Noted Ad Executive and Prizewinning Author's New Book Exposes Hidden Forces Behind Salem Witch Hysteria

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Stephen Hawley Martin, a former principal of The Martin Agency credits an ancestor who was an accused witch has having fostered his independent spirit. It has also prompted him to offer up a new theory about what caused the witch hysteria of 1692.

A Witch in the Family: An Award-Winning Author Investigates His Ancestor’s Trial and Execution.

Stephen Hawley Martin, cofounder of the world-famous advertising agency, The Martin Agency, grew up in a household that never forgot it was descended from a woman who was hanged as a witch.

“The first family discussion I remember started with an English lesson. ‘Pictures are hung,’ my mother told me. ‘People are hanged.’ I lived with those discussions constantly, and they had a definite effect on my world view. For example, as an outward display of contempt for what my mom and dad considered a narrow-minded and dangerously-superstitious world view, they named my sister ‘Susannah North Martin’ after the family martyr.”

Martin has written a book about his ancestor and the Salem witch hysteria called “A Witch in the Family” that’s now available online. He credits the atmosphere created around the Martin household by the ghost of Susannah for instilling a nonconformist attitude in him that ultimately led to the founding of two successful advertising agencies and a book publishing company.

“What happened in New England long ago was tragic and horrific,” Martin said. “And if someone you are directly descended from was caught up in it and actually killed by it, you might say it makes you look at things differently. For one thing, you don't automatically assume people in authority know what they're talking about. It’s given me the tendency to keep my own counsel and to hold off on accepting conventional wisdom until some evidence or pattern causes it to click into place in my gut.”

It has also led Martin to dismiss the usual explanations for the witch hysteria of 1692.

“It definitely wasn’t ergot of rye, and I have a hard time believing all the accusers were faking their symptoms,” Martin said. “One vomited blood in court in front of the judges and a whole courtroom full of spectators. Others had deep skin lesions that appeared to have been made by human teeth. Some coughed up pins.”

What does Martin think led to the witch hysteria that left two dozen dead?

“Like most things, a combination of factors brought it about,” Martin said. “But the most powerful single element was belief. Just about everyone in Massachusetts at that time believed witchcraft was real. And you know what? In a society that fully believes in witchcraft, witchcraft has power –– it is real. In primitive societies, for example, it’s been documented that people have dropped dead after being cursed by a shaman.”

Does that mean there really were witches in Massachusetts?

“Oh, there were witches in New England all right,” Martin said. “But that doesn’t mean the people who were hanged were witches, or that the accused were actually bewitched.” Martin smiled. “To find out what really happened, you’re going to have to read my book.”

Martin has won several national awards and prizes for his novels. The full title of Martin’s new book, which was published by The Oaklea Press, is “A Witch in the Family: An Award-Winning Author Investigates His Ancestor’s Trial and Execution.” It can be purchased at the publisher’s web site, http://www.OakleaPress.com, or at Amazon.com. Search ISBN 189253844X.

To learn more about Stephen Hawley Martin, visit http://www.shmartin.com.

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