Press Room

Stacy Schiff Explores “The Witches: Salem, 1692” at the Central Library

Posted on September 21st, 2016 by awilliams in General

lowresAuthor Stacy Schiff visited the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square on Tuesday, September 21, to discuss her latest book, The Witches: Salem, 1692, with help from moderator Brenton Simons, President and CEO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The nonfiction book examines the social, political, and legal landscape of the Salem witch hysteria, an ordeal that began in late winter 1692 and ended nine months later.

Schiff, who joked that she came to Boston from New York City via broom, explained that a variety of political and historical factors—including the recent King Philip’s War and the coup of Massachusetts governor Edmund Andros—contributed to an environment of fear and paranoia in 1692 Salem. It was in this unstable landscape that the first witchcraft accusations emerged after two pre-adolescent girls in the home of town minister Samuel Parris began to act strangely. Soon, other teenage girls throughout the town began to shriek and writhe, and accusations of witchcraft were leveled against everyone from a beggar woman to one of the wealthiest merchants in Salem.

Schiff explained that unlike the modern-day conception of a witch with a pointy hat and broomstick, a 17th-century witch was a religious figure, a colleague of the devil viewed as a very real threat. Witches, she said, were a way to explain everything from a misplaced item to the death of a family member—they helped explain the unexplainable. She added that accusing someone of witchcraft was also a convenient way to retaliate against an enemy.

A 17th-century court room, Schiff said, was already a rowdy place; the shrieking girls who filled Salem’s courtroom as evidence of witchcraft only added to the chaos and confusion. The accused soon learned that they could save their lives by confessing and in turn pointing a finger at a neighbor. By August of 1692, everyone on trial was confessing to witchcraft. When the hysteria ended, Schiff noted, a veil of silence fell over the trials and records were destroyed. As recently as the 1950s, when Arthur Miller visited Salem for research for The Crucible, residents were reluctant to discuss the trials.

In response to Simons’ question about possible causes for the hysteria, Schiff dismissed the old theory of poisoning by ergot—a fungus found in rye that causes hallucinations—as not possible for a variety of reasons; instead, she believes trauma resulting from King Philip’s War was a contributing factor. The brutal conflict between the colonists and Native Americans had ended about fifteen years before the trials, and everyone in Salem knew someone who had died or was a captive.

Before concluding with a question and answer session, Simons pointed out that, thanks to an invitation from the New England Historic Genealogical society, a number of the night’s audience members were descendants of the accused.

Boston Public Library holds original records from the Salem Witch Trials, including manuscript depositions, as part of our Colonial and Revolutionary Boston Collection of Distinction.

The next Author Talk features Larry Tye, author of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, on Thursday, September 22, at 6 p.m. in Rabb Hall.

Karin Tanabe Discusses “The Gilded Years” at BPL

Posted on September 16th, 2016 by rlavery in General
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img_1869The Gilded Years author Karin Tanabe visited the Central Library on Thursday, September 15 to discuss her historical fiction work, which tells the story of Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to attend and graduate Vassar College by passing as a white woman in the late 1890s. Anita has local ties – she grew up in Roxbury and worked at the Boston Public Library as a cataloguer, and likely met her husband at the BPL. Tanabe is a Vassar alumna and first got the idea for the book in 2014, when she flipped through her alumni magazine and saw mention of Anita. She began researching the woman and quickly found that not too much information could be found, but the subject of her next book was quickly brewing in her head.

Tanabe and some of her friends visited Vassar to search through their archives to find correspondence and details about Anita Hemmings. She was active in school, a member of the debate club and choir, and a very intelligent woman. Though no “majors” existed at Vassar at the time, Anita focused on languages and wanted to be a teacher. The year after she graduated, her college roommate of two years leaked the news that she was an African-American woman after her suspicions were raised in their senior year. After college, Anita married and lived with her husband in Tennessee before relocated to New York City. Anita did not pursue a teaching career after marrying and having children.

