Monthly Archives: April 2011

More Salem Items on Etsy

I haven’t featured any Etsy items for a while, because most of the Salem-related items have been too kitschy and witchy.  I like to examine historical witchcraft memorabilia as a cultural phenomenon but I’m certainly not going to encourage its present production!  I always check the site weekly, because I think Etsy is such a great platform for creative entrepreneurs, and this past weekend I was able to assemble a solid selection of Salem items, including some offered by shop start-ups.

Salem Home by Etsy seller painterdawn.

 Vintage House of Seven Gables Souvenir Handkerchief from Etsy seller find4you.

 Reds in Salem, Massachusetts Original Oil Painting by Etsy seller Bumbleweedz.

 West India Goods Store Photograph by Etsy seller WednesdaySistersArts.

Circle of Bees Watercolor Painting by Salem Etsy seller unitedthread.

 Embroidered Picture of Crowninshield Wharf, Olde Salem by Etsy seller mockingbirdroad.

 Historic House Pillow-Crowninshield Bentley Salem by Etsy seller notwithoutmerit.

Brick-ended Houses

There are several houses in Salem which have brick sides or ends, even though the majority of the house is constructed of wooden clapboards.  Sometimes there is brick on each end of the house, sometimes on the front facade, sometimes along a rear wall.  I’ve always found the aesthetics of the brick and clapboard combination very pleasing, but never took the time to wonder about the utilitarian reasons behind the design.  The buildings below were all built between 1805 and 1820, in the central residential and commercial districts of an increasingly congested town.  The first two are located on lower Essex Street, Salem’s main street then and now, and the latter two are situated off Derby Street in the (then busy) Wharf area and on more residential Federal Street, respectively.

As these houses were built concurrently with and just after Chestnut Street, with its grand display of brick merchants’ mansions, I thought perhaps there might be a socio-economic explanation for these single brick walls:  showing a bit of brick to keep up with the China Trade Joneses.  However, the architects and preservationists whom I’ve consulted say it’s all about fire prevention.  And as you can see from the pictures above, the brick side is generally built around the chimney and proximate to another building.  It’s hard to imagine the constant danger of fire in these mostly wooden, clustered towns; in the same decade that these buildings were built, there were devastating fires just up the coast in Newburyport, Massachusetts, (1811)  and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, seaport cities very similar to Salem.  Portsmouth actually experienced three terrible fires in the first decades of the nineteenth century:  in 1802 (see below), 1806, and 1813–this last fire destroyed over 270 buildings.  With only a bucket brigade and a rudimentary hand-pumped water pump to protect them, it is easy to see why Salem’s householders might have put up a brick wall or two.

Wharves destroyed in the 1811 Newburyport Fire, Custom House Maritime Museum

Opening Day at Fenway

For everyone in New England (excluding pockets of Connecticut and Vermont where New York fans abound) and those regions of Red Sox nation beyond, tomorrow is an exciting day:  the opener at Fenway against the Yankees.  I always feel better knowing that baseball is on, even if I’m not watching.  And this is also an opportunity for me to showcase some really great photographs:  of the park but mostly of the players.

Fenway Park was built almost a century ago, in 1912, to replace the older Huntingdon Avenue Grounds.  A few years ago I wasn’t sure it would be standing for its centennial (it was placed on Preservation Massachusetts’s most endangered list in 1999) but its present owners seem committed to its preservation.  A century ago, it was the most modern of parks featuring all sorts of innovations for crowd accessibility and control:  reserved seating (with gold leaf lettering!), separate entrances for the bleacher, grandstand and pavilion seating (which some contemporaries feared was destroying the egalitarian sociability of baseball games).   I think of Fenway as the most intimate of stadiums, but at least one historian has noted that it and the other “modern” parks built just before World War I “standardized and depersonalized the sport while allowing more fans to see the game”, separated these same fans from the players, and “generally removed much of the previous informality”. (Robert  Bluthardt, “Fenway Park and the Golden Age of the Baseball Park, 1909-1915”, Journal of Popular Culture 21 (1987), a reference I owe to my SSU colleague Brad Austin) Still, Fenway is a far cry from the super stadiums of the later twentieth century, and for that I am grateful.

Some images of Fenway in its first few years (1912-14) from the Bain News Service archive at the Library of Congress; the last one features backup catcher Hick Cady who is so prominent in pictures from this era you would think he was Babe Ruth!

And now for some photographs of the old towne team in the same era.  From the collection of the Boston Public Library, photographs of the 1911 and 1912 Red Sox teams, the first on a down day in Los Angeles, the second in a (rather strange) diamond formation, and the third at the World Series of 1912.  The last photograph is a conventional roster shot of the 1913 team on a cigarette card from the New York Public Library.

