Seven Badass Women of Salem: Laurie Cabot, The Official Witch of Salem
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
By Kristin Harris
Whenever Salem’s witch history is mentioned, when not in reference to the trials of 1692, it almost always starts with Laurie Cabot. She has been a well-known figure in Salem since the 1970s, and is known for starting a pilgrimage of practitioners of modern day Witchcraft to Salem when she “came out of the cauldron” around 1970. Hundreds, if not thousands of practicing witches follow her form of craft, and the Cabot Witches are among some of Salem’s practicing elite to this day. So, how did a young, solitary witch come to be the Official Witch of Salem?
Today, you can take classes with Cabot through the Cabot School of Witchcraft. Classes with Laurie are usually held at Enchanted, on Salem’s Pickering Wharf, where her and her daughter Penny sell some of their handmade spellcraft in the form of potions, charms, and broomsticks. But even a witch such as Laurie had a beginning.
Laurie Cabot was born Mercedes Elizabeth Keersey, in Wewoka, Oklahoma on March 6, 1933. She spent her childhood living in California, before moving to New England as a teenager. While living in Boston, she developed an interest in studying the occult, and witchcraft, and fostered this while reading in the Boston Public Library.
Before moving to Salem, Laurie was living in the North End of Boston, a struggling divorcee raising two children on her own. Though it was the late 1960s by this time, Laurie was still hesitant to outwardly declare that she was a witch, though she was known for dressing the part. According to an interview with Laurie in the Boston Globe from 2017, she wore “black robes, pentagram necklaces -- but by then it was the late 60’s and people just thought she was a hippie.” Eventually, she felt that it would be better if she moved to somewhere more suburban, and happened to find an apartment on Salem’s historic Chestnut Street. So, when did the world come to know Laurie Cabot as the leader of the witchcraft Renaissance? According to the Globe article by Baker, it all started with (go figure) a black cat named Molly Boo.
One day, Molly, one of Laurie’s two cats got stuck 50 feet up in a tree, despite the other cat trying to coax it back down. Laurie tried calling local police, only to be told to “just wait,” and that the cat would eventually come down. After 3 days, Molly Boo was still stuck in the tree, and Laurie had had it. So, in true badass fashion, she called the Salem News and said to the person who answered the phone, “My cat is stuck in a tree. I am a witch. That cat is my familiar. And I want someone to come get my cat out of my tree.” Needless to say, the attention was almost immediate. Not only did several rescue cars show up to get Molly Boo out of the tree, but so did a photographer, and the mayor. With all the media attention, very soon after the kitty incident, Laurie was able to open the city’s very first witch shop, called The Witch Shoppe on 100 Derby St. A year later, that shop moved to Essex St., and was renamed Crow Haven Corner. It still operates under different ownership, and is known for being Salem’s longest-operating witch shop. She opened a third location in the mid-90s known as The Cat, The Crow, and the Crown on Pickering Wharf, but later renamed it The Official Witch Shoppe, as a nod to her title.
Laurie got the title the “Official Witch of Salem” in 1977 from then-governor Michael Dukakis, as a nod to her work with dyslexic children, but that isn’t the only reason. Laurie Cabot has been a world-renowned psychic for many years, and is known for helping to solve several police cases. In 1991, her visions led to solving the missing persons case in Salem involving a local artist named Martha Brailsford, and her neighbor Tom Maimoni. After going sailing together, Tom had come home alone, and reported that Martha had been thrown overboard by a rogue wave. Police searched for, and could not find Martha, so they called in Salem’s Official Witch for help. Using the name, location, and birth of Martha, Laurie was able to gain a vision, and stated that Tom had made sexual advances toward Martha, and that when she refused, he hit her over the head, tied weights to her waist, and an anchor to her feet, and threw her overboard. On July 18, 1991, Hooper Goodwin, who was lobstering off Marblehead, found Brailsford's remains tied to an anchor and weighted with a diving belt. She had sustained five blows to her skull and jaw. Tom fled, and Laurie was determined to put the creep in jail. She claims to have been able to perform a binding spell on him, and stated that she had a vision of him trying to get to Canada. Three days later, someone spotted a man fitting Tom’s description at a small cabin near the border, and police found and arrested him. In 1993, he was found guilty of second-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. He died at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in 2017. Whether or not you believe in Laurie’s help in the case, she has undoubtedly become a symbol of culture for Salem, and forever made her mark on its history.
After opening Salem’s first witch shop, more and more people practicing modern witchcraft began to move to Salem, seeing it as a place of acceptance for the practice. A lot of those practitioners also started lucrative business practices themselves, and there are all sorts of opinions about all of them, according to who you are speaking with. Some practice Wicca, and others their own form of the craft, which has a spectrum as varied and wide as many other world religions. As of 1997, more than 2,500 residents of Salem claimed to be practicing witches, and since then of course, there are many more. Despite the business side, and despite the opinions of the masses, Laurie has always maintained that her real goal has been to educate the public about witchcraft, and to dispel rumors about the practice. As the author of 6 books, and teacher of various classes, including at Harvard, she has done successfully for over 45 years.
Kristin Harris is a Historian, with an M.A. in American Studies from UMASS Boston, focusing on Death in Popular culture. She has been a public historian in Salem for many years, interpreting at both the Witch House and Pioneer Village for 3 years from 2013-2016. She later went on to work as a public tour guide for Salem Black Cat Tours beginning in 2014, and served on the board of the Salem Historical Society from 2015-2017, until starting full time work as a Tour
Guide/Reenactor at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum in 2017. She now continues to work for the BTPSM as a Lead Actor in the Creative Department at the Museum, and to educate as a first person historical interpreter with many organizations including Newport Living History Spaces and Revolutionary Spaces. While researching for her Master’s thesis, Kristin met and joined with the Mass Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society as an investigator in training, and served as an investigator with the team from 2015-2017. Her time with MGHPS informed much of her continued research into the paranormal, and paranormal history. Beginning in 2019, Kristin started work with Intramersive Media LLC as a consulting historian and dramaturge for their third installment of Daemonologie, their yearly October production, which was entitled Smoke and Mirrors, and was sponsored by the Peabody Essex Museum and the Creative Collective. Kristin has since joined Intramersive as a permanent member of the production team.
She is also the host ofLife After Midnight: Strange History, Salem Style, a podcast dedicated to exploring dark and macabre history, and its impact on popular culture and thought. All episodes are available on iTunes.https://lifeaftermidnightsalem.com/
1. Baker, Billy. (2017) ‘She Brought Magic to Salem. She Has Mixed Feelings About It.’ Boston Globe Online. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/10/26/witch/gIeQ13bUSWp03K0RmC9UgL/story.html.
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