Category Archives: Culture

Scary Vegetables

In honor of Halloween and the ongoing harvest season, as well as my continuous fascination with anthropomorphism, today I have a portfolio of images which I have labeled “scary vegetables”, some of which are scary because of the human-like characteristics assigned to them (in both the mandrake and pumpkin-head traditions) and others which are simply scary. I’ve featured this topic before, but this variation is a bit more creepy and much more focused on vegetables in general and root vegetables in particular. There’s nothing particularly modern about these images: the aforementioned mandrake with its humanoid roots was a medieval forerunner, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical portraits definitely made plants-in-human-form the embodiment of grotesque in the Renaissance and influenced surrealistic expressions centuries later. Some plants are scary just on their own–especially their roots–but others require a bit of artistic embellishment. I’m not quite sure why Diego Rivera’s radishes are so very menacing, but they certainly are!

Scary Plants Blood Root p

Scary Vegetables Kirby

PicMonkey Collage

Scary Turnipp

Scary Vegetables diegorivera_1947

Scary Vegetables Etsy Dewey

Scary Vegetables Horner

Sources of Scary Vegetables:  Bloodroot from Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, 1817; Turnip, Radish & Parsnip “Roots” from Kirbys Wonderful and eccentric museum; or, Magazine of Remarkable Characters, 1820; C.J. Grant colored lithographs/”advertisements” for Morrison’s vegetable pills, 1831, Wellcome Library; an old postcard from my collection, c. 1910-30?; Diego Rivera’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1947, Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City; “Tragedy 29: Turnip Seeds” print by BenjaminDewey;”Look Pa” print by CathyHorner.

 

 

 


FDR and the Salem Witches

While combing through the digital archives of national newspapers in search of allegorical and political references to the Salem witch trials, I found the perfect little story for this “closing” week of Salem’s never-ending Halloween season and the upcoming election: a notice in the New York Times for a Roosevelt campaign rally to be held on Gallows Hill in Salem on Halloween, 1932, during which several witches would be hung in effigy. I am not making this up: here’s a clip of the article, in its still- distinctive Times font, from October 23, 1932:

Roosevelt and Witches NYT

Where do I begin? How could this POSSIBLY have seemed like a good idea??? I know this is Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign, but he’s still an experienced politician at this point. What about the line “inasmuch as the executioners are to be part of a Democratic rally, the witches will represent things Republican”? Did the Democrats really want to paint themselves as executioners with Republicans as their victims?  What about the visuals? Was FDR going to look on with that broad smile? Certainly it is Campaign 101 to never let the candidate be in close proximity to a gallows–especially one with hanging effigies. I know it was the depths of the Depression and bread and circuses and all that, but what an odd use of the word “pageant”! And last but not least, Gallows Hill was where the accused witches were hung in 1692, not 1690.

Fortunately for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this event never happened: it got rained out, by one of those fierce Halloween storms similar to those that we’ve experienced over these past few years. Roosevelt, in the midst of a frenetic campaign swing through New England, stopped in Salem on Halloween anyway and gave a speech before a crowd of 5000 supporters in the Salem Armory, publicly expressing his regret that he couldn’t have gone up to Gallows Hill (frankly, this would have been difficult for him, given his disability, even without the rain and mud–again, it just wasn’t a good idea). Stories from the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe from the following day (November 1) fill in the details. In the latter, the candidate’s son James called the Salem crowd “wonderful” and said that both he and his father were sorry that the weather had prevented the hanging in effigy of the three witches, “Depression, Privilege, and Bunk”, on Gallows Hill.  In the Herald, the Governor reveals himself to be under the spell of confusion which maintains that Salem’s accused witches were burned rather than hung. Nevertheless, just a week later he was elected our 32nd president, for the first time.

  PicMonkey Collage

The newspaper coverage of Roosevelt’s Halloween visit to Salem: images from the Boston Globe, and text from the Boston Herald, both November 1, 1932. Impossible to think of even a politician braving Salem’s Halloween crowds today!


Ann Putnam

October 18, 1679 marked the beginning of the short and miserable life of Ann Putnam, one of the principal accusers in the “circle” of girls who initiated and sustained the Salem Witch Trials in the spring, summer and fall of 1692. She claimed to have been afflicted by 62 people, and testified against many before the Court of Oyer and Terminer, in a series of well-attended dramatic performances (you can read her testimonies here). It is easy to paint Ann as a villain, despite her youth, but many historians believe that she was manipulated by her powerful and vengeful father Thomas, along with her equally-afflicted mother Ann Sr., who shared the stage with her.

Ann Putnam Pyle 1893

“There is a flock of yellow birds around her”: Ann Putnam and the “Afflicted Girls” in the courtroom in an illustration by Howard Pyle for “Giles Cory, Yeoman,” a play by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume LXXXVI, 1893.

I am wondering how the Putnams were perceived by their neighbors after Governor William Phips dissolved the Court in late October of 1692. One very strong indication might be the fact that Thomas and Ann, Sr., who both died within weeks of each other in 1699, are buried in unmarked graves in the Putnam family cemetery in Danvers, Massachusetts, along with their daughter Ann, who died in 1716 at the relatively young age of thirty-seven. Ann’s post-Trials life seems to have been characterized by drudgery (caring for her nine younger siblings after their parents’ deaths), isolation, and contrition: she is the only one of her Circle to apologize for her actions in 1692. This very public apology, written as a condition for her re-admission to the Salem Village Church and read aloud to the congregation by the Reverend Joseph Green in 1706, remains a powerful statement merely because of its exclusivity, even though its references to the delusions of Satan might be unsatisfactory for modern mentalities:

“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.”

A variant on Ann’s proclaimed desire to “lie in the dust” is the title of a new graphic novel, Lies in the Dust. A Tale of Remorse in the Salem Witch Trials, written by Jakob Crane and illustrated by Timothy Decker. If you are in the Salem area, there is an accompanying exhibition at the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University. I looked at the illustrations yesterday, and then drove over to look for the Putnams’ grave, which is a slightly-elevated, unmarked mound in the family cemetery, wedged between the Massachusetts State Police headquarters and a professional office building off Route 62 in Danvers–which was then Salem Village, where it all began. The site of the cemetery is so Danvers, which quietly and respectfully acknowledges its role in the Witch Trials, in sharp contrast to SCREAMING Salem Town, the Witch City.

liesinthedustweb

Ann Putnam 063

Ann Putnam 076

 

 


Just one (re)Discovery

In my ongoing quest to put Christopher Columbus in context, both in and outside of the classroom, I’m offering up one of the most vivid visual sources of early modern Europe–and a brilliant example of Renaissance projection and propaganda:  the Nova Reperta of Jan van der Straet (better known as Stradanaus), a series of 24 etchings illustrating all the “discoveries” of the era. Stradanaus (1523-1605) began his career as a designer of tapestries and fresco artist in the service of the Medici family in Florence but expanded his reach considerably after 1570 as a draughtsman and designer of prints which were engraved and published all over Europe by several  Antwerp publishers in huge numbers. The Nova Reperta (“New Discoveries”) series, celebrating (and proclaiming) Renaissance innovations in art, science and technology, was first published in 1580 and reprinted numerous times thereafter. The images are striking and consequential, but so too are the captions, which either defend an age-old practice as a contemporary discovery or herald what truly is “new”, although there’s a bit of equivocation when it comes to the New World: Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci share in the acclaim, which is to be expected in this age, but there is a rather unexpected variation in the use of the terms “discovery” and rediscovery. A rare example of Renaissance humility?! The title page presents the major achievements of the age, with America (discovered by Columbus and named by Vespucci) projected as just one of many discoveries, including gunpowder, the printing press, an iron clock, the Brazilian guiacum wood cure for another American discovery—syphillis–distillation, the silkworm, the stirrup, and a magnetic compass, most of these things invented either well before–or outside of–Renaissance Europe.

