The most telling–and troubling–details about an incident this past weekend in which a young homeless man started digging up an 18th-century grave in Salem’s oldest cemetery were the comments from “a large group” of onlookers, who thought the act might be part of a performance. Given the proximity of the Old Burying Point on Charter Street (and the Salem Witch Trial Memorial) to the fogged-in alley of the Salem Witch Village, who could blame them? Indeed the Village advertises graveyard tours on its website, since “We are fortunate to have on our premises the Charter Street Burying Point or Old Salem Burying Point, America’s second oldest cemetery”. I guess it is their cemetery–who knew?
I did a little bit of genealogical research so I could return a modicum of humanity/dignity to those whose graves were desecrated–apparently the digger (armed with “archeological tools”) believed they were his ancestors. Nathaniel Silsbee, Jr. was a member of the third generation of a Salem family that became quite wealthy and notable after his death. He was a housewright and joiner who lived near the wharves and also held land in North Fields and was married twice over his long life, first to Hannah Pickering and then to Martha, who survived him. I hope they rest in peace from now on.
October 15th, 2014 at 7:48 am
I’m not surprised that mental illness played a role in this man’s actions, but I can’t understand how onlookers would think that someone digging in an actual graveyard would be part of a performance. Are people really that easily duped?
October 15th, 2014 at 8:04 am
Salem in October is pretty sensationalistic; I’m not surprised.
October 15th, 2014 at 8:13 am
I read it in the news. He stole a car to drive to California, then went to Virginia and changed his mind and came home.
I did not gather that he was related to the people whose graves he was digging up.
October 15th, 2014 at 8:15 am
I doubt that he is, but who knows?
January 7th, 2016 at 5:32 pm
I can look in the family genealogy and see if he is related. I’m a descendant of Nathanial Silsbee.
October 15th, 2014 at 8:22 am
People are so strange.
October 15th, 2014 at 5:25 pm
It’s definitely the kind of thing that might easily seem like a performance in Salem at this time of year.