Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all: Here's the Story of My Ancestor Who Was Hung as a Witch

Puritan: LOL, a bird. Must be witchcraft.
My 10th great-grandmother was hung as a witch in Connecticut. You've probably heard of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in the early 1690s. Well, my homegirl beat them to it by getting herself hung in 1663.

As we're eating turkey and giving thanks for how awesome things are in our country and our lives, don't forget that the path to all-American awesomeness is strewn with bodies: Native Americans, mostly, but also some white people other white people didn't like very much.

We're not really sure what her maiden name was, but her first name was Rebecca. (My middle name, in case you were wondering.) She married a man named Abraham Elson, and had a daughter named Sarah who is my 9th great-grandmother. Abraham died, and Rebecca married a man named Jarvis Mudge. He died, too, and she married a third time to a man named Nathaniel Greensmith. Rebecca Greensmith is the name she died with.

She and Nathaniel lived in Hartford, Connecticut. They were not liked. Nathaniel had been in trouble with the law at least three times, once for stealing wheat, once for stealing a hoe, and once for battery. A local reverend, John Whiting, called Rebecca "a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman." Because everyone knows being an "aged woman" is some intolerable shit for Puritans.  

People had been on the lookout for witches for awhile--the very first suspected witch in the colonies was hung in Hartford in 1647. But now, in 1662, shit really hit the fan. It started, as it did in Salem, with the accusations of a girl. Before she died, John Kelley's 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth cried out in her delirium that her neighbor, Goodwife Ayres, was "tormenting her."

Witchcraft starter kit: cute kitty in a fake cauldon
Not long afterward, John Cole's daughter, Anne, freaked the fuck out. She started having "fits" and said Satan's minions were messing with her. She named Elizabeth Seager as a witch, and someone (it might have been Anne) said Rebecca was a witch, too. Nathaniel and Rebecca were already disliked within the community, so it's not hard to see how they fell under suspicion. Rebecca was arrested in late 1662.

Hard-ass Puritan ministers took control of the situation, interrogating the accused. Reverend Samuel Stone, Reverend Joseph Haynes, and Reverend Samuel Hooker played bad cop/worse cop/abysmal cop, and Rebecca admitted that under Haynes's questioning, she could have "torn him in pieces." Satanic strength notwithstanding, Haynes survived unscathed.

Under interrogation, Rebecca confessed to witchcraft. She said she and some other folks used to meet out in the fields at night to booze it up. One of the women present said she would do bad things to the town marshal if she could. That's all the evidence they needed back in the day. Empty field + night time + booze + (heaven forbid) dancing = a genuine goddamn coven. Increase Mather took Rebecca's confession as definitive proof that witches were real.

Anxious for all the dirty details, her interrogators asked her whether she made a covenant with the devil. She said no, but that she had promised to go with him when he called. He was supposed to be back on Christmas, and that's when the covenant would be signed. She said the devil first appeared to her as a deer, and other times as a crow. Lord knows you can't trust animals. Not even once.

On December 30, 1662, both Rebecca and Nathaniel were indicted on charges of witchcraft.

Witchcraft Inigo Montoya meme
On January 8, 1663, Rebecca said that although he hadn't confessed, she had doubts about Nathaniel's innocence. She said he was pretty old and weak, but that he somehow did lots of chores and outdoor work. Plus, it was pretty damn suspicious that he was friendly with some foxes and other woodland creatures.

The jury found them both guilty.

On January 25, 1662, Nathaniel and Rebecca were hung on "Gallows Hill," the present site of Trinity College.

"Witches" were also hung in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Virginia. Their names have all since been legally cleared, not helpful at all to the victims but somewhat helpful for the families and descendants. Not so in Connecticut. All of these folks are still officially on record as being guilty.

Even if the genealogical research that seems to link me to this woman proves to be faulty (as so much of it is), I'll always remember her story...and the dark side of what we celebrate every Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I Won't Watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Meme: Am I the Only One that Hates the Hunger Games?
I hated the first Hunger Games movie. Like, hated it. It was one of the worst movies I've ever seen. My husband walked out (well, walked out of our living room, where I'd paid $1 to Redbox it). I used the fast-forward button to get through the last 20-30 minutes of the movie because I couldn't take it anymore.  Hate me, flame me, put vitriolic in the comments, but I just don't see what the big deal is with this franchise.

Bear with me, because I'm trying to remember exactly why I disliked this movie so much based on a single viewing of almost a year ago. Here's the list, as best I can reconstruct it, in no particular order:

1. I expected more in the romance department. The Hunger Games is often touted as a superior alternative to Twilight, which is nothing but romance (creepy romance, supernatural romance, high school romance, call it what you will, but it's a romance). I failed to find a smidgen of comparable romance in this movie.  Was there any shadow of real human emotion between any of the three characters supposedly involved in this love triangle?  Can it even be called a triangle when one of the participants (played by Liam Hemsworth) was in the movie for all of five minutes?  That's not a triangle. It's a straight line with a wart on it.

That leaves us with Peeta and Katniss, a couple with the worst on-screen chemistry since Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in that horrible witness protection program movie, or Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia.  He passes out in a cave, and she loves him?  Or pretends to love him for the cameras?  I'm not sure and I don't care.  The concept of someone faking a relationship for publicity's sake was beaten to death during Kim Kardashian's first marriage. Better actors don't improve the storyline for me. 

