Tag Archives: Photography

Theo and Leo

Last night, the “Strandbeests” were released here in Salem, the kinetic, evolving, mechanical-yet-ethereal “beach animals” of Theo Jansen, a Dutch engineering artist and Renaissance Man. There was a not-so-sneak preview of these PVC-pipe creations a few weeks ago up on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, but yesterday the big beests were on view for the special opening of Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibit is interactive but also a bit static–it’s striking to see these “animals” move and with the exception of one of the smaller beests, that really can’t happen in the confines of a gallery. But Mr. Jansen’s own evolutionary process is revealed, and the photographs of the beests on the beach (by Russian-born photographer Lena Herzog, who happens to be the wife of my very favorite filmmaker, Werner Herzog) are absolutely haunting. In the midst of the exhibition, with these big skeletal structures all around me, I became absolutely fixated on reproductions of Jansen’s preparatory sketches–they reminded me of Leonardo’s notebook drawings almost instantly. I spent the summer looking through (reproductions of) these notebooks as I was teaching a course on Renaissance art and science so they were fresh in my mind, but the association is rather obvious: Lawrence Weschler, who wrote the introductory essay to the companion volume to the exhibition, calls Theo Jansen a cross between da Vinci and Don Quixote. Leonardo, of course, was as preoccupied with engineering as much as he was with art (probably more so) and he had his own animalistic creations, including a “mechanical lion” made for a pageant celebrating the newly-crowned King of France, Francois I. But it is Leonardo’s sketches of wings in his passionate pursuit of flight that remind me of Jansen’s drawings, or vice-versa. Dream machines are eternal, it seems. Strandbeests PEM Strandbeests 067 Strandbeests 046 Strandbeests 034 Strandbeests 023 Strandbeests 026 Strandbeests 019 Strandbeests 055 Strandbeests 016 leonardo-da-vinci-bird-wing-with-mechanical-connections-1 Leonardo Wings Sketch Scenes from the exhibition preview of Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; Notebook sketches from Leonardo’s  Codex Atlanticus, Veneranda Biblioteca and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.

Scholarship and Shopping

Few moments are more exciting for me than when my intellectual and material endeavors merge, and believe me, they are fleeting! One happened this past Saturday. I had been struggling with two pieces that I am writing for publication on Frank Cousins, Salem’s turn-of-the last century architectural photographer, and a passionate advocate for all thing Colonial. I know a lot about Cousins, and I have a lot to say about him (because no one else has said anything), but I am not a trained 1) American Historian; 2) Architectural Historian; or 3) Art Historian, so that is why I was struggling: could I place him in his proper context? It’s one thing to refer to his “imaginary walks through Salem” and lectures on “Old Architectural Salem” and quite another to assess his contributions to American architectural history and the Preservation movement. I had finished one piece and was thoroughly blocked on the other, when I decided to go over to the first ever (and hopefully not last) “Vintage Market” on Derby Square. I just love the idea of an antiques market in Salem, which has such a long tradition in this trade, and even though I appreciate our farmers’ market, I would rather buy things than vegetables in Derby Square! So off I went, and there was some great stuff: baskets, bottles, buttons, snowshoes, pottery, tins, bottles, and prints, lots and lots of prints, including an old box full of Frank Cousins prints. These were not the original albumen images, mind you, but large reprints made for resale at a mid-century Salem gift shop according to the man who sold them to me, who happens to run his own Salem tours. I bought quite a few, took them home, spread them out on the floor of my study, and waited for inspiration to strike. It took a while (more than a moment to tell the truth), but eventually I finished my article. I think there are two lessons here: 1) if you’re writing about someone who expresses himself visually, you must consider these expressions and 2) shopping always helps.

Close-up: offerings at the First Annual (?) Vintage Market on Derby Square in Salem, and my catch of Cousins photographs.

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Collectibles Collages Salem Vintage Market

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Baker’s Island, Now and Then

If you look at a Google map of Salem you will see that its borders extend out into the Sound, to encompass several islands miles off the coast. These islands have been legally part of Salem from the seventeenth century, guarding the long entrance into Salem Harbor. The Reverend Francis Higginson commented on his entrance into Salem in 1629: we passed the curious and difficult entrance into the large and spacious harbour of Naimkecke [“Naumkeag” i.e. Salem]….it was wonderful to behould so many islands replenished with thicke woods and high trees and many fayre green pastures….

Bakers Island Map 17th C BPL

Bakers Island Map 1897

Given its importance as a port, every map of Salem from the seventeenth century on indicates the islands in Salem Sound: a detail from a map of the coastline of New Netherlands in 1656 from Arnold Colom’s “Zee Atlas” shows the unnamed islands (Leventhal Center, Boston Public Library), and I’ve highlighted Baker’s on an 1897 navigational map.

