It's no secret that the United States has a checkered past when it comes to strong women. Today, most historians acknowledge that plain old misogyny played a major role in the Salem witch trials that unjustly accused hundreds of people of practicing magic. In the latest episode of Bustle's new web series What's Up, Boo?, host Alex Dickson tackles this issue head-on as she looks into Bridget Bishop, the first woman executed during the witch trials in 1692. Say what you will about the various and sundry problems of 2017, but Bishop's life (and more importantly, her death) has a way of putting things in perspective.
First, a short history lesson is in order. In the late 17th century, a group of young women began accusing people of practicing the Devil's magic, aka witchcraft. As you can imagine, this did not go over well. In the end, more than 200 people, mostly women, were accused of being witches, and 20 were executed. The first to be hung was Bridget Bishop, an older woman known for her outspoken nature. She even wore a bright red tunic — a fashion faux pas in colonial Massachusetts. In short, she was a Puritan nightmare.
In 1692, five girls claimed that Bishop had bewitched them, leading to her arrest in April. During the trial, numerous witnesses came forward to say that her spirit had choked them at night. Although she fought the charges, claiming she was innocent, Bishop was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to execution. In June, she was hung on what later became known as Gallows Hill.
To this day, her spirit is said to haunt the streets of Salem — and whether or not you believe in the paranormal, it's certainly hard to escape the specter of witchcraft in the town. Centuries after her death, many Salem residents still refer to Bishop as a witch, and her spirit is commonly summoned to talk about the trials. In the second episode of What's Up, Boo? Dickson sets out to find out whether Bishop's ghost has stuck around for so long to try and clear her name, once and for all.
First, Dickson arranges to meet with a local witch and medium, Kelly Spangler. Although she declines to summon Bishop's spirit, saying other people do that often enough already, Spangler gives some insight into why the woman was executed so quickly. "She was wild," Spangler says. "She was always frowned upon, like an outcast of the town."
She also points Dickson toward Freya Bishop, a medium who happens to be Bridget's descendant. After visiting her grave, which is appropriately spooky, the pair travel to a restaurant built on the land that used to be Bridget's apple orchard. Once there, Freya feels Bridget's presence, although it isn't the angry specter you might expect. "She's scared," Freya says, attributing Bridget's fear to the way the town treated her when she was alive and her ruined reputation afterward.
"She was the first woman hung. She was killed," Freya says. "When she was alive, she was abused. Even in death, she continues to be abused." When asked if modern women could learn anything from Bridget’s death, Freya pauses. “I keep hearing the word 'respect.'"
Finally, Dickson meets with a clairvoyant, Paula Roberts, to try to communicate with Bridget using a Ouija board. Sure enough, Bridget's spirit makes an appearance. To find out what she had to say, you can catch the second episode of What's Up, Boo? below.
Check out the entire 'What's Up, Boo?' series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
To learn more about famous female ghosts, you can catch the first episode of What's Up, Boo? online. The series is ongoing, so stay tuned for more installments — and for the love of feminism, stop calling Bridget Bishop a witch.