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The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming

Peabody Essex Museum / Salem / Art

The city of Salem, up the coast from Boston, will forever be marked by its notorious witch trials, a touchstone of mass hysteria that began in 1692. Anyone could be accused of anything and there was no good way to prove one’s innocence. Visions and dreams of wrongdoing—called “spectral evidence”—were accepted as facts. From February 1692 to May 1693 reality no longer existed and 19 “witches” (14 women and five men) were hanged. Although the witch trials have been framed in political, religious, economic, and sexist contexts, the carnage still glows with danger. This exhibition looks at two creative responses to the trials. One is the Fall/Winter 2007 couture collection of the late Alexander McQueen, a designer known for deriving lyric energy from dark history. That 2007 show was titled “In Memory of Elizabeth How, 1692.” Why? Because How was an ancestor of McQueen’s, and in that deadly year she was hanged as a witch. The second is Frances F. Denny’s series of photographs, Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches, which celebrates the various types of women who identify as “witch” in present-day America. Relevant objects from the 17th century round out the exhibition. —L.J.

Peabody Essex Museum 161 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970
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