Tag Archives: Popular Culture

The Cries of Paris

A title that is all-too-poignant if perceived literally from our perspective here and now, in mid-November of 2015, but historically refers to a genre of popular prints from the early modern era depicting everyday people in the streets, carrying on their business openly and freely: modernity means “progress”, you say? The title is paradoxical because these are visual media, but if we could hear the cries we would be offered a multitude of services and products: chimney-sweeping, firewood, rags, vinegar, milk, cakes, bread, varieties of vegetables. Everyone was a specialist, and of course these images are essentially idealistic–yet still they are notable attempts to represent the people. The Cries genre encompasses not only Paris but also London and a few other European cities, and pre-dates print, but the printed images became particularly popular in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when many variants of original etchings were produced. They are key sources for economic, social, and cultural historians, but also for those of fashion and print. The Cries of Paris images disappear during the French Revolutionary era, only to reappear in the nineteenth century as a form of nostalgia for the “simpler” ancien regime: it is in that spirit that I am presenting them now. Nineteenth-century street cries images appear not only on print series but also on board games and playing cards: a judge is included in sets of latter, declaring “Peace, peace” in order to stop the game.

Cries of Paris Milkmaid Bnf Arsenal

Cries of Paris Rat Poison MFA

Cries of Paris Nutcrackers

Cries of Paris BM

Cries of Palace Frontspiece

Cries of Paris Collage

Cris de Paris Playing Cards Auction Results

Milkmaid from Les Cris de Paris, c. 1500, BnF, Arsenal. Est. 264 ; A seller of rat poison, engraving by Abraham Bosse’s Small Trades and Cries of Paris, 1630, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nutcrackers, from Les Cris de Paris, after Jacques Philippe Le Bas and François Boucher, 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Crit de Paris, published by Adriaan Schoonebeek, 1675-1714, British Museum; “Bill stickers” from variant versions of the Cries of Paris, 1740s; “Tisane seller”, conjurer, and umbrella pedlar, from The Cries of Paris series, engraved by Francois Seraphin Delpech after Antoine Charles Vernet, early 19th century, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France; Les Cris de Paris. Amusement de Société set of playing cards, Paris, 1820, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.

Cakes for Souls and Spouses

Some day, some night, I swear I am going to offer the hordes of Halloween trick-or-treaters that darken my door traditional soulcakes rather than Kit Kats or Butterfingers: now that would be asking for a trick! I think about doing this every year but never follow through: I’m too scared of the consequences, I think, or lacking in confidence in my ability to produce some decent looking cakes. I have already purchased my requisite 1400 pieces of candy so I’ll probably chicken out this year too. Soul cakes are often described as a cross between a biscuit (in the English sense, or an American cookie) and a scone, and sometimes as shortbread: there are lots of recipes available on the web, many adopted from early modern cookbooks. If I were going to go for it, I would probably go with one of the two recipes available here, my go-to source for food history. I suppose that the cakes are more appropriately distributed on All Saints or Souls Day (November 1 and 2), but no one will be coming to my door then: Salem will be returned to its residents! In any case, my Halloween cakes would be perfectly respectable with recognition of the pre-modern Hallow-Tide, which covers all three Hallowed days: from All-Hallows Eve or Halloween on 31 October through All Saints and All Souls Days. These Christian days were superimposed upon earlier Pagan holidays and traditions, creating a period in which the dead and the living were particularly close, and could affect one another’s fate. The medieval Christian view was that this was a time that the living should be working to get the dead out of purgatory, so bells were run, prayers were said, and gifts were given–in the form of cakes disbursed to bands of “soulers” who went from house to house singing ancient souling songs and offering prayers for the dearly departed. After the Reformation and the disappearance of a soul-packed Purgatory in most of Protestant Britain, souling evolved into outright begging, and eventually (jumping the Atlantic) into trick-or-treating. If there was no English Reformation, I wonder if we would all still be giving out soul cakes? Probably not.

