By Alan Burke
---- — SALEM — Twenty years after its original dedication, hundreds gathered yesterday to rededicate the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.
The event followed a careful restoration of the simple but moving enclosure, a stone wall graced with 20 benches, marked with the names of each of those executed during the witchcraft madness of 1692.
The entrance of the space includes, carved into stones on the ground, the words of the victims professing their innocence, words often deliberately cut off to signify the injustice of trials. Each was convicted of having made common cause with the devil.
“Oh Lord help me,” said Rebecca Nurse of Danvers. “It is false.”
The elderly Nurse, like all but one of the condemned, was hanged. Giles Corey was pressed to death.
“The memorial represents the least we can do to honor and pay tribute to those who lost their lives,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said.
The mayor alluded to those who now come to Salem seeking the occult shops and attractions that have sprung up as a result of the city’s association with witchcraft. Likewise, she noted that the name Salem brings winking recognition all over the world.
But this space offers a place for reflection and a much deeper sense of what the trails mean, Driscoll said. She warned against “the terrible events that can occur when a small number of people are allowed to dominate and oppress the others.”
The memorial is off Charter Street and adjacent to the cemetery containing the remains of John Hathorne, one of the judges. After an estimated 6 million visitors, it had begun to show signs of age. A $120,000 restoration was begun last June, led by the original stonemason, Hayden Hillsgrove, who attended.
Some additional work is slated to continue over the winter months.
Yesterday’s gathering took place under an enormous tent in the nearby parking lot. Organizer Patty MacLeod, one of those who got the memorial built in the first place, celebrated the clear blue skies.
Also speaking was
GregAlan Williams, who won the first Salem Award, an honor inaugurated when the memorial was first dedicated in 1992 on the 300th anniversary of the trials. The Salem Award is given to those who keep alive the lesson of the witch trials by encouraging tolerance.
It’s an award, organizer Meg Twohey said, “inspiring each of us to stand up against injustice.”
Williams, a retired U.S. Marine, came to national prominence during the Los Angeles race riots of 1992 when he plunged into a vicious mob to rescue a man who had been hauled from his vehicle at Florence and Normandie avenues. The victim, of Korean descent, was in the process of being beaten to death.
Williams, an actor, speaks in a deep, commanding voice. He discussed both the innocent victims and the guilty in Salem, while declining to place all the blame on the leaders. Rather, he decried the silence of the community that often precedes such tragedies, “from Bergen-Belsen to Boston ... from the Trail of Tears to the blacklist, from Cambodia to Florence and Normandie.”
When he finished speaking, Williams moved the audience to its feet by singing, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.”
Meanwhile, a bell tolled as descendants of the victims laid rosemary on the stones of their ancestors. And it might speak to the lessons posed by such events to note that some of those descending from the victims are also descended from their persecutors.
“A black tide of fear washed over Salem,” said Linda McConchie, the city’s tourism director in 1992. People murdered their neighbors. “The devil has been raised among us,” she quoted the Rev. Samuel Parris.
The event opened with Salem High School’s a cappella group, WitchPitch? singing the John Lennon song “Imagine.” Wiccans laid a wreath of flowers. Also attending was Maggie Smith, who designed the memorial along with Jim Cutler.