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.

 

 


The Last Days of the Loring House?

Perhaps because I grew up in a Shingle-Style cottage on the southern coast of Maine, I have always taken the style for granted, even now and here, living on the North Shore of Boston, where it also reigned in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The strident Federal architecture of Salem appealed to me much more when it came time to buy a house–not quite at war with nature but not really melding with it either. But now, just across the water in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, one of the most iconic Shingle cottages is apparently nearing its end: a house so harmonious with its surroundings yet so exacting in its details that even I can appreciate it. The Charles G. Loring house was built between 1881 and 1884 as a mid-career commission of the architect William Ralph Emerson (1833-1917), who is widely credited with originating what came to be known as the Shingle Style. The man who coined that term, Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully, calls the Loring House the very best of all the houses along this coast and considers that it may well be the finest surviving example of the Shingle Style, yet despite these and other weighty judgments, it may soon be taken down by its present owner, one of the co-founders of iRobot.

Loring house by Steve Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House by Steve Rosenthal 2

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House by Steve Rosenthal 4

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House by Steve Rosenthal 3

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House 1969

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House 1969 2

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House 3

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: William Ralph Emerson’s “Plan of Principal Floor” of the Loring House, 1881

The house was built as a summer cottage by Charles G. Loring (1828-1902) on family land. Loring (like his father) has an amazing biography: he was a thrice-breveted Major-General of the Union army, the second time “for gallant and meritorious services at the battles of the Wildneress, Spottsylvania, and Bethesda Church and during the operation before Petersburg, Virginia” (Loring Genealogy). A passionate Egyptologist, he became one of the first trustees and curators at the newly-founded Museum of Fine Arts, Boston after the war, and then its first director. After his death in 1902 the estate was transferred to another old Boston family though its acquisition by Quincy Adams Shaw, one of the Museum’s major benefactors. It remained in the Shaw-Codman family for over a century, until the death of Mr. Shaw’s grandson, Samuel Codman, in 2008 (at age 100). After he inherited the house in the 1960s, Mr. Codman worked tirelessly to maintain it, apparently single-handedly, and I think you can see the impact of his care when you compare the photographs above. Even before Mr. Codman’s death, a group of “Friends” organized to raise funds in order to endow and preserve the house as a study property of Historic New England; very sadly, their fundraising goals fell short and consequently the house went on the market and was purchased first by several Loring descendants and then by Ms. iRobot. Her proposed “alterations” were deemed destructive by the Beverly Historic Commission, which imposed a one-year demolition delay that has now expired. An application sent to the Beverly Conservation Commission last week indicates the Loring House will be replaced by a larger structure (surprise).

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Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House Detail Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

All of my preservationist friends are desolate: their only consolation is that this house is very well-documented, inside and out. There are the Myron Miller photographs that I have showcased here, along with the beautiful images of the renown architectural photographer Steve Rosenthal, who provided his services pro bono to the Friends of the General George G. Loring House. Another reason why I never really appreciated the Shingle Style is its characteristic interiors, which always seemed a bit drab to me, but obviously I’ve been looking at the wrong Shingle Style houses. As Mr. Rosenthal’s photographs illustrate so well, the Loring House glows with light and features details that are most likely irreplaceable, but apparently also ephemeral.

Loring House Interior Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring by Steve Rosenthal interior

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House Rosenthal Stair

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring Upstairs Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

 


Lessons in Legerdemain

A by-product of the scholarly research that I’m doing on wonder and science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been my exposure to texts on more practical magic that creates “artificial conclusions”, to use the words of a seventeenth-century scribe. I’m really not sure what to do with these texts–especially the more modern ones that fall well outside my period–but they certainly are interesting, and entirely suitable for a blog post or two! Books on magic tricks, conjuring, sleight of hand, legerdemain, are first published in the mid-seventeenth century (at least in England) right up through the 20th, and the classics are very valuable–deemed so most especially by the magical community. The first English book on practical magic, appropriately authored by Hocus Pocus Junior was The Anatomie of Legerdemain, first published in 1634 and reprinted throughout the seventeenth century: the Library of Congress has the second edition which was bequeathed by Harry Houdini himself in 1927. Both that edition and one from 1638 in the library of St. John’s College at Oxford University have been completely digitized, so you can learn all these tricks for yourself. The 1654 edition below sold at a 2009 Sotheby’s auction for £37, 250, so I suppose we’ll have to make do with the digital editions.

