Handsome Heifers and Copious Carrots

Harvest time is Fair time, and in our region that means the Topsfield Fair, which advertises itself as the country’s oldest and dates its origins to a cattle show sponsored by the newly-formed Essex Agricultural Society in 1820. I found an interesting pamphlet (An Address Delivered Before the Essex Agricultural Society: at the Agricultural Exhibition in Danvers [and]  The Trustees’ Account of the Agricultural Exhibition at Danvers, October 16 and 17, 1821) about the fair’s second occasion that lists its award-winning cultivators, crafters, and exhibitors and was surprised to see quite a few Salem names among them. Then as now, Salem was pretty urban in comparison to the surrounding communities, but its northern and southern jurisdictions were still “fields”, so I suppose there was still sufficient acreage to compete with farmers from the more rural communities of Essex County.  Here are the big Salem prizewinners of 1821:


Breeding Sows: Mr. Elias Putnam of Danvers won best ($8) but Mr. Jonathan Osborne of Salem won second best ($5).

Bulls: Mr. Ezekiel Hersey Derby, Esq. awarded first prize ($15) for his “deep red bull of two years old”. Noted also are his “very handsome” heifers.

Cows: Mr. John Barr, Esq. awarded first prize ($15) for his seven-year-old “bright red cow”; Mr. Aaron Waitt, Esq. awarded third prize ($5) for his six-year-old “light red cow”.

Domestic Manufactures: (Salem residents dominated in this category, I must say, although it seems to have been an exhibition rather than a competition).

Imitation Beaver Hats: from Major Samuel Mansfield’s Factory, Salem: water-proof, highly recommended for beauty and economy:  “they exhibit an admirable imitation, formed by the skillful use of cheap materials–the nap of muskrat is laid upon lambswool bodies, which are stiffened with gum shellac”.

Imitation Merino Shawls: by Mrs. Thompson of Salem. Cotton and wool carded together, rich colors, exhibiting “great taste and skill”.

Imitation Leghorn Bonnets: from Miss Mary Raymond of Salem “the happiest imitation in point of color”.

Beautiful specimens of Vitriol and Alum” : from the Salem Laboratory (must research this).

Carpeting: “a well-executed piece of Venitian carpeting” from Mrs. Dwinnel of Salem and “Gobelin-worked Crickets” by the young Misses Page of Danvers are praised–what are Gobelin-worked Crickets????????????

The Ploughing Competition: this seems to have been the highlight of the exhibition, but the root vegetables (see below) received much commentary as well. Benjamin Savory of Newbury won, but Mr. Ezekiel Hersey Derby came in second, with his team of oxen driven by Henry Barrich, ploughman, who ploughed 36 furrows, 6 inches deep, in 70 minutes, “very handsomely”.

Crops: here the Salem farmers seem to be disadvantaged, but John Barr won the barley competition, and Salem dominated the exciting carrot competition:

First Prize ($15) to Mr. John Dwinnel of Salem: 360 bushels raised on a half-acre. Mr. Dwinnel also received second prize for his potatoes.

Second Prize ($10) to Mr. James S. Cate of Salem: 276 bushels raised on a half-acre.

Fourth Prize ($5) to Mr. Ezekiel H. Derby, Esq. of Salem: 256 bushels raised on a half-acre.

There seems to have been intense interest in root and fodder crops at this time, so there were also “claims” or documented harvests of certain crops including rutabaga and “mangel wurtzel”, a kind of beet. Mr. Derby submitted a claim for the latter: reaping 287 bushels of the crop from a half-acre of land, “twice-ploughed and received a slight dressing of manure”, along with Russian radishes and Swedish turnips. The seed was sown on May 23, 1821, and the crop harvested between October 27 and November 3rd. The Salem surveyor came out to verify the claim.

