The Salem Witch Trials Memorial is a memorial in Salem, Mass dedicated to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
The memorial consists of 20 granite benches surrounded by a low stone wall. The stone slabs in the entryway to the memorial are inscribed with the victim’s protests, which were taken directly from the court records. The inscriptions say:
“For my life now lies in your hands”
“On my dying day, I am no witch”
“God knows I am innocent”
“Oh Lord help me”
“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness”
“If I would confess i should save my life”
“I do plead not guilty”
There are also a number of black locust trees planted on the grounds of the memorial, which were believed to be the type of tree the victims were hanged from.
Each bench is engraved with names of the 20 victims of the Salem Witch Trials along with the date of their execution or death.
The memorial sits on a 5,400 square foot plot of land next to the Old Burying Point cemetery where the notorious Salem Witch Judge John Hathorne is buried as well as many other Salem residents from 1692.
Who Designed the Salem Witch Trials Memorial?
The memorial was designed by artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler who based their design on the Vietnam Wall Memorial. According to the book The Best of Cutler Anderson Architects, the theme of the memorial is injustice:
“The Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial attempts to give form to concepts of injustice…The designers approached the idea of injustice through four words: Silence, Deafness, Persecution and Memory. To represent silence, they graded and organized the site to emphasize the surrounding tombstones as mute watchers looking into the memorial. For deafness, they inscribed the historical protests of innocence on the entry threshold and had them slide under the stone wall in mid-sentence. For persecution, they planted black locust trees, from which the accused believed to have been hanged. For memory, they enscribed the names, dates, and manners of death on stone slabs, which were then cantilevered from the stone wall as benches.”
When Was the Salem Witch Trials Memorial Built?
The memorial was built in 1992 for the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials and is the first memorial in Salem dedicated to the witch trials.
The city had previously made plans to build a memorial on Gallows Hill, which was believed to be the site of the witch trials executions until recently, in 1892 for the 200th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials.
The plans caused a lot of controversy at the time though and ultimately fell through, according to the book A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience by Emerson W. Baker:
“In 1892 members of the Essex Institute (Salem’s historical, literary, and scientific society and one of the forerunners of the Peabody Essex Museum) initiated an effort to build a memorial to the victims of 1692 in Salem. It was to take the form of a substantial forty-five-foot-high stone lookout tower placed on Gallows Hill. Bronze tablets with the names of the ‘martyrs’ would be attached, Supporters of the proposal believed that a memorial would ‘help instruct’ the thousands of annual visitors as well as local residents in ‘the lessons to be learned from the history of the delusion of 1692.’ However, opponents of the monument believed ‘the whole affair ought to be cast into oblivion as too horrible to contemplate; a shame on Salem and our community.’ There were also fears it might offend some of the old families in town whose ancestors had participated in the prosecution and execution of witches. The opponents won – the monument was never built. Even two hundred years later, the trials were a political hot potato.”
Even Nathaniel Hawthorne, himself a descendant of Judge John Hathorne, lamented the fact that there was no memorial on Gallows Hill in his 1835 essay, titled Alice Doane’s Appeal, during which he described his recent summertime visit to Gallows Hill:
“At that season, to a distant spectator, the hill appears absolutely overlaid with gold, or covered with a glory of sunshine, even beneath a clouded sky. But the curious wanderer on the hill will perceive that all the grass, and everything that should nourish man or beast, has been destroyed by this vile and ineradicable weed: its tufted roots make the soil their own, and permit nothing else to vegetate among them; so that a physical curse may be said to have blasted the spot, where guilt and frenzy consummated the most execrable scene that our history blushes to record. For this was the field where superstition won her darkest triumph; the high place where our fathers set up their shame, to the mournful gaze of generations far remote. The dust of martyrs was beneath our feet. We stood on Gallows Hill…Yet, ere we left the hill, we could not but regret that there is nothing on its barren summit, no relic of old, nor lettered stone of later days, to assist the imagination in appealing to the heart. We build the memorial column on the height which our fathers made sacred with their blood, poured out in a holy cause. And here, in dark, funereal stone, should rise another monument, sadly commemorative of the errors of an earlier race, and not to be cast down, while the human heart has one infirmity that may result in crime.”
