Tag Archives: ephemera

Hats off to Saint Catherine

There is a holiday more feminine than Thanksgiving and it is today: the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose hagiography established her as the patron saint of philosophers and students in the Middle Ages, and of unmarried women and milliners in the modern era. An interesting evolution from the spiritual to the secular, like many medieval saints, with librarians and all penitents in need representing the transitional beneficiaries. According to her Legend, Catherine was a lovely young woman of noble birth in the early fourth century who converted to Christianity following a vision. She caught the eye of the Emperor Maxentius (r. 306-312) and her refusal to marry him resulted in her martyrdom: after she shattered the first instrument of her torture and execution, a spiked wheel, with a mere touch, she was put to the sword and beheaded. Catherine is seldom seen without these attributes as reminders of the strength of her faith, but there is also a genre of Renaissance depictions which show her rising above them and vanquishing the evil emperor.

Saint Catherine Pacher

Saint Catherine withe the Defeated Emperor

Friedrich Pacher, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 15th-16th century, deYoung/Legion of Honor Museums, San Francisco; Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with the Defeated Emperor (c. 1482), Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I’m not sure of the precise transition, but at some point in the later eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, Catherine evolved in a patron saint for spinsters, or more precisely unmarried women over the age of 25. This was particularly a French development, and young women began to commemorate the day by praying to Saint Catherine for a husband, donning hats specially made for the occasion, and sending notes and cards to each other as a form of comfort and companionship. The emphasis on hats led to another evolution of Catherine’s patronage, and she became associated more specifically with unmarried women who worked in the fashion and millinery trades of Paris, where large “Catherinette” celebrations occurred on this day in the 1920s and 1930s, a “tradition” that was revived after World War II and apparently continues to this day. As would only be fitting for the women who worked in these creative industries, the hats worn by the Catherinettes were often (but not always) confined to Catherine’s colors of yellow (for faith) and green (for wisdom), but also exemplified unlimited forms of structure, substance and style. And still do.

Catherinets Paris Flammarion

Catherinettes 1950s

Catherinettes Etsy

Catherinette PC

Catherinette Paris 2013

Catherinettes in the 1930s (from Ernest Flammarion’s Paris (1931)) and 1950s; a modern print of vintage Catherinettes; a St. Catherine’s Day card from the 1940s, and a Chanel Catherinette creation, 2013.

Fabricating the Feast

Can there be any other holiday more closely associated with women than Thanksgiving? Forget the quasi-mythical “First Thanksgiving”, for which we only have references to men fowling and feasting–after that it’s all about women. What emerged as a New England tradition in the early nineteenth century was transformed into a national holiday through the intense efforts of author and editor Sarah Josepha Hale, eventually resulting in Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863. Several other New England ladies contributed to this effort, including Lydia Maria Child, whose “Over the River and through the Wood” we traditionally associate with Christmas but was first published in 1844 as “The New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving”. Successive presidents followed Lincoln’s precedent until 1941, when Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as a permanent Thanksgiving holiday. In the interim, a major medium for the adoption of a national harvest holiday seems to have been women’s magazines, chief among them Hale’s own Godey’s Ladies Book and later Good Housekeeping, The Ladies’ Home Journal (and Practical Housekeeper), (The) House Beautiful, and even Harper’s Bazaar. There was definitely a bit of culinary imperialism at work here: the ideal Thanksgiving menu published in Hale’s first novel, Northwood, was Yankee fare (cranberries!), but as turkey assumed the center stage (pushing out the very popular chicken pot pie and assorted other fowl) regional dishes could be assimilated as “sides”. And need I even say it? Women were making all those Thanksgiving feasts.

Thanksgiving HP 1894

Thanksgiving 1895 Bradley

Thanksgiving LHJ 1897-98

Thanksgiving 1904 Puck

Thanksgiving Pictorial Review 1906 Cover

Bearing Thanksgiving HP 1914

Thanksgiving gh 1937

Fabricating a very FEMININE Thanksgiving in the popular print media, 1894-1937: 1894-95 covers by Louis John Rhead and William H. Bradley, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Ladies’ Home Journal Thanksgiving covers for 1897 and 1898; 1904 Puck Magazine cover, Library of Congress;  Pictorial Review and Ullman Manufacturing calendar page for November 1906; Harpers Bazaar and Good Housekeeping covers, 1914 and 1937, Library of Congress and Good Housekeeping archive.

