John Hardy Wright,
Images of America:
Sorcery in Salem

(Arcadia, 1999)

I picked up a copy of Sorcery in Salem while on a brief weekend tour of the tiny Massachusetts town. Packed with colonial history and seafaring lore, Salem will forever be associated primarily with one terrible year in its past: 1692, the year they hanged 19 accused witches and pressed one elderly man to death for not confessing.

At first glance, John Hardy Wright's book seemed like a good visual interpretation of the town. The pages are filled with pictures and drawings from Salem's history, and the text accompanying them is easy to read and provides a fairly accurate, if sparse, rendition of the people and places associated with Salem's witch trials and executions.

The first chapter deals solely with that period, and provides numerous photos of the sites connected to those dark days, as well as paintings and sketches of the accused witches, their accusers and assorted fantastical witches and devils. You can learn the basics of the story simply by reading the captions. The following sections cover the various memorials and efforts of atonement for the trials, as well as the plethora of museums and historic sites now dotting the town for tourists' amusement and education.

If Wright had left it at that, I'd have been content with money well spent. But he continues, first with chapters on the various "fright sites" and "haunted happenings" which play off Salem's witchy reputation, and then with portraits of Salem's modern witches, or Wiccans, which seems to have little to do with the subject at hand. (Recall, the title is Sorcery in Salem, not Everything Remotely Connected to the Word "Witch" in Salem.) When Wright decided to fill a chapter with little more than snapshots of people in Halloween costumes, I realized he was padding his pages a bit -- a conclusion further evidenced by 15 pages of pictures of trinkets and other Halloween souvenirs, many of which have little to do with Salem except for the popular icons of witches and jack-o-lanterns.

Half the book at half the price would have been a good value. As it is, Wright must be counting on foolish tourists like me who fail to page the whole way through a book before deciding, yeah, this one looks good.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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