I'll just say, I think, the historians of the next generation will have a really interesting time writing the [00:30:00] history.
That old Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times." It, honestly, it's really when you think about this I always wondered, is this a story, and what it might be like to live through something? Not that I wished it, but what would it be like to live through something like the Black Death where all bets are off, where you don't know if you're gonna be here tomorrow? If you don't know if your family is going to be, how does that affect your daily life? How does that affect your faith, your faith in government, your faith in the medical community, your trust of your neighbors? Really interesting thing and to some degrees, again, in many ways, a light. People have always asked me about why do you talk about outbreaks of witchcraft, right? Why do historians seem to be fascinated with comparing witchcraft and its spread to a contagion, to a disease. And I've never really tracked down the origin of who was the first to make that analogy, but it certainly seems to be something where you can certainly trace its growth, and it will spread, can spread like a disease, unless it's stopped. And as we see in a place like Salem, can be incredibly contagious.
What's fascinating to me by it [00:31:00] is the variety of objects and belief and the fact that as the physical manifestations, and also too, that you actually can read in the 17th century accounts efforts to make it, right. Like in in my earlier book, The Devil of Great Island, which is about the bizarre stone throwing devil who's supernaturally assaulting the debauched Quaker tavern. Again, that's a whole different show. It's not like in Salem Village, where they're trying to make the witch cake, but in this case, what they're trying to do is they're boiling urine up with some other things and trying to put it into a witch's bottle. And of course, what happens in the meantime is the stone throwing demon starts throwing rocks down the chimney of the house, which breaks the vessel that they're trying to cook. So you imagine you have this hot urine spattering all over the hearth, which as I like to think would've probably warded off far more than evil, right?
This is not superstitious belief. I get so upset when people talk about people in the 17th century, saying, "oh, how stupid, how superstitious could they be to believe this stuff?" Because in fact, these were God-fearing Christians, many of them college educated, and that everybody believed in witches in the 17th century, kings, [00:32:00] ministers, popes, governors, you name it, because witches were real. They're in the Bible, as you folks know, thou shall not suffer a witch to live. And even, too, there is a science to a lot of this stuff, and you see it in Thomas Brattle's letter, some of these things, the idea of the evil eye or the fact of the curse and the witches and the touch, right? The touches test. 
And those are essentially, and the same thing too with the the urine, and the idea being that when a witch casts a spell, they take some of their evil and it gets transmitted to the victim and then to some degrees then. But then when a person who was afflicted by a Witch would urinate, some of that evil would come out in the urine. So that if you can find ways to harm that urine, you can harm the witch. So in this sense, in some degrees they didn't, they obviously didn't understand electricity at the time, but in some degrees, if you think of, if you think of in the 17th century, them thinking of spells being cast and evil being sent into people almost like electricity, some sort of invisible force.
Again, just so may, maybe that's the way to leave it, Josh, is like to say that these aren't crazy people that are just boiling urine up for the, cuz there's nothing else to do on it. It's a boring Saturday night [00:33:00] in Salem, so let's boil up some urine and bake a loaf of witch's cake with some of the dog's urine and have a good time. No, these are people who are, these are desperate times with people who are looking to the remedies that the leading scholars of the day and thinkers are offering them as to how to protect themselves from evil. And I guess to me, what's the fascinating about it is to some degrees is like how little we know about that today, but in large part again too is because, if you think about this, there's lots of things in our society today that are clandestined, that are not accepted by the government for various reasons or by your neighbors that you have to do in quiet. Those sorts of stories are ones that never seem to get written down. 
Josh Hutchinson: Yeah. I wanted to just comment a little bit what you were saying goes back to the importance of understanding the worldview because you have to understand that witchcraft was real to them. Not a superstition. It's just an ordinary part of their world and could happen at any time, and I think that's important to think about.
Emerson Baker: Give you the brief version of the [00:34:00] last page or so of Storm of Witchcraft, where I say, so supposing there is a terrible evil out there, and you know that it's out to get you, but you don't know who it is or how to make them stop, how to round them up, and the government is doing their best to help you, but frankly, this evil doesn't have to be present to harm you. It could destroy you and your family and your faith and your government from miles and miles away, right? Essentially, if you swap that 17th century word "witch", and this very distinctly with the 17th century and no cast, no aspersions at all to the modern Wiccan faith, which is a very different thing. But if we think of that 17th century witch in league with Satan trying to kill people with Satan's powers and swap that word "witch" for "terrorists" today, I think you have a much better understanding of the difficulty 17th century society faced when evil could be in any form and could strike at any matter.