Lafayette, We are Here

Over this past weekend I caught many references to the storied phrase “Lafayette, we are here” on my twitter feed and the radio, so many that I woke up on Monday morning with it ringing in my ears! I can appreciate the American-Lafayette connection, after all I live right next to Hamilton Hall, where a “Lafayette Room” memorializes the Marquis’s visit to Salem in 1824 and walk to work on Lafayette Street every day, but I wasn’t quite sure about the complete context of the phrase. I think I always assumed that General John. J. Pershing uttered it when he arrived in France with the first American forces in the summer of 1917, but it was actually one of his aides, Colonel Charles E. Stanton, when both he and Pershing visited Lafayette’s tomb after a triumphant parade through the streets of Paris on July 4, 1917. Apparently the Colonel was much more eloquent than the General, and often called to come up with appropriate remarks, though he was very humble about this role during and well after the war. You can easily understand Stanton’s inspiration when you consider other contemporary American references to Lafayette: a Lafayette U.S. dollar minted in 1899, the work of the Lafayette Memorial Commission which was charged with raising funds for the installation of a Lafayette statue at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, the Lafayette Fund established in 1914 to aid France once the war began, and of course the famous Lafayette Escadrille with its daring American volunteer flyers. With the predominant mood of isolationism in the U.S. prior (and even after) 1914, entry into this European war had to be justified by an American interest–and “paying back” Lafayette became one. Either Stanton’s words really struck a chord in 1917, or the government promoted this sentiment to increase popular support for the war. Maybe a bit of both?

Lafayette and Washington sheet music

Lafayette Stantion NYT Jan 18 1931 Framed


Lafayette Calling LC 1918

Lafayette We are Going Over LC 1917

Lafayette We are Here Sheet Museic

Lafayette We are Herd 1919 LC

Lafayette were here 1918 LC

Lafayette Rebuild LOC 1918

Lafayette Paid Debt LC 1919

Washington-Pershing song sheet, 1917, Cornell University; the story of Stanton’s phrase in the New York Times, January 18, 1931; “Lafayette, We are Here” poster, Lafayette University; the progress of the war from the American-Lafayette perspective in song sheets from the Library of Congress; below, post-war Washington-Lafayette-Handkerchief from the Boston Athenaeum exhibition: Over There: World War One Posters from Around the World.

Lafayette Handkerchief Boston Athenaeum

The Cries of Paris

A title that is all-too-poignant if perceived literally from our perspective here and now, in mid-November of 2015, but historically refers to a genre of popular prints from the early modern era depicting everyday people in the streets, carrying on their business openly and freely: modernity means “progress”, you say? The title is paradoxical because these are visual media, but if we could hear the cries we would be offered a multitude of services and products: chimney-sweeping, firewood, rags, vinegar, milk, cakes, bread, varieties of vegetables. Everyone was a specialist, and of course these images are essentially idealistic–yet still they are notable attempts to represent the people. The Cries genre encompasses not only Paris but also London and a few other European cities, and pre-dates print, but the printed images became particularly popular in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when many variants of original etchings were produced. They are key sources for economic, social, and cultural historians, but also for those of fashion and print. The Cries of Paris images disappear during the French Revolutionary era, only to reappear in the nineteenth century as a form of nostalgia for the “simpler” ancien regime: it is in that spirit that I am presenting them now. Nineteenth-century street cries images appear not only on print series but also on board games and playing cards: a judge is included in sets of latter, declaring “Peace, peace” in order to stop the game.

Cries of Paris Milkmaid Bnf Arsenal

Cries of Paris Rat Poison MFA

Cries of Paris Nutcrackers

Cries of Paris BM

Cries of Palace Frontspiece

Cries of Paris Collage

Cris de Paris Playing Cards Auction Results

Milkmaid from Les Cris de Paris, c. 1500, BnF, Arsenal. Est. 264 ; A seller of rat poison, engraving by Abraham Bosse’s Small Trades and Cries of Paris, 1630, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nutcrackers, from Les Cris de Paris, after Jacques Philippe Le Bas and François Boucher, 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Crit de Paris, published by Adriaan Schoonebeek, 1675-1714, British Museum; “Bill stickers” from variant versions of the Cries of Paris, 1740s; “Tisane seller”, conjurer, and umbrella pedlar, from The Cries of Paris series, engraved by Francois Seraphin Delpech after Antoine Charles Vernet, early 19th century, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France; Les Cris de Paris. Amusement de Société set of playing cards, Paris, 1820, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.

