Salem is in the midst of a big bicycle week, with the Witches Cup race this past Wednesday and the Salem Seersucker Social this coming Sunday, both part of an extended schedule of Salem Heritage Days events. So I thought it was time to showcase this vintage bicycle advertisement from the golden age of bicycling at the turn of the last century. R.H. Robson, with two locations in Salem, was a major dealer in high-wheel (penny farthing) bicycles in the 1880s and quickly dominated the North Shore market for “safeties” in the next decade. This ad promotes two of their most popular models, the “Salem Witch” and “Witch Scorcher”:
Apparently scorcher had two meanings in its contemporary context: a really fast bicyclist, who menaced pedestrians and horses alike in what must have been very chaotic streets, and the actual bicycle on which this speed demon rode. After urban police departments began employing their own “scorcher squads”, the term became a lot less menacing and all sorts of cultural references began to appear, including the title of this popular march, yet another reminder that bicycles and women’s liberation go hand in hand.
While the riders of Wednesday’s Witches Cup were scorchers, those that participate in Sunday’s Seersucker Social will probably cycle along at a more leisurely place, in emulation of the genteel (anti-spandex) “tweed rides” that have been happening in urban centers all over the world in the last few years. Salem is fortunate to have two bike shops, Salem Cycle and the Urbane Cyclist, and the latter is the sponsor of the Sunday event. Those who want to ride along should convene at the shop (144 Washington Street) at 11:00 am, wearing “historically sporty” (non-spandex) attire, for the 7-mile ride. With apologies to the Urbane Cyclists, I’ve reproduced their poster from last year (modified with my own very obvious corrections) just because I like it so much.