A community meeting held near the end of March covered plans to upgrade the Ryan Brennan Skate Park in Gallows Hill Park. A late report from this blog. According to the Salem News story
Today, the park includes just shy of 20 obstacles for skateboarders and stunt bicyclists to ride or grind on. But the years haven’t been kind to the features of the park. “Back when it was built, it was kind of what people were doing — putting cement structures on top of cement. That’s pretty much what every city did,” O’Brien said. “It isn’t a really smooth transition. You get those cracks and divisions in the cement. So obviously, over time, it has [to] become more modernized and efficient.”
The park is in memory of Ryan Brennan, a Gallows Hill teenager run over and killed while skating on Salem streets. Recognizing that an off-street skate park would be much safer, his family successfully campaigned to establish the skate park. Though the Salem News article states that the park open in 1997, the year of Ryan’s passing, it was not until 2002 that the decrepit tennis court on the site was razed and replaced. So it’s 15 years old, not 20, but showing its age nonetheless.To the side of the park, not in the photo, a playground used by the younger siblings of in-line skaters, skateboarders, and motocross bikers was erected at the same time.
The park has been vandalized time and again, and the Brennan family has had to replace the plaque of their son several times. Swing chains have been cut, replaced each by the Salem Parks Department. Activity in Gallows Hill Park in recent years has picked up, with regular softball and baseball games, youth football, basketball tourneys, cheerleader practice, and even the annual Running Dead – Zombie 5K run all enhancing activity. Perhaps the increased presence 24/7 will cut down on idle hands looking for something to break.
Originally planned for June 10 2017, the 325th anniversary of the first hanging in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, that of Bridget Bishop, who was convicted of witchcraft just days earlier on June 2 1692, the dedication has now been postponed to July, according to the Salem Department of Planning and Community Development. The likely new date is July 19, the 325th anniversary of the 2nd round of hangings, that of Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, and Rebecca Nurse. Disappointment.
Depiction of Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial
The original date of June 10 is a Saturday and would have been convenient for a large ceremony. July 19 is a Wednesday, inconveniently in the middle of the week. No reason for the delay was given. The monument itself is now more than 75% completed, and surely would have been 100% completed by June 10.
The memorial wall is done, except for the name plaques (they get put on last just before the dedication). The wall has been backfilled, and landscaping is about to start. Yet to be completed are the planter for the solitary tree, and the floor of the memorial.
A little more than two weeks until the dedication. Watch here for details about the dedication ceremony.
Although this blog focuses on the Gallows Hill Neighborhood, including Blubber Hollow and Witchcraft Heights, other parts of Salem will be highlighted from time to time as interest strikes. Taking a tour of The Point neighborhood of Salem, I was astounded by the multiple colorful huge (yuge…) murals dotting the neighborhood. The Point is the Hispanic neighborhood of Salem (barrio el punto), mostly Caribbean, densely populated and generally shunned by tourists and visitors alike due to its perceived high crime rate, and let’s face reality, due to its ethnicity, to avoid more loaded words.
But The Point was long ethnic, French-Canadian (Quebecois) drawn to the area by the promise of jobs at the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Plant, aka Pequot Mills, along the shores of The Point (quartier le point). Full of crowded tenements, the neighborhood and the adjoining Pequot Mills plant was annihilated by the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Both the housing and the plant were soon rebuilt and flourished until the New England textile industry moved lock, stock and barrel to the American South, primarily the Carolinas, a diaspora echoed decades later with the move of the American textile industry to East Asia. Pequot Mills survived and was repurposed to the mixed use Shetland Park, in operation to this day, a shining example of industrial rehabilitation and visible from anywhere along Salem Harbor. The Quebecois moved to more suburban areas and puertorriqueños and dominicanos replaced them.
A walk through the The Point is highly recommended, to take in the flavorful aromas of Caribbean cooking, to view the many flourishing ethnic storefronts and bodegas, and most of all, for the murals, several of which are posted here.
Deep in the brush of Gallows Hill Park, not visible from the baseball fields, far from the nearest homes, and even farther from Witchcraft Hanging site, is an old fire hydrant. None of the old timers who grew up on Gallows Hill have any idea why it is there, what fires it is intended to fight (brush fires?). Is it even operative? It just sits there, forlorn, untended except by homeless park residents who hang their discarded clothing about the hydrant.
Nightingale Arts of Salem – purveyor of fine jewelry, furniture, and other decorative items – has closed its door, and now the building, one of the most attractive on the Boston St corridor, is for sale. ‘Tis a pity that Nightingale could not make a go of it; with its striking paint job it added sorely needed cachet and distinction to the Blubber Hollow / Gallows Hill neighborhood. If only it could have held on longer – with the A&J King Artisan bakery opening soon across the street and the Witchcraft Trials Memorial on Proctor’s Ledge down the street also opening soon – traffic to the store was sure to jump. Best wishes to whoever purchases the building. With living quarters above the store it’s a steal listed at $310K (Zillow.com puts its value at north of $400K)
A week later and the final shape is taking form. The semi-circle is fully fitted out and about half the semi-circle is topped off. Curbstones are all in place. Left to construct are the sitting benches and the central planter that will hold one memorial tree. The tree is key, as the 19 innocents were hung not from a gallows but from trees along the top of Proctor’s Ledge.
Above is how the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial looks today. Below is an artistic representation of the finished memorial.
The masons have been busy and the stone wall to the memorial is taking shape.
The stone wall is to be a semi-circle and about a quarter of the circle is up. Look closely and you can note the flat squares where the plaques to the 19 who lost their lives here will be hung. Recent heavy rains have slowed progress (and soaked many basements of Gallows Hill homes) but all should be completed by the June 10 dedication ceremony.
Always warms the heart to see a private citizen beautify the neighborhood. For several years now, at the top of Blubber Hollow, squeezed between Bridge St and the freight railroad tracks in the ‘mud’ commuter parking lot, there have been two large concrete planters. Every few months someone there is plants seasonal flowers. The Noel plants of the winter are gone, and now there are spring blooms, pansies apparently.
Passed every day by thousands of drivers heading to the Salem Depot and downtown, few there are who notice the blooms. This blogger only noticed them because of a penchant for bicycling around. Looking forward to when the planters abound with blooms. A shout out to the mysterious Blubber Hollow gardener who tends this tiny and pointless spot amidst overgrowth and cracked asphalt!
Some concerned citizen (a descendant? a neighbor?) has taken upon himself (or herself) to lay a plaque atop Proctor’s Ledge commemorating the falsely accused who lost their lives there.
It is a simple plaque not of metal but of vinyl, handmade apparently, though kudos for etching in an ancient font and capturing the gravestone grey color. Only about a foot square, it is not embedded in the ground but simply lies in the brush besides the path across the crest of the ledge. It’s a wonder it has not flown away in a gust of wind.
It’s hard to find, not on the side where an official memorial is being constructed, but atop the escarpment facing the back of Walgreen’s.