And ever since [00:35:00] 9/11, I think every time you hear a siren go off or a large explosion, if it's just one, you don't think too much about it, maybe somewhere back in the back of your mind, right? But then if you hear a second siren or a second explosion, or you see a large, black cloud, oh boy, I think your mind takes you to some of the darkest places possible. You're absolutely right. This was their belief system, their knowledge, and it's all part of that. And just like our modern world with where our fears come from, too. So yeah. Sobering stuff, it really, this is heavy duty stuff, witchcraft and fears and the unknown. And witch hunts, right.
Josh Hutchinson: And then to say that we're not superstitious today also strikes me as funny.
Emerson Baker: Yeah. I like to point out in the good old days when the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, like just about every year I, as long as they were leading, I refused to get out of my chair. And I still attribute one or two of their losses to the fact, like at halftime I really had to get up and go to the bathroom, but [00:36:00] then again wait, you really think you have that kind of power? Yeah, no, I guess I don't. I think we all have various traditions, superstitions, whatever, habits? They're deep down, buried inside sometimes. But you put a society and individuals under pressure, and they start coming out, don't they?
Sarah Jack: Yeah, we've just started talking between us a little bit about that. Where's the line between ritual, tradition, I really try to understand, so we're not gonna reflect back as it as if it's superstitious, but in our modern time, superstition, it's very important to people. So it's like really hard to get to, to ask people to not look through their superstitious lens at what we view in the past is superstitious.
Emerson Baker: And believe me, working in Salem for almost 30 years, superstition is a fact of life.
Josh Hutchinson: And one thing that's helping us understand the fear that people experienced in the 17th century is [00:37:00] understanding the fear people experience in places like Nigeria and South Africa today, where they're still accusing people of witchcraft.
Emerson Baker: I wanna listen to that episode. There was the Salem Film Festival, I think it was it last year? They had a a really powerful film about witchcraft, a documentary about witchcraft in Africa, that the parallels to Salem were scary. I'll just leave it at that.
Sarah Jack: it is alarming.
Josh Hutchinson: We spoke to a South African activist for last week's episode, and he was talking about the parallels that he listens to our show and he hears us talk about early modern witch trials, and he's like, "that's so much what we've got going on here." And then we spoke to Leo Igwe of Nigeria, and he said that in Nigeria we're where you were in the early modern period, as far as witchcraft goes. [00:38:00] So they both see the parallels to our history.
Emerson Baker: And a lot of it, too, it sounds like, is jealousy over land ownership, which again, Boyer and Nisenbaum 101 kind of stuff.
Josh Hutchinson: Sarah, do you want to take us into the Proctor's Ledge?
Sarah Jack: How did you get involved in the project to identify the location of the hangings?
Emerson Baker: Well, this goes back a long ways. There were a number of us who had worked on documentaries, several documentaries on the Salem Witch Trials that our good buddy Tom Phillips filmmaker was involved in, and Elizabeth Peterson, who of course at the time ran just the Witch House for the city of Salem and now runs the Witch House plus Pioneer Village plus the Charter Street Burial Ground. The two of them and then a few of us, myself, Marilynne Roach, Ben Ray, and also my buddy Peter Sablock geology and geo archeologist at Salem State had, most of us had worked together on a couple of these documentaries, and when Elizabeth actually had gone back and was doing some of [00:39:00] the reading, including some of Marilynne's earlier work, said, "hey, I think the city of Salem owns the execution site of the witches in 1692, and it's like the trashed backyard where everyone throws their garbage and walks their dog. And could we find out if this is like the real site? Cuz if it is, the city should do something about it." And Tom's going, " yeah, and we should actually make a documentary about this." and we all said, "Sure. Absolutely." And this was back around 2010. Of course, the long story short is again the site was never really lost. Okay. I think the city of Salem had a collective amnesia from the summer of 1692 onward, doing their best to forget this site.