Souls 17th Century



Seventeenth-century Souls, simply existing and ascending directly to Heaven without stopping at Purgatory–they don’t need any prayers or cakes! (Karel van Mallery after Jan van der Straet, Antwerp, 1609 and Johannes Amos Comenius, Orbis sesualium pictus, Nuremburg, 1658 , both Wellcome Library Images); Shropshire Soul Cakes, from a recipe available here, and a more modern Halloween cake on an early 20th century postcard.

Another cake long associated with Halloween in parts of the British Isles, most particularly western Scotland and the Isle of Man, is dumb- cake, very simple, salty grain and water cakes baked in the fire by unmarried women at midnight, with the aim of revealing their future spouses. While holding the pan, they were said to recite an ancient rhyme—Two must make it, two must bake it, and two must break it— and afterwards their future mates would be revealed in their dreams. Presumably the word “dumb” is a variant of “doom”, the Old English word for fate or destiny, although I’ve also read that the girls were supposed to remain mute while they baked the cake (then how would they recite the rhyme?). This kind of “divining for husbands” takes many different forms (cabbage-pulling, mirror-gazing) on both sides of the Atlantic, and survives in the form of various cultural expressions into the twentieth century.

Dumb Cake Play 1907

Halloween cake postcard

Title and first page of the play entitled The Dumb-Cake by Arthur Morrison and Richard Pryce, London, 1907, and an early twentieth-century variant of a dumb cake on a postcard from the same era.


Pyewacket: lots of cats named “Pye”, why? If you’re of a certain age (born in the 60s at the very least) you might associate this name with the 1958 Jimmy Stewart/Kim Novak film Bell, Book and Candle, in which the modern sexy witch Novak had a Siamese familiar named Pye OR the children’s book by Rosemary Weir titled Pyewacket published a decade later. The origin of this name goes way back to the seventeenth century, when the notorious and self-proclaimed “Witchfinder-General” Matthew Hopkins tried several women for witchcraft (among many others) who claimed to have a number of “imps” or familiars in their service, including Holt, Ilemauzar, Pyewackett, Pecke in the Crowne, Grizzedl Greedigutt, Jarmara, Sacke & Sugar, Newes, and Vinegar Tom. All of Hopkins’ “discoveries” are proudly proclaimed in the 1647 pamphlet THE Discovery of Witches: IN Answer to severall QUERIES, LATELY Delivered to the Judges of Assize for the County of NORFOLK. And now published By MATTHEVV HOPKINS, Witch-finder. FOR The Benefit of the whole KINGDOME.

Pyewacket Life

Pyewacket finally

Pyewackett Hopkins 2

The pamphlet reports that in March 1644 there were some seven or eight of that horrible sect of Witches living in …. a Towne in Essex called Maningtree, with divers other adjacent Witches of other towns, who every six weeks in the night (being alwayes on the Friday night) had their meeting close by his house, and had their severall solemne sacrifices there offered to the Devill, one of which this discoverer heard speaking to her Imps one night, and bid them goe to another Witch, who was thereupon apprehended, and searched by women who had for many yeares knowne the Devills marks, and found to have three teats about her, which honest women have not: so upon command from the Justice, they were to keep her from sleep two or three nights, expecting in that time to see her familiars, which the fourth night she called in by their severall names, and told them what shapes, a quarter of an houre before they came in, there being ten of us in the roome. Holt appeared “like a white kitling”, then Jarmara, “who came in like a fat Spaniel without any legs at all, she said she kept him fat, for she clapt her hand on her belly, and said he suckt good blood from her body”. Next was Vinegar Tom, “who was like a long-legg’d Greyhound, with an head like an Oxe, with a long taile and broad eyes, who when this discoverer spoke to, and bade him goe to the place provided for him and his Angels, immediately transformed himselfe into the shape of a child of foure yeeres old without a head, and gave halfe a dozen turnes about the house, and vanished at the doore”. Sacke & Sugar appears like a black rabbit and Newes, a polecat, and the rest of the imps, including Pyewacket, are not identified, so among them we only have one cat, Holt (kitling is an old form of kitten). I have searched in vain for Pyewacket references in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and found none: the author of the 1950 play on which Bell, Book and Candle was based, the English playwright John van Druten, must have plucked Pyewacket out of semi-obscurity and associated the name with a cat, because by that time, everyone knew that familiars were feline.

