It's Halloween and I'm thinking about witches, specifically about the witchcraft hysteria 420 years ago in 1692, and the landmarks that I've visited. Two were dedicated in 1992, the tercentenary of the Salem Witch Trials that lasted from February 1692-May 1693. Of the more than 200 people who were accused of witchcraft for being in a pact with the devil, thirty were found guilty, nineteen were hanged, one pressed to death, and five died in jail. All were later exonerated. Girls and women were prominent players in the terrible tragedy: Young girls were the first to claim to be possessed by the devil, most of the accused people were women, as were most of the people who were hanged (14 of 19).
The hysteria, ignited and fueled by words, started in Danvers, Massachusetts, known at that time as Salem Village. It was there that the original examinations of the accused took place in the town meeting house. Three hundred years later, on May 9, 1992, across from the original site of the town meeting house, The Danvers Victims Memorial was dedicated before an audience of 3,000 people. (Linda and I spent about an hour there, the only visitors.) As you can see in the first image (click to enlarge), there is a granite pulpit with an open book atop a large block of granite. Two sets of chains and mangles lie on either side of the pulpit. The pages are engraved with the phrase "The Book of Life." The vertical slabs of granite behind the pulpit are incised with the names of the twenty-five victims along with their words declaring their innocence. That same year, 1992, in neighboring Salem, a very different looking memorial—The Salem Witch Trials Memorial—was dedicated on August 5, by Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor, prominent author, and speaker Elie Wiesel, "If I can't stop all of the hate all over the world in all of the people," he said. "I can stop it in one place
with me," adding, "We still have our Salems." (The year before at an event announcing the winning design by Maggie Smith and James Cutler, Arthur Miller, the renowned playwright, read from his celebrated play, The Crucible, which used the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory for the persecution of alleged communists that was prevalent in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.) The Salem Witch Trails Memorial is understated—a stone threshold is engraved with victims' protestations of innocence taken from court records. A central lawn is planted with five locust trees, the type of tree that may have been used for the hangings, and surrounded on three sides by four-foot-high granite walls. Each victim is represented by a granite bench cantilevered inward from the wall. As I walked on a path alongside the benches, I quietly read aloud, one by one, the inscriptions—twenty names, means of execution, and execution date. I lingered at the bench for Rebecca Nurse, a central character in Arthur Miller's play. (Image below)
On an earlier road trip, Linda and I had
visited Rebecca Nurses' homestead in Danvers. (Right and left images)
One of three sisters accused of witchcraft, seventy-one-year old Rebecca Nurse, the mother of eight children, was a pious and prominent member of her church and community. In March of 1692, she was accused; tried; acquitted; tried again;
found guilty because she, who was hard of hearing, didn't answer one question; and then given a reprieve by the governor of Massachusetts that he later rescinded.
Along with four other women, Rebecca Nurse was hanged on July 19 on Gallows Hills, their bodies thrown into a shallow grave. Under the cover of darkness, her family, so the story goes, recovered her body and buried it on their property. In 1885, a tall granite monument was erected over her supposed burial site. A verse from John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Christian martyr" is inscribed on the front: "O Christian Martyr who for Truth could die/When all about thee owned the hideous lie!/The world redeemed from Superstition's sway/Is breathing freer for thy sake today."
The monument is healthy walk from the homestead down a hill to a grove of trees. It was dusk, not a soul in sight, and certainly nothing was on the monument when we arrived. But then on the base of the monument we spotted a bouquet of wild flowers! How did it get there? We didn't know.
Note: In 1704, Ann Putnam, Jr., the accuser of Rebecca Nurse and her sisters Mary and Sarah, repent, saying that she had been "deluded by Satan." (Mary was hanged. Sarah survived.)
Note: We visited The Salem Witch Trial Memorial the day after Halloween. If you noticed the white patch by the tree in the image of the memorial, here it is (below right). I think it was left after a Halloween celebration at the memorial. "So Mote It Be," is a ritual phrase, meaning "so may it be." It is signed by The Witches of Salem. Temple of Nine Wells, a wiccan congregation, according to Goggle.