Though the two cities are not all that far away, they are worlds apart. To readers here, Salem Massachusetts no doubt needs no introduction. The site of the infamous witch trials in the late 1600s has, since the 1970s, become something of an east-coast holy land for new-agers and kitchen witches, and a required destination for spiritual spectators and curiosity-seekers. Boasting rows of vendors and museums dedicated to the craft, witch decals on city vehicles, practitioners licensed by local government and even an official witch, Salem is a city like no other.
The Old Burying Point, located within an easy walk of many Salem attractions, is likewise a cemetery like no other.
Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, the Old Burying Point is – by all outward appearances – a typical old New England Cemetery, hosting final rest for some familiar names such as Colonel John Hathorne and Johnathan Corwin, judges in the Salem witch trials, and Mary Corey, first wife of Giles. It is the oldest cemetery in Salem and the second oldest cemetery in the country. It is in excellent condition for its age, and one can see that efforts are taken to maintain the grounds and repair broken stones.
Be forewarned, it has become something of a tourist trap in recent years, even providing candle-lit tours during the Fall. The ever-present commercialism, sensationalism and the sheer number of tourists at the Old Burying Point, even in the “off-season”, make it difficult to separate the true historical import from the trappings of myth and literature. It’s also pretty darn difficult to take a photo of a headstone without someone in the background!
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely worth a visit if you find yourself in Salem. There are some truly excellent stones to be found there. The Old Burying Point boasts many intricately carved motifs, from the common urns, willows and winged faces, to death’s heads and skull-and-crossbones, and even a full-body skeleton and father time replete with a scythe.
I’d give the Old Burying Point a solid 0 on the Creep Index, because of all the traffic.
If you go, bring comfortable shoes, a sense of adventure and a healthy dose of patience. Go for the theatrics, as historical research will always take second billing to the pageantry that is Salem, Massachusetts.