The town of Salem has an odd relationship with its past. The legacy of the 1692-1693 Witch Trials brings in hundreds of visitors, is frequently referenced in pop culture, and has even been adapted to local sports team mascots. On the other hand, during this period the residents of Salem mercilessly executed 20 innocent men and women in one of the most notorious instances of public mass hysteria in United States history.
The story of the Salem Witch Trials is taught in history classes across the nation, but something less commonly chronicled is the efforts of Salem historian Sidney Perley to locate the spot where the executions actually occurred. For years, it was believed that the gallows where 19 of the victims were hanged was at the top of the aptly named Gallows Hill. Regardless, the truth was never recorded.
Perley, an accomplished historian who penned a three-volume history of Salem, believed differently. Through his research, he deduced that the victims weren’t hanged on Gallows Hill, but rather the nearby Proctor’s Ledge. Perley’s revelation was enough to persuade the town of Salem to purchase the believed spot in 1936, dubbing it “Witch Memorial Land.” Yet, the town’s decision to acquire the land seemed merely symbolic, as the spot would remain practically unknown for decades.
By the 2010s, historians confirmed Perley’s hypothesis based on archival eyewitness testimony and advanced research methods. By this time, however, Proctor’s Ledge had become a thickly settled residential area, a far cry from the sacred ground Perley had deemed it to be.
In 2016, a small memorial was constructed commemorating the lives of those murdered in the tragedy. Instead of the highly commercialized and overblown reputation witches have been given across the town, Proctor’s Ledge is a quiet attraction that respectfully remembers the people whose lives were cut short in the Salem Witch Trials.
Know Before You Go
Parking is available at the ball field/ playground at the top of the hill. Park there and walk down. It is dangerous to park or walk in the street at the memorial. Due to the memorial's close proximity to private residencies, please be respectful of those in the neighborhood.