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Just a reminder – the essay contest ends this Friday….at midnight! That comes off much scarier if you read it with a Boris Karloff accent. And speaking of horror:

A dive into the fascinating pre-history of cinema (or rather, as that grouping seems unfair, several disparate inventions that when lumped together chronologically sort of point the way to what would eventually become cinema) led to the phantasmagoria, a macabre performance incorporating special effects and gruesome projections by way of some form of magic lantern. Several popular phantasmagoria were even staged in tombs, though as they were abandoned Capuchin tombs I doubt the good monks minded much.

image from the Magic Lantern Society

One standout show was put on by Johann Georg Schröpfer, a coffee-shop owner-turned-necromancer/illusionist. He claimed he summoned spirits during his performances, and even held a seance for Prince Charles of Saxony. Unfortunately for Schröpfer, he believed his own hype and committed what appeared to be suicide, shooting himself in the head after telling a small group he would resurrect himself soon. Most sources repeat the same small bits about him, though this account goes a bit deeper.

Historically the phantasmagoria’s been wildly popular in lands rife with fear and uncertainty, including post-revolutionary Paris and America. Considering the current climate, perhaps it’s time for a revival.

Below are some magic lantern images, courtesy of Early Visual Media Archaeology

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After spending half a day in Witch City without encountering anything CLOSE to the sort of witches we came to see, we made it over to the Witch History Musem. Finally! Pointy hats and evil cats ahoy!


Oh, this is just the atrium? The real deal’s inside? Alright, witches!


As we sat in church pews staring at a stage empty save for the ‘Indians’, it dawned on us they were clearly modified from skiing mannequins. Especially the guy on the far right, they didn’t even try and change his stance.

Eventually a doughy young man in historical garb stepped out and gave us a brief history of the Salem Witch Trials, occasionally pointing to blown-up photos of historical landmarks framed around the room. Groups were taken down to the basement by another historically garbed young lady while the rest of us continued sitting there.

Sensing the general unrest the young man made the mistake of saying if we had any questions, we could feel free to ask. While everyone else sat around staring at tiny glowing rectangles I plied him for information he did not have about the debunking of the rye poisoning theory, the validity of psychosomatic group illnesses similar to the German Laughing Sickness of the Middle Ages, why the hell there were Indian mannequins on stage at a Witch History Museum, and if anyone knew the exact current location of Gallows Hill, where the actual hangings took place.

Answers: It probably wasn’t rye poisoning, group hysteria was a possibility but there was also the angle of nabbing a neighbor’s property or getting revenge, the Indian mannequins were there as a reminder of the gross stereotyping and sensationalizing of Native Peoples in the past (oh, irony, considering what we were about to tour), and while no one knew the EXACT location of Gallows Hill the land it once stood on was now a Dunkin Donuts and storage center.

Tour time!

Girls of the Puritan era didn’t have the same freedoms ladies today take for granted, like wearing zebra headbands out in public. They were treated like little hellbound adults, which led to all sorts of fear and repression, some of which may have been responsible for the madness of the witch trials. Here we see the girls wilding; just out of shot, an extremely creepy mannequin of a guy staring at them. Seriously.

All tableaus were accompanied by audio piped from hidden speakers; here the girls wailed and moaned as the adults around them tried to figure out the cause. We were trying to figure out, what, aside from a general lack of anatomial correctness and poor aging/maintenance, made these mannequins look so damn creepy.

Angry Jim realized whoever painted the faces rimmed all orifices in a bright pink-red, especially the eyes, and most of the eyes were painted a few shades too light, giving the impression everyone had just been maced.

Here we see the house of Samuel Parrish, where house servant Tituba and literally-named husband John Indian entertain the girls with stories. Little did they know how badly this would come back to bite them in the ass.

IT’S A DEMON!!! Oh wait, it’s supposed to be Samuel Parrish, the preacher confounded by his ward and her friends suddenly going bonkers for no apparent physical reason.


AAAAAH! AAAAH! DEEEEMON! Oh wait, no, this melting face belongs to William Griggs, the doctor who, after closely inspecting all three girls declared no earthly cause afflicted them, and the church should be turned to. That turned out well!

What is a Conquistador doing here? They had their own witches to deal with. Fun fact: there IS a reason the witches of Salem were HANGED and NOT BURNED. The Puritans had moved to the godforsaken no-man’s-land that was America to literally as well as figuratively distance themselves from what they saw as the decadence of the Catholic (and pretty much every other) church. No reason why this shouldn’t apply to dealing with witchery as well! While the Catholic Inquisition labeled practicing witchcraft as a heresy,  punishable by burning at the stake, the Puritans made afflicting someone by witchcraft an offense against the state, and therefore punishable by hanging.

Puritan Andrew W.K. protects his family.

In the midst of numerous families crying and being rent apart- a wee tiny boy and his wee tiny horse. I cannot explain, just enjoy.

Not all Puritans went quietly into that good night; I forget his name but this fellow took out most of the men sent to arrest him and broke the chains they attempted to bind him in. Check out this ACTION SHOT! See kids? History is just as bloody and violent as your favorite video games.  He looks a lot like Charlie Gazin here.

Uhh…huh.  I see we improvised the mannequin representing a servant testifying against her mistress. We were told she’s holding a doll of cheese and grass…I honestly wasn’t listening why as I was too distracted by the blackface. Featuring guest judge Robert DeNiro…

and Harrison Ford as Guy In The Background!

And here all pretense of education gives way to sheer witchsploitation. The cat seems mildly bored.

“Haaay guyys, there’s a tiny hanging going on over herrre!”

Insert Misfits lyrics here.

The further we went into the museum the more the mannequins looked like Lon Cheney in ‘Phantom of the Opera’.

Issac Newton measures a skull.

Back on the streets of Salem we took in the sights:

But further horror awaited us at…THE WITCHES’ DUNGEON…

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