Late by several days due to inattention, but let’s note here June 25 was the 103rd anniversary of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. The fire began with the explosion of the Korn leather tanning factory at 57 Boston St in the Blubber Hollow region of the Gallows Hill Neighborhood, just underneath the now famous Proctor’s Ledge, the spot where 19 innocents were hung for accusations of witchcraft through the summer of 1692.
The 1914 fire soon after it started
In this photo, taken from the vantage point on a tannery on Goodhue St shortly after the fire began, the flames have already spread east along Boston St., pushed along by a stiff wind. Soon the flames would jump across Boston St, taking out the factories and houses in the middle of the photo. Hours later the conflagration would only subside when it reached Salem harbor, after taking out about a third of Salem, razing 1376 buildings and leaving 18,000 homeless. The tanneries in the right foreground were untouched, protected by the stiff wind pushing flames in the other direction. In the photo the position of Proctor’s Ledge is already obscured by heavy smoke.
The site of the Korn Leather Factory in the 21st century is occupied by a Walgreen’s Pharmacy, seemingly oblivious to its central position in local history, a monument dedicated to the Great Fire in one corner of the parking lot, and a new monument dedicated to those executed in 1692 catty-cornered across the lot.
Squeezed out of its tight quarters in Peabody Square, in early July the African Variety and Gift store is moving down the street to a more spacious place at 107 Boston St along Gallows Hill, replacing a defunct karate studio. The store offers African DVDs and CDs, art and painting, hair extension & beauty supplies, clothing for men and women, handmade sandals and handbags (example pictured), and more native crafts.
This type of specialty store, where shopping is a joy and not a bore, is exactly what the commercial corridor of Gallows Hill needs more of, as versus yet another cheap chain store that already crowd the neighborhood. With the concurrent opening of the Artisan Bakery a block up Boston St, and the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial a block down, perhaps the hipness of Gallows Hill is ramping up. Then again, the recent closure of Nightingale Arts across Boston St diminishes the shopping appeal of the neighborhood.
Over the summer the Salem State Social Justice Institute is holding three events called Thursdays in July on social injustice, past and current. The 2nd one on July 20 is of real interest to readers of this blog, as it will cover the significance and role of the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial on Pope St, which will have been dedicated the day before, July 19 (unfortunately at the inconvenient hour of 12 noon).
Cobbed from the Salem State web site:
In recognition of the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, the Proctor’s Ledge Symposium on July 20 will feature the Gallows Hill Project team who recently confirmed the location where 19 people were hanged for witchcraft 325 years ago. The [star-studded] panel: Emerson “Tad” Baker, professor of history at Salem State University; Elizabeth Peterson, director of Salem’s Corwin House, The Witch House; Tom Phillips, director and producer of Salem Witch Hunt: Examine the Evidence; Marilynne Roach , witch trials author [The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege] and historian; Benjamin Ray, professor of religion at the University of Virginia.
The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 pm Thursday July 20 at the National Park Service Visitor Center, 2 New Liberty St in Salem MA.
The City of Salem has announced that the dedication of the Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial will take place on Pope Street on Wednesday, July 19, at noon. Details of the ceremony to be released at a later date.
On July 19, 1692, the first of three mass executions took place at the site, when five innocent individuals were hanged: Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes. The dedication ceremony on July 19 is free and open to all who wish to attend and pay their respects.
The City of Salem proclaims June 10 as a Day of Remembrance. It was June 10 1692, 325 years ago, that Bridget Bishop was hung on Proctor’s Ledge, the first of 25 to die in the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
The text of the official proclamation:
WHEREAS: 325 years ago on this date of June 10th in 1692 Bridget Playfer Bishop of Salem Town was wrongfully and unjustly executed for the supposed crime of witchcraft, becoming the first of 25 innocent people to die as a result of the hysteria; and
WHEREAS: All of the dozens of individuals were each wholly innocent and convicted based on spectral evidence, lies, and hysteria; and
WHEREAS: Salem continues to shine a light on its history in order that all may learn from the lessons and legacies of this city’s past; and
WHEREAS: The values of inclusivity, tolerance, open mindedness, and kindness are central to who we are as a community and are directly informed by the events of our past;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Kimberley Driscoll, Mayor of the City of Salem, do hereby proclaim June 10, 2017 as:
A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE in recognition of the tragic events that unfolded 325 years ago commencing on this date, and do call upon the residents of Salem and all places to mark this occasion with reflection on the lessons and legacies of our community’s past and with acts of kindness and generosity to strangers and neighbors alike.
It’s June 10, the original dedication date (commemorating the 325th anniversary of the hanging of Bridget Bishop) and the date of the Symposium at Salem State University. The memorial is nearly completed. The crew chief admitted that they slacked off once the opening date was postponed; if pressed could have readily completed work by now. Landscaping and lighting is in place, as is the stone floor of the monument. All that is left is to replace the sidewalk in front of the monument, and to carve the names of the unfortunately departed into the stone markers.
The tablet that some guerrilla commemorative prepared and placed on Proctor’s Ledge has gone missing. Here’s the photo of what it looked like.
Whether it blew away (it was not secured into the earth) or was taken away by the city (doubtful given disorganization of Salem’s Parks Dept) or was taken by an unscrupulous tourist wanting a dear memento (check eBay for memorial plaques on sale) is unknown.
Already it is missed. May it be hoped to reappear.
Close to finished. Curbing is completed, and landscaping is underway. The centerpiece tree is planted. The single tree is symbolic, as according to contemporary narratives the unjustly accused were hung from the branches of trees along the edge of Proctor’s Ledge. There never were any gallows, so the name Gallows Hill is a historical misnomer. Curse you Hawthorne for misnaming the hill!
Left to put in place are the flooring inside the memorial and the sidewalk along Pope St. And of course the nameplates, the last pieces to be hung.