Much as I think the actual site of the courthouse they actually destroyed when they built the MBTA and buried it right down Washington Street in Salem. Was that deliberate? Not necessarily, but did anybody object when they did it? Yeah, probably not. There's a lot of shame in Salem to this day over what happened in 1692, frankly, shame over [00:40:00] the commercialism over the witch trials that has replaced it. So I think Salem did this best to put this place out of its mind. But bottom line is as early as Elizabeth knew. And we all knew it, and again, Marilynne had done previous research on this. As early as 1901, Sidney Pearly had said, "hey, the site is not the top of Gallows Hill," which was one of the believed sites. It's a long debate as to where Gallows's actually was. And we can talk about this, cuz, frankly, there are almost no 17th century documents that talk about its in specifics. It seems to be almost like a taboo subject, even in 1692. But throughout the 19th and early 20th century to this, really till recently, there had been multiple sites that were considered. Was it the top of Gallows Hill? Was this lower spot on Gallows Hill, known as Proctor's Ledge? Was it over on Mack Hill, which is like the next hill over. And you could make cases by and large for any one of a number of those. 
But finally, Sidney Perley, who's and to me is really the hero of this story an local antiquarian and historian who did [00:41:00] amazing work as an antiquarian, while also being a successful lawyer and raising a family. And I really, back in the days before, not even laptop computers, but even photocopy machines to transcribe and understand all the records and publish all he did as much is truly amazing. And he wrote numerous articles on Salem's history. He wrote a history of Salem, and in it in 1901 he wrote it, this piece, in 1901, which first said, if you look at all the evidence, it seems pretty clear that Proctor's Ledge is the spot. This lower piece on Gallows Hill, which of course as we know, today is really between Proctor and Pope Street and Boston Street, right behind the Walgreens, which of, ironically, of course, Walgreens motto is the corner of happy and healthy. But it's not only the location of the executions, but it's also where the Great Salem Fire broke out in the early 20th century.
Anyhow so we started, basically we started, Elizabeth said, why don't you guys all, we asked, we'd all do our research. Elizabeth and Ben and I, who were all historians of the witch trials and had been for a long time, independently [00:42:00] looked at all the evidence, went back and read Perley, looked at his evidence, looked at other documents, looked at depositions and things that Marilynne had pulled out in particular.
And we all spent a year or two chewing through the data individually and then came together and we agreed that, yeah, we all believe that based on all the factors that Sidney Perley was right. And in fact in 1921, he had published a much more definitive article locating the witch trials and what we really, we used, had to use. It is one of these sorts of things where if there's no direct evidence, again, like you don't have anybody saying, "so we took the people up to the execution site and it was such and such." No, all you have is a couple really of the writs for execution by the sheriff, saying, yes "I took Bridget Bishop to the place of execution," very vaguely. 
You have a couple of distant eyewitness accounts, if you will, maybe, of what might have happened on that day. But if you triangulate three or four lines of evidence, if you take what surviving documents you have, if [00:43:00] you take the oral history and tradition of the area, in the families of the victims and the neighbors there, and three or four other different types of evidence, you can triangulate and really come into the fact to the location of the site.
And I can talk more about that. But the first thing I just wanna say is that bottom line is, ironically, even though this was named one of the top 10 archeological discoveries of 2016 by Archeology Magazine, that is discoveries in the world, we have said from day one, we did not discover anything. We only confirmed the evidence that Sidney Perley had made public that frankly, the Proctor family probably knew forever and had been lost. And our job was not to find anything. Our job was to make sure that the site was never, ever forgotten again. Because in fact, from Perley's time on up to about 2000 or so, about every 10 or 20 years, there'd be an article in the local paper, in the Salem [00:44:00] News or something saying, " oh yeah, someone says that we're, it's the wrong place. And it isn't way up here at the top of the hill. It's down here at Proctor's Ledge." And I'm more than happy to talk in any aspects of that, Sarah, what do you, ask away?
Sarah Jack: No, that was very wonderful. You're hitting so many of our questions, it's fantastic. 
Emerson Baker: It's almost like I've talked about this before.
Sarah Jack: Did you do any analyzing of the ground?
Emerson Baker: Yeah. That was really important. One reason I brought Peter Sablock and his wife, Janet, are now retired, but at the time were professors in the geology department of Salem State and, maybe more important than that, they were friends and neighbors. They live near my wife and I here and are close friends and also partners in crime on archeology science, where they would do the geo archeology and the soils work for me.
