Forward and Back, Present and Past

It was an interesting weekend in Salem, full of events, exuberance and achievements, as well as a bit of contradiction, from my perspective. Salem’s Trials, the symposium that my department organized in collaboration with the Essex National Heritage Area and Salem Award Foundation for the 325th anniversary of the Trials, was on Saturday and then the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary was on Sunday: I came away happy and optimistic from the first event, convinced we had remembered and honored the victims of 1692 in the best possible way, and a bit confused by the second. It was certainly festive and forward-looking, focused on an array of six-word memoirs on the theme of inclusion as well as the recognition of two (extraordinary!) “rising leaders” newly-graduated from Salem High School and Salem Academy, but also on the contributions of the owner of the Salem Witch Museum–who happens to be a major beneficiary of the cumulative tragedy that is the Salem Witch Trials. One day I was sitting on a panel titled “The Making of Witch City” (filmed by C-Span) in which we discussed the unfortunate exploitation of the “witches” of Salem, the next I was observing a very public expression of gratitude offered up to the driver of Haunted Happenings! It was a bit surreal for me but I think I was the only one: one savvy Salem insider observed that he pays for shit in response to my bewilderment. Ah well, the memoirs did look lovely, shimmering in the sun on a beautiful, breezy day.

Salem's Trials SAF

Salem's Trials Memoirs

Salem's Trials Memoirs 2

Like everything, it’s about perspective: ultimately the Salem Award Foundation, whose full name is the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice, is more focused on the present than the past and needs the resources, network, and flexibility to achieve its goals and mission: I have the luxury of being able to remain laser-focused on the past and the victims. That’s just what we did on Saturday morning, but in the afternoon we shifted to a more layered discussion of how these victims have been remembered, driven as much by the symposium attendees (including several descendants of victims of 1682 who recorded their “testimonies”) as presenters. The keynote address by geographer Ken Foote, “Salem Witchcraft in Landscape and Memory”, was particularly resonant for me. Dr. Foote laid out the full spectrum of “marking” sites of tragedy, from sanctification to obliteration, and viewed Salem in this context. He noted that when he first came to Salem in 1984, no one could really tell him where the victims of 1692 were executed, and now there is not only the 1992 tricentennial Witch Trials Memorial but a new memorial on the site of the recently-confirmed execution site at Proctor’s Ledge (now scheduled to be dedicated on July 19). As I was listening to him, the question that kept running through my mind was: what if the sacredness of a site is challenged–or not even recognized? as that seems to be what happens to the downtown Witch Trials Memorial every October when Haunted Happenings is in full swing and it is transformed into a convenient place to eat fried dough. It seems like contradictory commemoration will remain in force in Salem until the sanctification of that site can be realized, and I don’t know if that will (can) ever happen.

Salem's Trials BB

Salem's Trials Tad

Salem's Trials Foote Just one weekend in Salem: The Salem Award Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Celebration and Salem’s Trials Symposium. Below, the Witch Trials Memorial off Charter Street, yesterday: for much less contemplative times, click here.

Salem's Trials Memorial


4 responses to “Forward and Back, Present and Past

  • Judith Belle Camp Smolk (great grandmother was Sarah Towne)

    Thank you for these observations. As a descendant of the Rebecca Towne Nurse family, I am puzzled and uncomfortable about the dichotomy that is Salem. But then, the situation is expressive of life in general, is it not? I want to visit Salem soon, and will make sure not to come in October!

    Like

  • helenbreen01

    Hi Donna,

    Kudos on a great conference at SSU on Saturday. WITCH TRIALS was rich in presenting so many angles to the witchcraft phenomenon in Salem and its consequences through the centuries. I particularly enjoyed your in depth discussion of witchcraft in Europe. My take-away – the more organized/ “civilized” the community, the less likely its inhabitants were to engage in accusations. Was it 25,000 witches who were executed in the hodgepodge of the “Holy Roman Empire”? Meanwhile, the Mediterranean countries like Italy and Spain had relatively few persecutions. Who knew?

    Another factoid that impressed me – the jeweler/silversmith Daniel Low was the first to recognize the potential of immortalizing the event with souvenir silver spoons with witch motifs. Later he celebrated Hawthorne and other historic figures in various designs.

    Donna, again it was a great take and I met several other followers of streetsofsalem.

    Keep up you good work …

    Like

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