Construction is set to begin on the Charter Street Cemetery, a burial ground dating back to the Salem witch trials. (Olivia Falcigno)
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SALEM — For the second October in a row, the cemetery that contains the remains of some of the city’s most historic figures will be closed to the public.
The Charter Street Cemetery, more formally known as the Old Burying Point Cemetery, was closed Monday so that the city can begin the second phase of repairs and restoration. The project should be completed by the end of October.
The cemetery, the oldest in Salem, was closed last September through November for Phase 1.
Patti Kelleher, the city’s historical planning director, understands the significance of October.
“It is a highly-visited site,” Kelleher said, “as it is right in the downtown area. And visitations in October are very high.”
But, she said, “All of the foot traffic has eroded the landscape,” she said, in explaining the reasons for the needed repairs. “It’s compacted the soil and caused some damaged to the headstones.
“The city is looking to continue to allow visitations (to the cemetery), and at the same time protect historical resources.”
The Charter Street Cemetery was founded in 1637 and is among the oldest burial places in the country.
Some of the city’s most historical figures, including two of the judges who held court during the Salem Witch Trials, are buried there.
Phase 2 of the project will involve installation of new pathways, lighting and perimeter fencing, and restoration of the iron fencing along Charter Street and the retaining wall along Liberty Street.
“We want to create some defined pathways,” Kelleher said. “We want to look at access points into and out of the cemetery, and add some lighting for security purposes.”
The project is funded in part with Community Preservation Act Funds and a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund.
The City of Salem, in 2017, received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund grant and Community Preservation Act funds to pay for the project, which aims to preserve the historic features of the burial ground while still allowing public access to it.
After completion of an archaeological survey, the project landscape architect worked with the city, archaeologists and the Massachusetts Historical Commission to design landscape improvements that would not impact its historic integrity, Kelleher said.
Some historical facts about the cemetery include: the Cromall Stone, which is the earliest known burial at the cemetery. The stone, erected in 1673, marks the grave of Doraty Cromall.
Two judges who presided over the Salem Witch Trials — John Hathorne and Bartholomew Gedney. Also, Hathorne’s great-great grandson was author Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of, among other books, “The Scarlet Letter” and “House of the Seven Gables.”
Also buried in the cemetery is Eleanor Hollingworth, whose daughter and son-in-law were both accused of witchcraft, but who managed to escape the colony before being put to death.
She ran a tavern in her later years, and — according to historian Frances Hill — may have been the model for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter.”