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A history of spiritualism and the occult in Salem : the rise of Witch City

by Maggi Smith-Dalton

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A suprising look at a hidden subject in 19th-century Salem, Massachusetts   (2012-12-05)


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by asongbird

"In 'A History of Spiritualism and the Occult in Salem,' musician and historian Maggi Smith-Dalton examines the career of this movement in a local context. Her book …  is in some ways an intellectual history of Salem in the 19th century....a really interesting focuses so much about American and local culture at that point in time... fascinating. All the information is well marshaled and presented...And who would have guessed spiritualism was an element in Hawthorne and Sophia's relationship…" Will Broaddus, Salem News


The story told by Maggi Smith-Dalton in "A History of Spiritualism and the Occult in Salem: The Rise of Witch City,"  published by The History Press, is not what you might expect in book about 19th-century Salem, Massachusetts.

Spiritualism was an important element in 19th-century culture, in America and indeed worldwide. Salem provided fertile ground for the growth of this and other religions, yet, because of its link to witchcraft in the infamous trials of 1692 -- a serious and persistent black mark on the town's reputation -- struggled with anything which might give more fuel to the fire of being linked to occult practices.

Smith-Dalton's book examines this struggle and the elements that went into the gradual evolution of Salem towards what we would recognize as the Salem of today. The popularity of Spiritualism and renewed interest in the occult blossomed out of an attempt to find an intellectual and emotional balance between science and religion.

It also tells a larger story about the way alternative religions such as Spiritualism grew in 19th century America, using Salem, a town that prided itself on its arts, culture, professional class, and love of science, as the connecting thread. In her second book for The History Press, historian Maggi Smith-Dalton delves into Salem’s exotic history, unraveling the beginnings of Spiritualism and the rise of The Witch City.

About the author:

Maggi Smith-Dalton began her singing career in cabarets and nightclubs and has maintained a parallel career as a historian most of her life. With her husband, Jim, she tours nationwide as a concert artist. They are specialists in "19th- & Early 20th-Century Music, History, and Culture From Parlor and Stage" on period & period-appropriate instruments, performed in historically-informed style.

Maggi is also a prizewinning short story writer and has a long history of writing feature articles and columns for magazines and newspapers. Most recently, she wrote a weekly history column for the Boston Globe ( (2010-12), and continues to freelance for print and online publications.

Maggi holds a master's degree in American Studies, and her current scholarly work focuses on historic civic rituals that incorporate music as a primary element, a subject on which she has presented domestically and abroad. 

Maggi is president of the Institute for Music, History and Cultural Traditions, which runs two public programs: the American History and Music Project and the Salem History Society. In 2010, she was elected to the council of the New England American Studies Association.

"A History of Spiritualism" is her second book with The History Press; "Stories and Shadows from Salem's Past" was published in 2010.  For more information:,_Books,_Media%29.html

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