Monthly Archives: March 2011


As an English historian living in a Federal/Greek Revival house in an iconic (small) American city, I’m always shooting for an interior style I call “Anglo-Americana”:  a fusion of English texture and American spirit, for lack of a better term.  In the past I went for a more strictly-period look, but now I prefer to mix it up and be eclectic, which is very, very English.  I’m just about to paint the double parlor, which means some rearranging after I take it all apart and put it together again, so I’ve been scouting for some new/old things I could add to the present mix.

By the end of the nineteenth century, all the animosity between Britain and America was over, if the poster below (from the 1890s) is any indication.  One the eve of World War One (literally!) a huge  Anglo-American Exposition was held in the “White City”, Shepherd’s Bush, London; the ticket to the big event (below) has a cancelled stamp most likely because of the outbreak of the war.  Thereafter, the two countries were bound together by war.

Courtesy Museum of London

Following in a long line of  British textile entrepreneurs like Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston, Helkat Designs  makes hand-printed cushion covers that instantly introduce a touch of Englishness into a room, and there is also a perfect “Anglo-American” pillow:

I’m not sure I can sneak any more wallpaper into the house, but these lady of the manor and little teapot prints are really charming.

Anything to do with tea!  I already have some “teaeana” (that doesn’t look like a word; tea-related stuff, stuff with tea motifs) so it’s probably better to refrain, but I do like these tea canisters from Mothology:

Vintage English textiles that look to my untrained eye like vintage American textiles are available at Parna; below is a simple hand-loomed linen tablecloth in a nice size.  I’m looking for something different to spice up the walls (besides new paint), but I’ve already got very nice period hand-colored botanicals, architectural prints, and etchings.  This bicycle print caught my eye, but it might be a bit too whimsical for downstairs.

Finally, a beautiful late seventeenth-century map of America, North and South, by London cartographer and instrument-maker John Seller, available for purchase as a cropped print in a variety of sizes at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Hand-drawn Houses

If hand-drawn architectural sketches and renderings are on the verge of becoming a lost art in this age of Autocad, then I would imagine that they would increase in value exponentially in the coming decades.  My husband-the-architect can draw beautifully, as can lots of other architects that we know (Salem seems to be a magnet for architects) but they are all in their 40s:  are they the last generation of sketching architects?  While searching for some information about a Boston architect named Arthur Little who studied, sketched, and worked in Salem, I came across a periodical entitled The American Architect and Building News which was packed with amazing illustrations over its relatively short (1876-1908) life.  I think I’m next-to-last in a long list of  bloggers who have discovered this resource (and I’m sure it must be a key primary source for architectural historians), but I’m still going to showcase some of my favorite illustrations. 

The American Architect was published every Saturday by a series of Boston publishers.  It was first and foremost a trade publication, containing industry news and notices, classified as “Building Intelligence”, as well as plans, sketches, and photographs of newly-commissioned and -built structures.  Its scope was national, even international, but there are lots of Boston-area buildings given its place of publication.  This was the gilded age, and elaborate summer cottages were given pride of placement.  It was also an age of the emerging Colonial Revival style, and so architects like Little looked for inspiration for their new houses in the old colonial towns, like Salem.  Below are some detail drawings of the very inspirational Peirce-Nichols house from several 1886 issues of The American Architect and a contemporary phot0graph of the house.

Some illustrations from issues of The American Architect published in 1884, including sketches of  a “cottage” in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, the Ames Building in Boston (the city’s first “skyscraper”)  by H.H. Richardson, a facade and details of a house in Scotland, and a Queen Anne-style house in Pittsburgh:

More details from an old Salem houses,  drawn by Frank W. Wallis (who did the Peirce Nichols house sketches above), from an 1886 issue of The American Architect, and comparative cornices and door hardware from 1889 issues:

No detail was too small for The American Architect and Building News.  Given the era, there are also lots of technical drawings, for plumbing and “sanitation”, electrical wiring, fire prevention (the goal was a “slow-burning house”), and studies of shade and shadows.  The work of draftsmen like E. Eldon Deane (whose sketches are above) set an artistic standard for the magazine which even extended to advertisements like the one from Cabot below. 