Zombies on the Streets of Salem

A pack of zombies infiltrated Salem on this past Saturday, “landing” at Collins Cove and making their way through downtown, along the Common and Essex Street, into Derby Square to Derby Wharf. It wasn’t quite an invasion, but more of a parade: they had a police escort (as well as a hearse and banner) and did not really proceed in that distinct zombie shuffle (?): I suppose that would have taken too long, so they just walked. I really don’t mind zombies: even though they are often disgusting, at least they are creative, and they’re not out to make a quick buck like all the witches around town (of course they have no zombie “forbears”–that we know of–on whom to capitalize). One little stroll on a sunny Saturday and they’re gone, although a few will, no doubt, linger until the end of the month.

Zombie Arrival

Zombies 1

Zombies 2

Zombies 051

Zombies 062

Zombies 073

Zombies 066

A little scuffle at the corner of the Common, but most of the zombies were peaceful paraders, like the lovely family above. Derby Square in the clear.


I have never been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft but having spent most of my professional life in the company of 20-year-olds here in Salem I’ve definitely been exposed to the man and his works, especially as they (supposedly) relate to our gothic city. Many of my students believe that the Lovecraftian city of Arkham was modeled on Salem, and its Miskatonic University, our university. They might be right about the former, as the fictional Arkham does indeed have a lot of Salem features, but Lovecraft’s Miskatonic U. is a lot more ivy-covered than our concrete Salem State: most experts assert that is modeled after Bradford College, a now-defunct college up in Haverhill, or perhaps even Brown University, located in Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. We have a great nursing program but no medical school (to service our sanitarium) or Department of Medieval Metaphysics. Apart from the University, The Arkham/Salem connection seems so well-established that I’ve always been curious that Lovecraft has not been assimilated more comprehensively into the relentless Witch City campaign, but that seems to be changing now: I’ve seen Lovecraft walking tours and an exhibit over the past year, and for the next few weeks the Salem Theatre Company is staging an adaptation of The Thing on the Doorstep, the Lovecraft story most closely associated with Salem through its references to the old Derby house and the old Crowninshield place.

Thing on the Doorstep

One of my former students directed me to a site that really drives home the Salem/Arkham connection: The Miskatonic Railroad, 18821907. The centerpiece and absolute focus of this Arkham is Salem’s fortress-like train station, which was demolished in 1954. I don’t believe that Lovecraft ever mentioned the Salem Depot in his works, but it certainly appears Lovecraftian, both in photographs and as recreated for the model Miskatonic Railroad. Its creator, John Ott, doesn’t care much for the rest of Salem, but he is duly impressed by our long-gone station: “Salem today rates about a seven on the dreary scale—not much to see, despite its touristy cant. But up until about sixty years ago, Salem boasted the most spine-tingling eerie Gothic-Norman stone train station in North America”.  Apparently he doesn’t share Lovecraft’s affection for Federal architecture!

Salem Train Depot SSU

Salem Train Depot Razing SSU

Arkham Ott

Arkham Ott 2

Salem Train Depot side view LOC

Miskatonic RR Station

Photographs of the old Salem Train Depot from c. 1905, 1910 & 1954 (the razing!!!), from the Dionne Collection at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and the Library of Congress interspersed with John Ott’s model Miskatonic Railroad Station. Many more images (and stories) of the latter here.

