The Salem Witch Trials Memorial ― Remembering Those Lost in 1692

In 1692, led by the hysterical accusations of a handful of bored Puritan teenage girls, over one hundred and fifty innocent men and women were accused and imprisoned under the charge of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Of those, twenty-nine went to trial and all were found guilty. It was a true kangaroo court: The girls came to court to accuse their ‘tormentors’ and would often throw hysterical fits, claiming to see the spectral evidence of the devil, sent by the accused to attack them. If a verdict of not guilty was handed down, the testimony from the girls would simply continue until the jury could comfortably settle on a guilty verdict. From June to September of 1692, twenty innocents were publically executed under the pronouncement that they were witches, and at least another five perished due to the deplorable conditions of imprisonment in the witches’ dungeon.

All the victims except Giles Corey were hung at Gallows Hill; he was pressed to death. The law of the time demanded that your lands would be forfeit as soon as a plea of guilty or not guilty was entered for the charge of witchcraft. Knowing he would likely die, and in order to ensure that his lands were passed down to his family, Corey refused to enter any plea. The magistrates attempted to force a plea from him by strapping him under a wide plank or door and adding hundreds of pound of rocks to crush him into an admission. The story is told that Giles Corey remained silent for three days, slowly being crushed to death. His final words were simply ‘more weight’. After he died, his lands passed on to his children.

Was witchcraft really involved? Were these men and women tried for practicing the old Celtic traditions of the Goddess? No, the accused were all devout Christians, but the prevalent fear of the time that Satan actively walked the earth among them fueled the panic. Laurie Cabot, the official Witch of Salem puts it best when she describes the hysteria as “what can happen to a Christian community that succumbs to an irrational fear of the devil and projects this evil image onto members of the community”.

When the hysteria died down following the final deaths in September of 1692 and the close of the regional trials in 1693, calls for justice came from the community and petitions were filed to reverse the convictions of those who were convicted but not yet executed. Those who were still imprisoned were released and the community returned to normal. Years later, Ann Putnum, one of the girls involved in the hysteria, gave a public apology, stating that she had been deluded by Satan into denouncing innocent victims.

In 1992, on the three-hundredth anniversary of the trials, the City of Salem opened the Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park as a tribute the twenty victims killed in 1692. It is located adjacent to the historic Old Burying Point on Charter Street, where Jonathan Corwin and John Hawthorne, judges in the Salem Witch Trials, are buried. The park consists of a large area of open green space, surrounded on three sides by a granite wall. Six locust trees grace the center area, chosen intentionally as they are the last to flower in the spring and the first to lose their leaves in the fall, representing the stark injustice of the trials. Twenty cantilevered stone benches, one for each victim, encircle the park.

The entranceway to the memorial is carved with quotes from the victims, all emphatically stating their innocence and crying out to their God for help. Many of the quotes are abruptly cut short, just like those twenty lives.

Remembrances for the victims are left by visitors and members of the community alike ― fresh and dried flowers, candles, corn husk dolls, wreaths and hand written notes. The presence of the witchcraft community is felt as well. Pictured above is a crystal surrounded by small circle of charged herbs and flowers; this is a token from the very active witchcraft community of Salem.

A fresh red carnation lay on Rebecca Nurse's bench along with a florist’s card that read ‘In loving memory, from your great... granddaughter’ and a signature. It’s amazing to think that over 300 years later, relatives of those slain during the hysteria still come to remember them.

This park is also the centerpiece of the annual Samhain (Halloween) candlelight vigil and ceremony of the witchcraft community within Salem, the park being large enough to accommodate a circle of several hundred people. Each Samhain, a time when they consider the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, members of the community gather to celebrate and remember those that have gone before them, surrounded by the memory of those who were wrongly accused and executed.

