Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Secretive Salem House

There is an old abandoned house in Salem situated alongside the Old Burying Point on Charter Street which almost seems like it is part of the graveyard.  This is the so-called “Grimshawe House”, named for a posthumously-published story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret.  The Hawthorne connection to the house began in the 1830s, as it was then presumably a lively place as the residence of Dr. Peabody and his three daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia–Nathaniel’s future wife.  And so it also became known, in the words of several popular early twentieth-century postcards, as “Hawthorne’s Courting House”.  Given its abandonment and present state of disrepair (as well as its site), I think that the romantic associations of the house are now largely forgotten; every time I pass by I see tourists having their pictures taken in front of what they perceive as a ghostly, perhaps haunted house.

And who can blame them?  This is the characterization that Hawthorne gives the house in both Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret, and another unfinished work which was also published after his death (against his stated wishes, apparently), The Dolliver Romance.  Both stories feature old eccentric doctors rattling around in their gloomy house by the graveyard.  The narrator of  Dr. Grimshawe observes that  “….the old house itself, covering ground which else had been sown thickly with buried bodies, partook of [the graveyard’s] dreariness, because it seemed hardly possible that the dead people should not get up out of their graves and steal in to warm themselves at this convenient fireside.”  Of course, the dead people to which Hawthorne is referring to are his own Hathorne relatives, resting out there while he courted his future wife in the front parlor.  What a small world he lived in; no wonder he often seemed desperate to get out of Salem.

The House today (or yesterday):

The House a century ago:  a 1906 photograph published by the Detroit Publishing Company, and a pair of postcards from 1911 and 1923:

A Frank Cousins photograph of the doorway of the Grimshawe House, circa 1891, and the present doorway.

This house has been in this state for as long as I’ve lived in Salem, and I have no idea what the future holds for it, although (apart from the graveyard) its general neighborhood has improved quite a bit in the last decade or so, with the transformation of the old Police Station across the street into condominiums and the addition of the Peabody Essex Museum‘s eighteenth-century house, Yin Yu Tang.

Addendum:  SPIDERS play a big role in Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret, as evidenced by this title page illustration from the 1883 edition, below.  I really like the image, and I couldn’t help comparing it to the Halloween decorations (already!  It is Salem, after all) on a house several streets over from the Grimshawe House.

Elephant and Key

I came across this receipt for the obsolete Asiatic National Bank of Salem (1824-about 1910) and was immediately enchanted:  an elephant holding a key, my two favorite images, together.

A great clipping, but what to do with it?  I thought I might try to transform  it into fabric via Spoonflower, but the fact that it’s a seal, featuring words and letters, makes it a bit too official/souvenir-looking for a fabric, I think.  Still, it’s always fun to play around with that site, so it took me a while to reach that conclusion.

I also found a check (for three cents!) and a banknote (for three dollars), from back in the day (in this case 1864) when currency could be issued by private banks.  As you can see the elephant, ever the symbol of the exotic east, is featured prominently (but no key).

From this bill, it is obvious that the bank’s office was in the East India Marine Hall, before it became the Peabody Museum (and the present-day Peabody Essex Museum).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by this building and failed to notice the “Asiatic Bank” inscription on the front.  A 1933 HABS photograph of the Marine Hall from the Library of Congress is below, as well as one of its facade, taken yesterday.

The Return of the Dutch Chair

The very first antique I bought was a Dutch marquetry chair from the 1820s.  It cost either $425 or $475; I can’t remember exactly, but I was a graduate student in my 20s and it was a lot of money.  If it had been in good condition it probably would have cost a lot more, but one of its legs had been broken and repaired and there were some punky spots here and there. I didn’t know about CONDITION yet, but it hardly mattered to me.  I loved the chair’s curved back and arms and thought it was the most beautiful piece of furniture I had ever seen.  For quite awhile, it played a major role in several living rooms, but gradually it got pushed out, and relegated first to the second floor and then to the third, both because it was rather frail and I kept buying more and more chairs–a major weakness of mine.

