As a child of New England, I'm a little too familiar with the terrifying events that established the region as a supernatural haven for horror buffs and paranormal researchers. If anywhere in the United States is haunted, I'm convinced it's the Northeast.
One of the most well-known and sinister events to occur there is, of course, the Salem Witch Trials, also known as The Great Witch Craze. From 1692 to 1693, more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, and ultimately an estimated 19 were horrifically executed by hanging on one deadly hill.
The story of horrifying injustice wrapped up in otherworldly accusations has dominated the public imagination for over three centuries. People all over the country and even the world consider the Salem Witch Trials a major historical moment, so I was shocked to discover that the location publicized as "Gallows Hill"—the eerie and supposedly official site of the hangings—is almost certainly incorrect.
As I was scanning the internet for more information, I came across one Salem enthusiast who may hold the answers. Daniel V. Boudillion has helped reveal the real location of "Gallows Hill," and it's nothing like the tourist destination that I expected.
Brief history of events
The Great Witch Craze actually began in Europe almost 100 years before Salem, with an estimated 40,000 people executed. The trials in Salem began after three women were accused of cursing several young girls, leading them to have fits of screaming, aggression, and physical contortions. It was thought that witches were granted black magic from the Devil, No one knows for sure what caused the girls' symptoms, but this one case kicked off a yearlong hysteria that led to at least 20 deaths.
The first trial may not have turned into a full-blown craze, but one of the first three women accused, a Caribbean slave named Tituba, confessed to making a deal with the Devil. She described in detail apparitions of black dogs, red cats, and yellow birds that came to her. She even went on to claim she signed a book from a "black man" and proclaimed that Salem was home to other witches looking to destroy the Puritans.
Unsurprisingly, a claim like that kicked off the witch hunt, and the resulting hangings occurred on Gallows Hill, also known as Witch Hill or Witchcraft Hill. The term Gallows Hill is actually a misnomer because the hangings always took place on the branches of a tree, and there's no record of gallows being used. Based on historical records, the accused were transported to the top of the hill using a cart, and some of their families were able to remove the dangling bodies by taking a waterway. These may seem like trivial facts, but they lead to a major oversight in Salem.
The supposedly "official" location
The official Gallows Hill was designated by Rev. Charles Upham in 1867, but even he admits that there's no record of the hangings taking place there. It seems that the community became so ashamed of the mass paranoia and what was essentially mass murder that they suffered from "collective amnesia." When Upham suggested that one hill in the are was the historical site, no one really questioned him. As a result, today the place is widely considered to be Gallows Hill, as indicated by Gallows Hill Park right next door.
However, as Boudillion reports, this hill is much too steep for people to be transported by cart. Additionally, the closest body of water is a quarter mile away, making it extremely unlikely that someone could easily reach this place by canal. The place we've been instructed to believe is simply just does not line up with fact.
The real hill
With some extensive research, Boudillion was able to find records of another researcher named Sidney Perly, who made an argument for the location of the true hill in 1933. Knowing the hangings needed to be performed outside of town (as specified by the trial's magistrates), he located a hill just outside of town that appears to stack up as the real location.
This hill (so overlooked that it is unnamed) can be easily accessed by cart and, at the time of the hangings, there was a large bay allowing canoe travel. Plus, the hill was home to many large trees, while Gallows Hill was reported to have soil untenable for growing much of anything. If there were no gallows constructed, trees would have needed to be used.
Now here's the creepiest part: when Boudillion visited Perley's site, it's right in the middle of the modern Salem. In fact, it's right behind the town Walgreens!
The hangings occurred on a hill that overlooks the Walgreens parking lot, and it's located in someone's backyard. That means that for all the people mindlessly picking up their prescriptions are right next to the site of the most famous event in their hometown. And they don't even realize it!
Moreover, it's right behind someone's unassuming house, and they probably don't even know! At this location multiple centuries ago, one of the craziest moments in this country's history occurred, and no one is any the wiser.
Plus, not only can you easily visit this location, it looks just like any other unremarkable forest in the Northeast.
If they're able to sell one location as the "real" Gallows Hill, how many other places are just tourist traps with no attachment to the actual supernatural events? For those who believe in hauntings, isn't it a little daring to not properly recognize where these people died? Should we really be taking chances when Tituba could just be biding her time?
I'm just saying, if this Walgreens starts turning up unexplainable possessions, I think we know who to blame.
Do you think this small hill should be reclaimed as a public site of remembrance, or is it less scary to simply overlook it?