Tag Archives: 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

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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.

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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

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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

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Rowhouses Salem 3

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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

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


Remembering the Fire

Another anniversary today, though one not nearly as festive as that of the nativity of St. John. On June 25, 1914, 99 years ago today, the Great Salem Fire devastated large sections of our city, engulfing over 1300 buildings and 250 acres. The French neighborhood of Salem, including its centerpiece, the newly-built St. Joseph’s Church, was consumed (and that church’s eventual replacement was dismantled by human hands earlier this year). A lot has been written about the Fire, and I expect that many more words and images will be presented over this next Centennial year. I have just begun working with our university archivist on a digital exhibition on the Fire and its aftermath, and we hope to have it completed by the beginning of 2014.

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Panoramic photograph of the Fire by C.H. Phinney, 1914, Library of Congress.

There are many contemporary images to choose from, including the hundred of postcards of the Fire aftermath which I wrote about in an earlier post. I don’t really understand the compulsion to make/send postcards from the scene of a human disaster but it was certainly done in this case! We are looking for more unusual and less commercial images of both the fire and its aftermath, so if you know of any private collections please let me know. We also want to focus on the greater impact: on both the neighborhoods directly affected and the city at large. The photographs below, all from the Boston Public Library, capture both the moment and the morning after in particularly compelling ways.

Salem Fire at its Height, BPL

Salem Fire Old Steamer

The Salem Fire at its height, from the Railroad Crossing” and “the Famous Old Steamer on its Way to the Salem Fire”. Note the man in the first picture, more captivated by the photographer than the fire behind him. His view is blocked by the railroad car, but still!

Salem Fire Ruins 1 BPL

Salem Fire Ruins 2 BPL

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Ruins on the morning after. There are many similar images; we’re going to have to be much more resourceful and creative in our efforts to source images of the Fire’s long-term aftermath.

Salem Fire Feed Tent

Feed Tent, Forest River Park. Photograph by M.E. Robb from Arthur B. Jones’ The Salem Fire (1914).


Election Day and Night

I am so very grateful that Election Day is finally upon us. I’ve been living in a world of division over the past many months:  divided family, divided household, divided department, divided circle of friends. Facebook has been absolutely unbearable in the last month or so–even more so than normal. Hopefully we can all move on no matter what the outcomes. All this early voting confuses and upsets me:  I think it’s adding to the divisiveness. Why can’t we just have one day, Election Day, when we all exercise our civic obligation and privilege at the same time?  If it’s a matter of access and opportunity, I would certainly support an Election Day holiday, but I think we should all vote on the same day and then celebrate our ability to vote on Election Night.

I’m very curious about the experience of voting in the past, and the speed by which news of the results reached the electorate. Few of my Americanist colleagues could give me any satisfactory insights into this, and my own knowledge of early modern Europe–and age when kings and queens ruled–is not much help.  I imagine that the experience of voting was very different in the cities and the countryside, and that it took weeks, if not months, to know the results before the telegraph and telephone. One colleague suggested we search through a database of early American newspapers to see when the election results reached Salem, and our findings were both predictable and surprising:  predictable in the sense that it clearly took several weeks to confirm the election of a president through most of the nineteenth century, surprising in the way they voted–over several days.  So there goes my criticism of the supposed “innovation” of early voting.  The logistics of democracy are often complicated, then and now.

My research into the mechanics of voting did turn up some great election materials, from a succession of campaigns and elections past, beginning with a lovely banner from one of the most contested elections of all time:  the 1800 race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. I love this banner from the Smithsonian, and wonder where it was displayed.

My election images are a mixture of materials:  from campaigns and periodicals primarily.  I would have liked to get inside the polling place, or on the streets just outside, but that was seldom possible. And I’m not even getting close to the present:  too divisive.  The past is safer.

Two very popular prints:  Election Day outside Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 1816, by Alexander Lawson, and James Polk trying to prove he is not pro-Catholic, 1844, both Library of Congress.

The telegraph delivers the results of the 1856 election & a Charles Maurand print of the celebrations following the election of Abraham Lincoln in the streets of New York, 1860, Harper’s Weekly; a metamorphic trade card for the presidential contest of 1876 between Tilden and Grant, Duke University Library Special Collections.

Inside the Polling Place:  voting in New York City, 1898 and a Jacob Riis photograph of a mock election, 1890, Museum of the City of New York.

The emergence of public opinion:  campaign cards for William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan from the 1908 election–before women could vote, of course, and a nation divided between Roosevelt, Wilson and Taft in 1912, Library of Congress.