In remembrance:

Bridget Bishop, hanged on June 10, 1692

Sarah Good, hanged on July 19, 1692

Rebecca Nurse, hanged on July 19, 1692

Susannah Martin, hanged on July 19, 1692

Elizabeth How, hanged on July 19, 1692

Sarah Wilds, hanged on July 19, 1692

George Burroughs, hanged on August 19, 1692

John Proctor, hanged on August 19, 1692

John Willard, hanged on August 19, 1692

George Jacobs, Sr., hanged on August 19, 1692

Martha Carrier, hanged on August 19, 1692

Giles Corey, pressed to death on September 19, 1692

Martha Corey, hanged on September 22, 1692

Mary Eastey, hanged on September 22, 1692

Alice Parker, hanged on September 22, 1692

Ann Pudeater, hanged on September 22, 1692

Margaret Scott, hanged on September 22, 1692

Wilmott Reed, hanged on September 22, 1692

Samuel Wardwell, hanged on September 22, 1692

Mary Parker, hanged on September 22, 1692

A Return Trip to Salem and Boston

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post entitled The Kindness of Strangers When Researching Your Novel that I’d like to expand on. In that post, I talked about the how the contacts I made while researching my first novel (prior to actually writing it) made all the difference in how that manuscript turned out.

I learned my lesson well from that trip and planned this summer’s family vacation around a second trip to Massachusetts, this time with my daughters in tow (my poor husband got stuck at home...). It was a real pleasure to be able to show them an area that I’ve loved since I was their age, but, more than that, it was great to be able to involve them in my novel planning. Writing takes a huge amount of my time, so if they can be involved in the process, it makes it a more enjoyable experience for all of us. There’s nothing better than being boots-on-the-ground in the places I’m writing about to achieve that.

But this trip ended up being about more than just my work-in-progress. Through the kindness of my contact at Boston University, Dr. Tara Moore, I was able to get into their forensic anthropology labs to talk to the researchers and instructors there about their current research, their body farm program that is just getting off the ground, and the trials and tribulations of being involved with law enforcement.


In a marathon four-hour session, we met with the retired FBI agent who teaches their crime scene courses at Boston University, the neurobiologist who now works as a forensic anthropologist/osteologist, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services lab in Boston, and the State Police liaison with the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office. The information I learned applies to the entire series and was pure gold in terms of writing their world correctly. To top it off, my youngest daughter (those are her hands, above, holding the skull) was offered a position next summer sorting bones for a week, which she would love to do. Lucky kid... what an offer for a grade nine student!

We met with the Salem Fire Department, laying the ground work for much of the fire investigation in our work-in-progress. Ann and I are already working with our California fire contact, Captain Lisa Giblin, however, we wanted to make sure that our protocols were firmly east coast vs. west coast ― getting into the fire department ensured that. We met with many members of the department; everyone was very friendly and willing to share their own personal knowledge.



We toured the sites in Salem that will be used for scenes in the book as well. As a visual writer, getting pictures of places I want to write about is absolutely crucial. Google Earth is great, but this is the kind of detail that I really need.

Our biggest adventure was when we attempted to cross the salt marsh on the Essex coast. This site plays a major role in DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, but when I visited two years ago, I didn’t actually enter the marsh as I was on my own and was worried I might get into trouble. Well, this was an eye opener. The marsh looks so pretty, but try to cross it and you can get into some major trouble very quickly. Both myself and my older daughter had to be pulled free from the very deep, sucking mud in the Essex River channels, and when we finally admitted defeat after over a half hour later, it was to emerge bloody from marsh saw grasses, covered with greenhead fly bites and literally covered up to our knees in mud. It's a beautiful and tranquil area... and is incredibly treacherous!



It was a great trip and I made some fantastic new contacts that will really go a long way in writing this new manuscript. There are a few things I’d like to tweak with the currently submitted manuscript, but it’s all good and just adds richness to the detail already there. A big thanks to both of my daughters for being the best traveling companions a gal could ask for, and as well to my oldest daughter, Jess, who was my official photographer on the trip.

Next week, I’d like to talk about Salem, specifically about the new memorial they’ve built there in memory of the 20 innocent victims killed in the 1692 witch trials. They did a really wonderful job, so much so that I think it deserves its own blog post. So, more to come next week...

Photo credit Jess Newton