Here at the Salem Witch Museum we’re so blessed to have many creative, talented people on our staff. Peter Murphy, a sophomore theater student at Salem State University, has been part of our team for the last year and hails from Plymouth, Massachusetts.
During a recent trip home for spring break Peter took time to stop by Manomet Elementary School, where his mother is a Teacher’s Aid, to impart his knowledge of the Salem Witch trials to the third grade class. With a photo presentation to illustrate his history lesson, Peter shared the infamous story of the tragic 1692 witchcraft accusations. Not an easy task considering his audience of 8-year-olds might presumably rather watch Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place than learn about colonial history – and a tragic period at that. But Peter was surprised to learn that these kids had many questions and positive views of witch characters, like those portrayed in Harry Potter or Sabrina the Teenage Witch. “I was thrilled to find that the kids were curious about the topic, asking ‘Are witches real?’ ”
There is a broad span in perception between the Puritan notion of witches and the way these images are depicted in popular media today; though of course today we know that the accused in Salem were not in fact “witches” by any definition. Peter described Hollywood interpretations and other stereotypes associated with the witch image. He explained the evolution in perceptions of the archetype from ancient healing wise women, through medieval persecutions of so-called heretics and sorceresses – like Joan of Arc – all the way to the ever recognizable Wicked Witch of the West.
For his part, Peter was enthusiastic in his own learning experience speaking to a group of young people about the subject. A seasoned actor in Salem State’s recent production of Ghosts of Troy, he’s no stranger to performing in front of large groups. For his role as a seer in this “punk rock with a Cirque du Soleil twist” interpretation of the Odyssey, Peter energetically studied the athletic movement art of aerial silks. Adept at working in front of theater audiences and guiding tours through the Salem Witch Museum exhibits, Peter was invigorated by the challenge of relating the history of the Salem witch trials to elementary school children in a classroom setting.
We’d like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Peter Murphy for his passion in the projects he undertakes, in and outside of the museum. It is an honor to work alongside him.