January 14, 2016 / 12:19 AM / 2 years ago

Monument planned for suspected site of Salem witch hangings

SALEM, Mass. (Reuters) - The city of Salem, Massachusetts, plans to erect a monument near the site where historians have recently determined that 19 suspected witches were hung more than 300 years, commemorating an event that has come to define the city.

A team of academics said earlier this week they had concluded that the 19 people condemned to death in the Salem witch trials were executed near a place known as Proctor’s Ledge. The finding was the culmination of a five-year project that involved an extensive review of historical documents and the use of radar and computer-imaging technology.

Today Proctor’s Ledge is an unassuming place overlooking a drug-store parking lot. It is rocky, overgrown with spindly trees and littered with liquor bottles and trash.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said on Wednesday that it was important for the city to mark the site of the hangings. “I would say the witch trials were a very notorious part of our history, a very dark part,” she said. 

Even so, Driscoll said, the episode served as a turning point in the nation’s history, marking a transition toward a more fair and justice society. That is especially true of Salem today, she said.

“We’re a very progressive community,” she said. “We say in 1692, we turned against each other; we now turn to each other.”

Plans for the site are in their preliminary stages, and Driscoll stressed that the city would keep any memorial modest and in keeping with its location in a residential area.

The darker aspects of Salem’s history are a major draw for tourists to this seaside city, with a historic downtown that features the Salem Witch Museum and a Salem Witch Trials Memorial, as well as occult shops alongside upscale boutiques.

The site of the hangings had long been presumed to be in the area of Gallows Hill Park, just west of downtown. Proctor's Ledge is about a quarter mile outside the park.

Emerson Baker, the Salem State University professor that led the research team, said it relied on the findings of an early 20th century town historian and the witness accounts of the hangings. The researchers also used ground-penetrating radar and aerial photography.

Baker said the team did not uncover any archeological evidence of the hangings. It was highly unlikely that any bodies were buried at the site because of the shallow soil. He said the victims were likely hung from tree branches rather than gallows.

Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker

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