In Salem, Massachusetts, there is, at first glance, a normal rock ledge at the bottom of a steep hill. However, this piece of rock represents a piece of history as the location of the infamous Gallow’s Hill, where 19 innocent people were executed after being convicted of witchcraft in 1692. Recently, it has been established that the rock ledge at the bottom of Gallow’s Hill is the exact site of the hangings: Proctor’s Ledge. The Salem Witch Trials are arguably one of the most well-known hysteria-spurred events, which began in June of 1692 when a group of young girls insisted they were possessed by the devil. Because the Salem community consisted almost uniformly of Puritans, who practiced their religion in a very strict and regimented fashion, a hysteria of fear soon followed, facilitating the eventual mass hangings. The young girls who instigated the series of events blamed their possession on a local woman by the name of Bridget Bishop. Bishop was the first to be hung at Proctor’s Ledge, to be later followed by the 18 others.
Unitl very recently, the exact location where the hanging of the accused witches in the Salem Witch Trials was unknown. In the early 1900’s, Sidney Perley conducted extensive research utilizing the recorded history in court documents, concluding in the end that the hangings occurred at the bottom of Gallow’s Hill. In her research she found that it had been recorded numerous times that the accused were taken to the hill by cart; after all, some of the victims were elderly or sick from the harsh prison conditions. The entire Gallow's Hill was far too steep and rocky for carts to be taken to the peak or even halfway along the slope. Thus, the only plausible site was Proctor's Ledge. Her research was solid in and of itself, but it lacked the evidence that modern technology could provide. Years later, seven researchers utilized not only Perley’s research, but also tools such as ground radars, aerial photographs, and maps. Their findings fully supported the research done by Perley, and it was consequently confirmed that Proctor’s Ledge was the spot of the executions of the Salem Witch Trials.
Upon hearing of this discovery, the city planned to memorialize the 19 victims of the witch trials. They currently are seeking funding from the Community Preservation Act to assist them in installing a plaque and cleaning up the area of Proctor’s Ledge for tourists. As of now, the ledge is hard to recognize and its terrible history is hidden by a line of houses. There is a large tree by Proctor’s Ledge that is believed to have been used for the hangings, contrary to the popular belief that a gallows existed in Salem.
The Salem witch trials will always be recognized as a tragic occurrence in American history. Not only were 19 people hung during the trials, but five others died in the harsh prison conditions while awaiting their brutal end. Some research has also provoked the idea that the witch trials were a form of class warfare created and puppetteered by the rich as another method to restrain the poor and keep them limited to their current social and economic standing, with almost all of the victims found to be extremely poor and often ambitious. Obviously, the accused were completely innocent, and the Puritan community even recognized this fact after the hysteria subsided in September of 1692. Proctor’s Ledge serves as a reminder to the fallen victims. Hopefully, the city’s aspirations will be realized and funding will be awarded to establish the location as a memorial, and will live on as a lesson to all Americans.