The ability of the modern sports stadiums of the twentieth century, both early and late, to separate the players on the field from the fans in the stands must explain why I find the photographs of individual players (and managers) of the early century so particularly poignant.  The photographs below are from another archive in the Library of Congress:  a collection of photographs taken by Chicago Daily News photographers from 1902-33.  Among this collection are several of Boston Red Sox players at Comiskey Field.  Babe Ruth was there and is here, but the rest of the photographs I have chosen are of players (and one manager, Patsy Donovan) who are not quite as well-known:  after Patsy (1911), there is Harry Bartholomew Hooper (1912), Clarence “Tilly” Walker (1916) and Babe Ruth (1918).

I chose these particular photographs just because they seem so immediate and intimate.  Baseball players, politicians, average everyday people, it doesn’t matter:  people just seem to have a closer, more honest relationship with the camera in the earlier days of photography.  They are really there; look at Harry Hooper.

Baseball cards deserve another exclusive post, as they’re important forms of ephemera as well as cultural artifacts.  I’m going to include Harry Hooper’s card from 1912 here, however, just because of my particular fascination with him. 

Hooper is also an inspirational figure for the beginning of the season,  as he is the only player (SO FAR) to be a part of FOUR Red Sox World championship teams:  those of 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918.

Bicycles Built for Everyone

While many European countries have had a consistent bicycle culture for a century or so, America’ s relationship with two-wheelers seems to run in cycles (pardon the pun).  I think we want to be a bicycling nation now, but this was certainly not the case twenty years ago and our national obsession with the automobile will never go away.  This weekend, instead of getting out on my bike (one of the few forms of exercise that I really enjoy) I read (or perused) two books on bicycles, both of which made a pretty strong visual case for the existence of a vibrant American bicycling culture at the turn of the last century.  Cyclopedia by William Fotheringham is an illustrated reference book about the history and trivia of bicycles, a pick-up-and-learn-all-sorts-of-little-things type of book, while Wheels of Change:  How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires along the Way)  by Sue Macy explores the interesting relationship between women’s’  liberation and bicycling, a connection that is easily supported by the print and popular culture of the period.

An editorial cartoon from the June 19, 1895 edition of Puck magazine links the many varieties of the “new woman” (wearing pantaloons!) with bicycles, and a poster advertisement for the New York Ledger from a couple of years later features a woman wearing even shorter bloomers.  It appears that the bicycle aided the progress of dress reform, at the very least.

Actually the famous bicycless (?) Elsa von Blumen was one of the first ladies to blaze this trail, winning races against horses and other women racers on her high-wheel bicycle in the 1880s and marketing photographs of herself in full bicycle dress.  Bicycle racing of all forms seems to have been extremely popular in the two decades on either side of the turn of the twentieth century:  women against women, women against horses, men against men.

Elsa von Blumen in 1889

A very alliterative advertisement for the “Racycle”

The replacement of the high-wheel (penny-farthing) bicycle by the modern “safety” bicycle intensified interest in two-wheelers in general and racing in particular.  Bicycle clubs were very common and there was a brief window of opportunity just after the turn of the century  for bicycles to become the primary means of transportation, particularly in urban areas.  Advertisements and other forms of ephemera were very prevalent; Americans just seemed to like the image  of the bicycle, as the last poster below indicates.

Bicycle Races in 1895, Library of Congress

Library of Congress

After about 1910 or 1920, with the increase in the production of automobiles and the consequential decrease in price, bicycles seem to have lost their appeal as an adult form of transportation.  The advertising of that era onwards clearly indicates that bicycles were now marketed primarily to children.  Here in Salem, Parker Brothers took advantage of the emerging juvenile market by turning out bicyle-themed books and games.

No matter what product or service they were selling, late nineteenth -and early twentieth-century trade cards often featured children, as well as cute and fuzzy little animals.  Add a bicycle motif and you have an even more adorable image, if that’s possible.  The J & P Coats Thread Company’s bunny and kitten cards below, have always been among the most popular cards with ephemera collectors.

Back to the Future:  Britain’s “Tweed Run” movement (a crusade against bike shorts founded in 2009) spawns American’s “Tweed Ride” movement:

The Salem Jail

Late last month, the American Institute of Architects recognized the rehabilitated and reconstituted old Salem Jail with a prestigious Housing Award.  In recognizing the architects (Finegold Alexander + Associates) and their developer clients (New Boston Ventures) the jury noted that there is such a strength in the conversion-through the beautiful historic adaptation, the buildings’ purpose has also been transformed from negative to positive.  Below, the “before and after” shots illustrate the aesthetic transformation from negative to positive quite well.