The summer before last, the chair was in such an insignificant space that I thought, why don’t I see if someone can make it strong again?  I certainly won’t miss it!  So I called a series of restorers and woodworkers, all of whom said no, too difficult to fix or not worth the effort.  Finally, one nice man said he would give it a shot.  I said, take it away and take your time, and off he went.  I promptly forgot all about my old chair until the middle of this past summer, more than a year after it left my sight.  Mr. Pelletier (Pelletier & Son Furniture Restoration, 52 Howard Street Extension, Salem MA) delivered it to my door, refitted with new internal frame, missing marquetry pieces replaced, and French-polished.

I was very excited to have my chair back but obviously it was time for upholstery.  So off I ran to Zimman’s for my fabric (the best decorating resource anywhere80 Market Street, Lynn, MA;  There’s so much to see there I always get a bit lost, but I finally emerged with a dull gold silk damask fabric that I thought would complement, rather than contrast with, the chair’s woodwork.  A couple of days later, Steve the upholsterer (UpRight Upholstery, 250 North Street, Danvers, MA; came to get the chair and it just returned (again).  It’s strong enough to be a living room chair now, but I prefer it in my bedroom, where it has pride of place.

Trade Cards, Take Two

I’ve made a few additions to my trade card collection over the summer, and found some nice early examples in various archives.  So it seemed like time for another post, as my last one on these early business cards was months ago.  So many of these cards were produced in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that you can easily get lost in a sea of paper if you are thinking about starting a collection, so it’s best to narrow down your interests–by location, businesses, images, era, etc..I am always on the lookout for Salem cards, of course, as well as drums, horseshoes, elephants and anything to do with upholstery and upholsterers.

I found a few cards for Frank Cousins, my favorite turn-of-the-century Salem entrepreneur/photographer, this summer, including drum and horseshoe images.  Very exciting.  These both date from the 1890s; I particularly like the Who is Frank Cousins? tagline–it seems quite modern.

Some more Salem items.  Early trade cards are impossible to find (they are ephemeral after all) so the best place to look for them is in the collections of historical museums and libraries.  The two cards below, from the first decade of the nineteenth century, represent two businesses that were flourishing in Salem’s golden age of prosperity. As you can see the first card (from Mystic Seaport) is showing its age, while that of Jabez Baldwin, a prosperous silversmith and clockmaker (from the American Antiquarian Society), still looks pretty good.

Much more attainable cards include these two colored cards from the end of the nineteenth century.  I have no idea why strange-looking–even scary–clowns were good for business but they pop up quite often on trade cards.  These are not images I collect but I can’t seem to avoid them.

I can find lots of clowns, but very few upholstery trade cards, which is what I’m really looking for.  I love this great eighteenth-century example from the Victoria & Albert Museum:  what a great image and historical source.  A century before photography, it’s an (albeit idealistic) window into Christopher Gibson’s London upholstery shop, with both customers and craftsmen present.  Below the Gibson card  is a much less interesting one for the Boston upholsterers Copp & Pear from the later nineteenth century and the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.  No Salem upholsterers yet.

There’s another clown in this last card, but at least he is accompanied by two elephants!  There’s quite a few trade cards with elephant images (owing to the popularity of Jumbo, I think), but like this one, they’re all for national businesses and brands.  I’d really like to find a local, less-standardized example.

Bewitching Beauty

Enough of the Witch Trials, on to Witch City.  For the past century or so, rather then obscuring Salem’s association with the trials, the city fathers celebrated it, creating the present-day “Witch City”.  I’ve wrote about this development in numerous posts, but the essential beginning can be found here, with Daniel Low’s witch spoon.  Shortly after this successful turn-of-the century marketing campaign, other Salem businesses jumped on the witchcraft train, and it really took off.  Another example of a nationally-marketed Salem product was the “Witch Cream” manufactured by the C.H. and J. Price Pharmacy of Essex Street.

These advertisements can be found in all sorts of publications in the later 1890s; clearly “Witch Cream” captured the public’s attention.  This was a boon period for skin lotions and face creams (often called “vanishing creams” because they melted into the skin, unlike cold creams, which are ancient), following the success of the Pond’s Company and the discovery of new, less-irritating (than lead!) recipes.  While early modern women were often criticized for indulging their vanities and layering on too much cream and “paint” (the two women preoccupied with their faces below are clearly vulnerable to the wiles of the Devil), existing recipes for “precious” ointments and waters confirm that they whipped up their own moisturizers.  But the late Victorian era, in characteristic fashion, initiated a profitable cosmetics industry.