And when they started talking about Gallows Hill, I immediately said, "I gotta get Peter involved in this." Because once we had the evidence that the people were, we were pretty sure this was the site, that was the time for Peter and his geology students from Salem State to go do some work on this site. And I'd like to say even before Peter and his folks were out there, [00:45:00] this was the worst kept secret in Salem, that there already were tour buses that went through that street and said, "here's the burial site and the execution site." And because again, too, there are enough sources out there from Perley and even more recently, at least one of the guides to Salem talks about this , and there's a sort of a bad photo evidence. In that sense, it's a good bad photo. It's deliberately vague, so you couldn't say exactly where it was. I think we realized right off the bat that if this was the site, it wasn't going to be enough to say the site. And I'll say this, nothing if no other reason than because yeah, this is Salem.
And probably the first question is this, "how do you know?" The next question is going to be, "where are the bodies?" I don't mean to be grim about this, but this would be the fascination. And we kept all of our work pretty much to ourselves, and Peter and his students went out there and worked off and on for a couple summers doing work in the backyard there on the city-owned parcel of land. Elizabeth was our link to the city, and the city kind of knew what we were doing, but we kept a very low profile. And when anyone asked, [00:46:00] Peter and their students gave this sort of standard archeologist, geologist answer, when people would ask what you're doing a little, maybe a little white lie, but you'd say something like, "oh, septic work." Which usually immediately people lose interest and say, okay have fun with that as they hold their nose and walk away, most of 'em, at least. There were some folks that, some of the locals who knew, cuz they knew the tradition, but they were very good at protecting the site, as well, too. 
But we really knew we had to find out, okay, this is the site. Can we come up with the exact site? Was there a gallows here? Are there, in fact, any burials here? And we had to know that well before announcing this, because we had to know what we were up against. Because we knew as soon as we announced, the site would be overrun with tourists. And frankly, also people who wanted to pay honor to the victims there, as well.
Peter and his crew were out there, and over several years, they did various different types of evidence, particularly ground penetrating radar, which tells you how much soil is there, what the nature of the soil is to bedrock. He did ground penetrating radar and soil resistivity, which measures the conductivity of the soil, which basically can tell you how compact the [00:47:00] soil is and how wet it is, which tells you if it's been dug up and is really good at locating things like grave shafts.
You never think about this until you go out and dig a hole. When you put back the soil, you always have a difficult time getting it all to fit back in the hole. So issues like compaction, locations of walls or wells or things like that or graves will show up through either radar or through soil resistivity.
And what Peter and his crew found was up on the Proctor's Ledge was called Proctor's Ledge for a reason. And that is because there was almost no soil up there and that the deepest deposit he found was a shade less than maybe right around two feet. So that there really was no place to even really bury people. And of course, there's the account by Calef in 1700, where he writes about supposedly being present at the execution on August 19th or in the aftermath, describes it pretty well. And he describes, oh, George Burroughs' hand and maybe someone else's leg being shown, [00:48:00] sticking outta the ground in some sort of like hastily buried grave. We'll say this soil there were so shallow we don't think anyone could have been buried there successfully. And frankly, even if they had been, the soil was so completely perturbated through, disturbed that is, through earthworm and natural root action and natural processes. And there was such wet ground because of close proximity to ledge that there would've been absolutely no evidence of any bones whatsoever.
So that was really important work, but we also, too, then started combining that with, okay, then where would they have buried the people? Was it possible that they were buried there short-term, yes, possibly. And the first thing you find out is that on the executions on August 19th, the weather was so hot that they had to get the dead underground almost immediately.
And we, how do we know this? We know this from Samuel Sewall's diary who Sewall one of the witchcraft judges in at least the version of the diary that survives today. And I often wonder about this, right? He talks about attending every funeral on the planet and all these sorts of things, but almost nothing on the witch trials at all.
[00:49:00] But, in fact, during the execution of August 19th, Sewall, like the other judges, are back home, and Sewall's in Boston, and he writes in his diary within a day or so of that, about a friend of his dying. And he says, it was so hot the friend died in the morning, and the weather was so hot the body would not keep. They buried him before sunset. So that is to say, I could certainly understand why they might have thrown people in a crack in the rocks or whatever, and just thrown some dirt over them temporarily. But what we found out more so in studying this was that it seems pretty clear that the families came and removed their loved ones under covers of darkness.
There are traditions that survived in three of the families, ones that have really strong family traditions, right, the Proctors, the Nurses, and the Jacobs, of their loved ones being brought home for burial in the family burial ground anonymously. Only the family would've known where they were. Because again, the [00:50:00] neighbors would've gotten upset that you did what? So those traditions persist. And in fact, of course, George, the remains that we believe might have been George Jacobs were actually dug up in the 19th century, and then again, what I think in the 1970s when they put in a subdivision in Danversport. And were eventually, thanks to the work of Richard Trask, were reburied in 1992 at the Rebecca Nurse Farm with a replica gravestone. 
So we know that from those families and that we think, and a matter of fact, we actually figured out pretty much where John Proctor was buried too, I think, at least originally, on what had been the only land that he owned in 1692, which was not even where his house was but was, it was down Wall Street even further. But we also put this together with the oral traditions in the people who lived in that neighborhood in Salem. And, interestingly enough, it was a largely that neck of the woods with families like the Popes who were Quaker, which is a really interesting twist, cuz about 10% of Salem's population at the time were Quaker.[00:51:00] 
And we know from the accounts that were first written down by, I think, a grandson of the person who was there in 1692 that heard the families or knew the families were coming to retrieve their executed family members and went out to help them. If you think about 1692 Salem, very little source of natural light, where noise carries a long way. If you're living fifty or a hundred yards from Proctor's Ledge, which these people were, at night you'd see the light, and you'd hear the noise when they started to dig, and you'd know they were there. And we know in this case that several of the local families, mostly apparently the Quakers, went up and helped the families retrieve their loved ones, get them onboard probably small, little rowboats, because at that time you could row a boat all the way up to the site. It's right along what's now a canal. As a matter of fact, with a really bad flooding, they had last, what was it, a week or two [00:52:00] ago, that area there, which is now along the street there, was all flooded. You could have come in and wouldn't have had to carry a body more than probably a hundred feet to get them to water, put them in a rowboat, and quietly row away. And in this case, with both the Proctors and the Nurses and the Jacobs, they could have rowed to within probably a short distance of where these folks were buried, going up, following the tide along the coast and up into rivers and streams. 
So armed with that kind of tradition, as well, once we knew this, there's no evidence of any bodies being up there. The oral tradition says we know where they were buried. And again, it's hidden and largely lost to time. Once we know that, then we felt it was safe to actually go ahead and make the announcement, and we did that in early January 2016. And again, we knew months before this, but we, let's just put it this way, we weren't gonna announce this during Haunted Happenings, were we?
Uh, let's wait until January, when the ground is solid and there's no tourists in town to speak of, and we can [00:53:00] control the narrative and let people know that there really is nothing there. I'll say this, people still didn't believe us. And that spring, we know at least one person who came and knocked on the door of a fellow who's a former actually fire chief in Salem who's retired and whose family had lived in the house, it was the first house built really on Proctor's Ledge in the early 20th century. He was the one who knew the tradition, knew the story well. In fact in the 1970s, he was out working in his yard, and a big, black limo pulls up. And this driver asks, "can you direct me to Gallows Hill?" And he points, and then he points up the hill to the water tower. And then the people in the backseat roll down their windows, and it was John Lennon and Yoko Ono. As he said, "it was the Beatle. It was the Beatle," because it turns out, yes, he found out later on that they were in Boston for a concert at the Garden that week. And Yoko is very interested in the world of pagan lore, and so she wanted to see the site, [00:54:00] at which point I've said, " no, for you guys, it's over here in my backyard." But nope his lip. 
But having said that, so this person came up to his house, I think with a shovel, and said "hey, can I dig in your backyard?" And Tom said, "no, you can't." He said, "that's okay. I think it's public land over there that the city owns, and I'm gonna go dig over there." He said, "no, you're not, as long as we have a police force in Salem." But see, so this is the level of belief, right? Where and again, I'm saying like no one goes to Gettysburg with a shovel and says, "where can I dig?" What on earth possesses people to think it's okay to do this? So the good news was that we really don't think anybody is buried there, that there is nothing to look for. And the other good news is that, yeah, the site, people keep their eyes on it, and the police do regularly drive that route.
Josh Hutchinson: That's an amazing story.
