Old House dig may reveal more findings on witches

The Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council has secured funding for a number of improvements to the Old House in Cutchogue, including installing electricity and searching for evidence of 17th-century witchcraft practices.

The Old House will be getting electricity set up within the house, and in order to do so, wires must be installed underground. An archaeologist must be involved in order to protect the national historic landmark, and since the historical society will already be doing some digging, they thought this would be a great time to dig for witch-related items as well.

“We have good reason to believe there may be evidence of what are known as ‘witch bottles’ intentionally buried, because that is a known custom or superstition with the Puritans,” Zachary Studenroth, the director of the historical council, said.

Mr. Studenroth said people during this time period tended to practice various methods to ward off supernatural beings. He will be working with Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants to lead a dig in September in the Village Green, where the Old House sits, to see if they can discover any buried witch-related items.

During the 17th century, it was common for people to bury so-called witch bottles near any entrances to their homes, which were filled with things like fingernails, urine, dirt and other unsanitary things. The hope was that this would cause any witches pain if they were to enter their house.

“This is going to be one of the themes that we’ll be discussing with visitors when they come to the property because we’re looking to illustrate the post-medieval period and how people lived and what they thought about who they were,” Mr. Studenroth said.

“To have such interesting physical evidence about how they were, on one hand, true believers of the new-Christian era, [while] they still had one foot back in their superstitious medieval world,” he said.

Witches were often used to explain things that science can now explain but were not understood centuries ago, like crop failures or strange weather.

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation awarded the historical council with a matching grant of $50,000. The project will total about $100,000 and will consist of several parts. About two-thirds of the cost will go towards repairing siding that has been damaged by sun exposure. The rest will be spent on electrical work as well as the dig. The council is also working on making the Old House wheelchair accessible.

In 1940, the Old House was renovated and small primitive stick dolls were found underneath the floorboards. They were once thought to be toys for children, but Mr. Studenroth has since learned that they are known in England as poppets and were hidden in houses to safeguard inhabitants.

He has also discovered about a dozen intentional burn marks in the Old House kitchen near the fireplace. This was to signify to any spirits that tried to enter the house through the chimney that the house had already been burned, according to Mr. Studenroth.

The dig will take place September 22 and 23 and will be open to the public to watch and ask questions.

“We’re not doing a witch tour here, but it’s one way of introducing the mind and the lifestyle of the period,” Mr. Studenroth said.

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