More About Site of Salem Jail in 1692

The conditions in the prison were appalling. It was dirt-floored, lice-ridden, dark, dismal, and stank of tobacco and dung. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Iron bars covered the windows. In an effort to prevent specters of the accused from flying free and accosting the afflicted, the jail keepers used shackles to hold the condemned – the young, old, and ill included. The imprisoned would be charged for their room and board (approximately two shillings, sixpence a week), plus a fee for their chains.  It is uncertain whether there were any below ground cells; “dungeon” likely meant the main room on the first floor.

 

It was in Salem jail where Martha Corey was excommunicated before her hanging on September 22. It was from here that Giles Corey was taken to an open field and crushed to death, in an effort to force him to stand trial. The 17-year-old granddaughter of George Jacobs, who had implicated her grandfather of witchcraft, asked for his forgiveness in Salem jail. Margaret Jacobs had been accused herself and in fear, had confessed to witchcraft and accused several others, including her grandfather. It was also here where Mary Warren, the servant of John and Elizabeth Proctor, was examined by the magistrates and the reverends. Warren had claimed to be afflicted, accusing her employers. When she recanted, she too was accused of witchcraft.

 

Once a person was convicted of witchcraft, it was usually only a matter of days before they were executed. Essex County High Sheriff George Corwin would collect the condemned at the jail, and they would be taken by cart, with mounted guards alongside, to the execution site on the edge of town.

 

A new Salem jail was constructed in 1813, across Prison Lane where it intersected with Bridge Street, closer to the North River. The old jail’s timbers were used to construct a residence on the old location in 1863 by Abner Cheney Goodall. The Goodall family, who still owned the building in the 1930s, opened Salem’s first “Witch City” attraction in that decade. They recreated a jail and charged admission to visit the “Old Witch Jail and Dungeon.”

 

In the mid-1950s, the New England Telephone Company razed the building to make way for their new office building, located at 10 Federal Street. There was little outcry about the loss of the historic site. The old attraction moved to a building on Lynde Street, which had originally been built as a chapel for the East Church and then was home, from 1908 to 1980, to Salem’s Christian Science Church. Opening in 1980, the attraction still operates today as the Witch Dungeon Museum. During the excavation for the new telephone building on Federal Street, beams from the old jail were discovered. Today, one is on display at the Salem Witch Museum, one is on display at the Witch Dungeon Museum, and one is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum.