New York State Funeral Directors Association

Youths walk around their neighborhoods in costumes collecting candy from friendly neighbors each Halloween.

Many wear pointy hats and black gowns to imitate the image of a “witch.”

Halloween is the one day of the year when witches become popular. So it’s a good time to remember those who suffered the terrible fate of people accused of witchcraft in the past.

Thankfully, some have been memorialized. Roadside sign recounts legend of the Esperance Witch

It’s been ages since anyone believed people could conjure up spells and cause bad weather.

But memorials for witches are relatively new.

A memorial park was dedicated in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1992 to memorialize those who were put to death during the Salem Witch Trials of the late-1600s.

Another memorial was dedicated in 2017. Made of granite benches, it includes the names of 20 people who died after being accused of witchcraft in 1692.

At the very least, the names of these victims are known, and they can be remembered, for what it’s worth.

For an Upstate-New York woman believed to have suffered the fate of an accused witch, little remains but legend and folklore.

WITCH OF ESPERANCE

The Witch of Esperance is a story that dates back to the 1700s or 1800s.

It’s a sad one that leaves the curious, like myself, wondering what tree I could visit to pay my respects.

In 2017, a sign funded by the William Pomeroy Foundation was erected alongside the Schoharie Creek.

To me, it’s a memorial of sorts.

It provides the viewer with an opportunity not to shudder in fear of spells and potions, but rather to bow the head and reflect on the horrors of life in earlier days. 

Little is known about the real story of the so-called Esperance Witch.

The New York Folklore Society submitted information to apply for the historical marker, according to Laurie Longfield from the New York Folklore Society.

Among the text of that application is a simple explanation:

“The legend sometimes referred to as the "Grenadier Woman" is about a French woman who as a widow is accused of witchcraft because of acts she is witnessed to commit including taking off her apron and poling herself across the Schoharie Creek on this garment and putting it on dry on the other side, poor crops, dying cattle, etc. The local village people determine to rid the area of the witch and she is shot through a window of her own house with a silver bullet. She is buried beneath a pine tree whose roots will keep her from rising from the grave to seek vengeance.”

The Esperance Museum has a small display remembering the legend and a memorial of sorts, according to information provided by Esperance Historian Ken Jones.

There’s a headstone-shaped sign near an effigy of a witch that reads:

“In memory of the Esperance witch, a poor soul shot and killed by a silver bullet in the belief that she was a witch. Name unknown but to God. May she rest in peace.”

There may be a tree in Esperance reaching towards the sky – and beneath it the cold, forgotten grave site of this woman. A tombstone at the Esperance Museum memorializes the Esperance woman accused of witchcraft. Image courtesy of Esperance Historian Ken Jones

There is a debate, apparently, on how many “witches” have suffered terrible fates throughout history.

One Blogger, Greg Laden, suggests the number is around 50,000 worldwide since the 1300s.

An article on the Occult Museum website outlines several discoveries of burial practices believed to have been aimed at keeping those buried from returning from the grave.

It suggests one site, in Italy, is a burial site for witches – where some were found to have their mouths sealed closed – in an apparent attempt to prevent them from cursing people if they return from the grave.

Another discovery in Italy, at the grave of a woman believed to have been a witch: she had a brick in her mouth.

Another was covered with heavy stones – allegedly to “keep the spirit in the grave.”

There’s a long history of civilization’s inhumane treatment of those who were considered different.

It’s a far cry from the way things are today.

The practice of Wicca – a group those who consider themselves witches – is protected enough today that the U.S. government provides a special symbol on the burial markers of veterans if requested.

For the less fortunate of centuries past, a tree may mark the only evidence of a burial.

And, maybe, one of them is beneath a tall pine tree not far from the Schoharie Creek in Upstate NY.

So when you see a witch walking the streets on Halloween, you could choose to smile at the cute costume – or bow your head in memory of those who weren’t actually witches, but who died like them.