PicMonkey Collage

Legerdemain 1638

Hocus Pocus 1654 ed

This is a charming little book. The anonymous author, “Hocus Pocus Junior”, whom many presume to be one William Vincent, who received a license “to exercise the art of Legerdemaine in any Townes within the Realm of England and Ireland” and was described as “alias Hocus Pocus” on several occasions, begins the preface with the question: Courteous Reader, doe you not wonder? and proceeds to define his art: Legerdomaine is an operation, whereby one may seem to worke wonderfull, impossible, and incredible things by agility, nimblenesse, and slightnesse of hand. The partes of this Arte are principally two. The first is in the conveyance of Balls, Cards, Dice, Money &tc…The Second is Confederacie (tricks performed in partnership, essentially). So we learn all the old (now newly-exposed for the first time!) cup and card tricks, along with special maneuvers like How to seeme to pull a rope through your nose and How to seeme to cut off a mans head..called the decollation of John Baptist, as well as “how to seem to eat a knife” and “breathe fire”. For some reason, the “strangest” trick is how to “seeme to cut a piece of Tape into four partes, and make it whole again with words”–and this takes quite a bit of detailed description. All the tricks do, really: in addition to being quite the magician, Hocus Pocus Junior was an exceptional technical writer.

Hocus Pocus 16353

Hocus Pocus 16354

Hocus Pocus String

Pages from Hocus Pocus Junior. The Anatomie of Legerdemain, Or, The art of jugling set forth in his proper colours, fully, plainly, and exactly, so that an ignorant person may thereby learn the full perfection of the same, after a little practise (1635 edition, Library of Congress).


Holy Horseshoes

The Anglo-Saxon Saint Dunstan (909-988) has been much on my mind lately, even though his Feast Day (May 19) is months away. He has popped up in both of my classes coincidentally and then I rediscovered the most charming little book that focuses on his most enduring claim to fame: the horseshoe as protective talisman. Dunstan was the most popular early medieval saint in England by far and many things contributed to his legend and popularity. In his time, Dunstan served in every high-ranking position within the English church: Bishop of London and Worcester, Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was a dedicated servant of the Church but also an adviser to Kings–this dual role was not quite perceived as a conflict of interest at this time, but it provoked envy on more than one occasion. Dunstan clearly had the political skills to mentor princes and effect an ambitious program of monastic reform, but he was also skilled in the arts and crafts: whenever he retreated from the world to Glastonbury (where he was brought up), he kept busy in humble solitude, as a scribe, a painter, an instrument-maker, a silversmith, and even a blacksmith. It was during these times that Dunstan’s legend was crafted through duels with the Devil–who tried to tempt him on more than one occasion. Dunstan defeated the Devil not with words but with tools: when the Devil (disguised as a beautiful woman) tried to lure him away from his forge while he was working (piously) one day, Dunstan waited until his tongs were red hot and then seized the Devil by the nose, and when the Devil appeared as a weary traveler in need of hospitality and a new shoe for his horse, Dunstan duly nailed the shoe to the hoof not of the horse but of Satan. Before he removed the nails, which were causing the Devil considerable pain, Dunstan made him promise that he would never enter a house where a horseshoe was displayed above the door, and with one stroke of the Devil’s pen a utilitarian object was transformed into a talisman. Talk about muscular Christianity!

Dunstan 1

Dunstan harp

Dunstan

Dunstan shoe

Dunstan 5

Dunstan last arms

HOrseshoe p 22

Centuries later, with more whimsy than reverence, Edward Flight and George Cruikshank presented the story of St. Dunstan, the Devil, and the lucky horse-shoe in The True Legend Of St Dunstan And The Devil; Showing How The Horse-Shoe Came to Be A Charm Against Witchcraft by Edward G. Flight with eight woodcut illustrations by George Cruikshank, engraved by J. Thompson, London, 1871. And here I see that my own horseshoe is pointed in the wrong direction!


Eight Firebrands

September 22, 1692 was an unfortunate verification of that trite proverb that it is always darkest before the dawn: it marked the worst day of the Salem Witch Trials and the beginning of their end. Eight victims were executed that day: Ann Pudeator and Alice Parker of Salem, Martha Corey of Salem Farms (Peabody), Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker of Andover, Wilmot Redd of Marblehead, Margaret Scott of Rowley, and Mary Easty of Topsfield. Theirs were the last executions: Massachusetts Governor William Phips dissolved his specially-commissioned Court of Oyer and Terminer a month later as both the hysteria and confidence in its procedures had dissipated. But on September 22 the Devil was still very much present in Salem: in More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700), Robert Calef reports that the cart, going to the hill with these eight to execution, was for some time at a set; the afflicted and others said that the devil hindered it, etc. and just after the executions, the Reverend Nicholas Noyes of Salem remarked that “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there!”

