Blood ties to witch trials

Song topics don’t get much more interesting than the Salem witch trials. And the plot thickens when one finds out that the songwriter is not only connected to the events emotionally, but rather by blood as well.

“Four of my ancestors were executed in the Salem witch trials: Giles and Sarah Corey, and sisters whose maiden name was Towne,” singer-songwriter Jenny Dalton said. “When I learned about that, I did a lot of research into the trials, which was a dark, scary, bummer of a world to get pulled into. It was a sad ordeal.”

Dalton’s song “Nightmare,” which is featured on her 2011 EP, “Blood Folk,” tells the story of the Coreys, who, according to Dalton, were “an elderly married couple when they were killed.”

For the story as told by Dalton, see “The Story of the Coreys.”

Dalton began looking into her family history after moving from Minneapolis to a rural area, where she felt more connected to the past.

“I had just moved out to an old house in a small town, different from what I was used to because I’d been living in the city for so long,” she said. “I wanted to get back in touch with roots in all kinds of ways.”

The new place, which was actually a 130-year-old house, felt fresh.

“It’s a really old house, but it doesn’t feel that old,” she said. “It feels bright and alive. I moved out of the city to Stillwater, an old river town with hills and bluffs, so that I feel like I’m on retreat all the time, but I’m close enough to the city to be there as well. Living there makes me feel a bit more open and free – like I have more space and a place to hide as well.”

The quaint setting inspired much of “Blood Folk.”

“I wanted to get in touch with older, simpler ‘folk’ ways,” she said. “Like folk medicine, folk art, etc. Because ‘Blood Folk’ is a home-made project, it kind of feels like baking a pie from scratch, which I’m no good at doing. This is me trying to make an apple pie.”

Dalton doesn’t typically mine history for songs – in fact, history wasn’t something that piqued her interest for a long time.

“Only recently have I begun to appreciate history,” she said. “I always thought it was a boring subject that was hard for me to get good grades in. But that’s because I thought it was about wars and heros and memorizing dates. Now I’m appreciating that history is full of amazing stories. I’m still not a ‘history buff,’ I just appreciate it more.”

Each of Dalton’s three releases is conceptual in some way, but the artist said that she doesn’t set out with that intention.

“I don’t mean to record ‘concept albums,’ but I think they end up turning out that way just because songwriting is like journaling and it’s like taking some pages and binding them together. They end up being similar in theme because of what I’m thinking and feeling at the given time.”

And despite the themed-CDs, Dalton doesn’t consider herself a storyteller.

“I admire storytellers like Bob Dylan who can weave a tale, but I feel like my lyrics end up being a bit obscure and symbolic,” she said. “When writing, it’s usually about trying to translate and emotion into sound. I’m not really thinking of a particular narrative.”

Dalton will perform solo at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St. She said that this will be her first time performing in Central Pa. and that she’s excited about it.

“I’m looking forward to it!” she said. “It’s a beautiful state. I’ve driven through a few times.”

The story of the Coreys


Special to the Sun-Gazette

Back in the somber, puritan community of Salem, Mass., in the 1690s, an 11-year-old girl named Abigale Williams and some of her friends were overwhelmed with boredom, oppression and very few “unsatanic” ways to have fun.

But an exotic slave named Tituba secretly captivated the girls with exciting stories and rituals from where she came. Until one day they were caught in a type of ritual that shocked the town to its puritan core. Presumably, instead of having to cope with the responsibility of having participated at will, Abby and the girls acted possessed by demons. They further deflected blame onto others by claiming the possessed ability to see witches.

The rest is history: a small town sent into mass hysteria with hundreds accused of Witchcraft and 20 souls executed. Among those killed, an elderly married couple: Giles and Martha Corey. Martha was hung and Giles was pressed to death under the weight of stones. He left in his wake the folklored “Curse of Giles Corey” which inflicts a heart or blood ailment upon every Salem sheriff ever since. Also among those hung at Gallows Hill: two sisters with the maiden name Towne.

Seven generations later in southern Minnesota, the paths of a surviving Corey man and a surviving Towne woman met again. They were my great great grandparents.