Tag Archives: Library of Congress

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.

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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.

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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).


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!

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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


So Many Gables

It would be fine with me if the House of the Seven Gables was the iconic symbol of Salem rather than the witch: it seems to me that these two images were competing for that role in the earlier part of the twentieth century, but the witch definitely won out in the second half. I can’t tell you how many House of the Seven Gables postcards I have–maybe 50 different images, some only slightly different–and I have seen Gables puzzles, plates, patches, pens, pillows and all sorts of other items that don’t begin with the letter P.  Such souvenirs are pretty common, so I’m a bit more interested in artistic representations of the house and the book. There are many of these as well: illustrations from the multiple editions of the latter (which never seems to go out of print) and drawings, prints, etchings, and paintings of the former. I’m always looking for works by some of Salem’s renown early twentieth-century artists–Frank Benson, Philip Little, Ross Turner–but they don’t seem to have been inspired by the house (although there is a nice etching by Little’s friend and studio-mate Philip Kappel), which is understandable, given the fact that our Gables is not their Gables. What we call the House of the Seven Gables was known as the old Turner Mansion (or more formally the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in their time, and before preservationist/philanthropist Caroline Emmerton transformed it and adjoining buildings (some of which she made adjoining buildings) into the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association after 1908, the old house really didn’t look that inspirational. This was a pretty run-down neighborhood, and part of Emmerton’s mission was to change all that, with a rather romantically “restored” mansion at its center. And so the old Turner mansion acquired several more gables and became the House of the Seven Gables.

The Making of the House of the Seven Gables, 1908-1915

House of the Seven Gables 1890s

Gables and Seamen's Bethel

House of the Seven Gables 1910s

The Turner-Ingersoll House in the 1890s and 1910s, after Mrs. Emmerton bought the house and established the Settlement Association. The middle picture, dating from around 1914, shows the house from the other side and the developing museum “neighborhood” and its vicinity, including the Seaman’s Bethel on the water, which Mrs. Emmerton later removed to Turner Street. Photographs from the Library of Congress and National Park Service.

With time–and long after Mrs. Emmerton’s death–the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association not only cleaned up, but cleared out, its previously “derelict” neighborhood, and now there is a large parking lot to the left of those hanging sheets below. But that’s another story. A succession of artists from the 1920s on did indeed find the revitalized mansion inspirational, beginning with two female artists who occasionally came down from their Cape Ann summer homes to capture old Salem on canvas:  Felicie Waldo Howell (1897-1968) and Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002). Two very different visions, as you can see, followed by the equally variant views of Dorothy Lake Gregory, Frederic Coulton Waugh, and the contemporary artists Jim Leggitt, Philip Eames, and Matthew Benedict. Just a few images that appealed to me, among many, many Gables out there.

Portraying the House of the Seven Gables, 1921-2010

Gables Howell 1923

House of Seven Gables 1940s Theresa Bernstein

Gables Gregory

Gables Frederic Coulton Waugh

House of Seven Gables Legget

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Gables Benedict 1998


Fenced In

While taking a twilight stroll around Salem the other day/night, it seemed to me as if the street-fronting fences were straining to contain the abundant shrubs, flowers and vines within. September is such an abundant time–even in the city. Salem has some great fences, although it once had many more: when I look through pictures from a century ago I am always struck first by the elaborate fences that lined its streets. Most of the wrought iron ones have survived, many of the wooden ones have not. I think commercialization is the main enemy of the elaborate wooden fence–and a great case in point is the “Dr. Phippen House” on the Common (misidentified by the Historic American Building Survey at the Library of Congress as located on Chestnut Street):  pictured below in 1938 and the other day. It is now a funeral home with no fence in front, and a chain-link fence along its side yard.

