Tag Archives: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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.


Cake and the Custom House

This weekend marked the 75th anniversary of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the first federal heritage site (as opposed to national park) in the nation. On Sunday, a spectacularly clear and cold day, the staff of Salem Maritime presented a program of commemoration and appreciation which included lovely succinct speeches, cake, and the opportunity to wander around all of the site’s buildings at leisure. As usual, I was short on time (with a stack of midterms waiting at home), so I went straight for the Custom House (after my cake, of course), which I had not been inside for quite a while. In retrospect I wish I had had time for the Derby House as well, as it has recently been restored. But that’s alright, I can easily go back at another time–I live here.

Custom House Cake

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Salem has been a port of entry since 1649, so there have been a succession of custom houses:  this one, built in 1819, is the last, and while beautiful, it’s a bit of a white elephant really. It was built by a new American government that expected Salem’s dynamic trade to keep expanding, but it declined precipitously almost as soon as the cornerstone of the new building was laid. In his introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel captures this decline better than anyone possibly could, as he was a first-hand observer working (or watching) from this very custom house. Writing in 1850, he observed:  The pavement round about the abovedescribed edificewhich we may as well name at once as the CustomHouse of the porthas grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business. In some months of the year, however, there often chances a forenoon when affairs move onward with a livelier tread. Such occasions might remind the elderly citizen of that period, before the last war with England, when Salem was a port by itself; not scorned, as she is now, by her own merchants and shipowners, who permit her wharves to crumble to ruin while their ventures go to swell, needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at New York or Boston.

Economic stagnation and historic preservation can often, ironically, go hand in hand, and as stately as it is, I’ve always thought that the Custom House has that air of a building that time forgot, where the front door was shut long ago and seldom opened afterwards. There is “minimal” interpretation, which I prefer, just old rooms without people–and the tools of the trade.

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The one room that doesn’t look like everyone just picked up their things and left has a HUGE gold eagle in it: this is the original eagle crafted by Salem woodworker Joseph True and installed at the front of the Custom House in 1826. When it was found to be seriously deteriorated, it was removed, restored, and replaced with a fiberglass copy in 2004. The rooms across the second-floor hall, with their period furniture on which are randomly-placed papers, really reinforce that abandoned ambiance.

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I particularly love the entrance of the Custom House, with its fanlight and sidelights, and then of course there’s the view, of Derby Wharf and the Friendship. Below, the Custom House in 1906 and this past weekend. It was a beautiful bright day, but as I write everything you see is covered with snow, again.

Custom House 1906

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Red Christmas

Even before I read a nice little article yesterday on how the holidays obtained their color themes, I was already planning to focus on red:  it’s been a dreary week and I needed a little cheering up. The red that we now associate with Christmas comes from an amalgamation of historical and cultural forces:  iconic images of St. Nicholas of Myra wearing red robes, holly berries and the apple props of medieval mystery plays, the Victorian poinsettia craze, the colorful depictions of Santa Claus by nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast, and the Coco-Cola Santa Claus of the early twentieth century. I’ve already covered Saint Nicholas in a lengthy post a week or so ago, so this perspective is going to be structural. Here are some of my favorite red houses, tastefully decorated for the season in typical understated New England fashion. I’m starting up north, in my hometown of York, Maine, where I happened to be last week before our weather turned dreadfully dreary, and then I’ll work my way home to Salem via Newburyport.

Two of the Historic House Museums of Old York:  the 1719 Old Gaol (Jail) and the 1754 Jefferds Tavern. As you can see, the gaol is situated on a little hill that overlooks York Village below. There is a large new barn-like structure attached to the tavern which I dont really care for (despite the fact that it is named after my wonderful high school guidance counselor) so Im showing a vantage point that excludes it.

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red Gaol 2

red gaol

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Heading south, I stopped in Newburyport–a city of white houses for the most part–and found two adorable colonial side-shingled houses on side streets in the south end.

red house Newburyport

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Back in Salem, where there are not a lot of red houses, really. But there is venerable Red’s Sandwich Shop downtown, and the Manning house in North Salem, which was once in the midst of one of the most famous orchard nurseries in Massachusetts. This was the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle, Robert Manning, a famous “pomologist” (an expert in the cultivation of fruit trees) and according to the sign, also a stagecoach agent–news to me. The last picture in this group is a rare red Greek Revival on Essex Street: you seldom see a house in this style painted red, as they are meant to mimic stone. From these pictures it appears we like our red houses with white trim in Salem.

Red's Sandwich Shop

red house North Salem

red Manning House

red greek revival

Finally, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s c. 1750 birthplace, moved to its present location adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables on the harbor in 1958 from downtown. A rather gnarly tree seems to be threatening it! And last but not least, a wonderful old (fishing?) shack on the other side of the Gables: a little worse for wear maybe, but still red and picturesque–it does seem to be crying out for a wreath at this time of year.

Red Hawthorne House

Red Hawthorne House rear

red shack


Picturing Louisa

Today is the birthday (in 1832) of Louisa May Alcott, who I have always thought of as a real Massachusetts girl, with her Transcendentalist upbringing, her independent spirit, and her lifelong reformist tendencies. Sometimes it’s hard to separate her from Jo in Little Women, but she was a real person who served as a Civil War nurse (briefly) rather than waiting at home in Concord, who had many menial jobs, who wrote sensationalistic penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym as well as her classic bestsellers, and who was a lifelong abolitionist and suffragette. She never married, and died at 55 from what some people say was lupus, others mercury poisoning, and she herself thought might be meningitis. I know Louisa had her own life, but I can’t help associating her with Jo, primarily because of the movies rather than the book.  When I picture Louisa, I generally think of Katherine Hepburn playing Jo in the 1933 version of Little Women, rather than June Allyson in the 1949 version or Winona Ryder in the 1994 film; I think June and Winona did well, but Kate is seared in my memory.  If I had not seen any of these films, perhaps I could separate Louisa and Jo; but I have (and there you see my main teaching challenge:  many of my students have learned their “history” from films).

Stacy Tolman drawing of Louisa, reproduced in Lilian Whiting’s Boston Days (1902); a 1933 publicity pamphlet for George Cukor’s 1933 Little Women.

Back to the book.  I have several editions of Little Women, but my most prized one is an 1880 copy published by Roberts Brothers in Boston and illustrated by Frank Thayer Merrill. I’ve looked at other editions, but I like my Merrill best, and since I’ve made the Louisa/Jo connection, this is how I picture the Louisa and her world as well.

The last way I picture Louisa is in Concord, at Orchard House and its environs.  And when I think of her there, I wonder about her and her family’s relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who purchased the Alcott’s first Concord house after he fled Salem.  He renamed their “Hillside” the Wayside, and it is just down the road from Orchard House:  apparently the Alcotts even became the Hawthorne’s tenants while their house was undergoing renovations.  Nevertheless, the relationship does not appear to have been a close one, and I wonder why. A recent book by Eva LaPlante, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, explores the relationship between Louisa and her mother, Abigail May Alcott, who was a descendant of the Salem Witch Trials judge Samuel Sewall.  Of course, we know that Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of another Witch Trials judge, John Hathorne. You would think that Louisa and Nathaniel could have bonded over these shared skeletons in their closets, but perhaps not.


“Salem Style”

The online private sales site Joss & Main is currently featuring an array of goods under the label “Destination: Salem” and when the notice popped up in my email inbox (I subscribe to far too many of these sites, unfortunately) I was both curious and excited:  would there be Federalist McIntire reproductions or would they go the witchy route?  Here’s the description of the look book and you can guess for yourselves:

The iconic “Witch City” of Salem, Massachusetts evokes the spellbinding designs of New England’s rich history. Transform your home into a stylish haunt with classic chandeliers and wingback chairs, experience the drama and dark grandeur of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writings with handsome poster beds, conjure the infamous trials of 1692 with captivating prints and décor, welcome the spirit of commerce with captain’s quarters-worthy consoles, and illuminate All Hallow’s Eve with timeless lanterns and candleholders.

No Samuel McIntire-inspired goods, but it’s not all kitschy witchy either.  I’m pretty comfortable with a Salem that conjurs up the image of  “dark grandeur” and the “spirit of commerce”.  At this time of year, I’ve become resigned to the other stuff.  The actual goods seem to be evocative of a more colonial feel, and despite their overt Halloween appeal, I like the black cat andirons and was disappointed when they sold out.

