Daughters Of Salem: The Burden of Spectacle

by Jaclyn Jermyn

I am a Salem Witch.

Not because I heeded a call from my Wiccan sisters. Not because I dabble in hexes or spell-casting. Not because I have a black cat or a rabbit or some wild looking bird that swoops down at night to settle on my window sill.

I am a Salem Witch because of what we yelled at pep rallies and sports games--shouts of “yeah witch!” to match the black silhouetted broom and pointy hat that found its way onto every club and class t-shirt.

I am a Salem Witch by default. I am a daughter of Salem because I was born there, and I got to see first hand the burdens that came with that.

In terms of obvious iconography, there was no shortage of it growing up. There was a witch emblem on the water tower. My brother and I played on streets named Witch Way and in parks called Gallows Hill. We lived in a neighborhood called Witchcraft Heights, and on summer nights, we didn't go to Dairy Queen for soft serve—we went to Dairy Witch.

In theorist Umberto Eco’s essay “Travels in Hyperreality,” he details and explores the fake and extra “real” of America, looking into Wild West Towns and Disney World and everything in between to try and find what captivates audiences about these recreations of the “real.”

Salem is in hyperreality all year long. It only takes one glance down the cobblestone alleyways to wonder if every tourist decked out in pointy hats are also wishing for the hangman’s noose.

The captivation with my hometown stems from the mystery of its greatest tragedy. What made those girls go mad and start pointing fingers at their neighbors? Was it really just a dangerous lust for religion? Was the stifling thumb of Puritanism just pressing down a little too hard?

Or was it Ergot fungus (a mold found in rye bread that is said to have LSD-like properties)?

Maybe it was just a fight over land ownership or the fact that glasses didn't exist and people needed a way to explain what they couldn't see. That's why religion exists anyways, right?

No one knows the spark that led to the hangings of 19 people, and for one man to be pressed to death with stones. Giles Corey would be posthumously excommunicated because his death would be ruled a suicide. His continuous cries of “more weight” must have rattled someone to the bone.

Mystery is the end all, be all allure. Those who flock to Salem every year are the equivalent of the people who stare at car crashes. The American people have a very obvious history of clinging to our past disasters and forgetting to seek ways to move on. Isn’t that just part of our nature at this point?

I am a Daughter of Salem by birth, and for that reason I was gifted the burden of spectacle Something you can never really get away from and something I'm not sure I would ever choose to give up. I am part of that spectacle. I am a Salem Witch.