Such information in this report! It makes me want to abandon my ongoing exploration of cultural and social history and become an old-fashioned agricultural historian! It’s no surprise to any Salem historian to see Ezekiel Hersey Derby so oft-mentioned in this account, however, as there is an amazing painting of his family farm in South Salem by the Salem émigré artist Michele Felice Corné dated from about 20 years earlier in the collection of Historic New England. I walk by the former site of this farm (basically Lafayette and Ocean Streets) on my way to work, and generally I think about what it looked like before the Great Salem Fire of 1914, but now I have an entirely new pastoral perspective.

Corne Derby Farm 1800

Cornè, Michele Felice (1752-1845) Ezekiel Hersey Derby Farm, c. 1800, Cogswell’s Grant, Historic New England. This painting is also notable as it represents the artist and his friend, Salem’s famed architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire, in the lower left-hand corner adjacent to the fence.

The Little Locksmith

Several years ago, one of my favorite readers, and bloggers, told me about a book written by a Salem author called The Little Locksmith, but for some reason I didn’t pick up a copy until just this past week–and I spent the cold and windy weekend reading it. This was quite an experience, as this is a memoir that puts our indulgent modern memoirs to shame in its ability to present an engulfing narrative of suffering (or perhaps I should say not suffering) and survival. The Little Locksmith was published in 1943, several months after the death of its author, Katharine Butler Hathaway, who was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis right here in Salem in 1895, when she was five years old. For the next ten years, she was confined to her bedroom and strapped to a board “like a specimen butterfly” in the hope that her spine would grow straight. She emerged not only hunchbacked, like the little locksmith that used to come to her Salem home (on Lafayette Street, sadly swept away by the Great Salem Fire of 1914), but also severely stunted, a very wise young woman in a child’s body. One would imagine that she would look back on this childhood with horror, regret, and even anger, but she does not, instead we read of “joyous” days:  Though my back was imprisoned, my hands and arms and mind were free. I held my pencil and pad of paper up in the air above my face, and I wrote microscopic letters and poems, and made little books of stories, and very tiny pictures, I sewed the smallest doll clothes anybody had every seen, with the narrowest of hems and most delicious little ruffles. I painted with watercolors and made paper dolls and dollhouse furniture out of paper. Paper was the nearest thing to nothing in the way of material, and yet it was possible to make it into something that people would exclaim over and fall in love with. It was something precious made of nothing.” 

Little Locksmith Katharine Butler Hathaway

Little Locksmith cover

Little Locksmith House Pen

Katharine Butler Hathaway (1900-42): from the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, where her papers are located; a first edition of The Little Locksmith (1943); the Mark Hatch House in Castine, where she lived from 1921-1931, Penobscot Marine Museum.

This ability to discern, appreciate, and make things that are precious stayed with her for the rest of her life. After she emerged from her Salem bedroom at aged 15, her “horizontal life” leaving her misshapen yet somehow also enchanted, she was off to Radcliffe, New York City, Paris, and Castine, Maine, where she found a neglected old house which she crafted into a precious touchstone. The Little Locksmith is really about this house and what it means to her more than anything else, which makes it even more fascinating for materialistic me. Her ability to describe places and what they mean to her is captivating: the chapter where she describes her family’s return to a sultry September Salem from their summer residence in Vermont is probably my favorite, as the sounds of crickets and steps on the brick sidewalks of Salem are the sounds that I always notice when I return home from up north. Upon her marriage to Daniel Hathaway of Marblehead, she is forced to sell her beloved Castine house, but they move on to settle in an old brick house in Blue Hill, Maine, which becomes yet another charmed setting for her, unfortunately her last.

A “Scribbling Woman” from Salem

Two Salem-born authors competed for best-seller status in the 1850s, but it wasn’t really much of a competition: Miss Maria Cummins’s Dickensian novel The Lamplighter: or An Orphan Girl’s Struggles and Triumphs (1854) far outpaced Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851) in this decade, and after. Hawthorne’s classics did well in their first year of publication–selling over 6000 copies each–but 73,000 copies of the more ephemeral Lamplighter were purchased in the first year of its appearance, second only to a book penned by another female author from the same publishing house, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These successes prompted the penning of a famous letter to his own publisher, William Ticknor, by a petulant Hawthorne in 1855 in which he complained that “America is now wholly given over to a d——d mob of scribbling women” and “I should have not chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the Lamplighter, and other books neither better nor worse–worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000.” I don’t think Hawthorne is merely venting to his publisher, but also prodding him to be a bit more marketing-minded, as Cummins’s and Stowe’s more enterprising publisher, John P. Jewett of Boston, issued their works in multiple editions and formats for diverse audiences. All the editions of The Lamplighter that I have seen are rather lavishly illustrated, and there were also “tie-in” products like musical compositions and picture books. The protagonist of The Lamplighter, the orphan Gerty Flint, consequently becomes rather famous while her creator remains quite literally anonymous: Cummins published three more books (by “the author of The Lamplighter”) before her premature death at the age of 39 in 1866: only in later editions does her name appear on the title page. I’m not really a fan of this sort of sentimental fiction, but I’ve tried to read The Lamplighter a few times without much success: the prose stopped me once, and then I found out what would eventually happen to little Gerty’s kitten and I just didn’t want to go there………….

Cummins Curwen House Salem Essex Street

Lamplighter broadside LOC

Lamplighter Music

Lamplighter Sales 1854


Lamplighter 1914

Cummins Obituary NYT

Frank Cousins photograph of the Samuel Curwen House, the birthplace of Maria Susanna Cousins, formerly at 312 Essex Street and moved to North Street in 1944 (it is now home to Historic Salem, Inc.); broadside advertising The Lamplighter from the John P. Jewett Company of Boston, 1854, and two musical tie-ins from the same year, Library of Congress; Sales figures for 1854 from The New York Times, December 20, 1854; 1884 and 1914 editions from 1884 and 1914, La Maiden en Noire; Miss Cummins’s obituary from the New York Times, 1866.

The Making of Witch City

As tonight marks the beginning of the month-long “Haunted Happenings” in Salem, a true celebration, so it also begins my annual (and perennial) consternation over “Witch City”,  Salem as mecca for all things Halloween. City authorities, merchants, restaurant owners, and yes, even museum directors, will say that Haunted Happenings is not trading on Salem’s notoriety as the site of the nation’s most notorious witch trials but such a statement is impossible to defend: there is no other compelling reason why Salem, Massachusetts would evolve into the Halloween destination aside from its dark history. Even those who acknowledge the darkness and the connection victimize the accused “witches” yet again: they are of course well-intentioned, but those who seek to turn 1692 into a mere lesson about the necessities of toleration and social justice are distorting the historical reality, just like modern witches identifying with “ancestors”.

So opportunism reigns in Salem, but it has done so for a very long time. Even though the festivities have really intensified over the last 33 years (Haunted Happenings commenced as a one-day affair back in 1982), Witch City evolved over a long time and as a result of many forces and contributors, both deliberate and unintentional. Several people have written about this evolution before (and I’ve devoted quite a bit of time and space to it myself), so I’m going to constrain myself to a veritable laundry list of these factors, all appearing after about 1867, the year of the publication of the first serious study of the 1692 Trials, Charles W. Upham’s Salem Witchcraft, With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. This book itself is influential, as is its abstract, along with the succession of guide books for Salem and the North Shore published from the 1870s until the first World War, “romantic” histories and fictional works featuring Salem issued in this same period, the bicentennial of the Trials in 1892 and everything it inspired, including the famous Daniel Low witch spoon and other witch wares, postcards, Salem’s own Tercentenary in 1926, branding (of goods, ships, trains, companies, public services, schools, neighborhoods), films and television shows, from Maid of Salem (1937) to Bewitched to Salem, The Crucible in all versions, The Salem Witch Museum, Salem’s Chamber of Commerce, and the initiation of Haunted Happenings, the arrival of Laurie Cabot, the “official” witch of Salem who “claimed” the victims of 1692 as fellow witches and the emergence of an influential and entrepreneurial Wiccan community, the Tercentenary of the Witch Trials in 1992, and the increasing national (global?) popularity of Halloween. In many ways, Witch City is a simple product of converging forces of supply and demand, with all that opportunism thrown in.