Emerson Baker: The whole episode was an amazing story to me, I guess in part because so I didn't realize how important and big a story it would be. And frankly, actually, we were told by [00:55:00] people, "don't bother with the press conference. Just send a press release out to like the Globe and the Salem News and maybe they'll pick it up."
That was Monday morning. By Wednesday, I was being contacted by the media worldwide. My younger daughter was off at college at the time, and she texted me Wednesday night, I think it was, and said, hey, they'd made me the spokesperson for this thing. I didn't really want it, but I was cold, and I had other things to do. It's January. She said, "Dad, you and Gallows Hill are trending on. I think it was Wednesday, actually. I was on Fox News at midday, too. And like the interest in this was amazing and frankly, to me, it was overwhelming, because I had no idea just how important this was to how many people.
 I don't like to admit this, because I think people think this is why I got involved in it, but I found out in the middle of writing Storm of Witchcraft that Roger Toothaker was like my ninth great uncle. And that's not why I got involved in this, but what it points out to the fact is, if your family's been in New England for more than a generation or two, you're probably related to someone involved in the trials. What I will say is to me, I took it maybe because I work in Salem and study this stuff, that wasn't unfinished business to [00:56:00] me, but it turned out it was to lots of people. And literally when I was on, I had a four minute spot on the midday news on Fox nationally on that Wednesday, I think it was.
And I checked my voicemail later that day., And it was full. It was full with what I would consider to be testimony by people, mostly elderly members of their family, who wanted to thank me, to thank the city of Salem, for what we were doing. They considered this sort of the injustice and unfinished business, and that we were righting an old wrong, and they wanted to come. I got voicemail from pretty much all over North America by people wanting us to know when we would be building a memorial and dedicating it, because they wanted to be there, because this was important to them. Again, it was important to their family. 
And you just didn't realize how important this was when people would say that they basically considered this something that had worn heavily on them ever since, and in many cases, sometimes these people, sometimes they'd known since they were kids they were descendants. Other times, they'd only found out when they got old and started doing [00:57:00] genealogy. But you see this, and you may, folks may have seen this, if you visit the original Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, the 1992 Memorial, where they have the benches for each person, when you go and visit, you often see remembrances left to the individual victims. And it can be things from good luck pennies to roses to quartz crystals to notes. And the notes can be, you read them, and they really hit hard. Same sort of theme of, I remember one for for Giles Corey, were like it was a ninth or tenth great descendant saying, "we have not forgotten you. We love you. You are a member of our family. We remember, we honor you, for we know what an injustice this was." It's really powerful stuff. It really is. And again, to me, that's why I said we had to make sure that the spot wasn't ever forgotten again.
Josh Hutchinson: I've been to that memorial a few times, and I've seen all of those things that you describe. People put flowers on every, single bench and pennies, and I [00:58:00] saw a couple of notes there one time and, yeah, candles, you name it.
Emerson Baker: And you get same sense frankly of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. It's a sacred place where you can reach out and be in touch with those people. And we tried to build a memorial that was reflective of that at Proctor's Ledge, as well, too. I should add, too, on the Proctor's Ledge story, that Mayor Driscoll and her staff were wonderful. When we all sat down with her, the whole team, and told her exactly what we found, we had no idea what her reaction was gonna be or the city's. We were a bunch of four historians trying to figure out how on earth we're gonna raise the money to memorialize the site. And from the start, mayor Driscoll said, who by the way now has been sworn in as Lieutenant Governor Driscoll of Massachusetts, so good for Kim, we're sorry to be losing her in Salem, but glad she's our lieutenant governor. Amita said, "no, Salem must do this. The city of Salem must properly commemorate this site. This is our business, right? This is our duty." And they took that very seriously. And [00:59:00] at which point it took us another over a year or so to get a memorial built, because then we had to start talking with the neighbors, because no one who bought a house, and you're in the backyard of six houses, as well as a Walgreens, none of those people bought in thinking that they had a mass execution site in their backyard. How do you deal with that? But also the fact realizing that again, this is an important site. The other piece of that, too, is no one wants to turn this into another tourist attraction. We don't want a stand popping up next door, Sarah, selling what I describe as fried dough and vampire fangs, right?