A question and answer period followed the reading of a passage. Audience members were curious to know if Anita was related to Peter or Sally Hemmings (maybe), and if Tanabe had communicated with any of Anita’s ancestors; Tanabe has been in touch with Anita’s great granddaughter. Listeners also asked if Anita was involved in civil rights issues, and Tanabe said she was not, to her knowledge, but Anita had a best friend who went to Wellesley College who was. One of the most challenging aspects of writing this book, Tanabe said, was tracking down the name of Anita’s roommate; she wrote most of the book without knowing. Tanabe also discussed how the book has relevance today, as racial tensions and acceptance of others is still an issue more than 100 years later.

Tanabe concluded the talk by signing books and showing photographs of Anita and others related to The Gilded Years.

The next Author Talk is Tuesday, September 20, at 6 p.m. in Rabb Hall at the Central Library in Copley Square, featuring Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches: Salem, 1692.

Boston Public Library Loans Centuries-Old Illuminated Manuscripts for Collaborative Beyond Words Exhibition

Posted on September 16th, 2016 by rlavery in Media Releases
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januarius_0212Exhibitions opening this month at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the McMullen Museum at Boston College, and Houghton Library at Harvard University

Boston Public Library is loaning 36 medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts and printed books from its collections to three area cultural institutions, part of an ambitious collaborative project entitled Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections. The largest ever exhibition of medieval and Renaissance books held in North America, the BPL items date from the 10th century to the early 16th century, part of the Library’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts Collection of Distinction. The materials will be featured at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the McMullen Museum at Boston College, and Houghton Library at Harvard University from September 2016 to January 2017. For more information about the exhibitions, visit

“These illuminated manuscripts and bound books represent a crucial period in the Western evolution of writing and reading,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library. “This first of its kind collaborative exhibition is an exciting opportunity for the Boston Public Library to put our collection on display, and make these objects viewable and easily accessible to the public.”

“The Boston Public Library’s early manuscripts collection is astounding in its breadth and overall quality. Scholars come to Boston from around the world in order to study these artifacts,” said Jay Moschella, Curator of Rare Books at the Boston Public Library and one of the facilitators of the exhibition for the library. Read more »

Hispanic Heritage Month Celebrated at Boston Public Library with Booklist, Programs

Posted on September 16th, 2016 by rlavery in Media Releases

latinolife2016Boston Public Library honors Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) annually through publishing the Latino Life booklist, a list of recent books concerning the Hispanic experience. A wide range of genres are included, such as biography, historical and contemporary issues, and fiction. Sandra Cisneros’ A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, former Glee star Naya Rivera’s Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, and What We Become by Arturo Pérez-Reverte are just a sampling of the list of over seventy titles.

“I am thankful to the members of the committee who curated this excellent book list and am confident the variety of recommendations for Hispanic Heritage month will be enjoyed by readers; I encourage library users to share feedback on the titles and their favorite authors,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library.

Each book on the list is briefly summarized. This work was performed by a committee of Boston Public library staff members. Copies of the booklist will be available next week at all Boston Public Library locations across the city, and themed programs and activities celebrating the month can be found through searching the BPL calendar.

Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit


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Discussion: Public Art and Irish Influence on Art in Boston

Posted on September 15th, 2016 by rlavery in Media Releases
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Featuring artists Caoimhghin Ó Fraithile and Michael Dowling at the Central Library in Copley Square

On Sunday, September 18, at 2 p.m. Boston Public Library President David Leonard will welcome Caoimhghin Ó Fraithile (Ireland) and Michael Dowling (Boston-US/Ireland) to the Central Library in Copley Square for a discussion about public art, the Irish influence on art in Boston, and their work which is featured in the temporary public art project, Tír na nÓg, now on view in the Back Bay Fens.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen incredible energy around public art installations in Boston,” said Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture for the City of Boston. “Projects like Tír na nÓg promote public discourse, bringing people together in conversation and helping us reach the goals of the Boston Creates Cultural Plan. We are thrilled to see it in the Fens and look forward to hearing from the artists.” Read more »