The Strange Life of Laurie Cabot

Her name is Laurie Cabot and she is the official witch of Salem Massachusetts. The self-proclaimed title may sound ridiculous but I honestly can’t think of another person who deserves it more.

Before Laurie Cabot there were no which options in Salem, no witch statues, no witch coven’s, no haunted houses, no ghost tours, no fortune tellers, or psychic fairs, and Halloween was just like every other Halloween in America.

Cabot was the first person who realized that witchcraft could be marketed in Salem and since the early 1970s she paved the way for the witch Kitsch tourist industry that defines Salem today.

Her story begins not in Salem but in Wewoka Oklahoma where she was born on March 6, 1933 , well the family was en route to California.  At that time the family was comprised of her mother and adopted father.

Her real name is Mercedes Elizabeth Kersey and she grew up in Anaheim up until the early 1950s when her parents sold their property to the developers of Disneyland.

Cabot and her mother returned to Boston where she began showing signs of psychic capabilities in high school. Hoping to learn more about these powers she visited the Boston Public Library. There she met librarian Felicity Baumgartner, a witch from Kent England. Although I found no evidence of this person’s existence, according to Cabot’s legend, Felicity taught her the basics of witchcraft.

Cabot’s penchant for the taboo carried into the 1950s when rather than attend college she worked as a lead showgirl and costume designer at the Latin Quarter, a famous burlesque club in Times Square. She then joined a belly dancing troupe at Boston’s club Zara, which further reveals her affinity for attention outlandish costumes and spectacle.

While living in the North End in the 1960s, Cabot began practicing witchcraft more seriously. The religion was spreading in popularity with the feminist, environmental, and new-age movements and Cabot considered opening a witch shop on Cambridge Street until her family attorney advised against it.

By 1969 she was divorced twice had two children to care for and was broke. Together with a girlfriend they pooled their money and moved into 18 Cheston Street, in Salem Mass.

By spring of 1971, she had opened the first witchcraft shop in America, appropriately called “a witch shop”, at 100 Derby Street, but it soon closed.

Undeterred, she opened Crow Haven Corner in 1975 and this became one of Salem’s first major tourist attractions, perhaps due to its central location on Essex Street, as well as Cabot’s promotional campaigns.

Dressed in black robes, heavy eyeliner, and pentacle necklaces, Cabot taught witchcraft workshops at local colleges and initiated the annual witches ball. She attended Red Sox games for good luck and provided live, daily astrological predictions via phone to a Boston radio station.

Since 1973 Cabot had made numerous attempts to be christened the official witch of Salem but they were repeatedly denied by the City Council Mayor. Salem’s politicians all believed “the historical recognition of the city would be internationally demeaned by allowing a commercial capitalization by one individual”.

Still, Cabot pressed on, this time appealing directly to Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis – to everyone’s disbelief it worked!

In April of 1977, governor Dukakis bestowed Laurie Cabot with the Patriots award stating, “I proclaim Laurie Cabot the official witch of Salem for her work with children with special needs”  and there it was in writing from the governor himself.

Cabot quickly capitalized on the citation, advertising herself forever since, as the official witch of Salem. And on a side note, this citation would actually come back to haunt Dukakis, whose 1988 presidential campaign was attacked by Christian fundamentalists.

Cabot’s growing fame caught the attention of National Geographic which published in April of 1979, a now-famous picture of Cabot’s coven. Flanking Cabot, are her two daughters, Penny and Jody both who learned the craft from an early age. On Jody’s 18th birthday her mother would actually give her control of Crow Haven, Cabot’s new witch shop, opened in Pickering Wharf, in 1982.

That same year, the Salem Chamber of Commerce, with Cabot as a board member organized a four-day festival called haunted happenings to bring more tourists into the city. This marked a major turning point in Salem’s history, for it was the first time the city realized how profitable the witch trials tragedy could be, something Cabot had been aware of for years.

Things in Salem would never be the same. It also marked the beginning of Cabot’s golden years, a time when she faced little competition from other witches, her coven grew and members and her fame increased.

When Mayor Anthony Salvo made a joke about a wizard, Cabot felt obligated to run against him in the 1987 mayoral election. She would however ultimately drop out of the race to concentrate on her book, The Power of the Witch, published in 1989.

Her fame peaked in the mid-1990s when she made appearances on Joan Rivers and Unsolved Mysteries. At this point, her luck began to turn for the worse.

In July of 1997, Cabot foreclosed on her Salem condo. To recover she planned to start a witch corporation with entrepreneur Janet Andrews.

When Andrews pulled out of the business venture, Cabot snapped yelling, “you can take the Corp and stick it up your ass. I’m Laurie Cabot and I’m worth $1 million.”

Cabot then left voodoo dolls outside Andrew’s front door and even threatened to shoot her in the head with a gun.

Fearing for her life, Andrews got a restraining order against Cabot which ignored. During the trials, many of Cabot’s own supporters testified that Cabot had overemphasized commercialism and her own personality above the spiritual core of witchcraft.

More controversy followed in 2004, when Cabot placed a curse on two Salem police officers, carrying out a court order to return Cabot’s grandson to the custody of his father.

When Cabot refused to open the door, police armed with a warrant entered on their own.  “Look me in the eyes,” Cabot said, “You are cursed for life.”

She closed her shop in Pickering Wharf in 2012, and afterward relied mainly on online sales and psychic sessions to get by.

Her presence has diminished in Salem, overshadowed by the many witches and high priests that copy the formulas she first invented.

As her power fades, whether you love her or hate her, Laurie Cabot has definitely written herself into the city’s bizarre history and has certainly earned the title, Official Witch of Salem.

As found on Youtube

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