PicMonkey Collage

Illustrations from Winfield S. Nevins, “Stories of Salem Witchcraft,” The New England Magazine Volume 5 (1892).

It has always seemed to me that the Reverend Noyes, who was associate pastor of the First Church in Salem Town, has escaped indictment for his rather involved role in the Trials. Of the participating pastors, Samuel Parris and Cotton Mather seem to get a lot more blame and attention, but Noyes seems to have been an eager attendant. Earlier in 1692 he had tangled with Sarah Good during her trial, calling on her to confess to witchcraft and prompting her famous reply that  I am no more a Witch than you are a Wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink, a curse that was later incorporated into Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables in varied form. Noyes called Martha Corey’s witchcraft “apparent” and went after Alice Parker with zeal. Later in life Noyes (who is always described as a rather corpulent bachelor) apologized and repented for his involvement, which might have gotten him off the hook–but at least Frank Cousins refers to him as “rabid”.

September 22 is my own personal day of reflection and remembrance for the victims of 1692: typically I read some of their testimonies, wander over to the Witch Trials Memorial, and then up to Gallows Hill–a vaguely-located place then and now. The downtown Witch Trials Memorial, designed by Maggie Smith and James Cutler and installed for the Tercentenary of the Trials in 1992, is wonderful in every way, but even at this time of year, just before Witch City shifts into high gear, it feels encroached-upon to me: a little island of propriety in a sea of vulgarity. So I like to go up to Gallows Hill–or hills. We know that the victims of 1692 were hung somewhere up there (see Calef’s first quote above), but not precisely where, which I think is a good thing. An elevated area along the western border of Salem, the Gallows Hill area features rocky ledges, rather barren soil, and woods interspersed among older houses and a 1970s residential development named “Witchcraft Heights”. The site where the victims were executed was thought to be the most elevated spot, in what is now Gallows Hill Park, in the nineteenth century, but the research of Sidney Perley in the early twentieth seems to have shifted the location to a smaller copse of ledge and trees down below–a rather forlorn lot behind a Walgreen’s parking lot–nearly the same location where the Great Salem Fire began a century ago. Both locations–the park above and the copse below–are actually rather forlorn and very still, so they are nice places in which to reflect and remember with little danger of encountering a fried-dough-eating sexy witch.

Worlst Day Scribners Popular History

Worst Day 013

Worst Day 019

Witch Plat

Witches’ Hill, encompassing Gallows Hill, Salem, including the Park above and the “Gallows Plat”, below, behind the Walgreen’s parking lot on Boston and Proctor Streets. Illustrations from Scribner’s Popular History of the United States, William Cullen Bryant, et. al., 1892, and Sidney Perley’s article “Where the Witches were Hanged”, Essex Institute Historical Collections 57 (January 1921).

 

 


Details, Details

Wow–there’s so much going on in the world today: while the current conflicts continue, the British union is preserved and Skinner Auctions sells a Qing era vase for nearly 25 million dollars. And the golden weather continues here in Salem, where I took an aimless walk the other day and started noticing lots of (relatively) little things that I had never noticed before. None of these observations are related to each other, except for the fact that they all occurred on one walk: and some of the things that I just noticed have been hiding in plain site forever, “hiding” in plain sight, while others are relatively new developments. Just a little walk on a busy, beautiful day.

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Cockspur Hawthorn Tree, Ropes Garden. I’ve been looking for a Hawthorn tree for my garden, and this one is beautiful in the spring, but too messy in the fall! I’m crossing it off my list.

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Howard Street Cemetery. Needs some work, but there are lots of stories here! I feel sorry for Mr. Thomas Manning, but on the other hand, instant death is better than long-suffering death.

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Facades matter: these three buildings are on Williams and Mall Streets, which run between the Common and Bridge Street. I never noticed the brick back of the brown shingled house before–that’s quite a fortification! They’ve been working on the green house for the last few years–it used to be a nondescript multi-family. And this “Victorian” garage masks a much more simple structure.

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Bridge Street: is a very busy entrance/exit corridor which for the most part is rather charmless but there are some great houses and an almost-endless series of improvements were completed a year or so ago. I like how they built out the brick sidewalk to soften the effect of traffic and allow for some greenery, but I’m worried about what this little shop will become–it used to be a cute bicycle shop.

Details Turtle

Back at home, it’s turtle(head) time–or nearly past.

 


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