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Salem Witch Trials : When Paranoia about the supernatural takes over reason

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Salem Village, Massachusetts is the birthplace of one of America’s bleak blemishes known as The Salem Witch Trials. It is an unfortunate event that took the lives of many innocent men and women and a prime example of a corrupted justice system. The story begins in January 1692, when two cousins 9-year-old Elizabeth (Betty) Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece of Samuel Parris, minister of Salem Village,  began behaving strangely, screaming uncontrollably, throwing objects around and contorting their bodies. The local physician (the only one in the entire village) found nothing physically wrong with the two girls and concluded that its causes were supernatural (« The girls were under an evil hand »).

The Puritans, the founders of Salem, were firm believers in the supernatural and upheld the idea of the devil giving certain humans the power to harm others, bewitching them, and tormenting poor children. Therefore, the villagers had no doubt a witch was behind the suffering of Elizabeth and Abigail. Shortly after, a third girl, 11-year-old Ann Putnam started acting similarly to the first two « afflicted »  followed by Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott, and Mary Warren.

On February 9th, 1692, the very first Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams accused 3 women of bewitching them. The three accused were Sarah Good, a homeless beggar, Sarah Osborn, who was absent from church for days, and Tituba, an enslaved woman who was serving the Perris house. An arrest warrant was issued for them and the poor women were put on trial. Good and Osborn both insisted they were innocent but were found guilty anyway. They were later hanged publicly. Tituba denied at first but then confessed that she was behind the girl’s strange behavior and testified  » The devil came to me and bid me serve him « . She even made the startling confession of the existence of other witches in the community, spreading more paranoia and fear in the already troubled people of Salem. Surprisingly, Tituba wasn’t sent to the gallows. On the contrary, Tituba was released after spending one year in jail. Following their religious teachings, it was preferred that the accusees confess, ask for forgiveness, and never engage in more witchcraft.

As the « bewitching » grew in the village, the accusations multiplied. The court accepted unreliable evidence such as children’s claims and spectral evidence like dreams and visions. More women, including the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good,  were accused of witchcraft and were faced with the choice of either making false confessions to save their lives and implicate other women in the matter as Tituba did, or insist on their innocence and inevitably get executed. In the period from July to September 1692, 18 more people were found guilty and executed including 4 men. Some people speculate more perished in jail while waiting for trial.

The hysteria continued until 1693 when the wife of the Massachusetts governor was accused. Those on witchcraft trials were released and the arrests stopped. In January 1697, a day of fasting was declared for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials and the unrightfully executed men and women. The court later declared the trials unlawful, and the leading justice Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for what he has done. In August 1992, 300 years after the tragedy, a memorial, Witch Trials Memorial, was dedicated to honoring the names of the poor victims who were buried in unmarked graves.

 

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1904 Olympics : When Rat Poison was used as an energy drink

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1904 was quite a milestone for the Olympic games as it was the first time the game would be hosted in the US as a step to making this event the international phenomenon we know today. But this high hope was met with deception as they turned out to be the most scandalous Olympics that completely jeopardized the future of the games.

At first, the International Olympic Committee chose Chicago as the host of the games. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the World Fair was about to be held and the organizers were antsy: Another international event was happening at the same time which might overshadow the fair thus affect its attendance. This fear made the organizers scheme and they threatened to make their own international sports event, even bigger than the Olympics in St. Louis to draw away athletes from Chicago. This threat made Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, give in and awarded the Olympics to St. Louis. Little did he know that this decision was a huge mistake. As a small comparison, the 2016 Olympics in Rio saw about 11 000 athletes from 206 countries compete, as for the 1904 Olympics, about 650 athletes showed up (about 500 of them were from the US and half the foreigners were Canadians) from 12 countries. These shameful numbers are due to the fact that St. Louis Missouri didn’t have the logistics to get participants to the town as it was very hard to get to back in the early 1900s. As a result, people could participate in the games at any time, some even were picked from the streets to compete. But the pièce de résistance in this event’s hall of shame was the marathon which can only be described as merciless and sadistic. There was a total of 7 high hills on the track, roads were tremendously dusty and surprisingly enough were open as some cars were driving alongside runners, scattering more dust in the air. The marathon also started on a hot August day around 3 PM. As if things couldn’t get any more difficult, the participants weren’t allowed to drink water either.

There were about 32 runners in the marathon and some of them never run a marathon before but decided to hop in this wild journey. One of the contestants was John Lordan who had lots of high hopes and bets placed on him since he was the winner of the last year’s Boston Marathon, but he dropped out from the first half mile as he started vomiting and almost passed out.

Next was William Garcia who collapsed on the road, coughing up blood and nearly died. The poor man suffered from an esophagus coated in dust and a ripped stomach lining. Other remarkable participants were the very first Africans to compete in the Olympics Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiane (performers at the world fair). Jan was one of the few who actually finished the race and was 9th but his friend Len had a tough time as a dog started chasing him for a whole mile (he was still able to finish the race).

Thomas Hicks also took part in this marathon, an American athlete with a team of trainers who were riding along with him during the race. These trainers came up with a peculiar energy drink and a performance enhancer for their athlete: egg whites mixed with brandy and strychnine, a substance used as rat poison. The poor man collapsed after crossing the finish line after the effects of his drink started taking a toll on his body. He miraculously finished second after Fred Lorz, the famous participant who cheated his way to the first place. He ran about a third of the way and then started riding a car for about 11 miles. Fred wasn’t ashamed of this as he was waving at the spectators and other runners, after a good rest he hopped off the car and ran the last 5 miles arriving first to the finish line. As he was about to receive the Gold medal from Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, one of the spectators who saw Fred get down from a car exposed him. As the crowd started raging over his shameful cheating, Fred laughed it off, said he was joking, and never intended to take the gold medal anyway. Since his disqualification, the gold medal was given to Thomas Hicks, the official winner of the very first Olympics held in the US and the survivor from a very questionable energy drink.

In total, only half of the runners were able to cross the finish line in the slowest times ever recorded in the history of the marathon making the St. Louis 1904 Olympics, the most disastrous games to ever occur.

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