How do you mediate this? How do you make it a place where people can come and pay their respects? Cuz believe me, when those 10th great-grandchildren from Arizona or Canada make the trek to Salem, they want to visit that site. The other memorial is nice, but it's got nothing to do directly. It's only association with the witch trials is that it was an empty piece of land that was there when they were getting ready for the tercentenary. But the execution site is really that kind of hallowed space to them. And so we [01:00:00] mediated on that.
And again, the neighbors, we tried to come up with a low impact way, so it wouldn't bother the neighbors too much. But that'd also be a site where people who were in the know could come and go. And to this day, if you look in all of the Destination Salem materials, the official Salem tourism maps and things, the site is not listed, again, out of respect to the neighbors and frankly out of respect to the victims but that people who want to know can find it and can go there and pay their respects and take in the sense of the place and the enormity of the events of 1692.
But again, like the other memorial, I think it tends to be, it's understated, granite, not a lot going on. Martha Lyon, landscape architects, really talented, has done a lot of work in Salem, and helped us out like a Charter Street, and I think put together a really nice, very much fitting memorial even the way is how do you deal with the site when, essentially, it's all uneven rocky ground that is not easily accessible. Certainly not handicap accessible. So essentially we made it like viewing it from essentially just the sidewalk really. And to do that, and I think it turned out really well, [01:01:00] I really do as a proper way to balance all those sort of competing interests in Salem and to have a place where people could go and commune with the victims and, at the same time, not be a tourist trap, right?
 My team asked me if I would say, the dedication ceremony, if I would say a few words on behalf of the team. And of course, we dedicated it on July 19th, 2017, quite deliberately the date of the first mass execution on that site. We really weren't sure we could get it ready for June 10th for the execution site of Bridget Bishop. So we went, we wanted, make sure we had plenty of time so we did it on July 19th and ended, I hoped that this could be a, I'll read the last paragraph so to you. 
 "Finally, it's my sincere hope that today marks a new chapter in how Salem treats the witch trials. We became the Witch City in 1892 on the bicentennial of the trials. While done largely for commercial reasons, I see it as Salem's self-imposed scarlet letter. The term Witch Hunt is synonymous with Salem, and it stands a symbol of persecution, [01:02:00] fanaticism, and rushing to judgment. But with that title also comes responsibilities. From this time forward, I hope that residents and visitors to Salem will treat the tragic events of 1692 with more of the respect they are due. We need less celebration in October and more commemoration and sober reflection throughout the year, for there are tragic lessons to be learned from this story. So our job is to make sure that this site and what happened here is never, ever forgotten. Only through actions like today, where we acknowledge and confront a troubled past, can Salem truly become the city of peace."
And of course, as you probably know, Salem is really short for Jerusalem, city of peace.
Some of my friends tell me that I was maybe being too optimistic, that maybe the city taking ownership for this and doing these things and commemorating the site was an opportunity for a new start. But they haven't seen too much change. I guess I [01:03:00] tend to be more optimistic, which I tend to be usually a pessimistic, my friends would tell you, pessimistic, glass half empty, kind of guy. But in this case, I really think this is an opportunity for Salem to more regularly and vigorously confront that past.
And I'm hopeful that we'll continue to do so more and more in the future. Cuz I really do think that Salem is a place where people tend to be less judgmental, more forgiving than most other cities. And to some degrees and think, a lot of people have come to Salem, right? Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, come and move to Salem not long after he got out of prison. And we talked to him about this, why did you do this? And he said, always loved Salem and fascinated with it. But also, too, this sense of this is a place where you know what it's like to judge people too quickly and too harshly. And that you seem to understand that we need to accept people as they are. Again, I'm optimistic that Salem is a place where people can do that.
Sarah Jack: We share that optimism with you, even though [01:04:00] we are not local. We have that general optimism for the world to start to understand witch hunts better, why they happened, why they continue to happen, and what we are supposed to be doing for each other. 
I share that same optimism with you.
Emerson Baker: As I mentioned at the top, really when I talk about this, more and more, I'm not talking about history. I'm talking about issues of social justice, of scapegoating, rushing to judgment, judging people because they look, act, or speak differently than we do.
