Cultural depictions of the Salem witch trials

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Fanciful representation of the Salem witch trials, lithograph from 1892.

Cultural depictions of the Salem witch trials abound in art, literature and popular media in the United States, from the early 19th century to the present day. The literature and some televisual depictions are discussed in Marion Gibson's Witchcraft Myths in American Culture (New York: Routledge, 2007) and see also Bernard Rosenthal's Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

The Salem witch trials in literature[edit]

Pauline Bradford Mackie
  • "The Devil in Boston" (1948, premiered 1953 in Los Angeles), translated by June Barrows Mussey from the original German "Wahn oder Der Teufel in Boston" (1948, premiered 1949 in Frankfurt a. M.), a play by Lion Feuchtwanger (1884–1958), a German-Jewish writer in exile in the US. Main characters are the Puritan minister and theologian Cotton Mather (1663–1728) and Hanna Parrish, Feuchtwanger's adaptation of Elizabeth Parris. Close to the historical events. Depicts the dynamics of the witch hunt and the interests of the Mathers. A fictional character, Mather's brother-in-law Robert Colman, represents Enlightenment thought.
  • The Secret Circle Trilogy (1992) is a young adult book series by L.J. Smith, which takes place in New Salem. The series focuses on Cassie Blake, a 16 girl who is drawn to a group of high school teenagers who are witches and are hunted by witch hunters.
  • Acceptable Risk (1995), an adult medical thriller novel by Robin Cook (1940-living), with a plot that attributes the afflictions in Salem to an unusual mold that is rediscovered by present-day medical researchers.
  • Gallows Hill (1997) by Lois Duncan (1934-living) is young-adult fiction in which main character Sarah, and many others, turn out to be reincarnations of those accused and killed during the trials.
  • "Oyer and Terminer," a sci-fi short story by Joe Masdon in the collection "Time Twisters" (Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg, eds, DAW, 2007), is set during the Salem witch trials
  • Time of the Witches (2009) by Ann Meyers is a story that describes a fictional character, Drucilla, as she grows up during the witch trials. Many real people, including Tituba, make appearances.
  • Supernatural: One Year Gone (2011) by Rebecca Dessertine is a story based on the TV show Supernatural in which Dean Winchester travels to Salem and discovers a journal by one of his ancestors from the time of the Witch Trials that reveals all the women hanged were innocent and that the real witches instigated the trials as a cover for their evil activities. At the end of the story, while fighting the witches, Dean summons the ghosts of all those killed in the Trials and they kill the two evil witches responsible for their deaths.

The Salem witch trials in popular culture and media[edit]

Film[edit]

Television and Radio[edit]

