Tag Archives: Memorials

The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

As I write this on a sunny warm Saturday afternoon, there’s a line of cars extending down my entire street which has been continuous since about 10:00 this morning; I’m sure every other entry road into Salem is the same. My windows are open so I can hear and smell the exhaust as well as booming radio music; the situation has been much the same over the past three weekends and it will be the same for the next two. Salem in October! Of course we’re all supposed to grin and bear it because it’s good for local businesses, and we do. Generally I make plans to get away but that hasn’t been the case this year for some reason: a big mistake. Last week I didn’t even provision properly before the weekend: an even bigger mistake! This week, I provisioned properly and went on a lovely twilight tour of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, a town which approaches its Witch Trial history with far more reverence than Salem. So today I am not only better-provisioned but also considerably calmer than a week ago: the cars are annoying but really I just feel sorry for their passengers.

A Tale of Two October “Salems”: Salem Town and Salem Village, part of what is now Danvers.

I’ve been to the Nurse Homestead before, but I wanted to return this year as I’ve been teaching a course on the trials, and Rebecca’s experience has been the most impactful on my somewhat jaded freshmen, who are taking a required “first year seminar” rather than a course (and a subject) of their particular interest. They are cool customers, all majoring in business or criminal justice or nursing or something “practical”, and I’m not sure they know what to think of hyper-historical me, perpetually indulging my curiosity! But I’m making them read all sort of primary sources, and I can tell that Rebecca’s trial moved them: this well-respected grandmother, supported by her Salem Village neighbors and exonerated first by a jury, only to indict herself because she couldn’t hear a second round of questions clearly, one of three Towne sisters to be accused in 1692 and two to die. This year marks the 500th anniversary of her birth, in Yarmouth, England. Rebecca and her husband Francis spent most of their married life in Salem town, citizens of good standing, but moved out to the Village when they were in their fifties along with their married children, creating a family compound, in the center of which was and is the c. 1678 house now under the stewardship of the Danvers Alarm List Company. Not far from the house is a family graveyard, where Rebecca is supposedly buried, along with another accused and executed “witch”, George Jacobs. In its midst is the very first memorial to a victim of 1692, erected by her descendants in 1885.

I was among descendants on the tour, making a regular pilgrimage to this sacred site, happy to be on familiar and familial territory on such a beautiful October evening. The young guide was great, eager and happy to answer as many questions as we could direct her way. Not a single reference to ghosts! The only discordant element of the entire evening was a woman wearing a frilly witch hat, the only one among us so adorned, of course. How odd to see someone snapping a photo of a memorial to someone who was falsely accused of witchcraft, a martyr, in that hat, a party hat, from the other Salem.

No flash allowed inside, and as you can see it was quite dark, but this is believed to be the very “great” room in which Rebecca Nurse was arrested in the spring of 1692.


Samantha Should Go

If I were Queen of Salem for a day the very first thing I would do is smite Samantha. I like Bewitched and Elizabeth Montgomery as much as the next person, but a television character has no business occupying such a prominent parcel in Salem in statue form–especially such a bad statue. I think public art should either be beautiful or significant and Samantha is neither: she should go. I never really understood exactly how she was deposited right there, in Lappin Park on Town House Square, in June of 2005. It was a deal struck between the TV Land television channel, who commissioned the statue from StudioEIS in Brooklyn, then-mayor Stanley Usovicz, and the Salem Redevelopment Authority. Is she supposed to be with us forever? I was in one of my periodic disengagement-from-Salem-because-it-is-driving-me-crazy moods at the time so I wasn’t among the protesters, but even one of the statue’s creators admitted it was crass at the time:

“If I were one of the people who had a house on the beautiful common there, would I hate it?” asked Ivan Schwartz, sitting at a conference table last week and discussing the Samantha statue. “Yes, probably. But it seems like [Salem] was going down that path long before this TV Land thing ever surfaced.” (Washington Post)

Well, Mr. Schwartz is correct: Salem has been “Witch City” for quite a while, which is why my feelings towards Samantha have evolved: I don’t really want to destroy her anymore, I’d just like to move her–to a less prominent and more appropriate place–where she can represent Witch City rather than Salem. Maybe in front of the Witch Museum? That’s a perfect pairing.

