Everything you need to know about the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in a short read! How did this contemplative, centrally-located monument come to be? Whose names are on the Salem Witch Trial Memorial benches? Where is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial? Let’s dive in witches!
History of The Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials only officially lasted a few months in 1692. But those few months ended with the executions of 14 women and 6 men. The toll would have likely been far higher had the governor of Massachusetts intervened.
The victims were tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in all but one case (Giles Corey, who was pressed to death with stones after refusing to enter a plea of innocent or guilty thereby ensuring his land wouldn’t be confiscated by the court). Most of the accused were women, though several men were accused as well, and a few were executed.
History of the Memorial
This memorial is the city’s simple but dramatic homage to the 20 victims of that horrible era.
The principle thrust to create the memorial came from Salem’s mayor in 1986. The design was selected from a pool of applicants after an international public competition. Two hundred and forty six design applications were submitted.
Ultimately, artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler, whose design was based on the Vietnam War Memorial, won the competition. Honestly, if you’ve seen the Vietnam War Memorial, the similarities are striking.
Both monuments utilize the simple etching of victims’ names on stone. But, while the Vietnam Memorial employs sleek black tablets, Salem’s memorial opts for roughly-etched hunks of gray stone. These tougher chunks of earth speak to the nature of America itself during the late 17th century.
They also remind this New Englander of the craggy hillsides you’ll find on a hike in any particularly untouched part of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Connecticut. Perhaps the same roughly-graveled hillside is reminiscent even of the spot where 19 of the 20 victims in the Salem Witch Trials lost their lives at the end of a noose.
In August of 1992, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel dedicated the memorial to the victims. Also in attendance at the unveiling was Arthur Miller, creator of the most popular depiction of the Trials, The Crucible.
What Does The Salem Witch Trials Memorial Look Like?
The memorial consists of 20 benches, one for each victim, surrounded by a low stone wall. Etched onto each bench is a name, the means of execution and the execution date. Black locust trees line the middle of the memorial. It’s believed that the black locust was in fact the genus of tree that tethered the hangman’s rope in 1692.
At the entrance to the memorial, you can read words of the accused directly from court transcript also etched into stone. And across the pathway from the memorial, a taller shelf commemorates the monument itself.
The names on the benches forever memorialize the twenty victims of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Their names are: Ann Pudeator, Mary Easty, Martha Corey, Giles Corey, Samuel Wardwell, John Willard, Sarah Wildes, Margaret Scott, Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs, Wilmot Redd, George Jacobs, Elizabeth Howe, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, John Proctor, Martha Carrier, and Susannah Martin.
It’s actually perfect place for you to reflect on tolerance and understanding. This is only true, however, if you’re visiting any other time of the year besides October. In that case, the memorial’s central location actually works against it and tourists flood the entire area. In that case, you’re better off going to the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial. Proctor’s Ledge is the only other real witch memorial in Salem, MA as it commemorates the believed site of the hangings themselves.
Another really cool aspect of this memorial are the tokens that visitors leave on the benches. This is an especially powerful gesture as most of the people whose names you’ll find on these benches weren’t afforded proper burials in the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. Instead, they were thrown into a burial pit near the site of the hangings.
There is some lore suggesting that some of the victims were dug up by loved ones (John Proctor perhaps most infamously), but it’s hard to corroborate these claims. So, in very important ways, these benches actually serve as the graves the accused never got. As such, feel free to leave a flower, coin, or any token you feel especially resonant next time you’re in Salem.
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial is entirely free thanks to the city. However, if you’d like a hands-on presentation, I’d suggest checking out some of the walking tours on offer in Salem. A personal favorite of mine is the Salem Witch Walk, which includes a ton of information about actual witchcraft in Salem both in 1692 and beyond. You’ll begin that tour beside Crow Haven Corner and you can grab tickets here.
The memorial is right in the middle of town, so listing everything that’s nearby would be a bit of a challenge. The closest attractions are the Salem Wax Museum, Salem Witch Village, and the Peabody Essex Museum. As previously mentioned, the Charter Street Cemetery is right next door. As for places to eat, head south a block on Liberty Street to find plenty of options including Bambolina (wood fired pizza), Cilantro (Mexican), or Brothers Taverna (Portuguese). There’s also a super secret barbecue place nearby, but I’m not telling you anything about it.