In 1692, the largest witch hunt in American history gripped the town of Salem, Massachusetts. 150 people were imprisoned, and twenty executed. The witchcraft hysteria started in late February, when several young girls began acting strangely. On March 1, one of the girls confessed to witchcraft during an interrogation. The witchcraft scare spun out of control for about a year, until Governor William Phips pardoned the remaining prisoners in 1693.
What was life like in Salem in 1692? Why did the community allow the witch hunt? Visit this Discovery School site to learn about the religious, economic, and social climate that lead to the tragic witch trials. Best click is the six-minute movie "The Story." The Teachers Tip section contains lesson plans for grades five through eight, a bibliography, and web links.
The Salem Witch Hunt topic at Famous American Trials is quite extensive, with lots of original source documents, a photo gallery, a time line, and a good bibliography. But my favorite clicks are the two games. In "You're Accused!" it's 1692 and you've just been accused of witchcraft. What can you do? Chose one of six possibilities and see what happens next. "Salem Witchcraft Jeopardy" is a quiz modeled after the popular television show.
Step into this interactive drama from PBS, and experience witchcraft hysteria for yourself. Before you go, here are a few navigational hints. The blue scroll bars mean there is more to read to the right or below. Clicking on an underlined hypertext will either open an explanatory window (make sure that pop ups are not blocked) or will transport you to the next scene. "A small girl fell sick in 1692. Her 'fitts' convulsions, contortions, and outbursts of gibberish baffled everyone. Other girls soon manifested the same symptoms. Their doctor could suggest but one cause. Witchcraft."
Is it possible that the fits and convulsions that struck those young girls in seventeenth century Salem were caused by a fungus related to the hallucinogenic drug LSD? "Could toxic amounts of this fungus, known as ergot, be the real reason the accusatory teens endured psychotic episodes and saw blood dripping down their walls at night? And what clues could the 2,300-year-old corpse of a Danish murder victim possibly hold for Salem investigators? Tracking down historic outbreaks of ergot poisoning, Dr. Caporael compares its symptoms to those that plagued the girls in Salem, revealing a whole new side of this unsettling period."
In addition to the usual information about hours and ticket prices, the Salem Witch Museum website hosts a few educational articles. The first is an exhibit about the evolving meaning of the word "witch." Follow the white link above the welcome message. Others are a page about the witch trials (you'll find it listed on the front page as "Salem Witch Trials of 1692" and on interior pages under "Education") and a Frequently Asked Questions page.