For years, Egyptologist Timothy Kendall excavated “an enormous complex” in northern Sudan, where, from 1500 B.C. to 400 A.D., three different empires held sway. The site once served as “the southernmost religious sanctuary for the ancient Egyptians in Africa.” As an associate curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, he also helped develop a number of exhibits on ancient cultures.
When Kendall moved to Salem after retiring, he turned his investigative skills on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The result is The 2013 Salem Witch Trials Calendar, which has been on sale locally since June 22.
The calendar is 48 pages and is illustrated with 67 color photographs. It not only offers a timeline of the accusations and trials, but also shows exactly where they happened and describes the people who were involved. The result is a unique guide to the unfolding of those horrible events. The Salem News recently spoke with Kendall about his newly published work.
What drew you to the Witch Trials as a subject?
It’s such a fascinating story about society, about Puritan society. If you can imagine our town in that context, and our neighbors — of 320 years ago — doing that to each other. And especially the fact that, when you step out of your door, you’re in the same space where they walked.
What’s the difference between studying ancient Egypt and Colonial Salem?
The ancient record is very much more sparse. You have a few royal inscriptions, which tend to be full of lies and propaganda. You have to work with what texts you have. What’s fascinating about the witch trials is, there’s so much documentation. We have such riches. All of our land documents are preserved, and all of this testimony of neighbors. You can feel like you know these people personally.
How is the calendar organized?
It’s written like a diary. At the back, there are a lot of biographies of people involved. If their name is highlighted blue or yellow, you can go in back and find a biography of that person, blue for an accuser, yellow names for those accused of witchcraft. The calendar has two maps. You can take them and tour around and see where these people lived. The map references and biographies are mentioned in the diary entries.
Why organize it as a calendar?
I realized the crisis lasted a year, from January to December pretty much. A lot of people have said, you’ve got to publish it as a guidebook. But then it doesn’t have the urgency.
After visiting all those sites on the maps, where people lived and events occurred, what effect did it have on the way you view what happened in 1692?
What’s astonishing is they didn’t live that close to each other. It’s a long slog to visit each other, yet they hated each other with a passion. Some of these people in Danvers were accusing women in places like Amesbury, miles through the woods. How would they develop an animus against these people so far away?
Why did they do that, do you think?
Undoubtedly, the accused had for a long time been stigmatized by witchcraft accusations, and all of Essex County knew their names and associated them with witchcraft.
What struck you about those places today?
What I think is amazing is that so many really important places are unknown. The town doesn’t mark any of these sites. The place where the witches were executed — within 100 yards, you can know pretty confidently where the executions took place — yet this is an unmarked spot behind Walgreens on Boston Street, erased by urban sprawl.
Were there other particular places that struck you?
I found the secret burial place of John Proctor. He was one of the people accused and sentenced to death. There’s a stone called the Proctor tomb opposite 310 Lowell St. at the Lowell Street on-ramp to 128. It’s a granite block marked with a sign indicating it was set up in 1821. The probable actual burial site of John Proctor, where his sons took his body after his execution on Aug. 19, 1692, and buried it in an unmarked grave, was recalled — by family tradition in the 19th century — to be 1.4 miles further down Lowell Street, at or behind 479 Lowell St. where there was once a gate to a cow pasture. This was the only property actually owned at the time by the Proctor family. An old stone wall is still visible beside a paved entrance to the parking lot of the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.
Who are you hoping to reach with the calendar?
I thought I would try to capture two audiences: one group looking for a funky calendar, another group looking for witch history.
Where is it available?
It’s being sold at the National Park Visitor Center, at the Witch House, House of the Seven Gables, Trolley Depot, the Witch Museum.
How many copies did you print?
Five thousand. It’s printed by Deschamps Printing in Salem. It’s a complete Salem product.