Here’s a followup to last week’s post on the witch-exoneration resolution that was not passed again this year by the Connecticut legislature. Testimony on that resolution was heard on March 20, and the transcript has just been posted. The committee heard testimony from descendants of Mary Sanford and Lydia Gilbert, two women who were executed for alleged witchcraft.
I think the transcript tends to support my suggestion last week that the lawmakers are not taking the issue all that seriously. For example, here’s Judiciary Committee chairman Lawlor, after one of the witnesses estimated that at least eleven people, and possibly many more, were wrongly executed in Connecticut:
REP. LAWLOR: And apparently, Connecticut was the first state to do this [wrongly execute people for witchcraft].
DEBRA AVERY: This preceded Salem by about 30 years. Salem was the 1690s.
REP. LAWLOR: But they really got carried away a bit in Salem, once they got started, right?
DEBRA AVERY: Yes.
Yeah, you guys stopped at a reasonable eleven executions or so, but they totally got carried away with it in Massachusetts. That was completely uncalled for.
The Lawlor Comedy Hour continued:
REP. LAWLOR: You know . . . this morning, I remembered this great scene from Monty Python, where they grabbed the witch. And if you Google it, if you Google “Monty Python witch trial,” you get to see that scene. There’s—
DEBRA AVERY: Yes, about the wood and how wood floats, and, yeah, I’m very familiar with that [suggesting she has heard this one before].
REP. LAWLOR: But as funny as it is, it gives you a sense of, you know, looking back, how outrageous it really was because, it’s something.
It sure is. Funny now, though.
A senator then weighed in with his witch-trial knowledge, which he seems to have gained entirely from watching reenactments during family excursions to Salem:
SEN. KISSEL: . . . And they have trials there . . . and for a small fee you can go in there and you see it all acted out in front of you. And at the end of the presentation . . . you all take a vote. Is she a witch or isn’t she?
According to Sen. Kissel, the accused is almost always exonerated in these votes by today’s enlightened citizens, with a couple of notable recent exceptions:
And you’re exactly correct . . . that sometimes, you know, the feelings of the public change. After having done this with my family [visited Salem, presumably] for a number of years, I will tell you, there were a couple of years, after the Trade Tower bombings in 2001, where the crowds actually found her to be a witch. They weren’t in a really good mood, I guess, around that time, and so they were not cutting anybody any slack, even reenactments of ancient history.
On the one hand, given that John Yoo was writing the torture memo right about that same time, it seems like these kind of slight overreactions are unfortunately not “ancient history.” On the other hand, the Salem tourists did not actually hang any actors in retaliation for 9/11, as far as I can tell, so maybe we have made at least some progress.