  • An early episode of the CBS radio program You Are There dramatized key events of the Witch Trials (1947).
  • The television series Bewitched (1964–1972) includes six episodes in Season 7 (1970) that were filmed on location in Salem, with a plot that includes time travel to 1692. On June 15, 2005, the TV Land Network erected a bronze statue in Salem of Elizabeth Montgomery as the lead character, Samantha. TV Land spent $75,000 to install the sculpture in Salem's Lappin Park. It was sculpted by StudioEIS under the direction of brothers Elliott and Ivan Schwartz.[1]
  • Leonard Nimoy's television series In Search of... (1977–1982) aired Season 5, Episode 109: "Salem Witches" (1980)
  • The science-fiction TV show Voyagers! had the main characters, Bogg & Jeff, help save Abiah Folger, the mother of Benjamin Franklin, from being burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials in episode No. 4, "Agents of Satan," which first aired on October 31, 1982.
  • A television mini-series Three Sovereigns for Sarah, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Kim Hunter and Will Lyman, first aired on PBS on May 27, 1985.
  • In The Simpsons animated television comedy series (1989–present), a segment of the 1997 Halloween special episode "Treehouse of Horror VIII" is based on the Salem witch trials.
  • Episode 348 of Season 19 of the sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live (first aired October 2, 1993) contained a skit depicting the "Salem Bitch Trials" in which Abigail Wolcott, played by Shannen Doherty (who played Betty Parris in the aforementioned Voyagers! episode and the witch Prue Halliwell in the TV series Charmed, see below), is examined by Deputy Governor Danforth, played by Phil Hartman, on charges of "bitchcraft," with testimony given that she had told a woman her dress made her hips look big and snubbed a man's desire to court her because his surrey was not sufficiently fast, adorned or stylish. The sketch ends stating that she and 19 other women were burned at the stake.[2]
  • In the television series Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996–2000), in Season 1, Episode 23 (1997), "The Crucible," a class field trip goes to Salem to re-enact the trials. The witch cat, Salem Saberhagen was named after the Salem Witch Trials.
  • In Histeria!, an animated television series for children (1998–2001), episode 36, "When America Was Young", included a People's Court-style sketch based upon the trials. View episode: http://video.aol.com/video/tv-histeria-when-america-was-young/1813972
  • The History Channel's In Search of History (1996–2000) television series aired the episode "Salem Witch Trials" (1998).
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Gingerbread", Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg and Amy Madison are sentenced to burn at the stake after the apparent sacrifice of two children in an occult ritual causes the town to be consumed in fear and paranoia.
  • In Charmed, a television series (1998–2006), part of the fictional background is that Melinda Warren, an ancestor of the three fictional protagonists, was burned at the stake in the Salem witch trials, having been betrayed by her lover. See Season 1, Episode 9, "The Witch Is Back" (1998) and Season 3, Episode 4, "All Halliwell's Eve" (2000) In Season 2, Episode 2, Phoebe is caught using witchcraft to commit a crime in the future.
  • PBS's television series Secrets of the Dead (2000— ) aired Season 2, Episode 1: "Witches' Curse" (2002), featuring Linnda R. Caporael
  • The History Channel aired a documentary, Witch Hunt (2002).
  • Salem Witch Trials (2002), a mini-series directed by Joseph Sargent and written by Maria Nation, starring Kirstie Alley, Henry Czerny, Gloria Reuben, Jay O. Sanders and Alan Bates, with appearances by Shirley MacLaine and Peter Ustinov, aired in the UK as four parts, in the US on CBS in two parts.
  • The Discovery Channel's Unsolved History series (2002–2005) included Episode 23, "Salem Witch Trials" (2003).
  • Ghost Hunters, Season 3, Episode 17: "Salem Witch", originally aired October 24, 2007, explores the haunting of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts, by the spirit of Bridget Bishop, one of the people executed in 1692.
  • In The Vampire Diaries, Bonnie Bennett's ancestors were Salem witches, who fled Salem in 1692.
  • The BBC and the National Geographic Channel aired a documentary about Salem in 2011, hosted by novelist Katherine Howe, called "Salem Witch Trial Conspiracy" in Great Britain (http://natgeotv.com/uk/salem-witch-trial-conspiracy), and "Salem: Unmasking the Devil" in the US (http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/expedition-week/facts-salem-unmasking-the-devil/), with British and American narrators respectively.
  • In Bones season 5, episode 20: 'The Witch in the Wardrobe' references to the occult and the Salem Witch Trials for the basis for the plot. Doctor Lance Sweets is also shown to be a revered expert in this field of study.
  • Aidan from Being Human on the Syfy channel has an encounter with a witch. Aidan: "Let me guess, Salem?" Ms. Gilchrist: "Andover. But Salem got all the press."
  • In the television series The Secret Circle, which aired on The CW between 2011 and 2012, the ancestors of the main characters and the witch families in Chance Harbor, are all descendants of six out of the eighteen witch families that escaped from Salem in 1692.
  • in third season of the series American Horror Story: Coven (2013) – The third season primarily follows the antics and events of a coven of Salem descendants who reside within a boarding school, Miss Robichaux's Academy, centered in New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Salem is an American historical fiction drama television series created by Adam Simon and Brannon Braga airing on WGN America beginning April 20, 2014 and is the first original-scripted series by WGN America. The series, which stars Janet Montgomery and Shane West, purports to be based on the real Salem witch trials in the 17th century, with one "twist": the witches were real and in charge of the trials.

