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Laurie Cabot

by Jen Ratliff on 2022-03-16T08:43:00-04:00 | 0 Comments



Laurie Cabot (Mercedes “Merci” Keirsey) was born in Oklahoma on March 6, 1933, while her parents, Edith (Cliff) and Lee Keirsey worked their way to California from Boston. As a child, Laurie’s mother, observed her innate ability to read people’s thoughts and talk about events before they happened. According to Cabot, at age 7, she had a vision of a young boy falling off his bike and getting stuck on a train trestle. She was so distraught by this vision, that her mother called the police and shortly thereafter a boy was rescued. Although this experience frightened Edith, it sparked a lifelong curiosity in her young daughter. The Keirsey family moved to Anaheim, California, where they ran an olive-packing company. When Laurie was a teenager, her parents divorced and her mother relocated the family back to New England.

After moving back to Massachusetts, Laurie says she met a librarian at the Boston Public Library, who identified as a witch and recognized her psychic abilities. Cabot studied under her guidance until age 16 but did not openly practice witchcraft or identify as a witch. She loved to draw and was active in her high school, serving as president of the art club and participating in drama, chorus, and journalism. 

After graduating from Weymouth High School in 1951, Cabot left Boston for New York City, working as a dancer in the famed Latin Quarter nightclub in Times Square. In the 1950s, Laurie married and welcomed her first child, Jody (Josaphina Capone). The couple soon divorced, and Laurie returned to Massachusetts, where she continued to work as a dancer. In 1962, Cabot married carpenter, George Karalekas of Watertown, Massachusetts. The two had a daughter, Penny. A few years later, the couple separated, and Laurie struggled as a single mother of two small children. Although she did not yet publicly refer to herself as a witch, Laurie began to reembrace witchcraft, changing her name, and regularly dressing in long black robes and gowns. 

While living in Boston’s North End, a friend recommended that she save money by moving to the suburbs. In 1969, Laurie found an apartment in a stately residence at 18 Chestnut Street in Salem, where her and her family lived quietly until one of her cats got stuck in a tree outside of her home. Cabot tried to get the police and utility companies to help rescue her cat for three days before frantically calling the local newspaper. According to Cabot she anxiously exclaimed to the newspaper editor: “I’m a witch. That is my familiar. I want my cat out of the tree now!” Soon the fire department was on the scene, but so were news photographers, and the mayor. She quickly gained notoriety in the city, where she was easily recognized in her flowing, all-black garb. According to Cabot, from then on, she was frequently harassed whenever she walked through Salem’s downtown. However, her story was also met with curiosity. She started to receive interview requests and began appearing on national talk shows. 

In 1970, she opened what is believed to be America’s first witch shop at 100 Derby Street, where she sold bagged herbs and shared her knowledge with interested customers. That same year, the television show, Bewitched filmed on location in Salem and created a renewed interest in the city and its connection to witchcraft. More attractions, such as the Salem Witch Museum opened to capitalize on interest in the Salem Witch Trials. Laurie Cabot relocated her business to 125 Essex Street and rebranded as Crow Haven Corner, where she expanded her offerings to include books and tarot cards.

In 1974, Laurie Cabot hosted the First Annual Witches Ball at the Salem Armory on Essex Street. Proceeds from the event benefitted the Salem Research Center, which was solely devoted to the study of witchcraft. Cabot began giving talks and teaching courses at local universities and community centers. That year, she taught a class on “Witchcraft as a Science” at Salem State. 

In 1977, Governor Michael S. Dukakis presented Laurie Cabot with the state's Patriots Award for her dedication to helping children with special needs. During the ceremony, Dukakis declared Cabot as “The Official Witch of Salem.” She continued to gain national recognition and appeared on television shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and Unsolved Mysteries. Her psychic abilities became sought after by detectives searching for missing persons and solving murders. 

In 1986, The Witches of Eastwick began filming nearby at the Crane Estate in Ipswich. Cabot became alarmed by the film’s portrayal of witchcraft and in response formed the Witches’ League of Public Awareness, (now known as the Witches’ Civil Liberties League) which helped get Wicca recognized and protected as a religion in the United States. The following year, she ran against Salem Mayor, Anthony Salvo, but dropped out of the race to focus on her first book The Power of the Witch, which was published in 1989. 

In the mid-1990s, Cabot opened her third and final shop, The Cat, The Crow, and The Crown on Pickering Wharf, later renaming it, The Official Witch Shop. She continued to offer classes and in 2010, the Cabot Kent Hermetic Temple became the first federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization, devoted to teaching witchcraft as a science. More than 50 years after her arrival in Salem, Cabot remains dedicated to educating the public on witchcraft and is credited with attracting thousands of practicing witches to the city each year. 

Digitized Archives
Laurie Cabot Photographs and Ephemera

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