Funding Must Be Provided Through Access Fees
A New Commission Must Be Formed And Empowered
By Willam Legault
The recent decision by the Salem Cemetery Commission to close the Charter Street Cemetery during October was the right call. Over the years neglect by the city and the hundreds of thousands of tramping feet have led to steady and far reaching deterioration. Last year a human rib bone worked its way to the surface. The Burying Point has become the Unburying Point.
This closing, a prelude to $600,000 worth of improvements is not enough. Additional steps must be discussed and taken in order to preserve this 382 year old artifact of Salems Puritan past and glorious shipping history. It should be noted that this closing will most assuredly drive more foot traffic to the sites at Broad Street and Howard Street.
The very first thing that must be done is to create a separate city commission to oversee not only the Burying Point, but also the Quaker Cemetery on Essex Street, The Broad Street Cemetery, and the Howard Street Cemetery. These four cemeteries need and deserve to be recognized and treated for what they are, historic and unique testament to our history. All of our history to include the good. the bad, and the ugly. Our maritime glories, religious intolerance, and the greed and vengeance of the Witch Trials are all on display in these cemeteries. Both the slave traders of Salem, and our abolitionist history are also represented.
We must make a conscious decision to respect these spaces and what they represent by seeking funding that will maintain them as independent of the other cemeteries which are still in regular use for internments. Grant money is surely available. But that is not enough.
The time has come to establish controls over access to these spaces. The days of allowing visitors and residents unfettered access are over. Individual, small groups, and formal tours need to be regulated year round, not just in October. If that means legal changes as to their status so as to allow access to be limited, then so be it. We need to stop treating them as fully accessible public parks.
Tour companies, to include out of town tour and bus companies should be required to apply for a special permit annually to lead tours through any of the four sites. Daily tours must be limited as to both how many people can be in a tour, and how many tours each company can conduct in a day. Individual visitors should have to purchase a ticket. Ticket sales should be limited. Exceptions for this can be made for Salem residents. All monies collected would be designated by ordinance exclusively to operate and maintain the cemeteries.
Does this mean that a central point for a sales operation would have to be created? Would staff have to be hired? Does it mean that staff would have to be increased seasonally? Does this proposal create as many questions as it does supposed answers? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Those questions, and others can be addressed by treating all four of those important and historical sites as separate and unique spaces in Salem that stand apart from the more contemporary Salem cemeteries. Form, empower, and fund an independent commission and put them to work.
Preservation is not easy, If it was, everybody would be doing it. We need to do a better job of it.