Where Were the Witches Hanged in Salem? (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Proctor’s Ledge from the Walgreens parking lot, filtered by Dreamscope.

Once there was a dirt road, the “Boston road,” that ran beside a pond on the way out of Salem.  (Now it is called Boston Street.) Then there came a railroad, and a shoe factory, and today a Walgreens drugstore with the actual witch execution site in back, next to the drive-up prescription window.

Why did no one know that?

When the last person who remembered the executions of 1692 was gone — and with no one interested in building a memorial to a shameful episode — memory of the site was lost. People knew that they took place “over there” (gesturing to the southwest), and the most notable geographic feature over there became known as Gallows Hill. As Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University puts it,

The executions on Gallows Hill were the climax of one of the most famous events in American history, but the hangings themselves are poorly documented. The precise location and events of the executions have been, until this point, generally lost to history. Tradition has simply placed it broadly on Gallows Hill, which covers many acres of land. In the 17th century Gallows Hill was common land located just outside the boundary of the city of Salem, then defined by a protective palisade (a fortified wall)

Watch this videotaped lecture delivered in October 2016 at the Salem Witch Museum by Prof. Baker and local historian Marilynn K. Roach. They point  out that Sidney Perley, a Salem lawyer and antiquarian, worked out the answer in the early 20th century — they call him their “patron saint.” Key evidence: sight lines from known 17th-century houses from which people viewed the hangings: they could see Proctor’s Ledge but not Gallows Hill from there.

For even more information, see Baker’s Gallows Hill Project website.

With the site identified, Baker said, descendants of the accused witches contacted him from all around the country, offering contributions toward a memorial. But Salem’s mayor, Kimberly Driscoll, stepped forward and said that building the memorial was the city’s responsibility. Here is the city’s news release. (They did accept donations but funded it mostly through a state Community Preservation Act grant.)

The Proctor’s Ledge rock outcropping is in the wedge-shaped parcel between Proctor, Pope, and Boston streets. There are  houses on Proctor and Pope, and much of the site is in residents’ back yards. The pink line is the crest of the ledge, roughly, and the blue dot the memorial site. North is at the top.

The memorial on Pope Street. Very simple, with kind of a “Park & Rec” low-maintenance touch. “Hey, George, do we will have some of those granite blocks left over from the XYZ project?”

As for me, I liked the view from the Walgreens better, and I left a little tribute (an antique British shilling) there under a stone.1)If archaeologists ever find it, they might attribute it to a Victorian-era visitor. The contrast between the stark rock outcropping where “witches” died and the tidy Walgreens drive-up lane is just another Salem thing. You cannot easily make them mesh, any more than you can mesh those nineteen people and today’s Pagan Witches. (Well, I can think of one way, and I will try to deal with it later.)

The name “Gallows Hill” is wrong too. For one thing, as Marilynn Roach points out, the sheriff’s and constables’ expense records and requests for reimbursement survive, in minute details. And nowhere is there something like “X shillings for dressed timber and labour for building of ye gallows.”

There are no oaks on Proctor’s Ledge today (mostly locust), but in 1692 apparently there was a big oak tree with sturdy, spreading branches. No cost, just bring a ladder. Hence the sapling oak in the memorial??

Archaeologists crawled all over Proctor’s Ledge and used ground-penetrating radar, but they found nothing: no bones, no remnants of any structure. There had been a report of bodies dumped in crevices in the rocks, but if so, their families or somebody recovered them.

Salem State University.

And now some “woo,” since you have read this far. On June 25, 1914 a fire burned through the southern part of Salem, pretty much everything south of Derby Street. Eighteen thousand people were left homeless, and more than 1,300 buildings destroyed, many of them wooden tenements housing factory workers (shoes, textiles, etc.) Photo source here.

Where did it start? At the foot of Proctor’s Ledge.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If archaeologists ever find it, they might attribute it to a Victorian-era visitor.

Where Were the Witches Hanged in Salem? (Part 1)

Gallows Hill municipal water tank, Salem, Massachusetts

No one was hanged on Gallows Hill, but it makes a good high spot for a municipal water tank. The park is called Gallows Hill Park, of course.

I left our Salem apartment last Thursday to walk to the site, but what people used to think was the site is not the site. In fact, the true location, which was of course known at the time and remembered through at least the mid-18th century, when the last persons who witnessed the executions of 1692 would have been passing away, was then forgotten.

