History of the Memorial

In the spring of 1692, hundreds of people in this area were accused of practicing witchcraft, defined by the court of the time as a crime. The hysteria began in what is now Danvers, Massachusetts, and spread through communities as far north as Maine. Because the court was held in Salem Town, these events have come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials.

It is important to remember that, although the Puritans believed in witchcraft, none of the accused was actually a witch. Yet twenty people were put to death, victims of fear, superstition, and a court system that failed to protect them.

The tercentenary of the Salem Witch Trials provided a fitting occasion to create an enduring tribute to the victims of the trials and a reminder that among all people and nations a spirit of tolerance and understanding should prevail.

Designed by the architect/artist team of James Cutler and Maggie Smith, the memorial was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and has won national critical acclaim. It was dedicated on August 5, 1992, by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

Striking in its simplicity, the memorial is surrounded on three sides by a handcrafted granite wall. Inscribed in the stone threshold entering the memorial are the victims’ protests of innocence. These protests are interrupted mid-sentence by the wall, symbolizing society’s indifference to injustice. Cantilevered stone benches within the memorial perimeter bear the names and execution dates of each of the 20 victims, creating a quiet contemplative environment in which to evoke the spirit and strength of those people who chose to die rather than compromise their personal truths. An enduring tribute to the victims, the Memorial also serves as a reminder that unless we speak out against injustice, the outcome can be tragic.

Twenty years later, an estimated six million visitors had visited the Memorial, leaving it in need of a comprehensive restoration. Voices Against Injustice, in conjunction with the City of Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum, undertook this work, culminating in a rededication ceremony on September 12, 2012. Today the partnership continues, and there is a fund established to ensure the oversight and maintenance of the Memorial.

This article -- The Salem Witch Trials Memorial: Finding Humanity in Tragedy -- published in Folklife Magazine by Rachel Christ-Doan and Jill Christiansen from the Salem Witch Museum marks the 30th anniversary of the monument and provides an insightful, in depth exploration into its history and background.