One of the most photographed places in Salem is probably the witch trial memorial. It is a common stop for many when they come to Salem. Any tour of the city will likely include a stop there. I recently went back to the memorial for the first time in a long while. It is a place of peace and a place where you can feel a sense of loss while you are there.
The architecture of the site has a stone wall with 3 sides built up. along the walls are 20 tablets of the 20 people who were accused of witchcraft and died during the hysteria. On each tablet is one name of a person who died, the date they were executed, and means of execution. Means of death involves 18 people who were hanged, 1 who died in prison, and 1 who was pressed to death. There are also trees planted for all of the male victims of the trials. The memorial is located off of a main road and behind the Peabody Essex Museum. It is next to the oldest cemetery in Salem
One of the first articles I wrote was about the Danvers memorial and I would just like to compare the two for a second. The Danvers memorial seemed far more desolate as a place, it had an impact because you could feel a bit of emptiness. The Salem location is far more of a focusing of the feeling of loss for the 20 people who died for something they did not do. It is in many ways the same feeling, but far less hollow of a feeling. It is also far more peaceful since it is away a bit from any major roads, the trees create a nice rustling noise, and it is near a cemetery. They both have a weight to them, but it feels far more whole at the Salem Memorial. That emptiness is not a bad thing, it actually makes for a powerful experience.
One big thing is if you go to this site in the evening around 8pm on any given night from March- November 1st, you are likely to run into at-least one tour group. They do have some good information, but it can also be distracting if you are trying to quietly walk among the stones. This is a good place to go and contemplate and think. It should be noted that after dusk nobody is supposed to be in the graveyard.
A major takeaway from the witchcraft hysteria is that no witches actually died in the Salem witch trials. The people who were accused tended to be well off members of the community. This is because the accuser of a witch would be given the property of the witch.
This prosecution of people who were not really witches, and the requirement to say the names of other witches was very similar to another event in US history. The Red Scare and McCarthyism was another time where most of the people accused were not actually communists, people lost their careers, most of the accused were high level members of society, and to prove your innocence you had to name other communists. This is why the most common book about the Salem Witch Trials, “The Crucible” is actually by most accounts about The Red Scare, at the time of writing you could not talk about McCarthyism and be critical of it. Arthur Miller went as far as to include direct quotes from McCarthy in the play.
Eighteen of the accused were hanged. contrary to what some may have imagined no witches were burned in Salem. The two other victims had a different fate.
Giles Corey was by all accounts a very grumpy and violent old man. People did not like him. He was the Argus Filch of Salem colony. What better time to get rid of annoying grumpy people than during a witch hunt? He was sentenced to death, but he would never hang. Instead the court sentenced him to be pressed to death until he confessed to witchcraft. Each day they would add stones on top of him, and he would only have one response
“More Weight” he kept saying that not begging them to stop or anything. When asked to confess he would just ask for more stones to be place upon him. This went on until eventually too much weight was put on him and he died of being pressed to death.
Now for a bit of folk lore. It is said with his dying breath Giles Corey cursed the city of Salem, and all future sheriffs of the county. To this day the city of Salem Police department gets calls when people see the ghost of a man walking along the Howard street cemetery fence at night. If he is seen three nights in a row it is said to signal major calamities about to befall the city. Some of the most famous sightings include before the great Salem fire and the stock market crash of 1929 and many. The curse on the Sheriff is said to have been lifted ever since Essex county Sheriff department moved their offices from the old jail in Salem to Middleton.
The other victim not to be hanged was Ann Foster. Mrs. Foster was an elderly woman who never even went fully to trial. She was one of the last victims of the witch trials, and she died after 21 weeks in captivity.
It should be noted that the 31 guilty verdicts that were entered were not fully reversed until 1957. In the eyes of the court of Massachusetts the guilty were guilty until 1957. Only one of the young girls involved in the trials ever apologized for what she did.
We will never know how much of the hysteria was caused by actual possession, grain poisoning, or how much of the hysteria was fueled by simple human greed and wanting to get rid of people they didn’t like. If you are in Salem it is almost a tourist requirement to go to the memorial. It is a good place to go early in the day before the tour groups crowd it too much. Spend some time among the trees there, and think about a very dark chapter of early american history, and how that legacy has managed to turn Salem into a major tourist attraction.
As always hope you enjoyed reading,
Go With The Winds.
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