And here are a couple of other “Salem” items among the collection that caught my eye:  the “Broad Street” wing chair, the “Salem” Kichler chandelier, and “All Hallow’s Eve” pillows:

There are witchy prints, apothecary jars, cauldron planters, and ye olde Salem lanterns to complete the look, along with lots of Windsor-style furniture. And then there were these two pieces, which confused and charmed me:  I can’t quite figure out how the rather glam “Prisca mirror” fits into this scheme, except that it might be the “grandeur” in “dark grandeur”, and I was amazed to see that Salem’s own Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), the eminent mathematician and acknowledged father of modern maritime navigation whose book The New American Practical Navigator (1802) is still carried on every U.S. naval vessel, has also inspired his very own “Bowditch drop-leaf table”.  The other Salem Nathaniel, Nathaniel Hawthorne, has one too!


October Century

To set the tone for October, always a month of highs (my birthday, beautiful weather and scenery, baseball) and lows (Salem’s transformation into full-blown Witch City, baseball) for me, I am starting off with some lovely images from Century Magazine, the popular successor to Scribner’s which was distinguished by the quality of its illustrations and its emphasis on popular history (lots of Civil War memoirs, and Napoleon) and serialized fiction by the most renown authors of the day. It was published from 1881 to 1930, an era which was clearly a golden age of graphic design. Collaborations between notable authors and artists distinguished Century prior to World War I; one of my favorites was that of Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel, and Harry Fenn on an article from 1884 entitled “The Salem of Hawthorne”. Fenn’s Custom House is below.

Another eminent Century author was Theodore Roosevelt, who penned several articles on the West in the later 1880s (with illustrations by Frederic Remington) and one on the heroism of the New York City Police Department after he had become its commissioner!

Most of Century covers are pretty sedate: more money, and emphasis, was invested in what was between the covers, and on advertising posters to sell each issue:  “coming attractions” for the literary world, a century ago.

Century cover and posters from the 1890s and 1910s, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.


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.


Definitive Duels

Living right next to the Samuel McIntire-designed Hamilton Hall, a virtual memorial to Alexander Hamilton, I am always semi-conscious of the man, his life, and his death:  208 years ago today in a famous duel with Aaron Burr.  I wrote about the duel and its cultural impact in a post from last year, so for this particular anniversary I thought I would look at some of the more famous duels in Anglo-American history.

A romanticized view of the Burr-Hamilton duel, July 11, 1804, from an 1890 American history textbook.

I’m going to start with some early modern English duels and then work my way forward towards the nineteenth century and America.  Duels are interesting little events in European history because they represent the remnants of early medieval judicial combat, as well as a tradition that early modern kings were intent on ending in order to establish themselves as the ultimate defenders of the peace.  I’ve seen images from as early as the fourteenth century of kings “overseeing” duels between their noble subjects, thus projecting the message that the ritual had royal sanction. By the early modern era, one which witnessed a great expansion of royal authority, duels were made illegal and participants were subject to prosecution, especially if a death occurred.  A case in point was the duel fought between the Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson and his actor colleague Gabriel Spencer on 22 September 1598 in the sprawling Hoxton Fields northwest of London.  Spencer was killed and Jonson was sentenced to hang for murder, but managed to escape this fate by pleading the ancient privilege of “benefit of clergy”.  Spencer’s death left no mark on Jonson, who went on to fame, fortune and celebrity as the recipient of lots of royal patronage.

Several decades later one of the most interesting men of his age, Sir Kenelm Digby (natural philosopher, cookbook author, courtier, swordfighting cavalier) killed a French nobleman who had insulted King Charles I in a 1641 Parisian duel from which he emerged unscathed.  Back home, the fact that he had defended the honor of the King of England did not mollify his fellow Englishmen, who remained affronted by his Catholicism on the eve of the English Civil War.

The romanticized image of the duel envisions a fight over a lady, but it seems to me that most duels were either about politics or petty insults.  One exception was the duel fought in 1668 between George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, and Francis Talbot, the 11th Earl of Shrewsbury, over Anna Maria Talbot, the Countess of Shrewsbury.  The Duke and the Countess were brazen lovers, and Talbot seems to have challenged Villiers to avenge his own honor more than that of his wife.  To no avail: he died from injuries sustained in the duel and his widow was promptly installed in Buckingham’s new country estate, Cliveden House.  The Duke’s career was not tarnished by this particular episode, but Samuel Pepys, the diarist of the age, did note that “this will make the world think that the king hath good councillors about him, when the Duke of Buckingham, the greatest man about him, is a fellow of no more sobriety than to fight about a whore.

Anna Maria (Brudenell) Talbot, the Countess of Shrewsbury, 1670 by Sir Peter Lely, National Portrait Gallery, London.

The later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a golden age of duels, fought for more petty reasons than previously. It is almost as if the professionalization of war led to the trivialization of duels.  Before I jump the pond, let’s briefly examine the “royal duel” fought between the Richard Lennox, the (future) Duke of Richmond and Governor General of British North America and Frederick, Duke of York, second son of King George III.  When royals get involved, dueling becomes “fashionable”, but compared to the seventeenth-century duels, this one does indeed seem a bit trivial:  the Duke of York was said to have made a passing remark about Lennox’s cowardly disposition, to which the latter took offense, and they met at Wimbledon Common with pistols on May 26, 1789. Lennox’s shot merely grazed the Duke’s hair, and the Duke refused to fire, and so the matter was settled.

I could go on and on with British duels in this period:  duels involving future and serving Prime Ministers, Cabinet members and Members of Parliament, peers, military officers, journalists, and even ladies!  But I’m going to leave duel-happy Britain and cross the Atlantic to put the Burr-Hamilton duel in a bit more historical perspective.  Just two years after Hamilton’s death, another scandalous duel had a very decisive end:  the future seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, fatally wounded Charles Dickinson in Kentucky on May 30, 1806.  Not being an American historian with the ability to recognize reliable primary sources from those prone to exaggeration, I must say that there are a variety of confusing accounts about this duel.  Here is what I understand, but I may be wrong:  Dickinson slandered his Nashville neighbor Jackson, then a country lawyer, over a bet on a horse race and threw in a slur on his previously married wife.  Jackson (who was apparently involved in anywhere from 13 to over 100 duels over his lifetime, depending on the source) took offense and challenged Dickinson, who accepted the challenge. When they met on the field of a Kentucky border town (because dueling was illegal in Tennessee), Jackson let Dickinson fire first, and received a bullet that would shatter two ribs next to his heart and remain with him for the rest of his life.  The wounded Jackson then fired straight at Dickinson, and his pistol either misfired or stopped half-cocked (depending on the source), so he fired again, and effectively killed him. Besides the bullet, nothing about this event hindered Jackson in any way:  he went on to become the “hero of New Orleans” and the President of the United States.

An illustration from the fictional author Major Jack Downing’s Life of Andrew Jackson (Boston, 1834); General Andrew Jackson, The Hero, the Sage and the Patriot, N. Currier lithograph, 1835 (Library of Congress).

My last duel has a Salem connection via Nathaniel Hawthorne.  As part of the notable Bowdoin College class of  1825, Maine Congressman Jonathan Cilley formed friendships with classmates Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and  Hawthorne, and the latter would memorialize him after his death from immediate injuries sustained in a duel with Kentucky Congressman William Jordan Graves in 1838. The cause of the duel was, again, politics, and the contentious Democrat (Cilley)-Whig (Graves) rivalry at the time; Graves, who is always described as an experienced “marksman” in the historical record, was standing in for the Whig New York publisher James Webb, whom Cilley had labelled biased and corrupt.  Months after the duel, Hawthorne published an earnest memorial/obituary in which the honor of New England is put forward as the greater cause of Cilley’s death, anticipating the larger conflict in years to come.

An 1838 broadside ballad, courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library.


Out and About in Concord

Yesterday was Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts, commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord (even though it actually happened on the 19th; it’s a convenient long weekend for state employees such as myself).  My own Patriot’s Day tradition is to walk the Battle Road through Lexington, Lincoln and Concord, sometimes with a crowd, sometimes with just my immediate family, sometimes by myself.  This year I was all by myself, so I thought I might run the route rather than walk it, but I completely wimped out because of the heat:  it was in the high 80s, making it a very uncomfortable day for Boston marathoners (the other big event of the day).  I did walk most of the route, then I bailed and had lunch and went shopping in Concord Center.  Not very patriotic!

Concord is a stunning town, full of beautiful houses and lovely landscapesNathaniel Hawthorne definitely preferred his beloved Wayside to any of his Salem dwellings, I must admit.  Salem was a little busy for him in the middle of the nineteenth century, and he always felt the burden of his family’s witch-hunting past there.  Concord was bucolic, but not so isolated that he couldn’t find interesting people to talk to like the Alcotts (from whom he bought his house) and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I’m always impressed by the variety of historic houses in Concord.  There are lovely colonial houses, but also houses in the full spectrum of nineteenth-century styles:  vernacular farmhouses, Greek and Gothic Revivals, Victorians,  and lots of center-gabled houses that I associate more  with New York than New England.  It is a wealthy town, so it has its share of Mcmansions too.  Here are a few photographs of some of my favorites, but I could have snapped many more.

Flags and banners all around Concord for Patriot’s Day; with the heat, it seemed more like July 4th than April 16th.  The tower on the last house above mirrors Hawthorne’s “writing tower” at the Wayside, below in 1910 Detroit Publishing and 1941 HABS photographs.

I have long admired the stone Gothic Revival house below:  look at the windows, the trim, the fence!  It’s spectacular.  Behind it is Concord’s hillside cemetery, with flags for Revolutionary War veterans.

More Concord houses:  a very random sampling.

A colonial house with a stone-like facade, the Old Manse, Hawthorne’s other Concord address, where he and his bride Sophia stayed after their marriage, an amazing house across from the Old Manse–its additions go on and on, a pristine colonial which is just over the line, in Lincoln, and my newest Concord house.

There’s a lot more to do in Concord than just walk around and take pictures of houses.  There is great shopping in its center, including one of my very favorite shops called Nesting on Main and a really neat kitchen shop, among others.  There are the Wayside and Orchard House museums and the great little Concord Museum, of which I am completely jealous for Salem, which deserves a dedicated history museum just as nice.  The Concord Museum gives you a great chronological timeline with period rooms and furnishings, and also has revolving exhibitions:  currently they are featuring 70+ treasures from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collection arranged in an exhibition entitled The Object of History.

Tabletop items at Nesting on Main, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study in the Concord Museum, along with the portrait of Dorothy Quincy, circa 1720 by an anonymous artist, part of “The Object of History:  Colonial Treasures from the Massachusetts Historical Society”, on view until June 17.

And then there is Walden Pond, which was very crowded this particular hot APRIL afternoon.


Alternate Histories

I don’t really like to engage in “what if” history with my students or read alternative histories, but I like the visual images associated with the genre, ostensibly very current but actually quite historical itself.  Renaissance artists inserted anachronistic imagery in their works all the time, partly because they were so immersed in the classical era and could not help drawing comparisons to that time and their own. For example, the northern Renaissance painting The Martyrdom of St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins depicts contemporary Turkish soldiers slaying the virgins rather than the legendary Huns.  The Turks had conquered Constantinople in 1453 and were now poised to expand into Europe, whereas the Huns occupied a similar position a millennium before.

The Martyrdom of St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, Master of the St. Ursula Legend, Cologne c. 1492. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Invasion seems to be the most popular premise for alternate histories:  the Turks in the Early Modern Era, Napoleon in the nineteenth century, Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler in the twentieth.  Widely acknowledged to be the first book in an emerging genre of alternate history, Louis Geoffroy’s Histoire de la Monarchie universelle: Napoleon et la conquête du Monde (1836) envisioned a world pacified and modernized under the benevolent dictator Napoleon.  Between the reimagined Napoleonic worlds of the nineteenth century and the reimagined Germanic worlds of the twentieth century is a peculiar little story by Salem’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne, “P’s Correspondence” from Mosses from an Old Manse Volume II, in which the author’s deranged friend P recounts his encounters with Romantic poets of an earlier era in 1845 London.  Hawthorne’s version of Midnight in Paris!  Somehow Napoleon appears here too, completely feeble but still under guard, along with an even more incapacitated Sir Walter Scott.

A beautiful first edition of Geoffroy’s Histoire, a Currier & Ives print of the iconic Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David (Library of Congress) , and a modern mash-up on a tee-shirt.

The twentieth century, with its succession of invasions and conquests and technology, created a natural environment for alternative histories, increasingly recognized as a genre with a special name:  uchronia (which seems to accommodate both “what if” speculations and constructed worlds).  The classic example is J.C. Squire’s If it Had Happened Otherwise:  Lapses into Imaginary History (1931; also published under a variant title:  If:  Or History Rewritten).  The quality of Squire’s contributors (including Winston Churchill) must have gone some way towards legitimizing the relatively new genre.

The late twentieth-century invention of photoshop brought about a whole new realm of visual alternative histories, and the most charming examples I could find were, of course, on Etsy, in the alternatehistories shop. So here, in sort-of chronological order, are slightly altered images of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Chicago during the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Green Monster in Boston, just in time for opening day at Fenway next week.


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