A Half-Hour at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial (on Halloween)

November 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We actually had a lovely night with a steady succession of trick-or-treating families coming to the door: all happy and excited and exceedingly polite (while low-flying helicopters circled overhead, continuously). Halloween night is always a small compensation for the month of Halloween celebrations that we endure here in Salem, at least for me. During the day, I walked over to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial on Charter Street because I wanted to see how the site was affected by the limitation of visitors to the adjacent Old Burying Ground. Just last week, the city announced that the cemetery would be limited to 100 people at a time, a policy that was was heralded in a Boston Globe article with the great title: “Salem to Visitors: Don’t Change Diapers and Eat Ice Cream on Gravestones”. The cemetery is really part of the Memorial in the sense that the gravestones of the latter bear silent witness to the cenotaphs of the latter, so diaper-changing and ice cream-eating tourists give the message: we don’t care what happened to those people in 1692. A less carnival-esque atmosphere next door would give the opposite message presumably. During my half-hour on Charter Street (bear in mind this was a Tuesday, not a Saturday) I did see a much more solemn cemetery, but the carnival was still going on within the Memorial, including: ice-cream eating tourists sitting on the bench-cenotaphs, a large tour group, three staged photo opportunities (all of which involved sitting on the cenotaphs or wall behind), and a wedding (after which all the people in the adjacent tour group clapped enthusiastically, of course). All in 30 minutes, no more.

Half Hour 6

Half Hour 11

Half Hour 9

Half Hour 13

Half Hour 10

Half Hour 12

Half Hour 4

Half Hour7

Half Hour 8


19 responses to “A Half-Hour at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial (on Halloween)

  • Mike Pope

    Very nice, cute post. Regretfully I am Holloween-“handicaped”. It is (in my view, if anybody cares of my views), too silly to be an adult and dress like a rabbit…..and so on. Your post went to my heart…it is serious enough and has the right proprtion of humor and fun. That why I am your happy subscriber.

    Mike Pope

    • daseger

      I’m always in a good mood on November 1 so not ranting! But increasingly I realize that the Memorial is not really a Memorial but a public art installation and the public will do with it what they will. Perhaps the other Memorial–at Proctor’s Ledge–will serve as the place of reflection that I know many descendants of 1692 victims want’.

  • Brendan Davis

    I tried to get into Salem this month (to see the Yin Yu Tang house for a project) and did not succeed (parking was quite a challenge).

  • Pearl

    Why in the world was the Salem Witch Trial Memorial design approved to include bench-like cenotaphs if sitting on them is disrespectful? I keep hearing this gripe every year. Visitors have no clue that the benches weren’t meant to be sat upon since they are so obviously derriere friendly. Thinking a redesign of the memorial is in order so it doesn’t welcome unintentional disrespect.

    • daseger

      Well, I can’t disagree with you entirely, Pearl: I was discussing this with a colleague today who said much the same thing. I don’t think all visitors are being intentionally disrespectful, though some are.

  • tomP

    I wrote this recently to a friend in CO who had asked me about what Salem has become: “Salem is like an old prostitute who sold herself cheap for easy money, when she could have done something more with her life, back before it was too late.”

    • daseger

      Oh Tom, that’s a bit harsh: I’m more like—“a fourth-generation aristocrat whose family money has run out and refuses to really work for a living so he/she sells herself cheap for easy money……”

      • tomP

        I certainly see your point, Donna. Your analogy is also a valid one. I’m tending to see more of the garishness of the Halloween thing in town and all that goes with it. My view is that Salem has so much more to offer than that.

      • daseger

        Me too! The saddest part about it all—even more offensive than the garishness–is the completely inability to have a public dialogue about it. If you criticize Haunted Happenings in Salem, you are branded either a 1) snob or 2) one who is indifferent to people’s livelihoods! If you point out all the other great things Salem has to offer, you get the cynical reply: “they come for the witches”.

  • Morag

    I’d never visit Salem during October or on Hallowe’en, but for when I do go during a quieter time of year, help me be respectful – those do just look like cool benches to me – are they engraved, or is there any indication that they are memorials, not convenient places to park myself?

    • daseger

      Well, as you can see from these comments, Morag, there are differing opinions! The benches have the name and death dates on them, and people often place flowers and coins and notes on them, but then some people sit on them too! To me they look like memorials which I would never sit on, but other people see them otherwise.

  • Pearl

    Everything I read calls them benches. Trying to dig up some write-ups from 1992 about the inception of the memorial. Wondering if you think that sitting on any memorial bench is disrespectful. I see them often placed where there are sweeping views. Perhaps they meant for us to sit on the ground besides the bench at theses places? Are memorial benches in general just for show and not meant to be sat on? I’m very curious about the etiquette of memorial benches now.

  • Pearl

    I found the official visitor guidelines for the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.


    According to the Salem Award Foundation for Social Injustice, who in conjunction with the City of Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum provide oversight and maintenance of the Memorial, the granite benches were put there for people to sit and have quiet contemplation of the lessons we learned about the witch trials.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: