On June 10, 2005, as a recent Salem resident, I found myself looking on as then-mayor Stanley J. Usovicz, Jr. unveiled a new statue in the city center. This was a bronze figure of actress Elizabeth Montgomery in her role as the witch-housewife Samantha Stephens, from the 1960’s TV series “Bewitched.” In exchange for an annual fee from the cable network “TV Land,” which had commissioned the statue to promote re-runs of the series, the cash-strapped city government was permitting “Samantha” to become one of Salem’s official monuments! Although welcomed by the town’s Halloween merchants and witchcraft entrepreneurs, who saw it as an engaging new marketing icon and tourist attraction for “Witch City,” it was angrily denounced by many residents, who saw it as a blasphemy – dishonoring the memory of the witch-victims of 1692, trivializing a holocaust, and tastelessly misusing the city’s historic space for commercial purposes.
In response to the protests, the mayor argued that the statue would be a “positive thing” that would “bring a bit of whimsy to the town,” adding, as a further justification, that it was placed respectfully far from sites associated with the witch trials, “such as the Witch Trials Memorial” (i.e. five blocks distant). He evidently didn’t realize that it had been erected on the house-site of the infamous witch judge John Hathorne, or that it was directly across the street from the site of the church where a frail grandmother (and 20-year member) was excommunicated by her minister two weeks before she was hanged, or that it was just half a block south of the site of the courthouse, where judges met to condemn nineteen others to death – from among the hundred or so then languishing in prison - for allegedly practicing witchcraft (and thus allying themselves with Satan).
The “Samantha affair” revealed how dimly remembered, even in Salem, are the facts and places of its notorious witch trials. This is hardly surprising, since there are almost no historical markers around town to promote memory. When I learned, by chance, that many of the pre-trial hearings had taken place in a tavern that had existed only steps from my front door (a spot now occupied mainly by a driveway), I decided to research the records for myself and to map all of the known sites. What I discovered about the people and places inspired me to prepare this new guide. And since the witch panic lasted for an entire year, from January to December 1692, I thought it should also take the form of a calendar so that readers could follow the tragedy in real time - day by day, month by agonizing month.
Three hundred and twenty years ago, Salem was the scene of a monstrous crime, which has cast a pall over the city ever since and which still divides it. If “Samantha,” with her playful vision of witchcraft (unthinkable in the seventeenth century!) tempts us to ignore or to forget the “unpleasantness” that occurred beneath her broomstick in 1692, it is my hope that this new “calendar guide” may bring it into sharper focus. May it also serve as a reminder of what appalling injustices result (even now) when human beings renounce logic and allow themselves to be ruled only by irrational fears and pious delusions.