A sprawling summer cottage in Dublin, New Hampshire and exterior and interior sketches for an urban residence, from 1889:

The publishers of American Architect clearly realized the value of  their drawings and published several portfolio volumes of single sheet prints like the 12-series “Georgian Period” below, currently on sale for $5000 here.   Individual colored prints, like the dining room of the Emmerton House in Salem and the “morning room” of  a house in Boston’s  Back Bay, both drawn by Arthur Little, were also produced, an acknowledgement that the architect, was, in fact, an artist.

The Salem Film Festival

We are in the midst of the Salem Film Festival, ongoing until March 10.  The all-documentary festival, now in its fourth year, is one of several relatively recent initiatives that is bringing life to downtown Salem in the middle of winter.  I love the festival’s slogan (Come to Salem, see the world), which harkens back to the city’s cosmopolitan port days.  This message echoes the programming and marketing of the Peabody Essex Museum, which is currently running a great exhibition of Dutch Golden Age paintings (Golden:  Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection), through June 19.

We had some scheduling and preference conflicts and missed two of the films that were on my list (Bill Cunningham New York and Echotone) but saw Grown in Detroit and Pink Saris this weekend.  Both films are really about attempts to empower teenaged girls, in places as diverse as Detroit and India.  The proposed route to independence in Detroit is urban agriculture, which is apparently one of the few things that is flourishing in the Motor City.  Because of the vacant lots, lack of pesticides, and weeds gone wild, bees and beekeeping are really thriving in Detroit.  Bee City?

A Detroit “feral house” from the great blog Sweet Juniper, which is documenting the highs and lows of living in Detroit in our time.

The Key to……..

This was a week of keys; I lost a key (temporarily), got a new key, and seemed to be perpetually teaching about Renaissance popes who asserted their power visually by wielding big keys (to the kingdom of heaven, of course) in an age of questioning authority.  I have always liked keys, both their material existence and their symbolism.  They represent access, understanding, the revelation of secrets, possession. When I moved into my house a decade ago I found a big box of skeleton keys in the basement, far more keys that I have doors.  So I strung them up on ribbons which I hang from hooks on my back stair landing.  Of course, everyone who passes by thinks I have a key fetish so I have collected even more keys over the years.

Fifteenth-century popes seem to be in the possession of an ever-present key, symbol of their possession of jurisdiction over salvation, bequeathed to them by St. Peter.  Here are images from two mid-fifteenth century illuminated manuscripts in the British Library showing popes and their big keys:

Jumping forward into the modern era, keys have lost their religious symbolism and taken on all sorts of associations.  Here they appear on tarot cigarette cards, in illustrations from a mid-century text called Robbery as a Science (with instructions on how to pick a lock, very useful for potential burglars!) on an abolitionist envelope, in a political cartoon entitled “the key to the situation” featuring President Grover Cleveland (all from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery), and in the titles of  two popular genres of twentieth-century entertainment:  sheet music and a Clark Gable film from 1950 (Library of Congress Digital Collections).

The keys to the city custom has a history all its own, dating back to when medieval cities were independent entities that extended the “freedom of the city” to special visitors.  There are lots of references and images of early modern kings like Louis XIV entering, claiming, and receiving keys to cities (like Strasbourg below, in 1681) but obviously the modern custom represents recognition rather than possession.  Below Louis, we have presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower receiving the keys to the city of Rock Island, Illinois from its mayor Melvin McKay in 1952 (Time-Life Photographs) and a very recent photograph from the Wall Street Journal of Ralph Lauren with his newly acquired key to the city of New York.

Below are some neat keys that I’ve had my eye on for a while:  a porcelain set made in Japan, a “steampunk clockwork magic key” textile border, and USB flashdrives, “the key to love, success and all your photos, files, and music”.  What better key for our age?