Fence Phippen House Salem

Fence Phippen House Salem MA

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Most definitely a loss, as this house occupies a prominent position on the Common. But there are similar fences throughout Salem that survive, primarily, but not exclusively, in the McIntire Historic District.  Iron fences are sturdier survivals, and can be found all over downtown Salem, in varying states of repair. For those who read my post last year about the sad state of the Salem Common fence, I have great news:  it is being repaired and restored. We all benefit when a city, or any property owner, puts their best fence forward.

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More examples of front fences from my (increasingly-dark) walk around town, ending up at the Ropes Mansion garden, which is really stunning at this time of year–definitely worth a trip from near or far.

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Orphans and Multiples

A photographic essay in the Huffington Post from a few days ago entitled “10 Orphan Row Houses So Lonely You’ll Want To Take Them Home With You” did indeed make me sad. A sampling of photographer Ben Marcin’s work, the photographs feature single surviving rowhouses (I prefer the one-word spelling) in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Camden, New Jersey, the heartland of mid-Atlantic urban architecture. I love rowhouses: I actually live in one, although it’s just a double, and I went to college in Baltimore and briefly lived in Washington, D.C., another great rowhouse city. You just know that these still-strident orphans were once part of a strong streetscape, and want to know the story behind their abandonment–and survival.

rowhouse  Ben Marcin Baltimore

Rowhouse Ben Marcin Baltimoreblue

Rowhouses Ben Marcin Philadelphia

Rowhouses in Baltimore and Philadelphia by photographer Ben Marcin, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore.

I got happier when I started reading about some rowhouse renovations, and took a leisurely late-afternoon walk to see some of Salem’s rowhouses. We don’t really have rowhouse blocks like larger cities, but we do have several rows of triple and quadruple semi-detached houses just in my neighborhood,  and a few more around  town. Before the great fire of 1914, there was a “Tontine Block” of four houses in Salem built in 1805, no doubt inspired by Charles Bulfinch’s Tontine Crescent in Boston, one of the first American residential urban planning projects. The Boston Tontine was built in 1794-95 and unfortunately demolished in 1858, the victim of encroaching commercial construction.

Rowhouses Tontine Crescent

Rowhouses 1850s franklin tontine crescent bpl

Bulfinch’s Tontine Plan, 1794, and the Tontine Crescent shortly before its demolition in 1858, Library of Congress and Boston Public Library.

Here in Salem, the triple house on Chestnut Street, fortunately very much still standing, and the lost 1805 Tontine block on nearby Warren Street testified to Bulfinch’s influence; the latter was rebuilt after the fire with some charming Craftsman details, inside and out. The other Salem rowhouses are clearly not Federal in inspiration: dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, they are wooden structures built in a more vernacular Victorian style. Each and every one is enhanced by the presence of its neighbors.

Rowhouse Salem Chestnut

Rowhouses Salem 2

Rowhouses Salem 3

Rowhouses Salem 4

Salem rowhouses on Chestnut, Warren, North Pine, and Broad Streets.


Georgian Houses in Salem

“Georgian” can be a deceptive architectural designation, especially here in Salem: there are Georgian colonial houses built before the Revolution, and Georgian colonial revival houses which date from the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They might share the distinctive gambrel roof and other architectural details, but the proportions are often very different. Within the colonial category, it is readily apparent that “Georgian” is both a style and a period, and not all houses built in the period conform to the styleThere is also the issue of construction conservatism:  walking through my neighborhood I easily spotted many houses that looked “Georgian” to me, but they date from the 1780s and 1790s and even after 1800: now you can’t have a Georgian house after the end of King George’s rule, can you?

On this same walk, I did find several Georgian houses that conformed to both the style and the period, at a few more that left me confused (see below). This is just a sampling from the McIntire Historic District; I am omitting several of the iconic Georgian houses of Salem, including the Derby House, the Crowninshield-Bentley House, and the Miles Ward House. No one could mistake these houses for anything but Georgian, but I have written about them before in various posts and doubtless will again. The houses below are hardly off the beaten track, but I haven’t featured (most of) them before.

