Salem, one of many town facts revealed during the an evening walking tour. At the end of the path, behind the museum, across the street, is a bear-brown seventeenth century home, and just behind the house, is the Witch Trial Memorial.
Honestly, I don’t know what I was expecting. Standing at the entry of the memorial, I felt underwhelmed. It sat in shadows. The morning light had yet to cross over to illuminate the large rectangle “park” bounded by stone walls with stone slab “benches” and thick-trunked trees. The “benches” probably weren’t intended for sitting. They jutted defiantly from the wall, each paying tribute to one of the twenty victims. In the center, a long, narrow patch of grass and thinner trees stretched the length of the “park.” Its design was simple, Puritan Plain. Before stepping over the threshold, I read some of the quotes, words the victims voiced during the trials, carved into the granite. Some ran under the start of the stone wall, which was tiered, like steps going up to the gallows. I entered on the right side. Normally observant, I failed to notice the descending date order on the benches. During the walking tour, Bewitched After Dark, I would learn the “proper” entry was to the left, starting with the first hanging victim, Bridget Bishop, on June 10, 1692, and ending with the final victim, Samuel Wardwell, on September 22, 1692.
I apologized and asked their forgiveness. It didn’t matter that centuries lay between us.The stone wall from the right wrapped around to start the back wall, but an iron-spike fence replaced it until the last two or three feet, at which point the grey stones once again stood guard over the benches down the right side.
Just over the wall was the Old Burying Point cemetery. I took several minutes to soak in the scene, appreciating the “golden hour” morning light Long shadows sprawled across the grass and up the ancient oak trees.
The next bench in my reverse chronological viewing order was John Proctor’s. I’m not a dramatic person. Nor do I typically feel strong emotions while visiting historical sites. With Giles and Martha, I felt a warm literary friendship. I expected the same with Mr. Proctor. I did not expect to feel a crushing weight of regret and guilt.
Confession: I got sentimental. Tears threatened. My upper ribs clawed into my lungs. The pain spasmed in my diaphragm and an empty pit opened below my sternum. I felt comfortable with the Coreys, but why this gasp with Proctor? Inexplicably, I felt a genetic bond with him. The tears did not fall, but my mood greyed to somber. If I habeen alive 326 years ago, could I have stood by my values the same as John Proctor? Would I have accused or been accused? Am I any better a person than his accusers? Can I be as brave and principled as he was?
I lingered. I didn’t want to desert him. I promised to return.
Near the left entry, I chatted with Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Good, the second and third victims. I vowed to come back the next day with flowers.
Perhaps my first experience of the Witch Hanging Memorial needed to be in reverse chronological order. When I turned the corner and met John Proctor, time compressed. I felt no distance between me and the twenty human beings honored in this space. I had made nineteen new friends and met a “family member.” Nay, we were all family now. The least I could do was provide flowers. In the face of twenty-first century injustices, the best I can do is to aspire to be as brave, outspoken, and principled as they were.
Author's Note: This trip to Salem was taken June 8 and 9, 2018.
I'm a Chicago-born baby raised in Connecticut with a two-year diversion in Beirut, Lebanon. As an adult, I'm a nomad having lived in New York; Connecticut; London, England; (back to) Connecticut; Ohio; and now Florida. I have traveled by foot, by bike, by air, by car, by motorcycle, by boat, and by train. I remain constantly curious about the world.