Site Of 1692 Salem, Mass., Witchcraft Hangings Determined

Salem, Mass., Witchcraft Hangings
An engraving from an 1876 history book purports to show the 1962 Salem, Mass., witchcraft trials. Historians recently determined the site of the hangings of 19 of those accused of witchcraft. Anonymous engraving/Wikipedia

SALEM, Mass., Jan. 13 (UPI) — Historical researchers have determined the site in Salem, Mass., where 19 people accused of witchcraft in 1692 were hanged.

The witch trials of the late 17th century are noted in American history as a cautionary tale of colonial religious fervor and denial of due process of law. The accusations of witchcraft against dozens of mostly women — at least one man was also executed — is considered to be one of the most notorious cases of mass hysteria in history and as such is a touchstone in popular culture.

The specific hanging site of 19 of the accused had remained unresolved until a concerted effort to locate it began in 2010 by local historians.

The site, known as Proctor’s Ledge, was confirmed this week. It is in a wooded part of Salem at the base of a hill, surrounded by houses and with a Walgreens store overlooking it. Historians used diaries, eyewitness accounts and other primary resource materials, as well as modern mapping techniques, to pinpoint the spot of the hangings.

Although research on the trials is abundant, information on the hangings is scant. Since no scaffolding was reported, victims were likely hung from trees, said Emerson Baker, a history professor and researcher. Eyewitness accounts were studied to note the perspective of the onlooker. While many previous studies concluded the hangings were conducted at the top of the hill, the modern research indicates they were performed closer to the base.

Current Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said a modest marker would be placed at the site, noting that nearby parking and access to the area is limited.

“This is part of our history, and this is an opportunity for us to be honest about what took place,” he said.


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