American Girls

Countless cards were inserted in countless packs of cigarettes for decades starting in the later nineteenth century, for product (to avoid crushing the cigarettes inside), advertising, and revenue purposes (encouraging the formation of collections) and consequently cigarette cards form a huge category of ephemera. This is not really my category, but I do find some of the collections to be really interesting expressions of their era. A case in point are the several series of “State Girls” or “State Belles” offered by various publishers in the first decade of the twentieth century: the girls (or young women) are portrayed in a way that supposedly characterized their state, accompanied by other state symbols, and sometimes situated in representative settings. I became acquainted with these particular cards, which I have seen in both cigarette and postcard forms, through a flea market discovery of a Massachusetts girl, wearing academic dress while standing out on some North Shore rocky coast. This find occurred just several days after I received my Ph.D., and so this girl had a particular appeal to me: here I am, I thought, Scholar Girl, a Bay State Belle!

MA Girls Collage

As you can see, not all Massachusetts girls walked around in academic gowns, books in hand. The Raphael Tuck (on the rocks), Langsdorf (schoolmarmish) and National Art Company (sans glasses) girls do, but not those on the Platinachrome Company’s “alphabet” cards, which focus more on the letter and the state seal and flower, or the Fatima Turkish Cigarettes cards, which are all about the elaborate hats which adorn the heads of rather indistinct state girls. The ladies from all 45-48 states (depending on when these cards were published, and sometimes including the District of Columbia) get more detailed characterizations on some cards while on others they are simply idealized lovely-but-generic belles. Miss Pennsylvania is portrayed in colonial dress, armed with a musket and adorned with a tricorner hat, on the National Art Co. and Langsdorf cards below, while the “Keystone Belle” stands before the bustling factories of what I presume is Pittsburgh on the Tuck Card: the past and the present. Not yet quite a golden girl, Miss California is identified with her steamship and her oranges. The “Lone Star Girl” of Texas has her bluebonnets, and the “Opera Belle” of New York comes equipped with a skyscraper. There are girls equipped with fishing poles (Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and Maine), swords (Maryland), paddles (Virginia), riding crops (New Jersey) and locomotives (Illinois), but the majority of young women are pictured with farming equipment or produce, a reflection of our then still-agrarian nation. A 21st century update on these cartophilic characterizations would be quite interesting.

PA State Girl Collage

State Girls CA collage

State Girls TX Collage

State Girls NY Collage

(Just click on the collages to enlarge)

Casting Dice

The sheer beauty of the Chestnut Street park this spring–just outside my bedroom window–combined with the solicitousness of my neighbors in picking up after their dogs (newly allowed this year) has got me thinking about lawn games, played, of course, on a perfect summer day (or early evening), g&t in hand. There is always croquet or bocce, but somehow three pictures of lawn dice popped up on my computer screen in the last few days, so right now that’s my focus: I’m not quite sure what you do with these jumbo dice, but I like the concept. When looking around for some game possibilities, I fell down the rabbit hole that is the history of dice–back to antiquity. What we think of as a simple game certainly had some weighty symbolism attached to it in the past: the die is cast for Julius Caesar, Roman soldiers casting dice to determine who would get the bloodstained garments of Jesus after the crucifixion, dice games played with Death Personified during the Middle Ages, vice, vice, and more vice. Think about the evolution of the verbs associated with dice: casting is somewhat suspicious, but once it evolves into a game of throwing, it becomes an increasingly harmless activity. And tumbling dice are clearly even more innocuous.

Park 002

Lawn Dice

Dice Smithfield Decretals BL

Dice Players Walters Art Gallery

DES94132 Fashion textile design depicting tumbling dice, French, c.1930s (gouache on paper) by French School, (20th century); © The Design Library, New York, USA; French,  it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories

Jumbo Wooden Dice sets from Paper Source, Crate and Barrel, and The Grommet; lazy (half-naked!) dice players in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (The Smithfield Decretals, British Library MS Royal MS 10 E IV; Walters Art Gallery MS W4492V by Master Jean de Mauléon, c. 1542); the modern design motif: tumbling dice fabric from the 1930s, ©The Design Library, New York.


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