Wednesday, August 17, 2016

HGB Ep. 143 - The Witch House in Salem

Moment in Oddity - The Shocking Truth About the Electric Chair
Suggested by listener: Karen Hubbard

Many are probably unaware that the invention of the electric chair begins in Buffalo, New York. On Monday, May 13, 1889, William Kemmler was found guilty of murder. The following day he was sentenced to “suffer the death punishment by being executed by electricity, as provided by the code of criminal procedure of the State of New York, and that [he] be removed to and kept in confinement in Auburn State prison.” Kemmler had beaten his wife to death with the blunt end of an axe.The use of the electric chair was brand new. As a matter of fact, Kemmler would be the first man executed in the chair. The switch was thrown with 1,000 volts for 17 seconds and everybody thought Kemmler was dead, but he wasn't. The machine was recharged and 2,000 volts was run through Kemmler's body for long enough that blood started to seep from his body and he finally caught on fire. This time he was dead. The DA who had prosecuted Kemmler in Buffalo, ran from the room and got sick. Not only was this way of execution started with Kemmler in Buffalo, the idea was sparked in Buffalo as well. The Brush Electric Company was located in Buffalo and provided streetlights to major cities like Cleveland, Manhatten, Boston and San Francisco. They had invented arc lights, which were more powerful than filament lamps. They were testing these new lights one evening and caught the attention of many people in the town. Their curiosity brought them down where they found wires running between poles and they discovered that the dynamos were leaching out a dull current of electricity to the metal railing near them. The visitors formed a semi-circle and held hands and the people on each end grabbed the rail. A light tickle of electricity passed through the group. One of those visitors was a man named Lemuel Smith. Smith went and got drunk and returned alone later that night. He was chased off several times by the police, but he eventually managed to sneak past them. He ran towards one of the dynamos and grabbed a pole, but got no shock. He reached out for the other pole with his other hand and well,he became the first American killed by a dynamo. This showed that a person could be killed with two different power cycles – one high voltage and one low voltage. The high voltage caused the brain to cease functioning and the low voltage stopped the heart. That technology was built into the electric chair and didn't change for the next 100 years. The idea that a drunk trespasser in Buffalo, New York, looking for a cheap thrill, would inspire the invention of the electric chair, certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Peter Fechter Shot at Berlin Wall
by: Richard Schaffer

On this day, August 17th, in 1962, Peter Fechter was shot and killed by East German border guards. The Cold War was in full swing. After World War II, Germany was split between the victorious powers. The United States and her allies possessed a sphere of influence over West Germany and also took on the roles as protector and supporter. East Germany was in the gravitational pull of Russia and subscribed to the ideals of communism. Things in East Germany were tough. High inflation, scarcity of consumer goods, and being in a country ruled by an iron fist made life unbearable in communist East Germany. This led to many people trying to flee the country into their neighboring country of West Germany, which had an abundance of consumer goods, jobs, a democratic government, and a way of life that meant peace and prosperity. Fechter and his friend Helmut Kulbiek tried to cross the Berlin Wall together. East German border guards fired upon the two as they raced to the wall. Kulbiek made it, but Fechter was struck in the pelvis. Fechter screamed and cried in agony as he lay dying at the wall. It took an hour for him to bleed to death. East German troops did nothing to save him or render him aid. While several accounts say that West German police tried to throw him bandages, which he could not reach. Western authorities were prevented from further action by the threat of physical force. Both sides were fearful of the other and as a result no one helped a dying man. It is believed that Peter Fechter would have died whether or not he received the help he begged for. He was just 18 years old.

The Witch House (Suggested by listener Amanda Prouty)

The town of Salem, Massachusetts carries a mystique that can be traced back to what has made this location infamous and that are the witch trials that began in 1692. One of the prominent figures in those trials was a man named Jonathan Corwin. When another judge was reluctant to continue forward with the trials, Jonathan stepped in, signing arrest warrants and taking part in hearings. The result of these trials would be the deaths of nineteen people. Corwin owned one of the few mansions in town and it would come to be known as the Witch House. Legends have cropped up around the house that the souls of those convicted of witchcraft haunt the home and other tales claim that women were tortured there to get their confessions. None of these are true. But something is haunting the former home of Jonathan Corwin. Join us and our special guest, Amanda Prouty who has given tours in Salem, as we explore the history and hauntings of the Witch House.

Salem was originally settled by a Native American group who used the area as a trading center. Europeans first settled in 1626 after a group of fishermen led by Roger Conant arrived. Conant led the settlement for two years and then the Massachusetts Bay Company asked Conant to step aside and let John Endecott replace him. The transition was peaceful and Endecott and Conant cooperated in such a way that all the settlers, who were considered old planters and new planters based on whose leadership they favored, got along and did not dispute the new government. Because of this, the town was called Salem, a hellenized form of the Hebrew word for peace.

George Corwin arrived in Salem in 1638 with his wife Elizabeth. George was a shipbuilder and a wealthy merchant. Their son Jonathan was born in 1640 in Salem. He followed in his father's footsteps as a merchant and eventually got involved with the government. He was elected to the colonial assembly and became a magistrate for the local courts. He married Elizabeth Gibbs, a widow, in 1675. That same year, he bought one of the larger homes in the town that would come to be known as the Jonathan Corwin House and later The Witch House. This is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials, which we featured in Episode 61. There are many misconceptions about the house and Amanda is going to share those with us.

The Salem Witch Trials left much negative energy behind. Does some of this energy still carry over to our present day? Do some of the members of the Corwin family still reside in the house after death? Is the Witch House haunted? That is for you to decide!

Pictures from Dawn O'Creene of interior Witch House:
Outdoor Sign

Candles & Shadows

Children's Room

Tea set in children's room

Master Bedroom

Kitchen (notice red orb at top)

Window from the outside



Show Notes:
Tim Prasil's Spectral Edition joins us on this episode. Tim scours historical newspapers to find reports of ghostly activity and he presents these stories on his blog, in the audio version called Spectral Edition and soon in a book! Series 3 is exclusive to History Goes Bump! Check out Tim's blog at:

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