A Strange Sales Pitch

I’m always on the lookout for unusual Salem-related ephemera, but this roofing advertisement from 1920 really stopped me in my tracks.  I think I was looking for something specific, but when I came across this, my search ended. It’s beyond bizarre.

Six years after the Great Salem Fire, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of asbestos roofing shingles released this advertisement in national publications. Let’s leave asbestos off the table, as its danger was unknown at the time.  The rest of the ad seems outrageous to me on a number of levels, including the metaphorical connection between Salem witches and roofs (isn’t this a stretch?), the fact that Salem’s falsely-accused “witches” were hanged, not burned, and the sheer egregiousness of exploiting Salem’s TWO greatest tragedies for commercial gain. I think it’s the only text that I’ve ever seen that links these two disastrous, iconic events together.

Other contemporary examples of Johns-Manville’s advertising seem pretty mundane in comparison.  There is always a safety theme, which is understandable given the rash of urban fires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Asbestos was the cutting-edge technology that promised security from this threat but ultimately introduced another.  Aesthetics is the other appeal (as opposed to fear), as is evident in these other two advertisements from 1920:

Pretty storybook cottages with red roofs! A far cry from that Salem hag-witch.  To reinforce its safety image, Johns-Manville (now a division of Berkshire Hathaway) was compelled to include the fire threat in its advertising so we see the spectre of fire, like the fire next door in a 1922 advertisement,  but not a specific fire. Ironically, 30 years later the Company produced a special “Salem” shingle, (with a ship slogan rather than a witch!)  pictured below.

The Beginning and After

Last week the Boston Globe ran a story about local responses to the unveiling of Salem’s new logo and slogan, “Still making History” (which I addressed in an earlier post), in which a business owner (dispensing witch wares  and psychic services) professed his “love” for the slogan, “because 319 years later witches are still here”.  So Salem’s falsely-accused “witches”, exonerated by their families’ appeals, the Massachusetts General Court, and a slew of historians, are victimized yet again.

On March 1, 1692 Salem Town magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin began their examinations of three Salem Village women–Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne–accused of witchcraft by a couple of  “afflicted” adolescent girls in the household of Reverend Samuel Parris.  This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials, a topic which I hope to avoid as much and often as possible based on my belief that all too often Salem’s history and identity are exclusively focused on this one event to the exclusion of everything else.  I am not a colonial American historian and I have nothing of value to add to the thousands of books that have been written on the Trials.  But I do live and work in Salem, and I am writing about Salem, so the topic will not always be easy to avoid.  Like today.

It seems to me that there have been too many narratives of the Salem Witch Trials and not enough discussion of their aftermath.  I am very happy to report that my colleague at Salem State University, Tad Baker, who is a colonial historian, will offer a corrective interpretation in his forthcoming book A Storm of Witchcraft (due out in 2013 from Oxford University Press).  Just a passing glance at the archival record reveals how fervently the families of the 1692 victims sought restitution and the repair of their loved ones’ reputations. This 1710 letter from William Good, husband of Sarah, is a poignant example of what came after.  I included a transcription below, as well as an image of the Massachusetts colonial Assembly’s reversal of the witchcraft convictions and a rather bleak view of the snow-covered tercentenary Witch Trial Memorial, taken yesterday.

To the Honourable Committee

The humble representation of William Good of the Damages sustained by him in the year 1692 by reason of the sufferings of his family upon the account of supposed witchcraft.  My wife Sarah Good was in prison about 4 months and then executed.  A sucking child died in prison before the mother’s execution. A child of 4 or 5 years old in prison 7 or 8 months and being chained in the dungeon was so hardly used and terrified that she hath over time seemed very changeable having little or no reason to govern herself.  And I leave it unto the Honourable Court to judge what damages I have sustained by such a destruction of my poor family.  And so rest.  Your Honours’ Humble Servant William Good.  Salem Sept. 13, 1710


Digital Sources for the Salem Witch Trials:  the most comprehensive site is the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.  Cornell University has both American and European sources in their Witchcraft Collection. The Reversal of Attainder broadside is from the Library of Congress’s Digital Collections.

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