How do we define what's normal? And how can we learn to accept others and be tolerant of others? And I think, too, the problem is, honestly, in our society today, people of all walks of life, all political persuasions, we tend to very much get into our own bubbles, right? And we're reaffirmed, because the people, most of our friends and neighbors and coworkers are in the bubble with us. And I think this is particularly bad, right, during the epidemic. But it's but what [01:05:00] about those people that don't think about like us, right? No they don't live around here. They're not one, no. Yeah, they are. How can we have some open dialogue and really try to look and try to find some common ground here? So I appreciate what you folks are doing to try to explore those issues and wish you all the success in the world in getting people to think about this in really thoughtful ways.
Josh Hutchinson: Now here's Sarah with an important update on the witch hunts happening now.
Sarah Jack: End Witch Hunts News.
Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast is a project of End Witch Hunts movement. End Witch Hunts is a nonprofit organization working to educate you about witch trial history and working to motivate you to advocate for modern alleged witches. You'll not find our message sensational or amusing, confusing or muddied. When we talk about the witch, we are stating that the deep-rooted elemental fear of her guided the destruction of the lives of ordinary women and children in our world history. [01:06:00] That the consternation of misfortune today and continued misogynistic behaviors sustain the hate of the witch, driving a violent crisis that is so unbelievable in numbers. Today, mob style witch hunts target and brutally take down ordinary women and children in 60 nations. You heard that right. 60 world neighbor nations have witchcraft fear violence and murder threaded into their communities now.
Here's an excerpt from the most recent published report released this month at the United Nations Human Rights Council's 52nd session. But don't just catch what I highlight now. Please go to the podcast episode description for the link that will take you to the full report. Take time to read the report and share the information with your circle of influence. From the report:
"Women have been disproportionately affected, including older women, widows, women with disabilities, and mothers of children with albinism. Data on respective [01:07:00] human rights violations is under-reported, incomplete, and diffused across various entities. The secretive nature of such incidents makes it even more difficult to track them systematically. While data is hard to source, at least 20,000 victims across 60 countries were reported between 2009 and 2019. 
Reportedly, accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks take place more often in conflict and post-conflict situations, areas affected by natural disasters and environmental degradation, regions with economic and public health crises, and settings where internally-displaced persons and refugees are found, including reintegration initiatives. 
Conflict, instability, intercommunal hostility, and an absence of State authorities have reportedly increased the occurrence of such practices. In some countries, accusations of witchcraft have been identified as the most dominant triggers for the outbreak of intergroup armed violence.[01:08:00] In others, militia have used young girls in the frontline of combat, believed to have the power to intercept the projectiles of firearms in their skirts, while older and better equipped militiamen, even with automatic weapons, were placed in the line of combat further back. In some countries, being labeled as a witch is tantamount to receiving a death sentence. The various forms of violence related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks are often committed with impunity, related to the victims' fear of reprisal and the lack of a law enforcement response. Perpetrators include individuals, such as relatives and local community members, and in some instances government security forces or non-State armed groups. Sometimes belief in witchcraft is spread across all sections of society, affecting also police officers and judges. That reportedly results in an unwillingness to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators."
If you are becoming more familiar with witch trial history, you'll immediately sense that witch fear is being applied in the same ways today that it [01:09:00] was in the past. The same ways. Just like now, in the past, being labeled a witch was often a death sentence, but always a virtual brand, marking families for generations with scrutiny and demoralized futures. It is not a historic crisis. 
Start talking about this. This information must become common knowledge and of importance to the whole world. It is your responsibility to talk about it. Remember when the Connecticut witch trial history was minimized and overlooked, not widely known as a significant part of witch hunt history? Now we must work to include the modern witch hunt horror in the everyday witchcraft conversations. We are the ones that should and can integrate this topic as an expected consideration when addressing the witch hunt phenomenon. 
Please support us with your donations or purchases of educational witch trial books and merchandise. You can shop our merch at,, and shop our books at [01:10:00] We want you as a super listener. You can support Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast production by super listening with your monthly monetary support of any amount. See episode description for links to these support opportunities. We thank you for standing with us and helping us create a world that is safe from witchcraft accusations.
Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah, for that important update.
Sarah Jack: You're welcome.
Josh Hutchinson: And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast.
Sarah Jack: Join us next week.
Josh Hutchinson: Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Sarah Jack: Find our other great episodes at
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell your friends, family, associates, and neighbors about Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast.
Sarah Jack: Support our efforts to end witch hunts. Visit to learn more and donate.
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow.
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