3 Salem ‘Witches’ for Halloween

I know it has been quite a while – I’ve been otherwise engaged – but I thought I might pop back into the person blog to talk a bit about something near and dear to my heart: Halloween costumes.

I know that mocking each year’s crop Halloween costumes for the most absurd abuse of the the term “sexy” is a pretty standard internet trope, but I thought I might look at things from a much narrower focus – the Salem Witch Trials.

We’ve been doing a bit of window-shopping online (screen shopping? browsing?) for a Halloween costume for the homunculus (she either wants to be a pink fairy or a princess, but not a silly princess, or some sort of flying elf that isn’t mean) and I spotted a costume labeled “Salem Witch”, which is a rather specific designation, since as readers of the Arkham Gazette know, there are a lot more witches than just Salem’s bunch.  In fact I managed to track down, on a site that caters more towards adults (i.e. costumes are a side business to lingerie sales; links below might be NSFW depending on your employer), at least 3 costumes marketed as “Salem Witch”.  Now, I understand that giving costumes a distinctive tag is necessary (they have 106 items that pop up under a search for “witch”) so I’m not surprised that the most famous incident connected to witchcraft in American history might get used to differentiate ones witch costume from a “sexy vintage witch” (a strapless black pencil-skirt with matching hat and gloves) or a “wicked candy corn witch” (a micro-skirted orange, white, and black dirndl; mini witch hat and thigh-high stockings are included).

Here are our three “Salem Witches”:


Salem Witch Costume (2015)

Conjure up some magic in this Salem Witch costume featuring a black dress with long draping sleeves, a gathered bust, gold button accents, an attached hood, and an asymmetrical tattered hem. (Pantyhose not included.)

While the idea that Puritans wore black clothes is a myth, I am also quite certain that skirt lengths above the knee did not come into vogue until the 20th century, at least as outerwear.  Additionally, the cobwebbed hose, silver buttons, and hood worn by the model might have violated several ruling from the Massachusetts General Court regarding the less wealthy wearing clothing that was too ostentatious – you had to prove you had a worth of at least £200 to get away with such extravagance.  I almost suspect they had a box of   “black hooded robe costumes” and just slashed off the bottom portion of the skirt, though why this one cost $20 more is still a mystery…


Salem Witch Costume (2016)

You’ll be causing double the trouble in this sexy Salem Witch costume featuring a long purple dress with attached brown vest and pointed witch hat. (Broom not included.)

This is actually closer to what someone might have worn in 1692, assuming we overlook the curious inclusion of a strap that exists solely to cinch up the skirt.  This might be useful to a cartoon rabbit hoping to suddenly stop traffic, but less so among the muddy lanes of colonial Salem.

Our hypothetical witch would probably have worn a bonnet or flat-topped hat called a capotain.  The pointy “witch-hat” is an invention of 18th century illustrators looking for a convenient short-hand to tell the viewer that the lady in question (it is always a lady, remember) is a witch.

salem_witch_bloodyBlood-stained Salem Witch Costume

Cast an everlasting curse on the town with this Bloodstained Salem Witch costume that features a tattered full length dress, white bloodstained collar, “Salem” printed apron, witch hat with buckle and vinyl noose. (Makeup not included).

We’ve got another faux-Puritan look here, with the imagined black and white outfit and a superfluous (and anachronistic buckle).  For reasons that elude me, the costume makers also included blood splatters, a bloody hand print, and, perhaps for the sake of perplexed time-travelers, added the words “Salem 1692” in blood on her apron.

I give this costume points, however, for the inclusion of a noose, since so many people persist in thinking witches in New England were executed by being burned.  I wouldn’t personally walk around wearing a noose, but I’m probably not the target audience for this costume.

(Actually, I should point out I cannot find any mens’ “witch” costumes – there are dark sorcerers, wizards, and even a few warlocks, but not witches.  I guess my plan to go as Giles Corey just won’t pan out.)

Finally, there is one more “Salem Witch” item- the Salem Wedge Pump:


I’m pretty sure no one in Salem was wearing these.

A sextet of horrors, Arkham Gazette news, podcastery, and a forgotten witch

Thing have been busy here as I try to put the finishing touches on the (text at least) of the next issue of the Arkham Gazette (about which see item #3 below).  Here’ s the news, of late:

Item #1 – Nameless Horrors
Chaosium has released the scenario collection Nameless Horrors on PDF. As they put it: “Nameless Horrors brings you six new scenarios that will frighten even the most experienced of Call of Cthulhu players, giving them reason to fear the unknown.” The sextext of scenarios were written by Paul Fricker, Scott Dorward, and Matthew Sanderson (aka the Good Friends of Jackson Elias) and I look forward to a print version… Speaking of which, Chaosium has also put out a print version of Cthulhu Through the Ages, their setting sampler book for 7th Edition.

Item #2 – Updates to the blog
I have added a new page here for the blog-
The Audient Void, which collects the various times I’ve been interviewed on podcasts.
I have also updated the Lovecraftian RPG 2015 list.

Item #3 – News on the Arkham Gazette #3
I posted an update to the Kickstarter page for the Arkham Gazette #3 discussing where the project stands, an estimated time of delivery, etc. Backers also were sent a preview of most of the issue’s contents, save the scenario Queen of Night.

Item #4 – Podcasts of late
The Good Friends of Jackson Elias – Ep. 51, Talk on a pair of horror films – Repulsion and The Babadook. They also are conducting a poll of their listeners.
Ken and Robin talked about Vehmic Courts, the research secrets, and CthulhuCon.
Miskatonic University Podcast – Talked about organized crime, among other things.
(While the Yog-Sothoth.com’s Cthulhu Breakfast Club has not released a new episode, they are having a fundraiser to improve their microphones.)

Item #5 – Bonus Witchcraft
Finally I wanted to include a little bit of New England folklore that was left out of the forthcoming third issue of the Arkham Gazette – the witch of Littleton. In 1720 in the small village of Littleton, Massachusetts, was the scene of fresh witchcraft allegations in the vein of Salem almost 30 years earlier (from An Historical Sketch of the Town of Littleton by H. J. Harwood [1891]):

The Witch’s Tree a.k.a. The Kimball Elm. This tree is supposed to have stood on the Dudley farm. The tree is long gone, thanks to Dutch Elm disease.

An incident occurred in 1720 which made quite a sensation in town at the time. It was no less than a witchcraft accusation which might have proved still more sensational had it not been for the death of the person accused. Joseph Blanchard, who lived on or near Mr. Elbridge Marshall’s place, had at that time three young daughters — Elizabeth, aged about eleven, Joanna, about nine and Mary, about five or six years. These children, first the eldest, then the next, and finally the youngest, began to act in a very strange and unaccountable way. Elizabeth began by telling very strange stories of things happening at the time, or supposed to, and forced into the water, and in danger of drowning, at which she would cry out in distress. She also complained of pinches and prickings of the flesh, and showed wounds, and rents in her clothes, asserting she was bewitched, and accused Mrs. Dudley, wife of Samuel Dudley, town clerk, of bewitching her.

When put to the test of reading Scripture she would read, but fall down apparently lifeless when she came to the words “God,” “Christ,” or “Holy Ghost.” She would bite people, excepting Rev. Mr. Shattuck, whom she appeared to have no power to hurt. About four months after Elizabeth began to act in this way, Joanna also began to do the same things, and once was found on the top of the barn, a place apparently impossible for her to reach by her own exertions, and whither she said she was carried up through the air.

About two months later Mary began the same actions. Elizabeth would often cry out, “There she is! there’s Mrs. Dudley!” when Mrs. Dudley was nowhere visible. Once she told her mother there was a little bird in a certain part of the room ; her mother having something in her hand, struck at the place, at which Elizabeth cried out, “Oh, mother, you have hit it on the side of the head.” It was afterwards found that Mrs. Dudley was at the same time hurt on one side of her face. Another time Elizabeth said to her mother, “There’s Mrs. Dudley; she is just there; coming to afflict me!” Her mother struck the place with something and Elizabeth cried out, “You have hit her on the bowels.” It was found that Mrs. Dudley, at the same time, felt a pain, took to her bed and died in a few weeks.

On the face of this story it appears very mysterious and inexplicable by natural causes. Blanchard and his wife believed the children sincere and guileless, and though some wiser ones including, it is thought, Mr. Shattuck, advised separating the children by taking one or more to their homes, the parents would not consent to it, and the majority believed them bewitched. A few days after the death of Mrs. Dudley the strange actions of the two older children ceased. It proved however, that Mrs. Dudley’s death was perfectly accountable; she was in a delicate condition, and on riding horseback behind her husband at a rapid rate felt something break within her.

Though the children for a long time persisted that their stories had been true, and Elizabeth did not weaken, even when, requesting baptism, she was questioned by Mr. Shattuck about the circumstances, and told that some of her neighbors suspected her of falsehood; yet eight years after the girls confessed to Rev. Mr. Turell, minister of Medford, to which place they had moved, that their stories were all false and that their strange actions, begun in a playful spirit of mischief, had been continued because they were ashamed to own up.

When they heard of Mrs. Dudley’s death, who, by the way, was a most estimable woman and against whom the children had no cause for ill-feeling, the two oldest children were thoroughly frightened, and for a long time lived in fear of a ghostly retribution. Elizabeth told Mr. Turell that she got her idea of acting in the strange manner from reading about witchcraft, and the other children picked it up from her.

As we can see, there are all sorts of interesting annecdotes to be found in 19th century town histories. This incident is not recorded in the usual register of witch accusations as the there never any formal charges made, and so the case was never a part of the legal record. Here is an interesting discussion of how a town history in the 1970s badly got this story wrong.