Somehow, Gallows Hill, because of its prominence, became fixed in people’s minds and was promoted throughout the 19th century as the site. The city acquired it and some nearby land in 1936.

My walk took me past Salem High School, home of the fighting (a) Sharks, (b) Pirates, (c) Sailors, or (d) Aw, c’mon, you can figure it out.1)Get your “Fear the Witches” cap here: http://spssalemhs.learningnetworks.com/Pages/SPS_HSAthletics/index

Go Witches, take State!

I waked through typical New England streetscapes of (mostly) white-painted frame houses mixed with some commercial areas. The “No Tour Buses” sign was a clue that I was near someplace important — but was I?

Turning onto Proctor Street from Highland Avenue. One of the victims was a farmer named John Proctor, but his family kept on going and later owned land in the area. And are those artificial flowers a memorial or just someone’s decorative touch on Proctor Street?

I walked right past Gallows Hill Park (do the tour buses go there?) because it was not the place and continued on Proctor Street.

Read Part 2 Here

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Get your “Fear the Witches” cap here: http://spssalemhs.learningnetworks.com/Pages/SPS_HSAthletics/index

The Best New Book about the Salem Witch Trials

Wouldn’t you like to live in an enchanted world, where everything in nature brought messages from gods and spirits?

The New England Puritans did so, but with a smaller cast of characters: their God and their Devil.

But there were lots of messages all the same:

If your cow died, if lightning struck your house, if your nine-year-old niece arched her back and babbled hysterically, complaining of “bites and pinches by ‘invisible agents,'” it meant something.

Either God was testing you or the Devil was trying to topple the pious colony of New England. To quote the Puritan clergyman and prolific author Cotton Mather, “I am a man greatly assaulted by Satan. Is it because I have done so much against that enemy?”

The quotes are from Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem.

I had read her biography Cleopatra: A Life earlier and was impressed. When I saw that she had tackled the Salem witch trials, I knew that I had a good read ahead of me.

Books on Salem history at the Athenaeum.

I wonder if more books have been written about the 1692 Salem witch trials than any other, starting within weeks of the final executions and continuing up until today. These are some of the Salem-history books at the Salem Athenaeum (a private library) — the top shelf is all witch-trial books, and I can think of some that are missing or were checked out.

If you are going to read just one book though, make it Stacy Schiff’s. It is grounded in research, but it reads like a novel, while performing the historian’s essential task, which is to show you that no one explanation covers what happened that year in today’s Salem, Danvers, and Andover.

Nearly as many theories have been advanced to explain the Salem witch trials as the Kennedy assassination. Our first true crime story has been attributed to generational, sexual, economic, ecclesiastical, and class tensions; regional hostilities imported from England, food poisoning, a hothouse religion in a cold climate; teenage hysteria, fraud, taxes, conspiracy, political instability, trauma induced by Indian attacks, and to witchcraft itself, among the more reasonable theories. . . . .The irresistible locked-room mystery of the matter is what keeps us coming back to it.

Unlike some accounts, Schiff’s continues past the end of the trials themselves, noting how the end of the witchcraft panic, though it diminished the social position of the Puritan church, did not change the theology about the Devil and witchcraft. The Devil was still out there. New England remained “enchanted,” at least in the sociological sense.

The year 1692 disappeared from some official chronicles as well as important individuals’ journals, which makes historians’ job harder. One thing we can say: it damaged but did not break the prestige of the Puritan clergy, who had thought of themselves, in effect, as the rulers of the people — only to see George Burroughs, a former Salem village minister, sent to the hanging tree himself.

For the Friends of Black Phillip


Yesterday’s post on movies related to Salem witchcraft mentioned The VVitch and the character of Black Phillip, the billy goat. (His real name is Charlie and he “still gives his director nightmares.”)

There  is a billy goat in my magical menagerie too — not quite the same, but close enough that when I saw this pin and embroidered badge at Nerd Scouts, I had to have them.

Live deliciously!

Our Salem Film Festival

Prompted by J. W. Ocker’s A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, M. and I held a little Salem film festival. (We skipped The Lords of Salem.)

In order of creation, we watched these three movies:  Three Sovereigns for Sarah (1985), Hocus Pocus (1993), and The VVitch (2015).

(This looks like a bootleg copy, but I wanted this scene. Sorry about the quality.)

Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a three-part PBS documentary, is well-done, using authentic trial testimony in spots. Vanessa Redgrave, playing accused witch Sarah Cloyse, just dominates it — although she has some competition from the young actresses playing the “afflicted” girls. 1)Sarah Cloyce is depicted . . . differently . . . by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am coming to that.

A historical consultant told Ocker, “We had a lot more power on the production than historians usually have on commercial things.” They were even able to nix Alexander Scourby’s casting as a judge, because Scourby would not shave his beard, which was historically inappropriate. Clean-shaven Patrick McGoohan replaced him.

The church meeting house where the Rev. Samuel Parrish holds forth was built for the movie, and like all 17th-century buildings, included recessed fluorescent lighting. OK, that’s a joke. But compared to the moody available-light shooting in The VVitch, Three Sovereigns for Sarah is lit like a TV soap opera, giving a sort of “witchcraft under the microscope” vibe.

On the plus side, it gives you the feel of what happened. And guess what — no one is hung for being an herbalist or a healer. That is romantic mush that started in the 1960s and 1970s. It may make you feel good, but it is not about what happened in 1692 in America — or elsewhere.

Importantly, the film gives Sarah Cloyce a speech in which she explains how neatly the witchcraft accusations matched property disputes in Salem Village. In other words, adults were feeding suggestions to the “afflicted” girls about whom to denounce. That is usually the way it works in “children’s crusades.”

BEELEEVE THE CHILDREN!

Of Hocus Pocus (1993), Ocker observes,

The witches are played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Nijimy in, if not exactly career-defining roles, roles that will probably outlast anything they’ve ever done. There are entire generations of people who know Hocus Pocus, but have no idea about wind, wings, sex, city, hair, or spray.

Yes, but it’s Disney (kids win, witches lose). That is probably why I had no interest in it in 1993, and besides, I had student papers to grade. And Sex and the City will be Parker’s role that I remember.

If Three Sovereigns for Sarah presents a documentary-style take on the 1692 witchcraft panic, The VVitch gives us the imagined European witchcraft of the 16th–17th centuries transplanted to New England, where tiny cleared islands of Christianity struggle to survive up against dark walls of savage forests, In that, it echoes some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s spookier fiction, in which he dips from the same well.

But it’s a horror movie, so the central character witch is herself a teenager, not a mature woman. Of course you have your pact with the devil, the Witches’ Sabbat, spectral flight, possession, and Black Phillip, the goat who is more than a goat. In lighting, costuming, and general atmosphere, it is the best of the three. Unlike the other two, it was not filmed partly in or near Salem but near Kiosk, Ontario, in order to get the best cinematic forests.

Also, it gives me a segue into talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne and witchcraft, coming up.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Sarah Cloyce is depicted . . . differently . . . by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am coming to that.

Witches, Sea Captains, and Art — We Go Back to Salem

I am sipping this as I write.

Last November, during the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Boston, I made a quick trip to Salem, Mass., with some fellow Pagan studies scholars. It was only one afternoon—long enough to visit some of the witchy shops, a magickal temple, the Charter Street cemetery, and a few other sites.

No time for the maritime history or the highly regarded Peabody-Essex Museum or even all of the historic sites connected with the witch trials or other cultural history, such as the House of the Seven Gables.

So back I go in two weeks, and M. is going with me — a trip celebrating a wedding anniversary that ends in zero. We have lots of Amtrak reward points to spend, and it’s too early for gardening here. A rented apartment awaits us. Granted, winter is hanging on grimly in New England, but we will take our chances.

Our guidebook is J. W. Ocker’s recent A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts.

We have been preparing ourselves with a series of movies — more on that soon — and I actually read all of The House of the Seven Gables, with more of Hawthorne waiting on the bedside table, to put myself in a mood of dark Romanticism and decay.

Like Ocker, I wonder, “Why Salem did attract today’s witches? Why in the 1970s?” He has some ideas, which I will share later.

So consider this to be the first of a series of travel-related posts that will appear between now and Beltane, more or less.

A personal note: Despite her French surname, M. on her father’s side is New England Yankee all the way down. According to family tradition, the name came from some French Huguenot (Protestant Christian) who fled across the Channel in the 17th or early 18th century to escape Catholic persecution, the family transforming gradually into English Puritans.

Although they moved on to northeastern Vermont, they presumably came through Massachusetts. “So,” I tell her, “you might pass by an ancestor’s grave. Perhaps even one of the witch-hunters. . .”

And at that point she starts shouting at me.