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Georgian corner: at the intersection of Essex and Cambridge Streets, the Ropes Mansion (later 1720s) faces the Capt. Thomas Mason House (1750).

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Walking down Essex Street, there are smaller Georgian houses on either side of the street, and the amazing Cabot-Endicott-Low House, built in the 1740s for Salem merchant Joseph Cabot. The house remained in the Cabot family for more than a century, and was then purchased by William Endicott, Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland. The house is spectacular in terms of both scale and detail, and it has great outbuildings too. Unfortunately the other really stately, and unabashedly Georgian, house on Essex Street, the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews House (c. 1740, below) is not as well-preserved as its neighbors: the present owner maintains it as a commercial establishment, complete with vinyl siding and hot top parking lot on what was once fenced-in garden. I’ve never been inside, but its interior has been preserved in photographs, at least, and wallpaper taken from its walls is now in the collection of Winterthur. The beautiful fence that you see in the c. 1910 Detroit Publishing Company photograph below (Library of Congress) is long gone.

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Georgian Houses 2 008Georgian Houses Lindall Barnard Andrews LOC

Over on Federal Street, there are houses that are both Georgian in period and style, and a few that require a bit more interpretation and expertise–a bit more than I have! I’m curious about the three houses below: they have Georgian elements, but as you can see, alterations have been made over time.

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A narrow–and charmingly crooked!–house with a modified gambrel roof and a gambrel-roofed addition:  is it Georgian in style and period? I’m not sure.  And look at the brown house below: it has two roof styles in one!  I wonder which one came first? I assume the gambrel. Apart from the roof, it looks like a mirror image of its neighbor, and that house’s plaque indicates that it is solidly Georgian, at least in period.

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Back to where I began, the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street, where the gardens are in perfect high summer bloom.

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Mapping the Book

For some reason, I belong to all of these membership shopping sites. They send me daily notices of their “special” sales, which usually just annoy me; seldom do I click through and look at their wares. But I did click on the Fab link the other day, and found some really neat pictorial maps of the scenes, plots, characters and places of some classic books, including Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and Robin Hood, produced by the Harris-Seybold  Company of Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s, presumably to showcase their cutting-edge printing equipment. These are different from the make-believe maps you find in children’s books (NeverlandMiddle Earth) because they are representations of real places, superimposed with fictional characters (well, all of them except for Treasure Island). The Library of Congress also featured these maps, in its exhibition and accompanying book Language of the Land:  Journeys into a Literary America.

Literary Maps Moby Dick

Literary Maps Huck Finn

Literary Maps Virginian

Literary Maps Robin Hood

Literary Maps Treasure Island

Harris-Seybold Literary Maps of Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and The Virginian, 1953, Library of Congress, and of Robin Hood and Treasure Island, 1953, Fab.com.

So much better than those old-fashioned literary maps where authors’ heads are placed on their state or town–but many of these can be found in the Library of Congress’s exhibition as well. I spent considerable time (now lost) trying to make a literary map for Salem based on Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables following this Google Earth procedure, with less than impressive results. Instead, I’m featuring a cropped image from another vivid mid-century map, Alva Scott Garfield’s Scott-Map of SALEM MassachusettsThe Wealth of the Indies to the Uttermost Gulf!” Scott’s maps are always extremely well-annotated–and often very cleverly so: the caption underneath the requisite witch on her broomstick reads “aviation started in Salem” while a nearby musket-bearing Puritan is captioned “the anti-aircraft is surprised” (see below). In the proximity of the actual House of the Seven Gables she has assembled many of the characters from the House of the Seven Gables (Clifford and Hepzibah, Phoebe, Judge Pyncheon), creating a perfect literary map of this little corner of Salem. And in another corner, Scott has placed characters from The Scarlet Letter, and the author himself, near the Mall Street house where Hawthorne penned his first novel, charting more literary territory.

Literary Maps Scott

Scott Salem

Scott Map

Alva Scott Garfield, A Scott-Map of Salem, c. 1950s, Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc.


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