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New look for old Salem cemetery

Salem’s oldest cemetery, the Charter Street Burial Ground, is embarking on an improvement project.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

SALEM — The centuries-old Charter Street Burial Ground, which includes the graves of Salem witch trial judges, is on its way to getting a rejuvenated face.

Changes to the 1.47-acre cemetery will feature new pathway circulation, lighting, landscaping, signage, fence repairs, and access improvements. It recently received $600,000 in grants to make the improvements, according to Erin Schaeffer, manager of the project.

Last year, eight damaged headstones and 15 markers were repaired after the cemetery received a $90,000 grant and now it is time to improve their setting, said Kim Driscoll, mayor of Salem.

“These are important upgrades,” she said.

Among those buried in the cemetery are judges Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, who presided over witch trials in the late 1600s.


“The purpose of this restoration project is to retain the burying ground’s historic integrity while maintaining visitor access to [the site],” said Schaeffer.

The work will start this winter, she said.

Driscoll said the cemetery draws many tourists — about 6,000 a year — and the improvements could spark an increase in visitors.

On Wednesday morning, many tourists were strolling around the cemetery.

Kurt Sporrer , from Suwanee, Ga., said he visits cemeteries wherever he travels because he believes it’s an important way to learn history.

“You read a headstone and you never know if you’ll recognize a name that could be a distant relative, who knows,” he said, “The dates are the most stunning.”

Sporrer has seen his hometown cemeteries damaged by vandals, and he doesn’t want to see that happen to the Charter Street cemetery.

“Our history needs to be protected, without a doubt,” he said.

Like Sporrer, Hannah Keeler from Indiana, loves the rich sense of history she finds in such cemeteries and what we can learn from that history to apply to the present day.


“I think it’s something so relevant to us today, and even though we’re not prosecuting witches we always find something or someone else to prosecute,” she said “ Whether it be based on someone’s race or someone’s sexuality.”

Allana J. Barefield can be reached at allana.barefield@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Allana_B18.