Comic books[edit]

"Salem: Queen of Thorns", Issue No. 3, 2007
  • Issue No. 29 of Black Cat Mystery Comics, from June 1946, includes the cover story, "Black Cat Battles the Salem Witch."
  • Issue No. 18 in September 1962 of Unknown Worlds, from American Comics Group, contained an 11-page story called "Witch Hunter of Salem", depicted on the cover, in which the minister who was hunting witches in Salem turned out to be one. Zev Zimmer (Script), C. C. Beck (Pencils), Pete Costanza (Inks); Cover by Ogden Whitney.
  • Marvel Team-Up in 1976, included a 4-part serialized story-line (Issues Nos. 41–44) in which Spider-Man, Vision and the Scarlet Witch travel through time to Salem, 1692, to battle an nemesis, Dr. Doom —- who has enlisted the help of Cotton Mather – get entangled in the witchcraft accusations. Pages 11–16 in particular in issue No. 42, "Visions of Hate!," depict the historical episode.
  • Salem: Queen of Thorns is a 5-issue comic (Nos. 0–4), the first issue published in 2006 and the rest in 2008 by Boom! The entire series was later compiled into a single volume: Salem: Queen of Thorns in February 2009 (ISBN 1-934506-46-X).


Music[edit]

  • The 1962 opera The Crucible with music by Robert Ward and a libretto adapted lightly from Miller's play.
  • The second album by the indie rock band Liars, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, is a concept album about the trials.
  • Rob Zombie's album Educated Horses (2006) contains many references to the trials, mainly in the song American Witch. His song, entitled Lords of Salem, also was based on this.
  • Jello Biafra had a side-project entitled The Witch Trials, and his work with the Dead Kennedys made a few references to them.
  • Canadian progressive rock band Rush's song "Witch Hunt" (from 1981's Moving Pictures) is about how manipulators can use fear to "possess" the "ignorant" masses to their liking, much like the Salem townspeople during the Witch Hunts.
  • American punk-rock band AFI has a song "Malleus Maleficarum" on their CD Art of Drowning; the title is based on a book of the same name.
  • Neal Peterson mentions Alice Parker in his song "I wind my clocks / OneSixNineTwo". Peterson is a descendant of Parker.
  • American death metal band Ishia have a song called "Witch Hunting in Salem".
  • American metalcore band Unearth wrote a song about Giles Corey named "Giles" for their album III: In the Eyes of Fire.
  • American black metal band Ceremonial Castings's 2008 album "Salem 1692" is based on the events and two members of the band are direct descendants of Judge John Hawthorne.
  • Abigail Williams, an American symphonic black metal band from Phoenix, AZ, take their name from one of the accusers in the trials.
  • Hunting For Witches by Bloc Party references the hysteria about witches in Salem and uses it as a metaphor for hysteria about immigration in contemporary Britain.
  • Burn the Witch by Queens of the Stone Age is about the Salem Witch Trials.
  • "The Dead Can't Testify" a song by Canadian rock group Billy Talent is based on the Salem witch trials.
  • "Under a Killing Moon" a song by the rock band Thrice talks about Salem Witch Trials and the innocent people burned in them.
  • Young Goodman Brown Nathaniel Hawthorn a short story depicting a faithful Puritan man who sees the member's of his town at a witch meeting and can no longer see the good in his world
  • Swedish heavy metal band Wolf wrote a song called "Curse You, Salem", a song about the trials.
  • Metalcore band Motionless in White released a song titled "Abigail" on their album Creatures about Abigial Williams and the Salem Witch Trials.
  • The Clutch album "Blast Tyrant" contains the track "(Notes from the Trial of) La Curandera" which is, as stated, notes from a witch trial, and how she exacted her revenge

Collectibles[edit]

Advertisement circa 1891 for Daniel Low, Salem, MA
  • Daniel Low, a jeweler in Salem, Massachusetts, began selling souvenir sterling "Witch" spoons in 1890, using two different patterns, the first with three pins, the word "Salem", and a witch on a broom. (See right)

19th century illustrations depicting the episode[edit]

The story of Salem featured prominently in many publications in the 19th century about the 17th century colonial foundations of the United States. The illustrations continue to be reproduced widely in 20th and 21st century publications, in many cases without accurate attribution or reference to the century in which the illustrations were created. This gallery includes their citations and the names, where known, of the artists who created them. Check the Wikimedia Commons for more that may not be included here.

19th and 20th century photographs of 17th century buildings related to the episode[edit]

Although a few of the houses that belonged to the participants in the Salem witch trials are still standing, many of these buildings have been lost. This gallery includes photographs take in the 19th century and early 20th century that preserve the visual record of these homes.

References and notes[edit]