Charter Street Cemetery will be closed for restoration work June 1-October 2020 for landscape restoration and improvements including the installation of new pathways, lighting and perimeter fencing, and restoration of the iron fencing along Charter Street and the retaining wall along Liberty Street. During this time the City plans to publish information and images regarding the cemetery at preservingsalem.com.
Charter Street Cemetery is Salem’s oldest cemetery, founded in 1637. The earliest New England grave markers were made of wood, and following English custom the graves were once marked with “coffin rails”. While these wooden markers have deteriorated over time, the upcoming restoration work seeks to further preserve the cemetery’s headstones and tombs, many of which are made out of slate. There are also sandstone markers, schist, and a few marble markers that can be seen in Charter Street Cemetery today.
If your visit to Salem falls outside of the planned restoration period, visitors are asked to treat the graves with respect and appreciation due to their age and solemnity. While Charter Street Cemetery is closed, you may be interested in exploring Salem’s other historic cemeteries. While visiting, please remember that gravestone rubbing is not permitted in any of Salem’s historic cemeteries, and it is important to stay on marked paths and avoid leaning, standing, or pushing on graves and tombs. FAQs and guidelines for Charter Street Cemetery are available here.
To reflect on the events of 1692, we recommend visiting the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. While Charter Street Cemetery is closed, the adjacent Memorial will remain open and fully accessible. Symbolically located behind the cemetery, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial is a place of reflection and remembrance for visitors and descendants of those who were condemned in 1692. The Memorial features a three-sided granite wall behind a stone threshold inscribed with the victims’ protests of innocence that are cut off mid-sentence by the wall symbolizing society’s indifference to oppression. Open year-round (and throughout the Charter Street Cemetery restoration), the Memorial is open from dawn till dusk and is handicapped accessible and appropriate for all ages.
Note that the innocent people who were accused of witchcraft are not buried in Charter Street Cemetery or beneath the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. Due to their accusations and beliefs at the time, they were not given Christian burials and their bodies were cast into a pit or shallow grave near the gallows. Family histories share that some people came back under the dark of night to claim their relatives’ bodies and give them unmarked graves at their own homes.
Charter Street Cemetery is the final resting place of John Hathorne (d. 1717), who was one of the judges during the Salem Witch Trials and an ancestor to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although not directly involved in the Trials, the grave of Mary Corry (d. 1684), first wife of Giles Corey who was accused and pressed to death for not entering a plea, is also in Charter Street Cemetery.
Click here to view our guide to visiting Salem’s historic cemeteries and to learn about New England cemetery symbolism ahead of your next trip to the region.
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