What can I say? The Cliftons were Virginians who probably spent their Sundays sipping rum and betting on cockfights, not listening to two-hour sermons and hanging so-called witches.

On the other hand, she is willing to make the trip!

“Come Out and Fight Me for My Throne . . . “

 

. . . says Janet Farrar melodramatically in this 1977 broadcast from the Irish national network Raidió Teilifís Éireann.

Author and screenwriter Stewart Farrar and his wife Janet, both from London in England, met through witchcraft and founded their own coven. In 1976 the couple moved to Ireland, accompanied by Janet’s father Ronald Owen, and they now live in the townland of Rockspring in Ferns, County Wexford. On the whole they have been warmly welcomed to the area by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Witchcraft is growing in Ireland and Janet, the Witch Queen of Ireland, challenges usurpers to come out and fight her for her throne. Until then, Janet is a natural clairvoyant and both she and Stewart can help people who have had piseogs worked against them. She once wished ill on a man and when she told him to be quiet, he lost his voice for 48 hours.

I was at that house a year or two later (and borrowed that typewriter), and I don’t remember the theramin music everywhere outdoors, so the producers must have added because they, like the Brits, just love the TV trope of the scary countryside. With witches.

They Were Not Witches — They Are Our Martyrs

Walking through the witch-trial memorial park.

This is the memorial created in 1992 for the victims of the Salem trials in Salem, Mass. Each “bench” contains the name of an accused person: “Margaret Scott. Hanged. September 22, 1692.”

Walk there, and you know that it has become a shrine.

Then you realize that you are walking on their words, their pleas to the uncaring judges: “God knows I am innocent of such wickedness.”

Twenty-five people died (five of them in prison), all professing their innocence, and I tend to believe them. But they left us something: Witch Tees!

And Witch Pix!

And a passel of museums, “haunted houses,” ghost tours, and the like.

Crow Haven Corner.

The first witchcraft shop was Laurie Cabot’s the Witch Shoppe in 1971, which later moved and was renamed Crow Haven Corner.

It has been joined by many others. Walking along nearby Pickering Wharf feels like a trip down Diagon Alley.

Could Sarah Good, a homeless beggar (hanged) or Susannah Martin, an impoverished widow (hanged)  have imagined that their deaths would produce a Salem where being a witch is fairly normal and the police cars have flying witches on their doors? 1)Meanwhile, two burly Salem cops are yelling at some kid to get off his bike, which he is riding illegally on the pedestrian mall.

The National Park Service visitor center, devoted both to Salem’s peak years as a port in the 18th and 19th centuries and to the events of 1692, contains several shelves of books on historical witchcraft.

It’s a crooked path, all right, from hysterical teenagers accusing adults of witchcraft before judges who accepted “spectral evidence” to a wax museum, signage directing visitors to Gallows Hill, and at least two dozen witchcraft shops, but there it is.

The “witches” of 1692 gave it to us.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Meanwhile, two burly Salem cops are yelling at some kid to get off his bike, which he is riding illegally on the pedestrian mall.

Pentagram Peach and Other Good Reads

1. From a regular reader in Kyoto comes the link to this giant bronze peach marked with a pentagram. It is part of the Seimei Jinja Shrine, dedicated to a tenth-century wizard and astrologer. Pentagrams everywhere!

2. John Beckett writes on the “aesthetic of witchcraft,” which has cycled around again as fashions do:

For the most part, these pieces aren’t about witches who cast circles, brew potions, and worship The Goddess. They’re not about witches who summon spirits or make pacts with the devil. They’re about young women who adopt the mythology and especially the fashion of witchcraft without any of its magical or religious elements.
It’s easy to dismiss this as “witchcrap” or “consumerism,” but Beckett makes a point that I have thought about too — let’s keep those symbols out there in the public view. “So when someone else promotes witchcraft – even if they’re only propagating the aesthetic of witchcraft – they’re providing publicity for all of us under the Pagan umbrella.”

3. I liked Elizabeth Autumnalis’ blog post “Missed Call from Your Local Spirits.” She begins,
Something that has always struck me as particularly odd about the pagan community is the fascination with the spirits of far off places when local spirits are standing right in front of us and staring us in the eye. I have a couple of ideas as to why this is, but when it comes down to it you are a product of the energies and spirits that you were raised around and those spirits are a product of the people and land that they inhabit as well. Chances are you probably have more in common with your local spirits than you think.

Read the whole thing.