In late fall, 1620, English religious separatists known as Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor, present-day Massachusetts, on a small ship called the Mayflower. There were 102 Pilgrims in December, but only 50 by the following spring. They interred their dead on a hill above the settlement, which became known as Cole’s Hill.
Over time, the settlement grew and they began burying their dead on the appropriately named Burial Hill, which was also the original location of a small wooden fort. Erosion and excavation exposed bones on Cole’s Hill, and some were stolen, while others were collected under the roof of a stone canopy over Plymouth Rock. After more than three centuries, the bones were placed in a large sarcophagus, which sits on the hill to this day.
The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. Part Two explores beliefs about witchcraft, including counter magic and how witches were identified. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com
While many Illinois pioneers feared witches, they also believed there were ways to combat maleficium and eliminate witches. For every hex, there was a counter-hex, and the methods for removing hexes were as diverse as the afflictions they were meant to cure. Pins, nails, needles, knives, silver, and a variety of spices were all employed in the fight against witchcraft. Boiling and burning were also utilized.
If a witch proved too powerful for folk remedies, the afflicted called for the aid of witch doctors or witch masters. Curiously, although believers in witchcraft identified it as the work of the devil, few witch cures had religious connotations. Illinois residents of German descent had several remedies involving crosses or cross-shaped objects, but the majority of cures were secular.
Witch masters were also secular figures, and although there are a few stories of the afflicted calling on pastors or priests, they more often than not sought help from witch doctors, hoodoo doctors, “wizards,” or other individuals with purported supernatural power.
Before the hex could be broken or the witch destroyed, however, he or she had to be identified. Identification of the witch could involve something as simple as noticing unusual behavior or witnessing the witch perform some incredible feat.
In the early 1930s, an African American informant from Adams County, Illinois explained to folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt, “About eight years ago I was running with a witch and didn’t know it until one day we were out picking some fruit, and she was all dressed in black. All at once I look and she was gone. Then she appear right away wearing a white dress. Then I knew she was a witch.”
A coroner and his son attempt to solve the mystery of how a seemingly unscathed woman’s corpse ended up in a murdered family’s basement in this psychological-horror film from Norwegian director André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) doesn’t have a complicated story, but is creepy and compelling enough to rise above its peers.
Coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) run a routine practice in a small town morgue, but the discovery of the pale, lifeless body of a black-haired woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) in a murdered family’s basement changes all that. Austin has plans to take his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) to the movies, but something doesn’t feel right when the sheriff wheels in a fresh corpse from a crime scene, so he postpones the date.
As Tommy and Austin begin the autopsy on the mysterious woman, they uncover clues to how she died. All her injuries are internal, and they discover evidence that she’s much, much older than she appears. The more they cut into her, however, the more unsettling events begin to manifest around the morgue. Something unseen traps and pursues them, with predictable results.
It’s eventually revealed Jane Doe was a witch who was brutally tortured and magically bound in a prison of her own flesh in seventeenth-century New England. She inflicted torment on everyone who had custody of her body, so it was shuttled around until ending up in the morgue, where only Tommy and Austin had the tools and expertise to solve the mystery.
In From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864, Jeffry D. Wert charts Union General Philip Sheridan’s victory over Confederate General Jubal Early in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the closing months of the American Civil War. Sheridan’s campaign ensured Confederate defeat in Virginia and ultimately contributed to President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. Drawing on manuscript collections and many published sources, Wert offers vivid descriptions of the battles of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek.
First published in 1987, From Winchester to Cedar Creek explores how interplay of the strengths and weaknesses of the Union and Confederate commanders, Sheridan and Early, resulted in victories for Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. It not only documents and dynamically recounts these events, but it also details the political, strategic, and tactical forces that made the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign so important to the outcome of the Civil War.
As Philip Sheridan’s star rose, Jubal Early’s fell. In June 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Early and approximately 15,000 men up the Shenandoah Valley to clear Union troops from the area and menace Washington, D.C., in an effort to repeat Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s successes in 1862. Early, however, was no Jackson. Despite early success, by August he was on the defensive. General Ulysses S. Grant sent his cavalry commander, Philip Sheridan, to command all Union troops in the Valley and destroy Early. This is where From Winchester to Cedar Creek picks up the story.
Philip Sheridan was one of the few cavalry commanders who successfully transitioned to overall command of an army. His unique experience allowed him to better integrate infantry and cavalry. During the Civil War, it was considered suicidal for mounted cavalry to directly engage infantry, but at the Battle of Third Winchester, September 19, 1864, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry division broke Early’s defensive line with a classic Napoleonic cavalry charge.
Centralia, Pennsylvania was nearly entirely evacuated following a coal mine fire, burning beneath the town since 1962. In 1992, Pennsylvania condemned the town and claimed it under eminent domain in an attempt for force the remaining residents out. Some sued, and were allowed to stay.
A section of State Route 61 was abandoned after it began to buckle and crumble from the underground fire. This has become known as “Graffiti Highway.” Smoke can still be seen coming through cracks in the ground in some places, but not on my trip. Centralia is rumored to have inspired Silent Hill. Check out my new video below!