Peeta + Katniss = Peenis
2. The names. I'm not even going to talk about how ridiculous I feel typing the word "Peeta."  It's like "Pee," but it just keeps going.  Names are important.  I do not care for these. Give me Benjen Stark or Darth Maul or Gandalf the Grey. Peeta does not merit further discussion. Katniss sounds like tarted-up catnip. Everdeen is a line of non-stick cookware sold by Paula Deen.

3. I don't care about the main character.  Like, at all.  Katniss is more than flat--she's borderline dislikable for me.  Sure, she's meant to be introspective and self-reliant and brave, all admirable qualities, but also boring to watch. Most of the time, we're staring at J Law's blank face.  I hoped she'd get angry. Get upset. Reveal something. Do something interesting. I got bored by how capable she was at keeping her emotions under wraps. No one wants to watch Michelangelo paint an apartment wall white.  

For comparison's sake, I thought about a prickly-loner character that I did care about:  Rambo. Similar setup--a person alone, manipulated by governments and superiors into situations that risk life and limb. He doesn't talk much, doesn't like people, and yet I root for the guy. I want to watch him triumph.  I want him to get the pat on the back that no one else has ever given him.  He wants something good, and everything bad that he does is in service of his goal. I get that Katniss volunteered to save her sister. It was noble, and it should have had the same effect on me as Rambo's sacrifices, but it just didn't. I also hate kids.  

Another Stallone comparison springs to mind: his lone-wolf rock climber in Cliffhanger. Stallone is either much better than J-Law at using his face to reveal enough emotion to make you care, or his director gives him more leeway to do so. His features can fall, perk up, or reveal anger with no words written into the script.  Does he look cheesy doing so? Sure. But it's entertaining. If J-Law can do these things, the director needs to start asking her to.  She has an Oscar now. Forced heavy breathing and a blank-faced stare are no longer sufficient. 

If you say, "Sure, but Stallone is ridiculous and Jennifer Lawrence is an actress with a capital A," I say, "Stallone is ridiculous to the tune of $1,861,069,518 box office dollars and counting. Plus, he's Rocky." And don't tell me this movie is afraid of ridiculous. It has Woody Harrelson as a role model. 

4. The suspense was flat. Obviously, Katniss isn't going to die.  There are more books, which means there are more movies. Seeing her in a life-and-death situation is only going to end one way.  So what else am I supposed to give a crap about? I want to see her tested or changed or humbled.  None of those things happened.  She climbed some trees and shot some things.  Great.  Thanks for the memories.

5. Those stupid dog-like things chasing them at the end. The interwebs tell me they are called "muttations," which is another name that makes me want to listen to nails on a chalkboard. The interwebs also tell me that the creatures were used differently in the movie than in the book. The movie is my only reference here, and as far as the creepy-creature-chasing-the-hero concept goes, I've been there, done that...they're called hell-hounds, and they're in Supernatural. Want to see that stuff done right? Check out season 5, episode 10 ("Abandon All Hope...") where Jo and Ellen buy the farm to give Sam and Dean a snowball's chance of stopping Lucifer from launching the apocalypse.  I cry every time. More suspense, better tragedy, better character development, better everything.

6. I felt nothing while watching it. Except a profound longing for it to end. Yeah, it was sad when Rue died. But one tender moment didn't redeem the movie as a whole. I get the feeling I was supposed to be frightened, sad, horrified, excited, worried, and a whole bunch of other things that never crossed my mind. But everything was strangely antiseptic. I can't be worried for a character who is part of a trilogy. Everyone in the city is a dick. Half of the other kids in the games were dicks. I don't care about the downtrodden losers Katniss left behind. Want to see real suffering? Read about Russians during the first half of World War II. 

7. I did not like the world-building. I just didn't buy that part of the U.S. looks like an Andrew Wyeth painting circa 1940, while the other part looked like humans impersonating Muppets among the sets from Death Race. I couldn't believe that this is what happened to our country, that the world we live in now became the world I saw on that screen. And if I couldn't believe that, I couldn't believe anything else that happened, either.  Maybe more of this is explained in the book, which I have NOT read, but it was NOT explained in the film.  Let me attempt to summarize what I saw:  part of the U.S. rebelled against some future government, things went horribly awry, the place is now called Panem, and parts of it got sent back to the stone age.  What happened to electronics?  Where are things like power poles? And cars? And paved roads? Did every piece of technology invented after WWII just vanish from particular areas? Did fashion revert to the 1940s, too? I'm confused. 

8.  A dress that's on fire? You have to be kidding me.  The Golden Gate Bridge couldn't suspend my disbelief that far. Also, where are the jet packs and the holodeck? Why do they have flaming dresses but no jet packs? I'm confused.

I have never read the books.  I'm not planning on reading the books. The first movie made me want to run screaming in the other direction from the entire franchise. This is not meant to be a critique of the book(s), since it's entirely possible all my objections are addressed there. This is a critique of the film itself, for someone who came to it without the background (or the suspension of disbelief) provided by the books. It failed. These people think so, too:

#hungergames #catchingfire