Nestled snugly in Essex county in Massachusetts is where you’ll find our next cemetery of note. This little town was first settled by Roger Conant in 1626. The town used to serve as one of the largest shipping ports in “the New World”, but it is more notably remembered for something darker that happened in 1692. Our next stop is a little cemetery called “Burying Point” in Salem, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
It’s difficult to imagine the sheer hysteria of the witch trials, but this little tourist town isn’t shy of its dark past. In fact, they’re happy to tell you the story of the Salem Witch Trials in one of the many museums within walking distance of Essex Street. Though, the most acclaimed is a live-action performance of a Witch trial adapted from the 1692 historical transcripts at the Witch Dungeon Museum.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it started with the Reverend Parris’ Daughter Betty and Niece Abigail. The two children began to act oddly and, when asked to examine them, Dr. Griggs could find nothing out of sorts. The two girls continued to throw themselves upon the floor in fits, bark like dogs and swear the Devil was after them– this among other odd behavior was soon replicated and expanded upon by other children in the village until the day one of the children claimed that some of the villagers were witches and had cast spells upon them. The accusations soon began to fly.
Children began to accuse neighbors. To save themselves, the accused would claim they were under the spell of another witch who would then be named. Soon, neighbors were accusing neighbors because it was an easy way to get rid of a nosy or annoying neighbor or even to obtain coveted land or possessions. Thirteen months later, 156 people had been accused of witchcraft. Two dogs and nineteen people were hanged, and one man, Giles Cory, was pressed to death. The hysteria came to a sudden stop shortly thereafter and the accused were released save the executed twenty.
If you’re truly interested in the story of the Witch Trials, I recommend reading the 1953 play by Arthur Miller titled “The Crucible”, which was written during the Red Scare, when people were being accused of being communists. The play gives great insight to how things escalated beyond the point of no return. If you’re not the sort for reading, but prefer movies instead, you’re in luck “The Crucible” is also a movie.
The cemetery has little itself to do with the Salem Witch Trials– most of the 19 people who were hanged were buried in unmarked graves near where they were strung up to die. Two of the hanged, Rebecca Nurse and George Jacobs, were interred on the Rebecca Nurse Homestead. Though there is one person of note connected to the Witch Trials who is buried in Salem’s Burying Point– Judge John Hathorne, “The Witch Hanging Judge”.
Judge Hathorne’s headstone is worn from hundreds of years of battling the elements and possibly having been rubbed, back when grave rubbing was allowed, but you can still read the inscription:
HERE LYES INTERD
Ye BODY OF COLO JOHN
AGED 76 YEARS
WHO DIED MAY Ye 10TH
On an interesting side-note, classical author Nathaniel Hawthorne is a direct relation to Judge Hathorne. Though, the author added the “w” to his name to further distance himself from the marred reputation of “The Witch Hanging Judge” and the family name. Though, you can still find relations to Judge Hathorne. In fact, as per custom of the time, families were interred near one another. You can find the rest of the old Hathorne family buried in juxtaposition to the judge.
Though grave rubbings are prohibited in this cemetery, it’s not without it’s photographic charm. The grounds are extremely well kept and the headstones are in good repair. Though age has cracked and felled some of the stones, they’ve been mended as best as possible. The cemetery also has a plaque where one would find graves of the more notable citizens of Salem to guide the inquisitive visitor quickly to the proper headstone. The Burying Point is a small cemetery with only 347 entries for the site, but it is one of the oldest best kept cemeteries in the United States.
If you’re interested in viewing some of the cemetery’s headstones, a photographer has graciously placed images of the headstones on a website for your viewing. Please honor the artist’s request and copyright laws so we can continue to view these wonderful images online. http://www.gravematter.com/cem-ma-salem.asp
Related Stories at Witching Hour: (Updated 5-12-2011)
* Hawthorne Hotel
* In The Name of God I Condemn Thee To Death: The Salem Witch Trials
* Cemetery Series: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – Concord, MA
I find it interesting that this whole thing was begun by children. I have to wonder what their motivation might’ve been. It would be interesting to know if any child psychologists have ever thought of studying this part of history.
It’s no different than what goes on here, now-a-days. Kids accuse people of child abuse all the time… I know someone who was fired from their teaching job because some kid said she brought beer to a party full of minors. There was no evidence for the kids, but evidence this person wasn’t lying. The school believed them anyway.