Daniel Hopfer, Death and the Devil Surprise Two Women (1520 etching, late 17th century print). Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Price Pharmacy in Salem advertised several products, including “homeopathic tinctures”, a “hygienic wine” (a strengthening tonic for nervous protestation, dyspepsia, etc…), and New England Tooth Drops, but they definitely showcased their Witch Cream, which they sold by mail-order and also distributed to other apothecaries.

I’m not sure what was actually in Witch Cream, although if it’s anything like other contemporary concoctions on the market, it was probably made of cucumber, rose and/or elder flower oils, essences that go way back to the Elizabethan era, and probably beyond.  Like so many modern products, it was probably a case of the wizardry of words rather than ingredients.

The Worst Day

As the collective series of events that we call the Salem Witch Trials progressed, from the first accusations and arrests in the spring and summer of 1692 through the prosecutions and executions of the summer and early fall, there were a lot of bad days, but I think that September 22 was the worst day.  This was the day on which eight people were hanged for witchcraft in Salem Town, the greatest number of victims executed in a day.  As you can see from the inscriptions on the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial in Danvers below, the “Salem Witch Trials” was a regional contagion, involving people from all over Essex Country. But all of these people were imprisoned, tried, and executed in Salem Town (or just over the line).

What do these people have in common?  They were, with the exception of  Samuel Wardwell, women, primarily middle-aged or older women.  Several of them were widows, conspicuously independent in an age when woman were supposed to be decidedly dependent. Poor Wardwell seems to have been accused by his envious neighbors because he married a rich widow.  His Andover neighbor, Mary Ayer Parker, might have been accused through a case of mistaken identity.  Everyone had problems with their neighbors, and most of them (though not all) had a history with the “afflicted” girls who accused them. Wilmot Redd of Marblehead had never met these girls before she was dragged to Ingersoll’s Tavern in Salem Village to hear their accusations.

The Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial in central Salem, with its sense of enclosure and stillness, its inscribed stones and locust trees, is a compelling and fitting tribute to the victims of 1692, but I wish we also had a memorial that was near the site of the hangings; in fact, I wish I knew where the hangings actually occurred.  It is a site that has been shrouded in mystery for some time, as if obscuring it and forgetting it could make it all go away.  John Adams, riding into Salem in 1766 along the main route from Boston, commented in his diary on a copse of locust trees planted on the site where he thought the convicted witches were hung, and a century later the official site was recognized with the foundation of Gallows Hill Park based on the assertion of the first historian of the Witch Trials, Charles W. Upham, that the executions occurred at a point where the spectacle would be witnessed by the whole surrounding country far and near, being on the brow of the highest eminence in the vicinity of the town.  A successive trail of postcards heralded the site.

From the 1920s consensus has been building in support of another execution site, located slightly below the official “Gallows Hill”, based on the work of  Sidney Perley.  Perley was a lawyer and an amateur historian who utilized his extensive knowledge of deeds and probate records to create a compelling topographical history of Salem, including a series of hand-drawn detailed maps published in The Essex Antiquarian.  He makes a strong case for his alternative site in his three-volume History of Salem, Massachusetts (1924), which you can access at the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.  His site is still elevated, but more accessible to the existing water and land routes, and is illustrated by one of his “Salem in 1700” maps and a 1920s photograph below.

And what of this site today?  It is an unmarked, sloping, fenced-in, trash-ridden lot behind the large Walgreen’s parking lot on Boston Street.  Several of the pictures below were taken, ironically, from the vantage point of Proctor and Putnam Streets (the names of a prominent victim and equally prominent accuser in 1692).  The last photograph is of Gallows Hill Park a bit further up the hill, where life is clearly going on, beneath the sign of the witch.

It Takes a Village

The Salem witchcraft hysteria began in the outlying settlements of Salem “town”, or present-day Salem, in Salem Farms and Salem Village (West Peabody and Danvers).  Both areas are quite developed now, given their proximity to Routes 1 and 95, but you can still sense the presence of the past if you look hard enough.  A short walk along Centre Street in that part of Danvers which was once Salem Village is a particularly accessible way to go back in time and place, and see some lovely old houses in the process.

The town of Danvers decided long ago that, unlike Salem, it did not want to be “Witch City”, so many of its witch trial-related sites are literally off the beaten path.  The best example is arguably the most important site related to the witch trials, the excavated foundation of the Reverend Samuel Parris’s parsonage, where the girls began telling their stories.  There is a sign on Centre Street that will lead you to this site, but inevitably it is covered by snow or leaves.  If you can find the sign, you turn off the street onto a little cart path that takes you to the parsonage site.

An 1891 Frank Cousins photograph of un-excavated Parsonage Site

Back on Centre Street, you’re in the midst of several seventeenth-century houses that stood witness to the events of 1692, or, as in the case of the Ingersoll “Ordinary” (Tavern) at the corner of Hobart Street, actually hosted them.  The Ingersoll house was the site of examinations and deliberations, along with the Salem Village Meeting House down the street (no longer standing), before the whole matter was moved to Salem Town.  Now it’s a private house that is for sale—for what strikes me as the rather low price of $366,000.  Exterior and interior views are below.

And here are four more seventeenth-century houses in the vicinity:  a large house with a very impressive wood-shingled roof, just across from the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial on Hobart Street about which I know nothing, several Centre Street houses belonging to the prominent Holten family of Salem Village, and the Thomas Haines House (1681).  In these last two houses lived influential witnesses against  Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth How, sisters-in-law and two of the victims of 1692.

A Frank Cousins photograph of the Judge Samuel Holten House in 1891

Addendum:  A photograph of the absolutely delightful doubly privy beside the Judge Samuel Holten House, taken by photographer Arthur C. Haskell for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1936 (Library of Congress).

Giles Corey

The long life of Giles Cory, the only victim of the Salem Witch Trials to die as a result of torture, ended on September 19, 1692.  Cory suffered from a rare colonial application of the medieval peine forte et dure (“strong and hard punishment”), in which accused persons who “stood mute”, or refused to enter a plea, were pressed to do so literally:  increasingly-heavy weights or stones were placed on the body until the victim complied (or died).  Cory, whose wife Martha would hang three days later, was generally cantankerous, over eighty years old, and a wealthy landowner who had deeded his property to his sons-in-law weeks before.  He had nothing left to lose  and therefore refused to cooperate with his torturers and is even said to have asked for “more weight”. (The few times I’ve been FORCED to attend the show at the Salem Witch “Museum”, which basically consists of a diorama plus audio thrown together around 1972, I’ve been horrified to hear laughter by the crowd at these words).

The Howard Street Cemetery, near the site of Corey’s torture/death.

Even though Cory’s death by pressing is unique in the American experience, there were several English precedents of the previous century.  The most notorious case involved a Catholic woman from northern England, Margaret Clitherow, who was accused of harboring priests in her household during one of the most fevered moments of the English Reformation.  Clitherow refused to participate in the proceedings against her as she did not want to implicate members of her family, consequently she was subjected to a particularly harrowing process of peine forte et dure that brought about her death (and martyrdom) on Good Friday, 1586 and canonization shortly thereafter.

The Torture/execution of Margaret Clitherow, 1586

There was definitely a judicial reaction to the Clitherow case, and in the seventeenth century pressing was used sparingly and only as a death sentence for convicted murderers like George Strangwayes (1658) and Henry Jones (1672).  So the Corey case is conspicuous in the relatively late use of peine forte et dure as judicial torture.  But then again, everything about the Salem Witch Trials is late from the European perspective.

To me, it seems rather obvious that Cory’s passive resistance to the proceedings of 1692 was motivated by disgust rather than fear of forfeiture of his considerable estate upon conviction:  in July of that year he had already deeded his lands in Salem Farms (now West Peabody) to his sons-in-law William Cleaves and Jonathan Moulton, “being under great troubles and affliction…and knowing not how soon I may depart this life”.

Because of his defiance, Corey has been among the most revered of Salem victims in both literary and historical interpretations of the trials after 1800, including two nineteenth-century plays, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Giles Corey of the Salem Farms (1868) and Mary Wilkins’ Giles Corey, Yeoman (1893). In Arthur Miller’s Crucible, the Giles character is irascible and independent, a characterization that is somewhat supported by the historical evidence.  Like the death of  Margaret Clitherow over a century before, Corey’s horrible death went a long way towards ending the circumstances that produced it.

The Giles Cory Marker on Crystal Lake in West Peabody, Massachusetts, in the midst of  what was previously Corey’s 150-acre property.

End-of-Summer Gardens

I love muted tones in gardens anyway, so late summer gardens are just my thing.  Here are some photographs of two very different gardens:  my own humble garden and those of Glen Magna Farms in Danvers, the summer home of Salem’s Derby Family.  I was in this part of Danvers (originally called Salem Village) yesterday, getting some images for upcoming posts on the Witch Trials (beware:  next week is a very important week in the history of the Trials), and so I took a detour to Glen Magna.  Though the property came into the Derby family in 1812, the estate as it exists today is largely the vision of Ellen Peabody Endicott, a Derby descendant who significantly expanded and redesigned the house and its gardens after 1892.  Her grandson moved Samuel McIntire’s magnificent summer house (1793) from Salem to Danvers in 1901.

My garden:  including a close-up of a squirrel (I think it’s the same one) who climbs up and down a dogwood tree all day long knocking off and burying its red berries.

And now for the magnificent Glen Magna:  the house, Mrs. Endicott by John Singer Sargent (1901), McIntire’s summer house, and surrounding gardens.

Ellen Peabody Endicott by John Singer Sargent, 1901

Second Floor Interior of Derby Summer House, HABS, Library of Congress, 1960

The Renaissance Rhinoceros

Albrecht Durer’s supposedly-realistic rhinoceros is featured prominently in the new exhibition at Harvard University’s Sackler Museum, “Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe”, as well as in its companion catalog (in fact it’s on the cover), and with good reason:  horned beasts were the most fantastic of all creatures  in medieval bestiaries, and with the coming of the Renaissance their existence was either verified or disproved.  The appearance of Durer’s rhinoceros in print was part of this process, and also a great example of the Renaissance merger of art and science, two pursuits that seem incompatible today.

The exhibition also features an amazing print showing several men measuring a beached whale on a Dutch beach, another illustration of a great beast that was now the object of scientific scrutiny rather than passive wonder.  Contrast this whale with illustrations from two thirteenth-century bestiaries in the collection of the British Library and you can easily see the difference of attitude.  The two medieval whales are depicted in standard fashion as ” islands”, based on the legend of Saint Brendan the Navigator who awoke one morning during his long sea voyage on what he thought was an island but was really a whale.

Whales:  Anonymous after Hendrick Goltzius, Stranded Whale at Zandvoort, 1594.  Harvard Art Museum, Light Outerbridge Collection, Richard Norton Memorial Fund; British Library Manuscripts Harley 3244 & 4751.

In addition to prints of animals, the exhibition features maps and charts and illustrations of all the new scientific instruments of the age.  Of course, portraiture is a distinctly Renaissance genre, and rather than the usual royals and nobles we see a portrait print of mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Petri van Deventer with all the tools of his profession.

Nicolaus Petri van Deventer by Hendrik Goltzius, 1595.

Medicine was another fledgling science of the sixteenth century, an age of “new” threats like syphilis (“the French pox”) and gunpowder and old ailments like the plague and smallpox.  It was also an age of intense anatomical analysis and speculation, represented in the exhibition’s “skeleton portrait” by Philip Galle and close-up of cranial surgery from a contemporary “field manual for the treatment of wounds”.

Skeleton from Philip Galle’s “Instruction and Fundamentals of Good Portraiture”, Antwerp, 1598.  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam;  “Instruments for Use in Cranial Surgery” from Hans von Gersdorff and Hans Wechtlin the Elder, Feldtbuch der Wundartzney, Strasbourg, Hans Schott, 1540.  Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Print and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe runs through December 10, 2011 at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was curated by Susan Dackerman, the Carl A. Weyerhauser Curator of Prints at the Harvard Art Museums.  A closing symposium will be held on December 2-3, 2011.

%d bloggers like this: