Category Archives: Salem

Chrome Crush

I was not going to post on the (13th) annual Antique Car Meet sponsored by Historic New England’s Phillips House and held right here on Chestnut Street because I’ve been there, done that, but I changed my mind. It’s just such a great event: the cars are beautiful, the cars on the street are beautiful, the entire event joyous. This year’s meet was bigger and better than ever, and the spectacular run of weather that we have been having has put everyone in a great mood. But the main reason that I’m pushing cars is that I fell in love with one yesterday–and now nothing will ever be the same. I’m going to set the scene and give you some car context before I zero in on the object of my affection:  fully half of the street was lined with classic cars (and a few vintage bicycles too) for a good part of a glorious day, and 20th century machines cast in bright primary colors popped against the 19th century background of neutral Federal facades.

Cars 158

 

Cars 142

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Cars 153

Cars 115

All the cars had their particular admirers, but it seemed to me that the three-wheeled 1955 Messershmitt drew the most consistent attention. Very cute.

Cars 143

Cars 138

But once I spotted it, the only red that I could see was another little German car, a 1958 BMW Isetta 600 Limo! I have no words for how adorable this car is: it’s cuter than a Bug (for which it was built to compete), literally. I really want one, even though I heard it referred to as “death on wheels” several times. I’ll just look at it–for the rest of my life.

Cars 121

Cars 127

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End of the Old Spot

Turning my attention back to Salem, one of the first things I noticed after a week away, sadly, was the shuttered Old Spot, a nice English pub located on a very prominent corner in Salem, diagonally across from the Hawthorne Hotel on Essex Street. I knew it was closing but was sorry to see it closed. It was a fine place, very dependable: you could take your grandmother there, a hipster student, or a Harvard historian ( I have, all three). There was only one television, and it wasn’t too big. It wasn’t an institution but definitely a successful business, operating for 8 years or so. So why did the Old Spot close? Apparently its owners were unable to renew their lease with their landlord, perhaps because the latter had expanded his property (upwards) in the past few years to incorporate several condominiums whose purchasers were not pleased with the pub downstairs. I don’t really know; that’s the word on the street. If that’s the case, it’s a shame, as this building has been commercial from its inception: the residences and residents are the latecomers. Salem is a dynamic little city, and anyone buying downtown—especially on this busy corner, should be ready and willing to embrace (or at least accept) a little action.

Old Spot Night

Old Spot 003

Old Spot 1970s

Night and Day for the Old Spot: on one of its last open nights in late July and yesterday, closed. The building in the 1970s, from its MACRIS listing: it was built c. 1870 by J.B. Theriault for a grocery store, and always seems to have been utilized in a commercial capacity.


Paper Shadows

When I found the hand shadow trade card for Salem furrier T.N. Covell below I thought I had stumbled onto something unique, but it turns out that shadowgraphy, ombromanie, or “Ombres Chinoises” was just another Victorian fad, like phrenology, penny farthings, and mesmerism. It didn’t take long to find other examples, and other “animals”: the seal led to search for other shadow cards made in Boston and elsewhere, and the offerings of John Bufford, who was a very serious lithographer and businessman. So here we have a late nineteenth-century variation on the silhouette: more whimsical than documentary and more commercial than personal. An ephemeral art, as (electric) light was already too bright when it appeared, and very reflective of a much simpler time!

Paper Shadows

Paper Shadows 2

Paper Shadows 3

Paper Shadows 4 Chatterbox

PicMonkey Collage

Victorian hand shadow trade cards and the December 15, 1869 edition of Chatterbox, Library of Congress; Illustrations from the Ombres chinoises, guignol, marionnettes, par Émile Lagarde , 1900, Bibliothèque nationale de France


Peak Season

My garden is a bit of a wild tangle right now, as usual, but I love it; I’ve finally got the layers that I have been seeking for some time, along with the right mix of leaves and flowers and textures. And the mix of colors is good–I have gradually weeded out annoying colors like red (I actually love red indoors but passionately dislike it out-of-doors, even to the extent of red roses. Not sure why).  It’s pretty much at peak; I knew I was going to be in class all week so I took some pictures this past weekend when the weather was absolutely beautiful: sunny and not too humid or hot. Now it’s muggy and rainy, and all the flowers are water-logged and a bit past their prime. The roses look very spotty so I’m not showing them here. Next week will be vicious deadheading week; I always leave the Lady’s Mantle flowers too long because I love them so much, so it’s going to be a big job to cut them back. Yes there are red berries on the thriving baneberry but that is my exception–it’s a great plant and you really don’t want berries to be any other color (its flowers are white). I absolutely love, love, love the fuschia flower of the bee balm in the last picture–wish I could remember its varietal name!

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Fabric for the Fouth

I’ve been rather casually researching how the Fourth of July was commemorated on its Centennial in 1876, and while all the attention is generally focused on the great Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, I have come to appreciate all the special fabrics that were produced that year, material girl that I am. Textiles are key to this celebration: as the United States was in the midst of its industrial revolution, machine-made fabrics were featured prominently in the Exposition’s displays, and it also had a special focus on the “women’s sphere” and the domestic arts. Of course textiles are always a central feature of Independence Day celebrations: even more than fireworks, the Fourth is all about flags, swags, and bunting. As I write, I’m looking at the flag runner on my dining room table, a flag pillow on a nearby chair, and flags flying outside. In 1876, I think they were much more lavish–and much more creative–with patriotic displays of fabric. On the way home from my recent road trip, I passed through the northwest corner of Connecticut and the pretty town of Litchfield, where the Historical Society was featuring an exhibition on the Colonial Revival called “The Lure of the Litchfield Hills”. I enjoyed seeing all the items in the exhibition immensely, but was particularly taken by a child’s drummer costume for the Litchfield Centennial parade. So this would be the first item in my own little collection of Centennial textiles, followed by a banner made for Salem’s 1876 celebrations, a beautiful Centennial coverlet from the amazing inventory of Jeff. R. Bridgman, Antiques, and two Centennial quilts from the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. You can see the centrality of the Philadelphia Exposition; the custom of the time was to incorporate souvenir handkerchiefs into memento quilts, as Mary Stow and Esther Cooley evidently did. To round out my collection I must have one of these very handkerchiefs (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and of course, a Centennial Flag (from the New York Historical Society).

Fabric

Fabric Salem Banner

fabric coverlet

Fabric Quilt smithsonian stow

Fabric Centennial Quilt Smithsonian

Fabric handkerchief 1876 MET

Fabric Flag NYHS 1876

 


The Great Salem Fire: 1914 & 2014

I promise: this is my last post on the Great Salem Fire! The big anniversary is now past, and the big event thoroughly commemorated. I thought I’d finish up with some before and after and now and then photographs, as contrasts often tell the story better than anything else. I was going to take you through the whole rebuilding process, but enough is enough: I can summarize the characteristics and goals of the rebuilding effort quite succinctly: it was relatively rapid, and emphasized structures built of fire-retardant materials in rather traditional styles. The post-fire Salem was made largely of brick, with slate roofs wherever possible, and lots of Colonial Revival details to tie the new in with the old. Here are two images that just SCREAM post-fire to me: a Federal house on High Street with a stucco side, and a “Forget 1914″ advertising postcard: the Ropes Drug Company was already marketing the Great Fire even before its ashes cooled! But that was also the can-do attitude of 1914:  let’s rebuild, and be quick about it.

Past and Present High 2

Past and Present Postcard-001

Below are past and present contrasting views of the place where the fire began (Boston and Procter Streets–now a Walgreen’s parking lot just below a wooded, forlorn lot where it is believed that the victims of the Witch Trials of 1692 were buried in unmarked graves–this has been pointed out 64,000 times), where it ended (New Derby and Herbert Streets, where the notably-named Bunghole liquor store now stands), and a few other street scenes from 1914 and 2014. A few more contrasting shots, and some small but very specific physical legacies of the Fire, and then I’m done.

Past and Present Began-001

Past and Present Began 2014

The 1914 picture is taken from a bit further back and to the right; one of the few buildings in the midst of the conflagration which still stands is in the middle of both pictures.

Past and Present Herbert 2

Past and Present Herbert

The end point of the fire–again, not a perfectly-matched perspective, but close.

Past and Present Broad and Hathorne

Past and Present Hathorne

Broad and Hathorne in 1914 & 2014.

Past and Present Chestnut

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39 Chestnut Street in 1914 and 2014: the fire did not touch the street, but blazed all around it.

Picture 5

Fire 6 Roslyn

An officer guarding a leveled Roslyn Street in 1914, and the rebuilt street in 2014.

Past and Present Box

Past and Present datestone

Two very physical remnants of 1914 in 2014.

 

 

 

 


Capturing the Great Salem Fire: June 25, 1914

So finally we arrive at this day, the centennial anniversary of the Great Salem Fire of 1914, one of the last of the great urban fires which devastated downtowns in the second half of the nineteenth century and first few decades of the twentieth: Portland, Maine (1866), Chicago (1871), Boston (1872), Baltimore (1904), San Francisco (1906), Chelsea, MA (1908), Atlanta (1917). I could go on. This was a fire that destroyed about a third of Salem, causing damages estimated at 15 million dollars, the equivalent of over 350 million today. I’ve been through quite a few commemorative events this year, read quite a bit about the fire and its impact, and perused hundred of photographs, and I think the best way to mark this anniversary is to simply showcase some of my “favorite” (seems like a strange word to use in this context) images, those which come closest to capturing the conflagration and its aftermath. Obviously I’m working in a very visual medium here, and I generally rely on images more than words to make my points (or at least drive them home), but still, I think there was something quite special, dare I say even unprecedented, about how the Great Salem Fire was photographed: it was one of the first disasters to be shot from airplanes, there are several amazing panoramic views, “hustlers” were employed by Boston publishers to hurry up to Salem, cameras in hand, and Salem residents whose homes were actually burning took to the streets armed with cameras in the midst of the fire. This fire was marked by a great deal of civic engagement: “civilians” fought the fire, witnessed the fire, and descended upon Salem in droves after the fire was over to view, and capture, the devastation.

Just after the fire began (at about 1:30 pm on a hot breezy June 25) and the morning after: amazing photographs which focus on the people in relation to the fire, rather than just the fire (SSU Archives and Special Collections Digital Commons). The first photo shows men watching the fire taking the first of many tanneries in “Blubber Hollow”, Salem’s leather district, and the second shoes employees (? I’m assuming) at the burned-out P.A. Field Shoe Company across town on Canal Street.

Anniversary 1a

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Before and After on upper Broad Street: the Fire skirted Salem’s main historic district for the most part, but it did take out upper Broad Street–so all the buildings that you see in the first photograph below were gone in a matter of hours. Both photographs from the collection of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Anniversary Broad Street before

Anniversary Broad Street after

The first photograph below is by the great photographer/entrepreneur/historic preservationist/author Frank Cousins, who estimated that about 10% of Salem’s historic structures were lost to the Fire (out of  1376 buildings). Cousins based his estimation partly on surviving chimneys, and this photograph below is labelled “Sentinel Chimneys”. The second photograph, also from the collection of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, is titled “Capricious Damage on Walnut Street”. This photograph is mysterious to me as there is I’m not sure of the location–there is no Walnut Street in Salem–I’ve been searching for that surviving Greek Revival for some time!

Anniversary 4 Sentinel Chimneys

Anniversary Capricious Damage Walnut Street

There were hundreds–maybe thousands–of photographs of the ruined yet still magisterial St. Joseph’s Church, which had been completed only three years before the Fire. Many note the survival of the statue of St. Joseph himself. The second photograph below was taken by Costas Roineus, who lost his residence to the fire: here are the “firebugs” arriving on the morning after, with St. Joseph’s in the background. Both photographs from the SSU Archives and Special Collections Digital Commons.

Anniversary 6a St. Joseph's

Anniversary 6 Costas

The National Guard occupied Salem immediately after the Fire was contained to maintain order and manage the onslaught of tourists, the relief effort, and the refugee camps that were established at the Willows, the High School, and Forest River Park. The first photograph (from SSU) shows their “cook house” before the Broad Street cemetery, which is just behind my house. The second (from the Phillips Library) show the largest “tent city” at Forest River Park, where residents were encouraged to resume their “daily lives” as soon as possible. Across town where the fire began, the first business to reopen after the fire was a tent barber shop erected by A. D. Fraser, Emile D. Fraser, or John Frazier (there are alternative spellings) a few yards from his ruined home on Boston Street. Malcolm E. Robb photograph, Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Anniversary Guard

Anniversary camp

Anniversary Barber

 

 

 


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