Witch City Collage 2

“Witch’s Parade”, n.d., Dionne Collection of Salem Images, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Ye Salem Witch Train

Boston & Maine RR “Ye Salem Witch” locomotive, operational 1937-53.


Two Salem Witches

Two “witches”, a century and a half apart: Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s Witch Hill (The Salem Martyr), 1869, New York Historical Society, and the “Adult Salem Witch” costume from Party City.

It is important to note that the long evolution of Witch City has been marked by resistance and criticism at nearly every phase of its escalation. She was probably just as ineffectual as I, but I share most of the sentiments of Caroline Howard King, a Salem native who returned to the city to write her memoir (When I Lived in Salem, 1822-66) just when witchcraft tourism was really heating up in the 1890s. She recalls being taken on the same route on which the “witches” were led to the gallows by her father when she was a child, and observes that it may be the influence of those early days which make it so impossible for me to look with toleration on the witch spoons and witch symbols which are so much sought after now. The whole witch episode seems to me a blot and disgrace upon the history of Salem, an awful tragedy to be regretted and mourned, instead of a thing to be gloried in and perpetuated, and I should be glad if Gallows Hill could be leveled and forgotten.

The Last of Summer & September

We’ve got a deluge of rain on the way, which we desperately need, but I imagine that the garden will be beaten down after it subsides so I thought I’d take some of the last pictures of the season. I also had a rare afternoon in the Back Bay of Boston so I took some window-box pictures as well: some in the full flourish of summer, others harbingers of fall. I’m always melancholy in late September, more because Salem’s witching season begins assertively on October 1 than because it marks the onset of autumn and colder weather. Prepare for that prolonged rant over the next few weeks–or stay away! I am working on a few interesting (at least to me) Witch City posts for October, but no doubt I’ll also retreat and focus on the more distant past as well. Or leave town.

Still-flowering Boston, September 28:

Last September 005

Last September 006

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And then Home: lots of lavender and catmint and a very fluffy rose, anemones, perennial agertum (a great fall plant, and much more blue than it appears in this photograph); Trinity in the garden, like a ghost of our dearly-departed Moneypenny.

Last September 021

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Holding the Sun

I suppose I should be writing about the (super)moon, but yesterday I became captivated by the sun: not the real sun, but a stylized image of a sun in the hands of a “medieval” king on a very cool chair by the twentieth-century Italian architect and designer Paolo Buffa. Said chair, with its mate, was featured in the pages of T: the New York Times Style Magazine yesterday, in an article on French designer Vincent Darré’s whimsical Paris apartment. There’s always something that catches my eye in this well-curated periodical, and this weekend it was the Buffa chair, or more particularly the image on the back of the chair: I tried to find its source–to no avail; I suppose Buffa must have sketched it himself–it looks “traditional” and “modern” at the same time, like many of his designs.

Darre apt Buffa Chairs

Darre Study

The Buffa chair in Mr. Darré’s study, in multiples: photograph by François Halard for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

I love this chair! I want this chair! But I imagine it’s well outside of my price range (a pair of much less distinct chairs is priced at $5500 here), so after considering the style for a while I moved on to the substance. Because of its obvious splendor, the sun has been utilized by kings and queens projecting their power and magnificence from time immemorial and all areas of the world. The sun is generally utilized as a visual reference–either as accessible symbol or allegorical emblem–but it is actually held, or brought to earth, surprisingly seldom. It takes bravado to do that, like that exhibited characteristically by the Sun King, Louis XIV. From early on in his reign he utilized the sun in myriad ways: basking in its beams, driving its chariot, holding and eventually evolving into it. He was identified as the sun by both his supporters and his enemies–among them the persecuted and exiled Huguenots of France who projected him as a sun-inquisitor following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

