The holiday Halloween evolved from pre-Christian traditions as well as the Christian days for remembrance, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which is today. Remembrance in general, and mourning in particular, were a bit more active in the medieval era than the present but still it is interesting how reflection was transformed into celebration! Mourning, as both a state of mind and an act, is of course universal, transcending time and place, but there are many distinctive and divergent mourning customs, and since its expressions seem to be in season now (as reflected by the new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Morning Attire and The Art of Mourning at the new Morbid Anatomy Museum, as well as the exhibition from a few years ago at the Massachusetts Historical Society, The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, which you can still view online), I thought I would examine just one: the use of chrysanthemums. While the omnipresent autumn plants seems to sit on every stoop and front porch throughout New England, they are used to decorate graves in France and other countries on the European continent and elsewhere (predominately but not always yellow mums in France, white mums are traditional funereal emblems in China), and are as much a natural symbol for mourning as the weeping willow was in nineteenth-century America. You won’t see any mums on the Met’s dresses or the Anglo-American jewelry in the MHS exhibition, but they figure very prominently in French memorial depictions from the same era–and after.
“The Cemetery of Père Lachaise,” after John James Chalon, 1822; Emile Friant, La Toussaint, 1888, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, Daniel Hernandez cover for Figaro illustré, 1896, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Adolf de Meyer, The Shadows on the Wall (“Chyrsanthemums”), 1906, Silver Print Photograph, the Metropolitan Museum of Art; a French cemetery in November 2013, NBC News.
I am sorry to drag out this hackneyed phrase, but Halloween morning in Salem really is the calm before the storm. I’m pretty calm myself, having managed to avoid most of the things that annoy me (the Salem Witch Museum–the most egregious trader on tragedy by far, Essex and New Derby Streets, tour guides–walking founts of misinformation) about this prolonged “holiday” for most of the month of October. I’m looking forward to November 1st (tomorrow!!!), but a bit concerned that I don’t have enough candy to get me through the night, as this is a Friday Halloween with projected good weather. I was praying for rain this morning as I took a walk under the clouds (that’s how much of a Halloween grinch I have become) but then the sun broke out, casting Salem in a beautiful light. Of course it will be even more beautiful tomorrow, or perhaps on Monday, when all of the porta-potties, motorcycles, and demons have left.
Big pumpkins and Big candy: there are big pumpkins on River Street every year, and every year I complain to my students about having to spend so much money on candy–so this year one of them (Samantha Ferraro) drew me with my very full shopping cart.
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.
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.”
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.”
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).
The holiday which we now commemorate as Memorial Day has its origins in the immediate years after the Civil War, when late-May rituals of remembrance and decoration of veterans’ graves emerged and evolved spontaneously and separately in both the North and the South. Given the prominent role played by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in the official adoption of the holiday in the North in the later 19th century, a rather divided commemoration continued all the way up to World War I, which united the nation in remembrance, and widened its circle to encompass American veterans of all conflicts. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress and placed on the last Month of May. And thus we have our national commemoration and commencement of summer (although weather-wise, the latter might apply only to the North). When tracing the earlier history of Decoration Day through paper, which is easy to do as it corresponds to the “golden age” of penny postcards and advertising inserts, the divided focus is readily apparent. The cards below are from a great archive of postcards produced by the famous British firm Raphael Tuck & Sons, which supplied both North and South with their commemorative cards.
Flags unfurled, North and South, c. 1907; Remembering Generals Grant and Lee (with the U.S. flag sneaking into the latter scene), c. 1911; In a northern Attic, c. 1910; The Blue and the Gray come together just before the Great War; all veterans after (this last card is not a Tuck–you can probably see the difference in quality–and also unlike all the Tuck cards, it was not produced in then-hostile Germany).
Beautiful weather here, at long last. Yesterday, Mother’s Day, was nothing short of spectacular. Everyone was in a blissful mood. I’ve been running, literally, around town, trying to ramp up my endurance but I always take my camera with me so I suppose I’m not really that serious about it. I don’t want to miss anything: blooming bleeding hearts, turtles in Greenlawn cemetery (they always seem to line up on the same fallen branch in order of weight and size), unusual houses (the two white ones are hard to pin down in terms of style and period: would be grateful for more informed opinions), groundhogs (couldn’t get the picture, sorry), bubbles. My garden came to life almost overnight: last week I was in despair, but now it looks like the jacks-in-the-pulpit and lady’s slippers are about to bust out of the ground along with most (not all, but most) of my perennials. I’m going to fill in some of the holes that I do have in the shade garden with brunnera macrophylla (with purple flowers below), which has proved itself to be both pretty and hardy.
Salem (and bubbles in Concord):
Yesterday afternoon we went up to New Castle, New Hampshire to have brunch with my family at Wentworth by the Sea, built as the Hotel Wentworth in 1872, abandoned a century and a decade later, and “restored” (rebuilt?) ten years ago. It was a big part of my early life and even though it’s not the most sensitive of restorations it was nice to see it full of smiling happy people yesterday. I’ve included a photograph of its dark days in the 1990s for contrast. We drove home past long lines at each and every ice cream stand along the way–although in New England, you see that in February.
New Castle, New Hampshire:
On this Earth Day, it seems appropriate to feature the scary but beautiful map of the world with unfrozen polar caps created by Slovakian student/graphic artist/cartographer Martin Vargic. At first glance, the map looks like a traditional nineteenth-century decorative map of the hemispheres, but then you look closer (just click on it) and see that many unshaded coastal areas are “missing” and that new seas and lakes have opened up in the midst of continental interiors: there is an Amazon Sea in the middle of South America and a new “Artesian Sea” in Australia. The map presents a rather radical vision with sea levels 260 feet higher than today (most scientists seem to project a 3 foot rise by 2100), and consequently all the coastal cities of the eastern seaboard in North America are gone (including Salem, of course), along with those of the Gulf Coast and what looks like the entire state of Florida. Across the Atlantic, London is gone, along with Amsterdam, and Denmark. Vargic, whose work can also be found here, seems to have one-upped his earlier map of the internet, which went viral earlier this year.
Map Images © Martin Vargic @ Halcyon Maps
Appendix: Climate maps are nothing new, although predictive ones certainly are. Those from the 17th through the 19th centuries seem to be more of the recording or empirical nature, like the circular map of London’s annual temperature cycle below. Things get a little bit more subjective later in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, when “scientific racism” (and environmental determinism) tried to assert “rational” explanations for the industrial progress (and supposed superiority) of the West. The 1924 map below seems to be doing just that.
Map from Luke Howard, The Climate of London, deduced from meteorological observations, made in the Metropolis, and at various places around it…(London, 1833),Wellcome Library; and map from Ellsworth Huntingdon, Civilization and Climate (London, 1924), Wellcome Library.