A small girl fell sick in 1692. Her “fitts”—convulsions, contortions, and outbursts of gibberish—baffled everyone. Other girls soon manifested the same symptoms. Their doctor could suggest but one cause. Witchcraft.

That grim diagnosis launched a Puritan inquisition that took 25 lives, filled prisons with innocent people, and frayed the soul of a Massachusetts community called Salem.

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