The Salem City Council debated building a memorial again in 1931 but eventually decided against awarding the $1,000 needed to fund the project. In 1936, Thomas Gannon gave the city a strip of land on Gallows Hill to build a memorial on. The city accepted the gift but never built the memorial.
Decades later, in April of 1986, the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Committee was founded to prepare for the 300th anniversary of the trials in 1992. One of the major goals for the committee was to finally build a memorial dedicated to the Salem Witch Trials.
In 1991, the committee held an international competition to help find a design for the memorial. They received 246 entries and ultimately chose Smith and Cutler’s design.
The official plans for the current Salem Witch Trials Memorial were announced during a ceremony at the Essex Institute on November 14, 1991.
During the ceremony, playwright Arthur Miller made a speech and read from the last act of his play The Crucible, which was inspired by the Salem Witch Trials.
The granite used to build the memorial came from an abandoned New Hampshire quarry. The project cost $100,000 which was funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The memorial was officially dedicated on August 5, 1992. At the dedication ceremony, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Weisel made a speech explaining how the hatred and injustice that occurred in the Salem Witch Trials still exists today, according to an article in the Washington Post from September, 1992:
“This is the same theme on which Elie Wiesel touched in a public address at Salem last month. The Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate had come before the markers of the witch memorial to do for the victims of the trials what Lincoln did for the Civil War dead at Gettysburg: to consecrate and remember, to explain their legacy in American life. ‘If I can’t stop all of the hate all over the world in all of the people, I can stop it in one place within me,’ he said. He spoke of the Los Angeles riots and the ethnic violence in the Balkans, acknowledging that ‘we still have our Salems.’”
Since the location of the victim’s graves remain unknown, the memorial also serves as a place for visitors, as well as the victim’s many descendants, to pay their respects to the victims.
Visitors often leave flowers, cards and notes for the victims on their individual benches. The victims honored at the memorial are:
George Jacobs, Sr,
In 2012, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial underwent a $120,000 restoration project. The stone walls were repaired, light fixtures were installed and the grounds were landscaped to restore the memorial back to the way it looked in 1992.
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial was rededicated in a ceremony held on September 9, 2012. The designers of the memorial, Smith and Cutler, attended the ceremony and a keynote speech was given by author, actor and U.S. marine Greg Allen Williams, who was honored for his role in saving the life of a Japanese man during the L.A. riots of 1992.
Other Salem Witch Trials Memorials:
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial isn’t the only memorial in the Salem area dedicated to the witch trials. Another memorial, called the Salem Village Witchcraft Victim’s Memorial, is located at Hobart Street in Danvers, which used to be a part of Salem in 1692.
This memorial in Danvers was also built in 1992, and is located right across the street from the former site of the Salem Village meetinghouse.
The memorial, built by the Witchcraft Tercentennial Committee of Danvers, features a granite Colonial pulpit on a broken chain of shackles and an eight-foot-high wall with the names and testimony of the victims.
There is also now another witch trials memorial currently in the works in Salem. In January 2016, Proctor’s Ledge was confirmed as the location of the Salem Witch Trials executions and the city began plans to build a small memorial there, which will be unveiled in 2017 on the 325th anniversary of the witch trials. Funds are currently being raised to build the memorial and officials are seeking input from residents about the memorial’s design.
Since Proctor’s Ledge is an undeveloped area surrounded by residential homes and no memorial currently exists there yet, city officials urge visitors not to go there for now and instead suggest they visit the Salem Witch Trials Memorial on Liberty Street.
For more information about historical places in Salem, check out my article on Salem Historical Sites and Locations.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial:
Address: Liberty Street, Salem, Mass
Hours: open 24 hours
Salem Village Witchcraft Victim’s Memorial:
Address: 176 Hobart Street, Danvers, Mass
Hours: open 24 hours
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