From The City of Salem
The City of Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) announce that the Museum’s historic Samuel Pickman House will be utilized by the City as a new Charter Street Cemetery Welcome Center when the cemetery reopens to the public. The cemetery is tentatively scheduled to reopen to the public on May 1st, subject to approval by the Salem Cemetery Commission. The reopening follows an extensive landscape renovation project that includes restoration of the cemetery’s cast iron fencing, wall stabilization, and the installation of a new pathway system, landscape material, benches, and perimeter lighting.
Charter Street Cemetery is Salem’s oldest burial ground. It was established in 1637 and contains one of the region’s finest collections of gravestone carvings. The Pickman House is one of Salem’s oldest surviving structures, dating from 1665. In 1964, Historic Salem Inc. purchased the property to carry out preservation work on it – an effort that was completed by a private owner in the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1983, PEM purchased the house to conserve it more completely.
The new Welcome Center will enable the City to monitor the occupancy of the historic burial ground, provide consistent surveillance of stones and walkways, and secure the grounds at closing. Having this Center and trained staff on site will also foster a deeper historical understanding of the space. It will provide an opportunity to share interpretation of the particulars of a 17th-century cemetery, the evolution of stone carving, the historic preservation process, as well as more meaningful insight regarding the individuals interred there. The Center will also provide an opportunity to interpret the historical significance of the Pickman House, the Witch Trials Memorial, as well as the surrounding area.
“This is a unique opportunity to better manage visitation in this sensitive space, interpret the history of the cemetery and surrounding area, and also generate funds to ensure the ongoing care of the cemetery,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “I am enormously grateful to the leadership at PEM and the many City staff who have worked to develop this innovative concept. As a City committed to the preservation and interpretation of our unique history, the Charter Street Cemetery Welcome Center present a singular opportunity to connect visitors, students, and residents to the important lessons and legacies of our past.
“We are thrilled to breathe new life into this important historic structure and to do so in such a meaningful, relevant, and impactful way,” said Robert Monk, PEM’s Acting Chief Operating Officer. “The museum’s historic house collection is renowned in scope and scale and helps tell the story of Salem through four centuries of design. We hope visitors to the Charter Street Cemetery will feel immersed in history and transported by PEM’s 1665 Pickman House.”
Operationally the Welcome Center will function very much as the Jonathan Corwin House (the Witch House) does. The Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department will oversee its staffing and operations, including the sale of retail items from the gift shop space and providing maps of the cemetery for a small donation, including to walking tour groups. In addition to self-guided tours via the map, Welcome Center staff will also provide tours of the cemetery on a set schedule for an additional admission fee. 100% of the funds raised through the Welcome Center will be put toward the Center’s operation and the ongoing maintenance and care of the Charter Street Cemetery.
The Center will be open year-round, with precise hours of operation dependent on the season. All visitors to the cemetery will be encouraged to begin their visit at the Welcome Center. To help preserve the integrity of the cemetery, the Salem Cemetery Commission will consider a proposed rule capping tour groups at no more than 15 people per group. Guidelines will also direct groups not using the space for educational purposes to utilize the adjacent Charlotte Forten Park for congregating and picnicking.
The Welcome Center will be handicap accessible and this spring PEM will undertake a renovation to the rear garden area to further improve and adapt the site for accessibility. To facilitate the interpretation of the cemetery and the surrounding area, the Center will collaborate with PEM and Salem’s Preservation Partners to develop and install exhibits and programming on a routine basis to provide additional educational and interpretative opportunities about 17th-century Salem, historic burial grounds, and other similar topics.
PEM is currently developing a series of audio postcards for each of its historic houses to offer visitors to Salem deeper insights into the built environment. Each short sketch will reveal the history of the building, share architectural highlights and tell the stories of the people who lived there. This series will kick off with the Samuel Pickman House, will be posted in an ongoing basis at pem.org.
The Charter Street Cemetery Welcome Center will follow all applicable COVID-19 reopening and safe operation regulations issued by the Commonwealth and the City of Salem, including capacity limits.
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