Samantha Destination Salem

The Samantha Statue in Lappin Park (somewhat dressed for winter, but before our recent snow), courtesy Destination Salem.

So who or what could replace Samantha?  That is a difficult question, despite, or perhaps because of, Salem’s rich history.

An “old planter”?  Well we already have the magisterial statue of Salem founder Roger Conant by the Common. Unfortunately he is often mistaken for a “witch” because of his proximity to the Witch Museum as well–maybe he and Samantha could trade places? No, I think not.

Accused “witches”?  Well, we already have the subtle but stately Witch Trials Memorial on Charter Street. This is a reflective place (when it is not full of tourists eating sausage rolls on its memorial benches) deserving of its official status, but is could be supplemented by a more humanistic installation at Town House Square, I suppose. Statues of Bridget Bishop and George Jacobs–the victims from Salem Town?  Philip English–who escaped, survived, and sought revenge? My very favorite memorial to a witch-trial victim is the relief sculpture of Katharina Henot, burned at the stake in Cologne in 1627, in which she is paired with Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest who served as a participant/confessor in several witch trials before he wrote an extremely influential indictment of such proceedings (the Cautio Criminalis (1631)), on a facade of the Cologne City Hall. They are actually quite modern creations, one of 124 relief figures carved for the exterior of the Rathaus. The Lappin Park site is a courtyard, rather than a building, so I think we need to go for something/someone more freestanding.

Rathausturm Koeln - Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, Katharina Henot

Samuel McIntire? Revolutionary War soldiers and sailors from Salem? Timothy Pickering? One of the Derbys? We already have a great statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Hawthorne Boulevard. The great philanthropist Captain John Bertram and/or his granddaughter Caroline Emmerton, founder of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association? If I had my druthers (which I would, because I would be Queen), I’d probably go with Captain Luis Fenollosa Emilio of the Massachusetts 54th, a Salem native and author of The Brave Black Regiment (1891). He fought with the 54th for three years and was the sole surviving officer of the ferocious battle of Ft. Wagner in 1863: he deserves commemoration somewhere.

Statue Emilio

Captain Luis F. Emilio of the Mass 54th and 23rd, Library of Congress.

If I step down from my throne, however, I think it’s probably best to install something less literal and more abstract or conceptual in this particular location: something that could speak to as many people as possible and really make both passersby and crowds stop and think (or at least stop). I could even go in a more whimsical direction: the people who like the Samantha statue generally mention its “whimsy” but I think whimsy has to emanate from good art and Samantha looks like she is sitting on a turd rather than a cloud. We can do better.

Just to get the ideas flowing, I rounded up some of my favorite installations: most are public, some I have seen in person rather than just in pictures, some are memorials and some are just “statues”, all are (in my humble opinion) just great.

Reading Chaucer Jackson

Philip Jackson (b. 1944), Reading Chaucer, Portland Gallery, London.

Statue Les Voyageurs Marseilles

One of Bruno Catalano’s Voyageurs in Marseilles–travelers with missing parts!

Statue Shoes Budapest

The extremely poignant installation of “Shoes on the Danube” in Budapest by Gyuala Pauer and Can Togny, dedicated “to the memory of the victims shot by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45”.

leandro-erlich-pulled-by-the-roots-karlsruhe-designboom-03

A “house” with roots by Leandro Erlich at the Summer Festival in Karlsruhe, Germany via Designboom. (I would LOVE to see something like this in Salem–a 17th century house!)

Appendix: Just adding a few lines as this post was shared quite widely on Salem Facebook groups and there was a lot of commentary that readers of the blog won’t see. Lots of love for Samantha; she is widely credited (not the statue so much as the television character and show, which filmed in Salem in 1970-71) for saving Salem from the wasteland that it was becoming at that time. So the statue is seen as a symbol of revival through witchcraft tourism. Also: tourists love her so she should stay, she’s “whimsical” so she should stay. There were some people that supported a move: to the Willows & the Hawthorne Hotel in particular. No support for Captain Emilio!


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