The transformation of the 1813 prison complex, which had languished in an increasingly deteriorating state in a prominent location for almost two decades, has been a remarkable addition to the Salem streetscape.  When it was shuttered by a judge’s ruling (that it was unfit for human habitation) in 1991, the Jail was the oldest continually operating house of correction in the country.  After its closure, the state mothballed the complex, which included not only the three-story 100-cell jail, but also a stately brick jail keeper’s house (attributed alternatively to both Samuel McIntire and his son Samuel Field McIntire), and a wooden carriage house.  A 1908 photograph and 1930s postcard show the complex in its (verdant) functioning days.

After a decade of deterioration and a fire which severely damaged the Jail Keeper’s house in 1999, efforts intensified to find a new purpose for the jail complex.  Historic Salem, Inc., along with other preservation organizations, was a key player in bringing about the transfer of the property from the state to the city of Salem along with a preservation mandate, which enabled the Salem Redevelopment Authority to move forward with a formal request for proposals.  Once the New Boston plan, which called for a mixed-use redevelopment of the complex with luxury condominiums, exhibit and studio space, and a restaurant, got underway, the economy promptly tanked and consequently concessionary changes were made.  To take advantage of existing federal tax initiatives, the proposed condominiums were replaced with 23 apartments (all of which will be eligible for condo conversion in five years) and a restaurant tenant was finally located after a series of false starts.  This past summer, all of the complex’s apartments were leased within weeks of its completion, and The Great Escape (of course) opened in the early fall.  This storied site (ironically just across the way from the former site of the Parker Brothers’ Factory) now functions as an impressive but much less intimidating gateway into Salem from the north.

Fools for April

I’m not clever enough to come up with a real April Fool’s post, so instead I’m going to revert to custom and offer up some historical fools for All Fool’s Day. Of course, the first images of fools in western culture come from the Bible, specifically Psalm 52, in which the fool denies God (“The Fool said in his heart ‘there is no God'”).  So we see various fools appearing in illustrated psalters and books of hours from the 13th century onward, often with King David or his contemporary equivalent, often pointing up to an apparently Godless heaven, sometimes in league with the Devil, and increasingly looking foolish, as anyone who denied God would have to be.  

British Library Harley MS 1892, 14th Century

The Fool Enthroned, National Library of the Netherlands

From the Renaissance onward, the fool retains some of his religious connotations, but also becomes an entertainer, of both a harmless and critical nature:  by being foolish, he can put the spotlight on folly.  He is often in a court setting, as is the case from this illustration from the Chronicles of  Jean Froissart and the more unusual image of Henry VIII and his court fool Will Sommers playing out Psalm 52 in the king’s personal psalter, also from the collection of the British Library.

British Library Royal MS 14, 15th Century

Another Renaissance image of the fool comes from Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools, an allegory of clueless, frivolous fools adrift on a vessel, going nowhere in this world or the next.  The 1494 printed edition of the Ship of Fools included illustrations by Albrecht Durer (below is the “tempting fool” ) that I think were particularly inspirational in fixing the image of the fool, and the book also inspired the great work of the same name by Hieronymus Bosch (as well as a 1965  film by Stanley Kramer).  
The Elizabethan stage featured two famous actor-fools, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite Richard Tarleton and William Shakespeare’s favorite Robert Armin, who defined what it was to be a fool, in all the role’s  incarnations, both onstage and off in his Foole upon Fooles (1600).  At just about this very same time, the famous (and anonymous) “World Map drawn in a Fool’s head” was published.

Richard Tarleton in costume, c. 1588

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

 Over the modern era, fools lost a lot of their luster and became simply fools, or else they were lumped together with the less nuanced clowns and jesters.  The periodical press in general, and editorial cartoonists and caricaturists in particular, could make their points very easily merely by using the fool.   Consequently more than anyone else, politicians became fools.  James Gillray, London’s leading popular printmaker during the “golden age” of caricature from about 1780 to 1820, certainly succeeded in making all politicians of his day, including King George III and the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister William Pitt, and Napoleon, look very, very foolish.  At the other end of the nineteenth century over here in America, turning politicians into fools was also a common practice (and still is).  Below is a striking image of two-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan portrayed as a fool (for his anti-imperialist stance, which was seen as foolish a century ago) on a 1900 cover of  Judge magazine.  And finally there is the simple fool of a early twentieth century cigarette card, made so by an April Fool’s day prank.

James Gillray, "The Prince of Wales", 1802, Princeton University Library

James Gillray, "The April Fool Consigned to Infamy and Ridicule", 1801, Victoria and Albert Museum



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