No Poe?

The Library of Congress is currently running an exhibition (both digital and material) entitled Books That Shaped America as part of their multiyear “Celebration of the Book”.  There are 88 books in all, and the list is intended to provoke reading, thought, discussion, and additions:  According to the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, it is a “starting point… intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.” To contribute to this conversation, you can take a survey on the site. I have found myself thinking about the list quite a bit over the last week or so, and every time I make a mental case on why a certain book should be (or should not be) on the list I go to the exhibit website and read the Library’s rationale.

The books include classic examples of both nonfiction and fiction:  the former category includes several works of grammar, cookbooks, scientific books, and quite a few works which call for social reform, pretty understandable given the list’s focus on impact, influence, identity. There are several early primers, but twentieth-century textbooks do not make the grade.  Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (1796) is on the list, along with Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking (1931), but not Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (the first to use standardized measurements) or Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook (which really revolutionized the American palate, in my understanding).

A history of how-to:  The New England Primer (1802), The American Woman’s Home by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869) and Dale Carnegie’s incredibly influential How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936).

The fiction works seem more predictable:  lots of New England authors, I must say, including Salem’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thoreau, Melville, Alcott, Dickinson.  Washington Irving is on the list, as is, of course, Mark Twain.  All the expected southern authors (with the exception of Flannery O’Connor) are included, and many major twentieth-century texts, from The Jungle to In Cold Blood.  The list also includes classic children’s books, including  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), Good Night Moon (1947), and Where the Wild Things Are (1973).

Forceful Fiction:  Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951).

Actually, I think that children’s literature is a bit over-represented as compared to other genres.  And I know I’m biased, but history seems under-represented, as well as economics (Sandburg’s Lincoln? Milton Friedman?).  As for fiction, I think I’ve figured out why works by James Fenimore Cooper and Edith Wharton were not included but why no Poe?  Certainly The Raven must be put on the list, at the very least.

Antonio Frasconi illustration for/of The Raven, 1959, in the current exhibition at the Brandywine River Museum: Picturing Poe: Illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe’s Stories and Poems.


Mourning in England and America

When I found the painting below, alternatively titled The Saltonstall Family, or Members of the Saltonstall Family, and painted by David Des Granges about 1636-37, I was immediately drawn to it for several reasons.  I teach several courses on this period, so I thought it would be very useful in illustrating the importance of family in Stuart England. And then there was the Salem connection:  the Saltonstalls were one of the founding families of Massachusetts and of Salem:  Nathaniel Salstonstall (1639-1707) was one of the judges in the witch trials and Leverett Saltonstall (1783-1845) was the city’s first mayor and later a U.S. representative. We have a Saltonstall School and a Saltonstall parkway.  However, a little genealogical research (I never like to engage in too much genealogy–it’s a tangled web) has convinced me that I don’t really have a Salem story:  the man in the painting is indeed Sir Richard Saltonstall, but he is not THE Sir Richard Salstonstall (1586-1661), who sailed up the Charles River in 1630 and became the founder of the Massachusetts Saltonstalls of later fame and fortune. This Sir Richard Saltonstall (1595-1650) never left England, and in the same year that the man who shared his name was exploring the New World he was losing his first wife, who is also pictured below, along with his second, and the children he had with both women.

David Des Granges, The Saltonstall Family, 1636-37.  Tate Museum, London.

This, then, is a mourning portrait, depicting the living and the dead, together:  a truly blended family!  Sir Richard is pictured alongside his dead first wife, Elizabeth Basse, who is pointing to their two surviving children, Richard (wearing a long skirt as was customary for English boys of a certain class until age 6 or 7) and Ann, who link hands with each other and with their father, demonstrating the bonds of family.  Sir Richard’s second wife, Mary Parker, is seated with their newborn child on the right, completing the framed family.

Though some might think it a little creepy to have a dead person in the picture (though certainly far less creepy than those Victorian photographs of the dearly departed), I think that this painting is a rather tender portrayal of remembrance. Sir Richard’s outstretched hand seems to be including everyone in his family, and reminding his children not to forget their mother.  Here mourning is about remembering the dead, rather than just dwelling on loss by putting something on–a dress, a ring, a brooch, an armband.  In terms of aesthetics, I have always admired the elegant American mourning paintings from the Federal period–usually painted on silk and with the requisite weeping willow taking center stage–but this earlier English example strikes me as far more personal, and poignant.

New England mourning paintings on silk from 1810, 1811 & 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a D.W. Kellogg chromolithographic print of an 1825 painting, Library of Congress.


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