January 11, 2016

Charter Street Cemetery - Salem, Massachusetts


The Charter Street Cemetery, also referred to as Old Burying Point, in Salem is one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. It dates back to 1639 and contains headstones for many notable figures, including two judges from the Salem Witchcraft Trials, Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, and the only marked grave of a Mayflower passenger, Richard Moore.
Old Burying Point harbors many different types of grave markers. Archaeologist James Deetz famously categorized them as Willow and Urn, Winged Death Head and Cherub.
The Winged Death Head is the oldest and most commonly represented type in this cemetery. The style is distinguished by a skull head surrounded by a set of wings and was used circa 1720–1780.
Cherub has a very similar look to the Winged Death Head, however the skull is replaced with the face of a cherub, a symbol of the acceptance of heaven. This style was popular during the mid to late eighteenth century.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, America saw both social and religious enlightenment, creating a shift in how death was perceived. This is reflected in the Willow and Urn motif which gained popularity during this time; the style depicts a centered urn shrouded in a willow branch. Epitaphs no longer began with “here lies the body of” but a more peaceful “in memory of” alluding to the afterlife.
These three types of headers can be easily identified on your next tour through one of Salem’s oldest landmarks.
Left Image: Salem State University Archives & Collections
Image Above: James Deetz

Ever wonder what the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery was? Check out this fabulous article by Jakub Marian.



*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

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