The Sanderson Sisters of 'Hocus Pocus' Are Reminiscent of Three Real-Life Salem Sisters

Katherine Stinson - Author

Sep. 30 2022, Published 3:12 p.m. ET

(L-R): Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
Source: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

It's officially spooky season, and you know what that means — a rewatch of the original Hocus Pocus is mandatory. Now that Hocus Pocus 2 is officially out as well, we've got the Sanderson Sisters on the brain (or the black flame candle, if you will).

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Now that we've prepped our potions and petted our black cats (sadly the kind of cats that don't talk), we wanted to answer one big question: Are the Sanderson Sisters based on real witches? Were there any women in history that inspired the three legends we first met in the original Hocus Pocus?

Here's what we know.

(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson
Source: Matt Kennedy/Disney Enterprises, Inc.
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Are the Sanderson sisters based on real witches?

So there weren't three actual Sanderson sisters in real life (maybe that's a good thing). However, as this CNN report notes, three sisters were in fact accused of witchcraft in the completely boring little town called Salem (nothing ever happened in Salem!).

The names of the sisters in question who did exist were Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyce, and Mary Easty. So what happened to them?

Let's rewind back to 1692. We're in Salem when everyone had witches on the brain, but not the fun kind of witches that sing certified bops at Halloween parties.

No — being accused of witchcraft in Salem was literally a possible death sentence. Sadly, that was the reality for many women in Salem at the time. Keep in mind that America the country had yet to be founded – so anyone accused of witchcraft had no constitutional rights to speak of, and therefore, scarce legal protection.

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Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
Source: Matt Kennedy/Disney Enterprises

The Sanderson sisters look like they're ready to drop the hottest album of 2022.

According to a report from The History of Massachusetts, the citizens of Salem were shocked when Rebecca Nurse was accused as a witch. The same report notes that her accusers were actually reportedly spiteful towards Nurse's family due to a land dispute.

Shockingly, Nurse was initially found not guilty of witchcraft, but then the court reconvened after some of Nurse's accusers started having fits. They changed the verdict and sentenced Nurse to execution.

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And this was after 39 Salem residents signed a petition in support of Nurse's innocence. She was hanged at Procter's Ledge on July 19th, 1692, alongside four other women.

One of the men who signed the petition in support of Nurse was the husband of Nurse's sister, Sarah Cloyce. However, Sarah herself soon found herself accused. Salem citizens were also shocked when the third sister, Mary Eastey, was accused.

In an incredibly selfless display of humanity, Mary sent one last petition to the court after she had been condemned to death. She didn't plea for her own life, but rather the lives of the other condemned women, per Wikipedia. Mary was hanged in September 1692.

Sarah was the only one who survived the Salem Witch Trials. She was released from prison in January 1693 and spent years trying to have her sisters names cleared.

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