Historical Society to explore witch trials

Photo of Erin Kayata

DARIEN — In Salem, Mass., the town emblem is naturally a witch, emblazoned even on the cars of local police officers. However, the whimsical logo is a nod to a dark part of the town’s history, where hundreds of people were accused of practicing witchcraft, leading to the death of some deemed guilty.

Leslie Lindenauer, a professor of history at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, is planning on delving into the history of the trials, along with the witch trials from Hartford and Stamford, at a talk at the Darien Historical Society on Wednesday. Lindenauer has a background in public history and previously worked as a public historian and museum educator. She said what draws her to the witch trials is the way we now tell the stories of what happened.

“It’s really compelling to me,” she said. “We have a hard time acknowledging the brutality of the witchcraft trials. It sort of becomes a fairy tale. I found that fascinating. I only speak from an American perspective, but we have a hard time dealing with the ugly parts of the past and we have ways of looking at the past to smooth out the rough parts.”

Darien Historical Society Executive Director Maggie McIntire said she invited Lindenauer due to the subject of her research colliding with people’s growing interest in subjects like witchcraft during the Halloween season.

“Late October is the time our minds turn to Halloween themes, and the whole mystery surrounding witchcraft in early New England is such a compelling topic,” McIntire said. “We think it will have broad appeal for anyone who wants to learn more about this endlessly fascinating subject. It’s really a triple play — the autumn season, the witchcraft topic and, also, an erudite history professor, Dr. Lindenauer, whose research focuses on gender and religion in early America. We can’t wait for this program.”

The way popular culture tells the story of the witch trials, such as through shows like “Salem” and “American Horror Story: Coven,” will be one of the touch points in Lindenauer’s program, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

Lindenauer’s talk, which is free to Historical Society members, will touch upon the basics of witch hunting, who was accused and who was executed. Lindenauer has researched the religious and gender implications of the accusations, as well, finding that up to 75 percent of those accused were women, making witchcraft a gendered crime.

In addition to looking at the Salem witch trials, Lindenauer will talk about the Hartford witch trials, were four people were executed. She’ll also discuss the Stamford witch trials, which happened at the same time as the Salem witch trials, but resulted in most of the accused being acquitted.

Lindenauer, who specializes in early American history, said even beyond her work, she finds most people are fascinated by witch trials.

“I think it’s a lurid interest in it without wanting to know the details of the way women were accused of crimes,” she said. “That’s hard to imagine; we grow up hearing stories. Even today, students reading ‘The Crucible’ in high school. They remember the way Miller told the story. It’s the creepiness.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata

More Information

Get there

The Darien Historical Society will present "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. The talk will be held at the Bates-Scofield Homestead Museum, 45 Old Kings Highway North, Darien.

The program is free for members of the Society and $20 for non-members. Please register for this program online, or call us at 203.655.9233. Seating is limited. Refreshments served following the program.

For more information, or to become a member of the Darien Historical Society, visit www.darienhistorical.org, or call 203 655-9233.