After several centuries of use, these islands are not quite so fertile but they remain “fair”. Among the largest is Bakers or Baker’s (both forms are used interchangeably; I have no idea which is correct) Island: around 60 acres of residential land, except for the easternmost 1o-acre section which has been owned by the Federal Government from the 1790s and remains the site of a lighthouse (there were previously two). The rest of the island became a summer colony from the late nineteenth century, after Salem physician Dr. Nathan R. Morse built a large cottage for his family as well as a 75-room hotel, called The Weene-egan, for those who sought the ocean air as well as his homeopathic regimen. Around 60 summer cottages were built on the island, and after the Weene-egan burned down in 1906 the island became increasingly “private”, as the owners of these cottages passed them down and restricted access via their exclusive dock. So for most of the twentieth century, Baker’s Island remained a Salem island on which few, if any, Salem residents could step foot. That changed a year ago, when (despite appeals by the cottage owners) the Federal Government (via the U.S. Coast Guard) transferred ownership of the eleven-acre Baker’s Island Light Station to a regional heritage organization, the Essex Heritage Conservation Commission. In the past year, Essex Heritage began a campaign to restore the lighthouse and enabled access to the station (NOT the rest of the island) through daily tours aboard the Naumkeag, which lands on the beach, not the dock. These tours ended yesterday, and we just squeezed ours in the day before.

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Winne-egan Ad.

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Lining up for the steamer to Baker’s Island and the Winne-egan, 1903; an ad for the hotel in The Outlook, 5 June 1896; our “steamer”, the Naumkeag, approach and landing.

It was a beautiful day and I took lots of pictures, and when I returned home and looked at them they seemed very familiar–even though I had never been to Baker’s Island before. I realized that I had just been checking out some photographs in a collection that local author Nelson Dionne has donated to the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections which included several similar scenes of the island a century ago. I guess tourist shots are timeless! So now we have a perfect opportunity to see some “now and then” perspectives of this newly-revealed island. The images don’t match up perfectly, but close enough, I think.

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Baker's Island Light from Beach SSU

Baker's Island Light SSU

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Above, one light now, one light before…but there were actually TWO lighthouses on Baker’s Island: the second was taken down in 1926. Early twentieth-century views of both, interspersed with my photographs, including one of the interior of the surviving lighthouse, now undergoing restoration.

Below: the former site of the Winne-egan Hotel (I think–or close by), the Hotel, and several Baker’s Island cottages, now and then. Not sure when “then” is for the cottage photographs–they look a bit more mid-centuryish (the flag and power line are clues) than those of the Hotel,  which burned down in 1906 due to the presence of “gasoline stored in the basement in large quantities”!

Baker's Island Hotel Site

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Baker's Island Hotel Wineegan

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Baker's Island House SSU Archives

Distinct “old man on the mountain-ish” rock formation photographed by me and some anonymous tourist years ago. Some things never change! For a more comprehensive history of the Baker’s Island Lighthouse(s), see here; to buy a piece of Baker’s Island, see here.

Bakers Island Old Man on the Mountain

Baker's Island Rock Formation SSU Archives

Labor through the Lens

Before we get to the bittersweet pictures of closing summer, we need to acknowledge that this is Labor Day weekend. I know that this holiday came about because of labor organization, particularly manifest in the 1880s when workers marched “to show their numerical strength in order to satisfy the politicians [of this City] that they might not be trifled with” (The New York Times, September 4, 1882), but I prefer to simply celebrate work. There is strength in numbers but you can more accurately gauge the intensity of effort when you gaze into the eyes of the worker. We have an iconic photograph in our family of my Italian great-great-grandfather, Gaetano, standing next to my great-grandfather, Anthony, who stands next to my grandfather Thomas and my father, also Thomas, as a little boy. They all wear dark suits and hats (even little Thomas) and are standing against a background of marsh and buildings that I assume is Winthrop, Massachusetts, where Anthony eventually settled after Gaetano put him on an American-bound ship when he was 13 years old. When I look at these men, the very first thing I think about is what they did: Gaetano was a fisherman in Campania, his son Anthony was a gifted tailor who evolved into a sought-after coat designer who made enough money to bring his Italian family to Winthrop and send all four of his children, including the two girls, to college. My grandfather was a physician, my father a college professor, like myself. So there’s a lot of effort, a lot of labor, in the picture, the labor that built our family, and I’m not even including that of the women, who also, of course, worked in their homes. For this Labor Day weekend, I have selected several pictures of Salem workers and their settings from the later nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries which reflect this same individual commitment, at least to me. I must admit that the two ladies of Pequot Mills don’t appear to be working all that hard–especially when one is dancing–but they still illustrate the more personal experience I am always seeking (and I just love these photographs!)

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Labor Day Pequot Mills Buffer

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Labor Day Shelby Shoe Co 1942

Stunning stereoview of workers by J.W. and J.S. Moulton Photographers of Salem, who operated from 1873-1881, from Jeffrey Knaus Antique Photography; Man operating the buffing machine and workers on the floor of Naumkeag’s Pequot Mills, 1930s-1940s? and workers at the Shelby Shoe Company in Salem, 1942, all from the Nelson Dionne Collection of Salem Images at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

A Kingdom for a Horse

This is the time of year that every teacher, at every level, is in a back-to-school mentality. I don’t feel like I’ve been out of school this particular summer, but nevertheless I am preparing for my fall classes with that usual sense of expectation–thank goodness. I haven’t taught a graduate course for a while, and this semester I’ll be teaching one of my favorites, a readings course on early modern England. I see some great students on my roster, I’ve chosen some of my favorite books old and new, and I expect that the entire experience will be a welcome weekly escape from my daily chair duties. For those of you who are not familiar with European historiography and chronology (which generally, with some variations and accommodations, incorporates English historiography and chronology), the early modern era begins around the turn of the sixteenth century, which means that early modern England begins with the Tudor Dynasty. And the Tudor Dynasty began today, 530 years ago, when Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond and last Lancastrian standing, defeated King Richard III and his force at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard was killed in the battle (the last English king killed in action) and Henry was crowned shortly thereafter, right on the field.

Richmond crowned after the battle of Bosworth Field. Illustration from History of England by Henry Tyrrell (c 1860).

A rather romanticized Victorian view of the crowning of Henry over Richard’s dead body, from Henry Tyrell, A History of England for the Young (1860)

I don’t like to consign history to big battles but this was a big battle, a definite turning point. And even though Richard’s reputation has been somewhat restored by the recovery of his body from under a Leicester parking lot in 2012 (revealing 10 wounds to his head sustained during the battle) and its ceremonial re-internment this past spring, I doubt that he can ever rise above the characterization bequeathed to him by Shakespeare in his Tragedy of King Richard the Third, written in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I and the Tudor dynasty. While watching the dignified re-internment ceremony (featuring Benedict Cumberbatch–apparently a distant relation), I couldn’t help but think: all this for a ruthless child murder? On the other hand, the physical deformity which represented the rot within for Shakespeare only made him seem more human–and therefore vulnerable–when his skeleton was revealed. In any case, one Bosworth anecdotal episode that’s never going to go away, even though it is Shakespeare History rather than History, are his last moments and words, when, unhorsed, his character cries out in frustration: A Horse! A Horse! My kingdom for a Horse! These words are enduring because they are so Shakespearean universal: I’ve got ALL this but I really need THIS. Even the very biased Bard was willing to give the last medieval English king a bit of humanity/vulnerability at his/the very end.

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The fame garnered by David Garrick (1717-1779–buried right next to Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey) in the role inspired many representations of Richard giving his “horse” speech: here are late 18th and early 19th century prints from the collections of the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum; the prominent American Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest in the role as depicted in an 1855 print, Library of Congress; obviously such drama inspired satire, as seen in the Lincoln Campaign Dial for November 1864 (available here) portraying Jefferson Davis as Richard III and in George Yost Coffin’s political cartoon from the 1890s, Library of Congress; a neat photomanipulation by George Goodnight, aptly titled “My Kingdom for a Horse”.

The Razing of the Ruck House

Years ago central Salem was oriented both towards its harbor as well as around an adjacent pond formed by the South River: Mill Pond, which was filled in to accommodate the growing city in the later nineteenth century. The beautiful map of Salem in 1851 by Henry MacIntyre shows the centrality of Mill Pond, and a neighborhood between Margin Street, the Broad Street Cemetery, and the Pond which is dotted with homes–some large and some small. In the midst of this neighborhood was Mill Street, where a very old and storied house was situated: the Thomas Ruck House, built around 1650 and razed, by my best estimation, around 1902. The Ruck House was not a victim of the larger forces that decimated this neighborhood—the Great Salem Fire of 1914 which singed its western boundary, and the construction of the U.S. Post Office which leveled its eastern part in the 1930s. It was (apparently) gone before both of these events. Given its notability–Salem guidebooks were directing visitors to it because of its importance just before it was destroyed (and in some cases, after)– why was it razed?


Salem 1871 Atlas

Thomas Ruck House Mill Street Cousins

Ruck House Essex Antiquarian Perley 1900

Ruck House Salem Map

Detail of Henry MacIntyre map of Salem, 1851, Salem Athenaeum; Salem Atlas, 1871 by Walling & Gray; Frank Cousins photograph of the Ruck House from his Colonial Architecture of Salem, 1919; Illustration of the House in Sidney Perley’s Essex Antiquarian, Volume IV (1900);  map of central Salem with the Ruck House marked, from Edwin M. Bacon’s Boston: a Guide Book (1903).

At this point, I really can’t answer that question, as discreet factors (condition, the will of the property owner) are more difficult to discern than global forces. However, I can offer some historical facts and opinions about the importance of the Ruck House. Edwin Bacon informs his readers that “South of the railroad station is a nest of old buildings in old streets, among them the Ruck house, 8 Mill Street, dating from before 1651, interesting as the sometime hope of Richard Cranch, where John Adams frequently visited (Adams and Cranch married sisters), and at a later time occupied by John Singleton Copley, the Boston painter, when here painting the portraits of Salem worthies”. Adams and Copley, quite a pedigree right there, and the house was also owned by Samuel McIntire’s father. Adams writes about the house in a journal entry from 1766: “Cranch is now in a good situation for business, near the Court House….his house, fronting on the wharves, the harbor, and the shipping, has a fine prospect before it.” Obviously that prospect changed dramatically with the filling in of Mill Pond, but the house retained its stature. The influential Salem architectural historian, photographer, and entrepreneur Frank Cousins asserts that: “In its U-shaped arrangement with wings of unequal length and virtually three gambrel-roof dwellings in one the Ruck House, number 8 Mill Street, has few if any parallels in American architecture”. Now here is where I am confused: Cousins is writing (in 1919) as if the house was still standing, but an article in the Boston Evening Transcript dated October 30, 1902 clearly states that it had been demolished, along with another notable Salem landmark, the Shattuck House on Essex Street. In addition to the great reference about baked beans, this article is just what I’m looking for–early expressions of a preservationist consciousness in Salem–but obviously I still need more information about the razing of the Ruck House.

Ruck House Razed 1902 Boston Evening Transcript

Post Office Construction c. 1933

Boston Evening Transcript, October 20, 1902. What came after: the construction of the Salem Post Office, c. 1933, Dionne Collection at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Greek Revival Salem

I think I’ve covered just about every architectural style represented in Salem over the past few years: lots of variant Colonial houses, the very dominant Federal style, and many of the nineteenth-century styles, including Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Second Empire. But I haven’t featured many houses built in the so-called “National Style”:  Greek Revival, which dominated public and domestic architecture across the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The very first house I lived in in Salem was assertively Greek Revival (built in the 1840s, the peak of the style) and my present house (built in 1827) should probably be classified as such too but it’s such a miss-mash it doesn’t really feel classical.  That’s a bit early for the Greek Revival in Salem, which held onto its Colonial and Federal styles longer, I think. For that reason, as well as the Great Salem Fire of 1914, it always seems like Salem has fewer Greek Revival structures than it should have: many of the public buildings, including the “new” City Hall, are Greek Revival, but you don’t find too many domestic structures as they would have been built in the “newer” neighborhoods along Lafayette Street, the center of the conflagration. Some of the most poignant “postcards from the Fire” show Greek Revival houses being devoured. Yet there are Greek Revival houses on nearly every street in the older sections of Salem too, signs of success in the mid-19th century city, no long a center of a global commerce, but still bustling. Two such houses, located on Winter Street, are now for sale, which prompted my long-overdue Greek Revival post.


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Walker Evans’ photograph of Salem City Hall, taken in the early 1930s when he visited Salem and shot only Greek and Gothic Revival structures–no Federal! (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, more here) These were clearly his architectural preferences, and he captured similar structures wherever he went. Quite contrarily, Salem’s own Frank Cousins was quite condescending about the Greek Revival, probably because such structures replaced his beloved Colonial houses in downtown Salem. The now-mothballed Greek Revival courthouse on Federal Street.

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Bertram House Salem

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Winter Street Greek Revivals presently for sale:  The Captain John Bertram House at number 24, built in 1842-43 by Salem’s greatest philanthropist. The black & white MACRIS photo is from 1998 (An absolutely stunning house: check it out), and the Payson-Fettyplace House at number 16, built in 1845, which has been operating as an inn for some time. Below: more Salem Greek Revivals, by no means an exhaustive collection! A Greek Revival “cottage” on Northey Street, a recently-revived Greek Revival on Bridge, a row of Greek Revivals on Federal, a Greek Revival with many additions on Essex, and the stately Lee-Benson Mansion on Chestnut, all built in the 1840s.

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