A Folio for the Worst Day

September 22: the first day of fall, and the worst day of the Salem Witch Trials, I am aware of both markers every single year. The beginning of the end. In successive posts on this day over the years, I’ve tried to focus on remembrance of the eight victims, the last victims, who were executed on this day 325 years ago: Ann Pudeator and Alice Parker of Salem, Martha Corey of Salem Farms (Peabody), Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker of Andover, Wilmot Redd of Marblehead, Margaret Scott of Rowley, and Mary Easty of Topsfield. Looking over these posts, I see one big change: we finally have a memorial at the execution site on Proctor’s Ledge. No longer do I have to wander around the Gallows Hill area in search of the sacred spot (like so many before me). It’s been an incredible year of remembrance really, with our anniversary symposium and the dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, at which my colleague Emerson Baker, so instrumental in the verification of this site, asserted that we need less celebration in October and more commemoration and sober reflection throughout the year. I am not hopeful that Salem will see less celebration in October (or now—the celebration seems to start earlier every year), but those who seek more sober reflection now have two memorials at which to meditate: the downtown Witch Trial Memorial turns into a food court in October so head to Proctor’s Ledge if you are so inclined.

Memorial Collage The two memorials: Proctor’s Ledge this summer; downtown in October 2015.

One does not need a memorial to reflect, of course: words and images work just as well for me. The other day I rediscovered a slim (and dusty) volume in my library which I hadn’t seen for years: The Witches of Salem, a “documentary narrative” edited by Roger Thompson, with amazing linocut illustrations by Clare Melinsky. Like all Folio Society books, it’s a beautiful book, encased in its own hard-case slipcover: I think it was a gift but I don’t remember from whom! The Witches of Salem is an an annotated compilation of primary sources with a chronological format, and a good introduction to the Trials. There’s nothing really new here in terms of information, but Melinsky’s illustrations enhance the presentation in myriad ways: aesthetically, of course, but also contextually. They strike me as a cross between Ulrich Molitor’s first woodcut witches from the later fifteenth century and the chapbooks issued in the eighteenth century—after Salem–which featured deliberatively-primitive images to suggest just how backward belief in witchcraft was. To my eye, the illustrations look more European than American but there are some very familiar scenes….

Folio 2

Folio 13

Folio 3

Folio 6

Folio 8

Folio 5

Folio 7

Folio 12

Folio 11

Folio 4

So much suffering on this day 325 years ago, before and after. We do have our memorials here in Salem, so I suppose that gives us free rein to milk the Trials for all they are worth. The worst day, the beginning of fall, the beginning of the ever-longer, ever-bolder Haunted Happenings: they all converge. Even the stately Peabody Essex Museum, which has always been above the fray, has joined in the celebration, moving their monthly Thursday PEM/PM event to Friday this month: September 22.


 A really good article about the “holiday creep” of Haunted Happenings and Salem in general by someone much more objective than I!  http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/salem-and-the-rise-of-witch-kitsch    

11 responses to “A Folio for the Worst Day

  • Matt

    I hadn’t been aware, or focused on, the significance of this day, so thanks for that. As for PEM, a quick look at the link you provided (and I admit quick) suggested it was a link in with a running exhibit (Hammett Collection), versus a connection to HH. Can agree that the date is insensitive, but I am missing something more here?

    Second defense of the PEM for me – will need to think about that, too. 🙂

  • Matt

    Not that I have seen, but I admit the timing of the show does overlap. And I have noted how the PEM is like a ghost town (no pun intended) during HH, so it could be more of a competitive move, versus a join in. I will put question to Dan Finamore next time I see him.

  • Charles

    The PEM may not often mark the September “occasion,” but Halloween used to be huge for the museum.

    “Eerie Events,” which my wife, Donna Thorland, ran for five years was far and away their largest public event (over six thousand visitors one year, as I recall). Eerie Events was hosted most Friday and weekend nights in October, with ghost stories told by costumed actors in three or four of the historic houses (which were much more used by the Museum in those days) and sometimes the library, with a large bonfire, re-enactors from various local groups, cider donuts — really quite memorable to those who participated, volunteered or attended.

    • daseger

      Yes, Charles–Eerie Events was a cool, creative event; I guess I didn’t think of it because I don’t think of the Essex Institution and the PEM as the same institution!

  • pj zimmerlink

    Hello Dr. Seger, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is PJ Zimmerlink and I’m from S.W. Pennsylvania. I’m a avid follower of your blog. I’m writing this email after being prompted by your most recent entry. I’d like if possible to have a phone call with you about the Procter’s Ledge and the location of the remains of the victims who weren’t removed by their families. I’ve discussed the topic at length with Frances Hill the author of “A Delusion of Satan”. I also contacted Emerson Baker shortly after the announcement of the official declaration his team made of Proctor’s Ledge being the official execution sight. Dr. Baker when I corresponded with him basically said they (his Proctor’s Ledge team) were avoiding the topic of the remains of the victims or what happened to them. Well, he said they wouldn’t address the topic unless specifically asked. I have for sometime now been aching inside thinking once again the story is being cut short before it’s complete. I have many maps and map composites as well as photo’s, I made during my research of the Ledge and I believe this combined with historic texts would confirm that the victims who remained for a period of time in the shallow “grave” are most likely buried under Proctor Street. I don’t know what should be done with this information but I thought you might appreciate it. As I said, I’d like to speak with you via a phone (if you’d wish) as my information is quite alot for emailing. Just to set your mind at ease I’m not a Internet troll, I’m actually Curator of the “Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh”. Feel free to Google me and look at the museum website. *https://pittsburghkids.org * Your blog is wonderful, thank you for all the hard work.

    Best, PJ Zimmerlink Greensburg PA, 15601 724.972.2955

    • daseger

      Hello PJ, Please call me Donna–while I might be ponderous here I don’t consider my blog an academic exercise! Quite honestly, I have nothing to add to the saga of Proctor’s Ledge–I wasn’t on the team of archaeologists and historians; I am only a citizen observer who is grateful for their efforts, like you. I have moderated several forums on it, however, as Tad Baker is my colleague, and I can tell you that the question of remains comes up time and time again and I don’t think the team can give conclusive answers. There is literary evidence testifying to the removal of certain remains, and then you have to remember that this site is not pristine–far from it. If you are correct, and you could be, verification would involve digging up Proctor Street, which is not going to happen.

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