Salem Witch Trials Memorial
“If it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent.”
– Elizabeth Howe, Hanged July 19, 1692
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A trip to Salem, Massachusetts without a visit to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial would be sadly incomplete. It is a Must See Gem & a Top 5 Salem Witch Trials Sites, located conveniently downtown. The Memorial consists of 2 parallel, low, stone walls, lined with benches engraved with the names of the 20 victims executed during the 1692 Witch Trials Executions. Along with the names are their execution/ death dates & form of execution- 19 were hanged & 1 was “pressed”, slowly crushed to death by stones. Spread out, each bench bearing a separate name makes you realize how many 20 people really are. It does not include the 5 names of those who died in jail, 4 awaiting trial or execution and a newborn baby, born in jail to a mother (along with a 4 year old sister) accused as ‘witches’. Background info on each of the 25 who paid with their lives is discussed in my Salem Witch Trial Victims post. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial was built & dedicated in August 1992, the 300th Anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials & Executions. A peaceful little nook in a park-like setting, it maintains a quiet, somber presence despite being carved into the heart of downtown. Between the parallel, bench-lined walls standing tall guard are Black Locust trees. Calmly watching over, they are the very type of trees it is believed that the accused were hanged from.
The entrance stones of the walkway are inscribed with the pleas of the accused: ‘Oh Lord! Help Me! God knows I am Innocent! Wholly Innocent of such Wickedness!’ – ‘I would confess, I would save my life… I do not plead guilty.’ – ‘I can deny it to my dying day.’… It would be easy to miss, driving by, or even walking, if you didn’t pay attention. It is quiet, understated & simple. Not touristy, not showy, just reverent remembrance of the innocents & their sacrifice. Reading the quotes, & their names, and the jarring end, “Hanged” is an emotional experience. You can feel the fear and desperation in their pleas. You can’t help but feel a growing, helpless panic as you read them. Knowing their fate. You feel a desperate hunger for the opportunity to go back and instill modern logic & reason, and bring the judges, the accusers, the witnesses to their senses. Sick in your gut for their terror & their pain & the tragedy, but also because you imagine with a shiver had it been you. Their pain is no more, cut short 300 years ago, but we feel its stain, still today. Mourning these souls that I never knew makes me ever grateful for my minor difficulties in this world today. I am blessed. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial is Free & always open. It’s between Charter & Derby Streets, behind the Peabody Essex Museum.
Since the only known remains & exact location of an executed Salem Witch Trial victim is at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, nearby, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial serves as a grave marker for mourners to show their respects for all the executed. The remains of the others have been lost to history, taken away in the night by loved ones and buried in secret, except Giles Corey. His body is buried where he was tortured to death, somewhere among what is now the Howard Street Cemetery visited with this site in my Salem Witch Trial Sites- Itinerary Part C. The actual site of the hangings has been rediscovered in recent years. It has a small memorial and is also visited in my Salem in a Day Part C Itinerary. Nearby Danvers (Salem Village & start of the 1692 Witch Hysteria) has an equally moving & beautiful Memorial to the Witch Trial Victims that I discuss in my post Salem Part A.
One of the Salem Witch Trial Memorial walls lines the Old Burying Point Cemetery, c 1637, aka Charter St. Cemetery. Just yards away from the Memorial to those executed, at least 2 of the 1692 Witchcraft ‘Judges’, John Hathorne & Bartholomew Gedney now lie. Others who were accused (& not executed), as well as family members of the victims, & some who even testified against them rest here, too.
The Cemetery also includes a Mayflower passenger, the only one anywhere that you can visit with the original gravestone at the site where they were buried. Captain Richard More was laid to rest here in the late 1600s. Richard had a very interesting tale of his own. He was not a Pilgrim, himself (which was a religious distinction, though “pilgrim” & wrong year of death was added centuries later to his headstone). Though, he was shipped over with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower at 6 years old. Without their parents, he made the journey along with 3 little siblings, ages 4- 8. All of the siblings died that 1st winter. He would have been at the 1st Thanksgiving & he grew up in Plymouth colony, before moving in his adulthood to Salem. He survived the 1692 witch trials & was buried there a few years after. He may have been the oldest surviving male and only missed being the very last living Mayflower passenger by just a few years.
It is the 2nd oldest cemetery in the U.S. The oldest is in Duxbury, also in Massachusetts, & is the 8th oldest maintained cemetery in the world. The Cemetery is small, Free, and open Dawn to Dusk, year round.
- See our Plymouth, Mass Itinerary & Posts to Explore the Mayflower Pilgrims, the 1st Thanksgiving & Plimoth colony:
‘I fear not but the Lord, in His due time, will make me as white as snow.’
– John Willard, Hanged August 19th, 1692
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Related Salem Posts:
The ONLY home of one of the hanged accused Witchcraft Trial victims that’s open to public & ONLY graves of any of the victims known.