Sun King Ballet Costumer 1660s

Sun King Protestant Perspective Nantes

Sun King Indictments LC

Louis XIV  in the costume of The Sun King in the ballet ‘La Nuit’ c.1665; Protestant caricature of King Louis XIV as inquisitor, illustration from ‘Les Heros de La Ligue ou La Procession monacale, conduite par Louis XIV, pour la conversion des protestants de son royaume’, Paris, Chez Pere Peters, a l’Enseigne de Louis Le Grand, 1691; Calendar of Indictments against Louis XIV, 1706, Library of Congress.

But sun symbolism was not always so straightforward, and certainly not in the seventeenth century, when it could represent not only a king and his mastery of all before him, but also faith and reason: the light of both spiritual and scientific understanding. In the very important emblem book of Georgette de Montenay, Cent emblemes chrestiens (1615), the sun goes dark when held in the hand of a philosopher who has abandoned his faith for false theories while conversely another woman–from a bit later in the century, after Galileo’s very public defense of heliocentrism–holds the sun-light of understanding in her hand.

Sun Emblem

“Lacking Light”, Georgette de Montenay, Cent emblemes chrestiens (1615), Glasgow University Emblems website; A woman holds a sun in her hand; representing the faculty of understanding. Engraving by T. Jenner [?], c. 1650, Wellcome Library, London.

What would Ada think?

In honor of tomorrow’s symposium, Mightier than a Wrecking Ball: How Ada Louise Huxtable Saved Salem, jointly sponsored by Historic Salem, Inc., the Peabody Essex Museum, and Historic New England, I thought I would ask and consider what Ms. Huxtable (1921-2013) might have thought about the emerging streetscape of Salem in 2015, fifty years after her influential New York Times article “saved” Salem from the destruction of 100+ historic buildings and a four-lane highway running down its center in the guise of “urban renewal” in the fall of 1965. I think she would have abhorred the big glass-and-faux-brick boxes looming on our horizon both literally (now) and digitally (proposals for the future), but I don’t really know. She was certainly not an exclusive preservationist: such a stance would have been impossible in her capacity as the architectural critic for the Times. She seems to have detested “Williamsburging” nearly as much as the emergence of “slab cities” and heralded preservation as a bulwark against thoughtless development with little historical or architectural integrity. In an effort to answer my own question, I browsed through many of her articles in the archives of the Times: this took some time, primarily because she is such an amazing writer. I wanted to restrict myself to skimming, but her sharp observations and critiques (Albert Speer would love the Kennedy Center) kept me reading. Certain words and phrases kept popping up as architectural attributes: art, identity, variety, and the integration of new construction and preservation, and others as outcomes to be avoided at all costs. In this category, I would place the phrase sterilized non-place, which appears in her 1974 follow-up article “How Salem Saved Itself from Urban Renewal”.

Ada 1974 NYT

That phrase just says it all for me: sterilized non-place. And it makes me think that Ada Louise Huxtable, who summered right next door in Marblehead and would have taken a personal interest in all these new buildings going up in Salem, would not have viewed or reviewed them favorably. Lined up all together, as they are below, you can see an apparent generic uniformity on the one hand and a thoughtless, careless nod to Salem’s historic structures on another—just slap on some brick! So since we can never really know Ms. Huxtable’s opinion on these buildings, perhaps it is better to ask is Salem becoming a sterilized non-place?


Washington at Derby RCG

Big Box Hotel

Big Box District Courthouse

Two existing developments (the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center-and RCG Corporation’s Washington at Derby building) and two proposals (the winning design to replace the existing District Courthouse and RCG’s proposed Mill Hill development further down Washington Street).


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