A Week to Remember

It’s a rare week in Salem that the Witch Trials are the focus of commemoration rather than commerce, and this week is just such a time: the combination of the 325th anniversary of 1692 and the completion of the new memorial marking the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge is creating a perfect storm of remembrance. Maybe I’m a bit more focused on it than the average person because I’m also teaching a graduate institute on early modern witch-hunting all week and moderating a panel on Proctor’s Ledge on Thursday, but I think many people in Salem and its environs will be thinking about the victims of 1692 this particular week. I find the timing very poignant: we had our 325th anniversary symposium on June 10, the date of the execution of the first victim, Bridget Bishop, but on July 19 the Trials intensified with the execution of five women: Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes. Even though more executions were to follow in August and September, July 19 was also a turning point in the village consciousness: if such a venerable and pious woman as Rebecca Nurse could fall prey to accusations of witchcraft, then surely anyone could. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll of Salem will dedicate the Proctor’s Ledge memorial on Wednesday the 19th at noon, the Danvers Alarm List Company, the stewards of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, are hosting a commemorative event that evening, and Governor Charlie Baker has proclaimed the 19th Rebecca Nurse Day.

Week 5 Hill

Week Rebecca Nurse

I went by the new memorial this morning, a glorious Sunday, as I wanted to spend some contemplative time there—it’s a small neighborhood site so I’m sure Wednesday will be a bit more busy. I’m so grateful to both the city and the neighborhood for making this memorial happen, as well as to the Proctor’s Ledge team of historians and geologists and interpreters who were not going to be satisfied with a generic “Gallows Hill” (earlier “Witch Hill”) execution site. Gallows Hill remains a neighborhood, however, and I sure there are those who live there who fear that their community will be overwhelmed by the witch-trial tourism that overruns the city in the fall and has transformed the downtown tricentennial Witch Trial Memorial into some less than sacred space. I hope that doesn’t happen too. I find the two memorials to be very complementary; if fact, when I was looking at the new one this morning I kept thinking about downtown, especially with reference to a poem about the latter by Nicole Cooley, from her 2004 volume of poetry inspired by the victims–and resonance–of 1692, The Afflicted Girls.

Week Text

Week Text 2

The absence she speaks of seems somehow less present at Proctor’s Ledge (if absence can be less present).

Week Memorial

Week Memorial 2

Week Worst Day

The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial in Salem, to be dedicated on July 19, 2017.

9 responses to “A Week to Remember

  • Jane Griswold Radocchia

    I was at Historic Deerfield for a seminar on Saturday. One of the speakers, Emerson Baker mentioned that he would be in Salem for the dedication. We spoke of it – the trials – among ourselves at lunch. We do remember.

  • Judith Belle Camp Smolk (great grandmother was Sarah Towne). Rebecca Nurse was 9-great aunt.

    Thank you so much for recording this for us! I hope to visit this site next year.

  • Averill Descendant

    Once again, all commemoration of the Salem Witch Trials is all about Rebecca Nurse, when there were 18 other people killed. Three other women were hanged with her on that day. But no. Let’s call it “Rebecca Nurse Day” and forget about all the other people who were murdered–including my ancestor Sarah Averill Wildes who swung from the gallows with her.

  • helenbreen01

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for the great pics of Proctor’s Ledge. Not sure when I would get there so I am grateful for these images. The landscaping and stonework are so well done. Kudos to all involved in the project.

    Still pondering all I learned at the June 10 conclave at SSU. I plan to do a little piece for our local paper in October about Daniel Low’s and the “witch spoons,” Salem’s first souvenirs.

    Keep up the good work …

  • Rick Ouellette

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece, I already had a quick look at the site a couple of weeks ago and really appreciated this memorial and its siting. Looking forward to seeing the completed work. With its more obscure location, hopefully it will not get overrun each October!

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