Events Calendar Manchester Community College Events Calendar

The Salem Witchcraft Trials and ‘Moldy Bread’: A Case Study in Fake News

Tuesday, October 24, 2023
1:00pm - 2:00pm
Student Center

On April 2, 1976 Science Magazine published an article by Linnda R. Caporael which posited that during the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials, the visions of specters and painful physical sensations described by the girls who claimed to be afflicted by witches could have been caused from eating bread made with flour tainted by ergot, a naturally occurring fungal hallucinogen that grows on rye grain under certain growing conditions.

While experts immediately debunked this claim – the historical and medical data used to support the hypothesis was cherry-picked – the claim went viral in a pre-Internet age. More than four decades later, belief in this is still pervasive.

This program will unpack how this explanation about a lurid chapter in American history was born and cemented in the public imagination. It is a case study in how mass media induces people to buy into “fake news." Presenter Margo Burns is the 10th-generation great-granddaughter of Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged in Salem in 1692 on the charge of witchcraft. She is the project manager and an associate editor of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt, published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press.

Presented by the MCC Library in partnership with the New Hampshire Humanities Council.