Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Peabody Essex Museum's Special Exhibit on the Salem Witch Trials 1692


Last week Vincent and I carefully planned our first museum visit in almost a year.  The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts had their special exhibit The Salem Witch Trials 1692 open since September 26, 2020.  I was thinking I would miss this exhibit due to the pandemic.  We have been very careful about not going into many indoor places, including picking up groceries, staying home, and social distancing.  But this exhibit is closing on April 4, 2021 and we decided to try it as our first indoor excursion.

First of all, we did all the recommendations I heard from Dr. Fauci and the CDC to stay safe.  We double masked, including an N95 mask with a cloth mask over it.  We brought hand sanitizer and used it often, even though I didn't really touch anything in the museum (they had self opening doors in most places - just wave your hand! And tissues inside the elevators for touching the buttons, and hand sanitizer everywhere).   We both had received our first vaccines more than two weeks ago. 

On top of this, we thought carefully about planning a day and time for our trip.  Usually I book a medical appointment for the first opening of the day, and we go mid week if I have to go into a store to avoid crowds. So we planned to go on a Thursday morning to the Peabody Essex.  I discussed this with a staff member after we saw the Salem Witch Trial exhibit, and they said that Thursdays and Fridays were very slow (the museum is open Thursdays to Sundays 11am to 5pm).  And March is a good time to visit Salem if you want to avoid people.  It's too blustery and chilly to attract a lot of tourists.  And the exhibit is winding down.  If you want to go, go soon but plan the day and time carefully. 

As you can see from the photo below, the museum was almost empty, except for staff wandering here and there.  We were the only people inside the exhibit hall for almost 30 minutes, when another two people entered.  The photo below is the two of us in the main lobby, with no one else in sight!  It was very easy to social distance.  Tickets are timed to ensure that occupancy levels remain low, both for museum entry and the tickets to the special exhibits. 

The Salem Witch Trials 1692 is divided into many galleries, with a great introduction in the beginning about the history of witch trials in Europe, and included many famous old books I had only read about in accounts of Salem history. There were some fine original copies of Malleus Maleficarum and Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World.  The map below includes Salem, Salem Village and nearby towns, and I found the locations of three homes of ancestors who were hanged in 1692 - Bridget Bishop, George Jacobs, and John Proctor.  Also highlighted on this map was Beadle's Tavern, where some of the examinations for the trials took place, owned by another ancestor, Samuel Beadle (1643 - 1706). 

One gallery blew me away, with some artifacts I didn't know existed at all!  And every artifact had been owned by an ancestor.  There was a window from the Towne family home (Edmund Towne, my 8th great grandfather was also the brother of three accused witches).  There was an account book from Joshua Buffum (8th great uncle).  A brass sundial owned by John Proctor, hanged in 1692 (my 9th great grandfather).  A valuables chest owned by accusers Joseph and Bathsheba Pope (my 7th great grandparents) I previously blogged about HERE  along with the actually testimony of Joseph Pope against John Proctor.  Every article on display in this little niche touched one of my ancestral families. 

This sundial was owned by John Proctor, and was a valuable item
for it's time in 17th century Salem. 

The next gallery in this exhibit had many documents, including accounts submitted by the jailkeeper Wiliam Dounton (my 8th great grandfather) and items from the jail.  Dounton was a cruel man, and the descriptions of the jail are hair raising.  There was an actual bill for the board and food for prisoners, and a census of prisoners which included many family members.  The wall planks from the jail have been preserved and are on display here.  Prisoners accused of being witches were chained to these walls, including small children. 

I could go on describing items, but that would fill a book!  I enjoyed seeing George Jacobs's two walking sticks on display here.  They used to be in an exhibit on the first floor of the Phillips library when it was located across the street.  I hadn't seen them in a long, long time.  George Jacobs was my 9th great grandfather, hanged as a witch on 19 August 1692 along with John Proctor (described above with the sundial).  They also had the famous painting of Jacobs's trail done by Tompkins Harrison Matteson in 1859 and featured in almost every account of the witch trials.  This was displayed next to the document showing the examination of Jacobs by the magistrates which describe his two canes. 

One of the most moving items to me was the document with the red wax seal below.  It is the warrant for the execution of Bridget Bishop (my 9th great grandmother).  The bottom of the document has a note by the sheriff George Corwin who reported that he did his appointed job "I have taken the body of the within named Bishop... to the place for her Execution and Caused to be [hanged] by the neck until She was dead."   This gave me shivers to read the actual document. 

The last room of the exhibit hall names and remembers 25 victims of the Salem Witch Trials on the wall, and it also includes a wall called "Reckoning and Reflection".   The last part of the exhibit is called "Reaction and Impact" with documents and books written after 1692.  I liked especially a quote from Thomas Maule, 1695, on the wall that read "For it were better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a Witch, which is not a Witch."   Maule was an outspoken critic of the trials.  His book, on display here, was the first condemnation of the trails published under its author's own name.  

If you don't want to visit in person, or if you can't visit the museum because of the pandemic or if you live at a distance, try this link from the PEM website and watch the 360 degree tour of The Salem Witch Trials 1692.  You can zoom in and out and move through the space using your mouse or finger.  https://www.pem.org/exhibitions/the-salem-witch-trials-1692  There is a second video on this page, with a tour of the galleries in the exhibit.  At the bottom of this page are links to related articles about the exhibit.  

There are two other exhibits currently at the PEM - Stories of Salem, From A to Z, and Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion.  We had tickets to the Stories of Salem, and I enjoyed it very much. There are many items, documents and ephemera from Salem history from pre-colonization to the present representing history, famous residents, art, design, industry, and pop culture.  If your family lived in Salem recently or long ago, you'll find lots of interesting items in this exhibit! 

This dollhouse belonged to a wealthy Salem Family over 100 years ago

Do you remember when Parker Brothers made their board games in Salem?

An exhibit of witches in pop culture in Salem contained this
weathered old weathervane!  I loved it! 

For the truly curious:

The Peabody Essex Museum:   https://www.pem.org/   

The museum is located at East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts

Admission to the museum is $20 (seniors $18, students with ID $12, youths 16 and under and Salem residents are free)  The Salem Witch Trials 1692 is FREE but requires a timed entry ticket.  

Two links to blog posts about the Pope Valuables Chest:



My lineage from Bridget Bishop:


My lineage from George Jacobs:


My lineage from John Proctor:



To Cite/Link to this post:  Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "The Peabody Essex Museum's Special Exhibit on the Salem Witch Trials 1692", Nutfield Genealogy, posted March 9, 2021, ( https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-peabody-essex-museums-special.html: accessed [access date]). 

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