Nova reperta

The sequence of images of America are referenced both in terms of rediscovery and discovery: “Americus rediscovers America–he called her but once and thenceforth she was always awake” (one of the first “Europe awakes the world” images–note the roasting leg in the background); “America rediscovered: who is able with mighty heart to fashion a song worthy of the majesty of these events and discoveries?”; “Christopher Columbus of Liguria, overcoming the terrors of the ocean, added to the Spanish crown the regions of almost another world that he discovered, 1492″; “Americus Vespucci of Florence, in a marvelous expedition to the west and to the south opened up two parts of the earth greater than the shores which we inhabit and known to us in no previous age, once in which by common consent of all human beings is called by his name, Americus, 1497.”

Nova reperta 2

Nova reperta 3

Nova reperta 4

Nova reperta 5

Images taken from the Posner Center at the Carnegie Mellon University Library:  NE674 .S8 D53 “New discoveries; the sciences, inventions, and discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as represented in 24 engravings issued in the early 1580’s by Stradanus.”

 


The Eagle has Flown

I woke up Tuesday morning to a cherry picker just outside my bedroom window. This is nothing new–I live right next door to Hamilton Hall, which is regularly the site of either events or renovations which might require such equipment. This particular cherry picker was there for a very special reason, however: to facilitate the removal of the wooden eagle affixed to the hall’s facade which is attributed to Samuel McIntire, Salem’s renown Federal-era architect and woodcutter. The Hamilton Hall eagle is–or was– in fact the only in situ exterior McIntire carving, and therefore one incredibly valuable bird. But it has been exposed to the elements for two centuries now, and requires restoration and preservation, which can only happen off the wall. (A replica will eventually be installed in its place). So that’s what the men in the cherry picker were doing, very carefully. I had to run to class, so I wasn’t able to capture the exact moment when the eagle was “liberated”, but from the vantage point of my third-floor guest bedroom I did manage to get some good befores-and when I returned later that afternoon I got the after: bricks that haven’t seen the light of day in several centuries!

Eagle 022

Eagle 027

Eagle 032

Eagle 036

Eagle 051

Eagle 101

A few more McIntire eagles, (obviously) detached from their original perches and consequently preserved for posterity: the (first) Custom House eagle, now at the Peabody Essex Museum, a beautiful eagle that was made for the cupola of the Pickman-Derby-Brookhouse house on Washington Street by McIntire between 1786 and 1799 and removed prior to that structure’s demolition in 1915 (now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and an eagle carved by McIntire for the cupola of the Lynn Academy in Lynn Massachusetts, circa 1804.

Eagle PEM

Eagle MFA

Eagle from the cupola of Lynn Academy, 1804

 

Sign for U.S. Custom House, 1805. Carved by Samuel McIntire, painted and gilded pine. Peabody Essex Museum, 100754, gift of Joseph F. Tucker, 1907. Photograph by Dennis Helmar; Gilt white pine eagle, Museum purchase with funds donated by a Friends of the Department of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, The Estate of Gilbert L. Steward, Sr., Mrs. Ichabod F. Atwood and Mrs. Elaine Wilde,  The French Foundation in memory of Edward V. French, The Seminarians, and an anonymous donor, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;  Eagle from the cupola of Lynn Academy, 1804, Carved by Samuel McIntire, Lynn, Massachusetts, painted pine, Courtesy of Lynn Museum and Historical Society.


 


American Gothic

The British Library’s blockbuster Gothic exhibition, Terror and Wonder:  the Gothic Imagination opened yesterday across the pond, complete with a (rather suspect-looking) vampire-slaying kit. I like the title: that’s just what makes Gothic literature so compelling, the combination of fear and curiosity. Horror is something else entirely: it’s just repulsive. Gothic is humanistic; horror is not. I hope to see the exhibition myself but it has already inspired me to think about my favorite examples of American Gothic literature: I can’t go back to the eighteenth century, where Terror and Wonder begins with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, because I haven’t read anything by the man whom everyone identifies as the first Gothic author, Charles Brockden Brown, so my list begins with Edgar Allen Poe and then proceeds rather conventionally: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, The Yellow Wallpaper, the amazing short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which I read for the first time just last week, several stories by Ambrose Bierce, Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (I know–it’s very British but he was born American), anything by Flannery O’Connor (I know–southern Gothic deserves its own special categorization, but I’m only really familiar with Flannery, the namesake of my first cat), and also pretty much anything by Shirley Jackson:  I particularly like We have always Lived in the Castle (1962). Just a short list as my fiction-reading has been limited, for the most part, to an earlier phase of my life, but I would love more suggestions for the years to come.

Gothic

Gothic Gables Folio Society

Gothic Gillman

Gothic Bierce (1893)

American Gothic James

Gothic O'Connor

American Gothic Jackson

Harry Perkins illustration of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart (1923), from the “Terror and Wonder” Exhibition at the British Library; Francis Mosley illustration from the Folio Society’s edition of the  House of the Seven Gables; Title Page of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson (Gilman), New England Magazine, 1892; Ambrose Bierce’s collection of short stories (1893); Penguin English Library edition of Henry James’ Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw; Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories; and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).


Dancing Witches, Disciplined

Everything is seasonal, and for those of us that live in Salem the Witching Season begins on October 1st. You can feel everyone getting ready, getting on guard, as our city turns into Witch City. Tomorrow night is the grand Haunted Happenings parade, sponsored by the Salem Chamber of Commerce, of course. The carnivalesque atmosphere is apparently good for business, so we’re all supposed to forget that we are trading on a tragedy. I can never do that, so I’m kind of annoying to be around in October: this is my fair warning for new readers not yet exposed to my October rants. Despite the fact that I disdain absolutely everything about Halloween in Salem, I do like all the other seasons, and I also have an intellectual interest in the creation of Witch City, which definitely took some time–at least a century, maybe more. I’ve explored many of the contributing ingredients here before (including witch spoons, German witches, witch postcards, witch plates, and the Witch House), but there is a lot more that can be added to the mix. Casting witches in a celebratory environment is really nothing new: in the late medieval and the early modern periods they were stereotypically depicted in a hedonistic way: partying and dancing and whirling in wild abandon. One of the most graphic texts on early modern witchcraft, Francesco Maria Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum (1608) presents dancing as a key ritual of demonic homage, as do many other contemporary texts. Witches dance with the Devil.

Witch Dance Guazzo

Witches Dance 1720 Wellcome Library

Guazzo, Compendium Maleficarum, 1608; Wellcome Library woodcut illustration, 1720.

Most people stopped believing in witchcraft in the nineteenth century but yet still witches danced, in more of an entertaining (as opposed to threatening) way. The best example of the “romantic” dancing witch is of course Niccolò Paganini’s Le streghe (‘Witches’ Dance’), composed about 1813. The subject matter, combine with  Paganini’s seemingly “unnatural” skills on stage, created another variation on the Dance with the Devil:  perhaps his virtuosity was the result of a Faustian pact!  When the Witches’ Dance was published in the middle of the century, Paganini actually assumes the traditional position of the Devil on several sheet music covers. The popularity of Paganini and his Witches’ Dance inspired many variations on the theme, musical and otherwise, including one by Salem’s famed band leader, Jean Marie Missud (1852-1941), the (very) long-time director of the Salem Cadet Band: March of the Salem Witches (1896).  Appropriately for Salem, which by that time had marshaled witchcraft as a marketing tool, and for the March’s commissioner, the Winslow Lewis Commandery, Knights Templar, Salem witches marched rather than danced to this particular tune.

Witch Dance Paganini

Witch Dance Paganini 2

Witch Dance 1909

Salem Witches

Witches March Music JMM

The Celebrated Witches’ Dance transcribed for the Piana Forte by Wm. Vincent Wallace, William Hall and Son, New York, 1852, Library of Congress; J. DeLancey, Witches’ Dance. Grand Galop de Concert, 1909, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Jean M. Missud, “March of the Salem Witches” Sheet Music, Journal of Antiques and Collectibles and Digital Library of America.

 

 


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