Oyster Square

Time to return to the very basics of life:  food, and plumbing! Today I’m thinking about oysters, and up next I’ve got a special post on wooden water pipes. Oysters–their harvest, sale, and consumption–have always been big business in Salem: Wellfleet is hardly the only Massachusetts oyster town! At present we have three restaurants which feature oyster bars: the excellent Turners Seafood at the Lyceum, the oddly-named Village Tavern Grill & Oyster Bar, and the relatively new and very popular Sea Level Oyster Bar on Pickering Wharf. In the past, Salem probably had many more oyster establishments that were also actual oyster bars, as this particular commodity has evolved over time from a working man’s food to a bit more of a delicacy. Today, Salem’s many restaurants are spread out across its downtown, from the water to the train station, but in the past they were concentrated in the area around the Old Town Hall or Market House. Derby Square and Front Street today are still busy commercial spaces while an adjacent alley that served as an “Oyster Row” of sorts a century or more ago is now silent: yet Higginson Square still bears the signs of its purveying past.

Higginson Square

Higginson Square 2

Higginson Square 3

The large brick commercial buildings on the east side of Higginson Square were built between 1895 and 1915, replacing earlier, smaller structures that served as dining rooms, bars, and wholesale purveyors of oysters and other foodstuffs. Their surviving shop windows indicated that they were functioning as retail establishments in the twentieth century too, but I don’t think this remained a restaurant row. These building have Derby, rather than Higginson, Square addresses now, but the one adorned with the fire escape was the earlier site of the Remond residence/restaurant/and oyster operation at 5 Higginson Square operated by John and Nancy Remond, the parents of Salem’s pioneering African-American abolitionists Charles and Sarah. The spotlight is always on the Remond children (a new park named after them is in the works now) but I’ve always been more interested in their entrepreneurial parents, who operated several businesses in Salem. Surviving advertisements for Remond oysters (“Let them be roasted, stewed, or fried; Or any other way beside; You’ll be well served, or ill betide”) indicate that the North Shore was no longer viable oystering ground in the mid-nineteenth century, as John was bringing in large supplies of oysters from Wellfleet and New York, enough to operate a veritable wholesale monopoly in Salem.

Oyster Square Trade Card

Oyster Trade Card SSU 2

Oyster Trade Card SSU

Oyster Trade Card 2

Oyster Square Trade Card Lynn

Trade cards from the collection of Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Commonwealth–I had to include the Lynn fish! The Remond businesses came a bit too early for these cards. Below–Salem’s 19th century Market Square, where oyster and other eating establishments were clustered. Higginson Square is marked in blue.

Salem 1851

Cakes for Souls and Spouses

Some day, some night, I swear I am going to offer the hordes of Halloween trick-or-treaters that darken my door traditional soulcakes rather than Kit Kats or Butterfingers: now that would be asking for a trick! I think about doing this every year but never follow through: I’m too scared of the consequences, I think, or lacking in confidence in my ability to produce some decent looking cakes. I have already purchased my requisite 1400 pieces of candy so I’ll probably chicken out this year too. Soul cakes are often described as a cross between a biscuit (in the English sense, or an American cookie) and a scone, and sometimes as shortbread: there are lots of recipes available on the web, many adopted from early modern cookbooks. If I were going to go for it, I would probably go with one of the two recipes available here, my go-to source for food history. I suppose that the cakes are more appropriately distributed on All Saints or Souls Day (November 1 and 2), but no one will be coming to my door then: Salem will be returned to its residents! In any case, my Halloween cakes would be perfectly respectable with recognition of the pre-modern Hallow-Tide, which covers all three Hallowed days: from All-Hallows Eve or Halloween on 31 October through All Saints and All Souls Days. These Christian days were superimposed upon earlier Pagan holidays and traditions, creating a period in which the dead and the living were particularly close, and could affect one another’s fate. The medieval Christian view was that this was a time that the living should be working to get the dead out of purgatory, so bells were run, prayers were said, and gifts were given–in the form of cakes disbursed to bands of “soulers” who went from house to house singing ancient souling songs and offering prayers for the dearly departed. After the Reformation and the disappearance of a soul-packed Purgatory in most of Protestant Britain, souling evolved into outright begging, and eventually (jumping the Atlantic) into trick-or-treating. If there was no English Reformation, I wonder if we would all still be giving out soul cakes? Probably not.

Souls 17th Century



Seventeenth-century Souls, simply existing and ascending directly to Heaven without stopping at Purgatory–they don’t need any prayers or cakes! (Karel van Mallery after Jan van der Straet, Antwerp, 1609 and Johannes Amos Comenius, Orbis sesualium pictus, Nuremburg, 1658 , both Wellcome Library Images); Shropshire Soul Cakes, from a recipe available here, and a more modern Halloween cake on an early 20th century postcard.

