In 2019, nobody throws around the term ‘witch hunt’ with more cavalier indifference or historic nonchalance than does our besieged chief executive.
From October 17-27 at the Larcom Theatre in Beverly, performance of “Saltonstall’s Trial” ought to give the president – as well as the rest of us – pause as we find ourselves surrounded once again by the gaudy, the garish, and the goofy goings-on during Halloween in Salem.
For too many, both the genuine horror of real witch hunts, as well as the very real deadly results of the most famous one of all in the late 1600s, are massively diminished in our minds.
It seems the sugar high from M&M’s, Mounds Bars, and Charleston Chews can still easily blind.
“Saltonstall’s Trial,” like Arthur Miller’s fictional “The Crucible,” reminds us that for the perpetrators, the victims, and the power structure of 1692, this first historic witch trial wasn’t about costumes or candy.
For Jews in particular, the price paid by the victims of these events might very well have prevented similar atrocities from being foisted onto our community by the ignorant or the fearful, convinced that the mysterious Jews might be connected to ungodly forces as well.
Think of “blood libel,” the accusation Jews killed Christian children to use their blood as part of our religious rituals, which periodically haunted the Jews in Europe and Russia for centuries.
The question was never about whether Jews did such things. It was presumed that they did.
The question was whether the Jews sporadically accused of those specific crimes were actually guilty as individuals of those acts.
When one considers it in that context, how far is that from that bizarre belief that those same people could and would be willing to conspire with other unholy forces in America against the real children of God?
The new play, written by Michael Cormier and Myriam Cyr, and directed by award-winning director Cyr, tells the tale of a respected judge, Nathaniel Saltonstall, forced to choose between integrity and self-preservation during the very first of these witch trials.
Fear and ignorance ruled the day, with the presumption of guilt overwhelming any concept of innocence.
The historic truth is that the legal concept of presumption of innocence written into both the Massachusetts and U.S. constitutions by John Adams were a direct result of the folly of these trials.
Simply put, once again, the question was never about whether there were witches.
That was a biblical fact, written in both the Old and New testaments.
No one at the time was willing to go behind the old canard to examine if it could possibly be false.
Therefore the question to be adjudicated during the course of the Salem Witch Trials was only whether those particular accused were witches.
More frightening, once these poor souls were accused of the crime of witchcraft or sorcery, the burden was on them to prove it wasn’t true.
How different would our legal system be today if that were still the case?
The drama and nightmare of the truly innocent being wrongly convicted still haunts most of us in 2019.
The court verdicts overturned by the well-known Innocence Project show that mistakes can be made even when the system demands a presumption of innocence, not an assumption of guilt.
“Saltonstall’s Trial” gives us the opportunity to see the victims of America’s most famous miscarriage of justice as humans trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare, not cute kids in colorful costumes, cheap hucksters making money in the streets of Salem, or even a president who’s willing to shout “witch hunt” more often than the Little Boy who cried “wolf.”
This Halloween season, make your way to the Larcom Theatre.
You’ll never think of Halloween the same way again.
“Saltonstall’s Trial” is at the Larcom Theatre, 13 Wallis St., Beverly, for 10
performances from Oct. 17 to 27. Tickets are available at thelarcom.org or by
calling 978-390-2425. Michael Goldman is a veteran Democratic political
consultant, writer, and educator.