This US exhibition aims to rehabilitate the witches of Salem

'The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming' at the Peabody Essex Museum has dedicate an entire exhibition to one of the most significant events in American history

Published: Sep 17, 2021 02:34:41 PM IST
Updated: Sep 17, 2021 02:54:26 PM IST

New exhibition offers visitors to the Peabody Essex Museum a look back at the unique circumstances that led to the Salem Witch Trials through a variety of historical documentsImage: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

More than three centuries after their trial, a dark episode in the history of the United States, the witches of Salem are still being talked about. The Peabody Essex Museum has even decided to dedicate an entire exhibition to them. The program presents a mix of historical documents and couture outfits by Alexander McQueen.

"The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming" revisits one of the most significant events in American history: the Salem witch trials. Five men and 16 women living in the small Massachusetts town were hanged in 1692, following a series of biased and hasty trials for witchcraft. The victims were not rehabilitated until two and a half centuries later, and a memorial has since been erected in Salem.

This new exhibition offers visitors to the Peabody Essex Museum a look back at the unique circumstances that led to the Salem Witch Trials through a variety of historical documents. The museum, located in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, holds the world's largest collection of documents related to this episode of history, including more than 500 original documents filed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Among them are furnishings and personal items that belonged to some of the town's victims and notables, such as one of Magistrate Jonathan Corwin's trunks.

Witches of yesterday and today

"The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming" also revisits the work of late fashion designer Alexander McQueen and photographer Frances F. Denny, whose ancestors lived through the Salem witch trials. The British fashion designer paid tribute to one of his ancestors, Elizabeth How, in the fall/winter 2007 collection of his label. The young woman was one of the first to be unjustly sentenced to death and hanged for witchcraft in July 1692. Some of Alexander McQueen's outfits from this collection are on display at the Peabody Essex Museum as part of the exhibition.

Visitors can also see the photographic series "Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America," in which Frances F. Denny shows the many faces of American "witches" of today. The Pew Research Center estimated that they numbered nearly one million in 2014.

"What do witches even look like? These powerful portraits do not festishize, but rather reveal multidimensional, self-possessed individuals. They invite careful study and consideration and remind us that identity is most truthful when it is self defined," said Lydia Gordon, PEM's Associate Curator and exhibition co-curator.

History buffs can immerse themselves in "The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming" from September 18 to March 20, 2022 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

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