In a historic week for the city of Salem, Salem State University hosted its second “Thursdays in July” event, “Proctor’s Ledge Symposium,” featuring the team that worked to confirm the site where 19 people were hanged for witchcraft 325 years ago.
This event was organized by the Salem State Office of Academic Affairs and centered on the theme of social justice. It took place in conjunction with the inaugural Salem State Social Justice Institute Series, a series of weeklong academic institutes that exploring the theme of social justice.
The day before the symposium, Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, along with a crowd of residents and visitors, celebrated the dedication of a memorial located at the hanging site of Proctor’s Ledge on Wednesday, July 19, named Rebecca Nurse Day by Gov. Charlie Baker. Speakers included the Mayor and Salem State Professor and Salem Witch Trials expert Emerson “Tad” Baker, PhD.
“So from this time forward I hope that residents and visitors to Salem will treat the tragic events of 1692 with more of the respect they are due," Baker said on Wednesday. "We need less celebration in October and more commemoration and sober reflection throughout the year.”
During the Salem State event held at the National Park Service’s Salem Visitors Center, Baker echoed the same sentiment, asking for people to use Halloween as a time for educating the public on the tragic events that took place in Salem.
Along with Baker, Maryanne Roach, Salem Witch Trials historian and author, and Benjamin Ray, PhD, Professor of Religion, University of Virginia, presented and discussed their research with a crowd of 75 attendees. Working with the extensive research done by Sidney Perley in the early 20th Century, a newly uncovered first-person account, and modern day technology, the team of scholars, known as the Gallows Hill Project Team, pinpointed the exact location where the victims were hanged: between Pope and Proctor’s Streets.
Baker told the audience the question he gets the most is whether there are bodies buried on that site, and he informed the crowd that there are no bodies there. This, he said, is because family members would come to the site in the cover of darkness to take their loved ones for a proper burial.
The team thanked the neighbors surrounding Proctor’s Ledge for their patience and understanding.
The first event of the Thursdays in July series was held on July 13 with investigative journalist Mike Rezendes of the Boston Globe and documentary filmmaker Joe Cultrera. The final event in the series was “The Exonerated,” featuring Swampscott native and Salem Award Foundation recipient Anne Driscoll, along with Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle, both exonerees. The discussion will follow a film screening of The Exonerated, which tells the stories of six people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit, including Sunny.