Salem’s Howard Street Cemetery doesn’t seem to get the same love as the Old Burying Point, despite the fact that it has a much darker history. The current location was probably just a field next to the old Salem dungeon during the witch trial hysteria, and it’s most famous now for being the location of Giles Corey’s pressing.
During the trials, over 150 people (and 2 dogs) were accused of witchcraft. If you maintained your innocence, you were most likely led to the gallows on Proctor’s Ledge. If you pleaded guilty, you might be lucky enough to live, if you survived the terrible conditions in the ‘witches’ prison’ inside the dungeon. In either case, you lost all of your property. In Giles Corey’s case, he wanted his land to go to his stepsons (his third wife was one of the accused witches), so he refused to plead either guilty or innocent. Since he refused to entry a plea, he was subject to a cruel form of torture known as peine forte et dure. Basically, a shallow pit was dug in the field next to the dungeon where he was forced to lay down face first. Then, a wooden door was placed upon him, and large heavy rocks then placed upon the door. More and more weight was added over 2 days, yet Giles refused to enter a plea. In fact, his only plea was for “more weight.” Perhaps he was playing with his accusers, or maybe he wanted the ordeal to end. He died on September 19, 1692, an 81-year old pious man firm in beliefs, after 3 days of this cruel and unusual punishment, cursing the sheriff before he did so, and his stepsons inherited his property as he wished. His wife was hanged three days later. The place where all of this happened is now the Howard Street cemetery, where Giles is buried in an unmarked grave.
There are many who claim that the cemetery is haunted, as is the jail next door (which replaced the old dungeon and is now being converted into condos (?)), and that strange things have happened to the sheriffs of the town over the years, with many who have held that office suffering from heart or chest problems. I don’t know about any of that, but it seemed a kind of desolate place to wander around, despite being surrounded by homes and a busy street below. The graves are old and spread out, and there is very little coverage from the trees on the grounds. Many of the stones are faded and hard to read.
Even though I was the only person here on my visit, it was clear that people do come here, as there are signs warning against trespassing. I guess the stories of the haunted nature of the place is attractive to a certain set of people who want to see that for themselves. For me, the history of what happened here is what’s important.
Monuments: Nothing in particular stands out, but they are interesting to wander around and read, for those that are legible.
Grounds: The cemetery is up on a hill but the grounds themselves are pretty flat. It seems to be maintained somewhat, although the grass was a little long when I was there making it difficult to see dips in the land or other minor obstacles.
Visitors: None while I was there.
Cemetery: Howard Street Cemetery
Established: Officially in 1801, although burials occurred here before then.
Notable Internments: Giles Corey,
Location: 29 Howard Street, Salem
Hours: From dawn till dusk, dusk being around 6 p.m. to be on the safe side