October 10, 2010

October Horror Mania: "More Weight!"

This weekend Tony and I visited Salem with our friend Lori. The town was in the grip of Halloween mania! Hundreds of people were walking around in witch hats, friend dough was for sale outside the cemetery, and we had to wait in lines to get into Samantha's costume shop and the witchcraft supply store Hex.

Of course, the hardships we faced as Salem tourists were nothing compared to what Giles Corey endured in 1692.

Fried dough outside the cemetery. Yes, it smelled really good.

Giles Corey was an elderly farmer in Salem Village who had a reputation for being stubborn and mean-tempered. As Marion Starkey writes in The Devil in Massachusetts,

This Giles even at eighty was a powerful brute of a man, slow of comprehension, but quick of temper, and so born to trouble as the sparks fly upward; his life had been punctuated by lawsuits and worse.

Starkey doesn't write what the "worse" was, but according to information at the Salem Wax Museum, Giles was rumored to have beaten one of his servants to death. He doesn't sound like a nice guy.

Giles Corey mannequin at the Salem Wax Museum.

His wife Martha was a strong-willed and outspoken woman, and expressed her doubts about the Salem witch trials when they erupted in 1692. Naturally this led to her being accused of witchcraft herself by the allegedly possessed girls.

Giles was called as a witness at her trial. He said he found it hard to pray when Martha was around and that he once found her mysteriously kneeling by the hearth at midnight. He initially agreed with the court that his wife was a witch, but when he himself was later indicted he changed his tune. He realized that she was as innocent as he was.

Although he wasn't too bright, Giles knew if he was convicted of witchcraft the authorities would confiscate all his property. So rather than stand on trial and lose his family's fortune, Giles refused to speak. If he didn't say a word there couldn't be a trial.

Sheriff George Corwin decided to make him talk. This is where things get gruesome.

The sheriff applied what was known as peine forte et dure, or hard and forceful punishment: slow crushing by heavy weight. Giles was stripped naked and tied to the ground outside the jail. Boards were placed across his chest, and rocks were piled on.

Giles still refused to talk.

The sheriff put on more rocks.

Giles didn't say a word.

The sheriff added more and more rocks. This continued for two days. According to tradition, the words Giles said were "More weight..."

Giles died after two days. His tongue protruded from his mouth due to the pressure on his body, and Sheriff Corwin allegedly pushed it back in using his cane.

Martha was hanged three days later. Their family, however, got to keep their land because Giles refused to speak.

Giles Corey stone at the witchcraft trial memorial.

Martha and Giles had both been excommunicated before their deaths, but this was revoked after the Salem witch trials ended. It doesn't seem to have helped Giles feel any better in his unmarked grave. His ghost is rumored to still haunt Salem, particularly around times of disaster. But unlike ghosts who arrive before disasters to give warning, Giles only seems to show up afterward.

He probably comes to gloat.

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