Salem Witch Trials VHS
This program unearths surprising information about a notorious period in early American history. No one was burned at the stake after the 1693 Salem Witch Trials, but 19 people were hanged and one was "pressed" to death, all on accusations from young girls. At the peak of the hysteria, some 150 people, male and female, were accused of being witches. A year after the trials, the hysteria subsided; in 1711, some financial restitution was paid to the families of the dead. This program describes what happened and why, presenting original accounts of the sorrow the jurors and others felt after the trials were over.
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The irony of all witchcraft trials is that from the 14th Century on, untold thousands of people were put to death by otherwise good, rational Christians because they had a skin blemish, or floated when thrown into a lake or confessed to literally anything after hours of excruciating torture. The Malleus Maleficarum, which was published in 1486 in Germany, lists a variety of seemingly benign symptoms that condemned many innocents to hanging or a fiery death.
When the 1692 witch trials commenced in Salem, Massachusetts, there was almost 300 years of prosecutorial precedence for authorities to fall back on. Testimony from a group of teenaged girls, whose courtroom behavior in hindsight appears at best staged, greatly helped in convicting 19 of Salem's citizens. Acting always in unison, the howling girls' claims of being attacked in court by the accused's spectre, apparitions that were of course only visible to the children, was all it took to send their protesting neighbors to the gallows. Ultimately, 200 people from as far south as Boston were arrested based on the group's finger-pointing.
The undoing of this coven of young accusers was their subsequent targeting of those who were, in the authorities' opinion, absolutely above reproach. Doubts were quickly raised as to the girls' veracity, resulting in the release from custody of dozens of untried people. In 1711, many previous convictions were overturned. Eventually, only one of the accusers apologized for taking part in the destruction of so many lives, for the scars inflicted upon these unfortunate souls' families and the loss of their properties.
Epilogue: The other nine "guilty" people had their sentences reversed in 1957 (not much consolation after being dead and buried for over 250 years!). A large marker was also placed at that time which reads: IN MEMORY OF THOSE INNOCENTS WHO DIED DURING THE SALEM VILLAGE WITCHCRAFT HYSTERIA OF 1692.
Total running time: 42 minutes
This program is also available on DVD.