Another cake long associated with Halloween in parts of the British Isles, most particularly western Scotland and the Isle of Man, is dumb- cake, very simple, salty grain and water cakes baked in the fire by unmarried women at midnight, with the aim of revealing their future spouses. While holding the pan, they were said to recite an ancient rhyme—Two must make it, two must bake it, and two must break it— and afterwards their future mates would be revealed in their dreams. Presumably the word “dumb” is a variant of “doom”, the Old English word for fate or destiny, although I’ve also read that the girls were supposed to remain mute while they baked the cake (then how would they recite the rhyme?). This kind of “divining for husbands” takes many different forms (cabbage-pulling, mirror-gazing) on both sides of the Atlantic, and survives in the form of various cultural expressions into the twentieth century.

Dumb Cake Play 1907

Halloween cake postcard

Title and first page of the play entitled The Dumb-Cake by Arthur Morrison and Richard Pryce, London, 1907, and an early twentieth-century variant of a dumb cake on a postcard from the same era.

Witch Houses

Central to Salem’s evolution as the Witch City was the Witch House, a first-period structure that was the residence of one of the Trials’ judges, Jonathan Corwin. It was referred to as the Witch House back in the nineteenth century, when it housed a number of businesses–a longstanding drug store, later an antiques shop–and looked quite different than it does today, but it really became the Witch House when its evolving image was published on variant postcards from around 1900 on. The Corwin House acquired its seventeenth-century look in the middle of the twentieth century through a “restoration” under the direction of Boston architect Gordon Robb, and was opened to the public as the official “Witch House” by the city of Salem in 1948. As I’ve written about this House and its history before, I want to widen its context today by featuring some other Witch Houses, near and far, past and present, material and immaterial. There are at least two other houses in Essex County which were identified as such on postcards from a century ago, a time when there was a limited effort to turn the entire region into “Broomstick Country”. This was historically correct–the “Salem Witch Trials” were indeed a regional phenomenon–but commercially tricky, so Salem eventually claimed its exclusive title as the one and only “Witch City” with the Witch House.

The Old Witch House--Scene of Examinations at Salem. Illustration from Columbus and Columbia (Manufacturers' Book Co, c 1893).

Witch House Salem 1905

Witch House Danvers

Witch House Rockport 1910

Salem’s “Witch House” in 1893 (Columbus and Columbia Manufacturers’ Book Co, c 1893) and 1905: the George Jacobs “Witch House” in Danvers in 1907 (located in what was then Salem in the seventeenth century) and Rockport’s “Witch House”, also known as the “Old Garrison House” and still standing, in 1910. Supposedly two brothers from Salem built this house as a refuge for their accused sister or mother (depending on the source).

Farther afield, Witch Houses don’t have anything to do with witch trials: they just look like the sort of gothic structure that a romanticized witch might inhabit, like the Spadena “Witch’s” House in Beverly Hills, California, a storybook-style house built in 1921, or the famous Carl Van Vechten photograph of a long-lost “Witch House” in rural Maine during the Depression. The fairy-tale witches of the nineteenth century had created a more whimsical images of their houses in the twentieth, and clearly gables were seen as integral architectural details, so it is quite suitable that Salem’s Witch House would soon be enhanced with several.


Witch House Van Vechten

Witch House Pyle 1887

Witch House Key Nielsen 1921

The California “Witch’s House’ in its original Culver City location, courtesy Beverly Hills Heritage; Carl Van Vechten, “Witch House”, 1936, Library of Congress; the Prince visits the Witch’s House in Howard and Katharine Pyle’s The Wonder Clock: or, Four & Twenty Marvelous Tales, Beind One for Each Hour of the Day (1887); The Witch’s confectionary cottage from Hansel and Gretel, by Kay Nielsen (1921).

Even farther afield in terms of both space and time is the woodcut print of a Witch House from the later sixteenth century by an anonymous English artist. This image, quite unusual as witches were generally depicted outside, in the wild, at this time, is often cited as appearing in the Swiss theologian Thomas Lieber (Erastus)’s Two Dialogues Concerning the Power of Witches (1579), but as Charles Zika points out in The Appearance of Witchcraft. Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe, the image appears to have been simply inserted into a 1579 English edition. Another fantasy house, although in this case it’s more about the exit than the architecture!

Witch House 1590


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