Monthly Archives: October 2011

Alternative Halloween

As a cynical Halloween-in- Salem resident, I’m recognizing the alternative commemoration days today.  Halloween, Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve, marks the eve before All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day, a long-standing Christian holiday commemorating the hierarchy of saints.  So we have All Saints images from the past and the present.  Because the Reformers preferred to recognize strict scriptural monotheism, October 31 became “Reformation Day” in Protestant areas of early modern Europe.  Happy Halloween, All Hallows Eve, and Reformation Day to everyone, everywhere.

Images from fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Books of Hours from the Morgan Library & Museum Collection; an Allsaints Spitalfields storefront; Reformation Day cards from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Halloween Hubbub

One last post on Halloween in Salem and then the endless event will be over!  I want to move from the long perspective of the past to the very busy present and show those of you who do not live in the environs of Salem just how busy the Witch City is at this time of year.  The photographs below were taken during a stroll (wrong word:  too peaceful) around the city center:  down Essex Street to the Common, and back home via Derby Street and the waterfront.  If I wanted to show you what Halloween really looks like in Salem, I would offer up images of traffic, crowds, and rows of porta-potties (spelling???), but who would want to look at those?  I’ll try to do better than that.

Essex and Washington Streets, crowded with people and cars.

Temporary tent-shops.  Somehow, even the cute hats above look a bit ominous.

A witchcraft purveyor who can’t SPELL.

Salem’s answer to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, a living statue, and a street preacher, steps away from each other on Essex Street.

Zombie dancers waiting for their cue in Derby Square.

Carnival-time on the Common and Derby Street.

Witch City: the Paper Trail

Throughout the (almost) year that I’ve been writing this blog, a consistent topic and theme has been Salem’s transformation into “Witch City”, either through private marketing efforts like Daniel Low’s “witch spoons” and Frank Cousins’ branded products and photographs, or through public campaigns like the city’s official schedule of  “Haunted Happenings”.  We’ve seen it all:  from witch creams to witch plates.  It seems like an appropriate time to showcase the “Salem Witch” postcards that must have blanketed the nation throughout the twentieth century, even though these postcards are not selling Halloween, they’re selling Salem.  As time went on, however, the two things became increasingly connected (and now it seems like they’re inseparable!)

I’m relying on the Salem vintage postcard seller Iconic Postcards for this first postcard because I do not possess it and I think it really encapsulates the early “Witch City” message.  It’s not from Germany, but from local publisher W.B. Porter.

The “ye olde” language is utilized in the first of a succession of more standardized witch images, as if to capitalize on both Salem’s colonial and witchcraft associations.  And while the language changes over the decades, from the turn of the century to the 1930s, the image remains the same.  This is basic branding.

And now from the other direction……… two witches from Germany, including an interesting “stamp witch”, and one published by G.W. Whipple of Salem.

These are the standard “Salem witch” postcards, but of course there were lots of other paper witches in circulation, in the first half of the twentieth century and beyond.  Here are some of my favorites, beginning with two “adaptations” forwarded to me by local historian Nelson Dionne.  The first pair is the famous painting The Witch of Haarlem by Frans Hals, recast as the “Witch of Salem” (which strikes me as a very brazen move!), while the second shows one of illustrator Frances Brundage’s most famous Halloween cards adapted (rather sloppily) for Salem. Finally we have a rare 1908 German card showing several Salem witches, and a (relatively) recent card marking the worst day (September 22, 1692) in the history of the Salem Witch Trials.

Frans Hals, Malle Babbe, the "Witch of Haarlem", c. 1630

German Witches

It is very interesting to me that Germany was at the absolute center of the “witch craze” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the creation of a commercial Halloween/witchcraft culture several centuries later.  No area experienced more witchcraft trials in the early modern era than the German-speaking lands of central Europe, and no country contributed more to the modern conception of Halloween than Germany.  It’s a very Salem-like connection between tragic history and contemporary consumerism.

The most credible estimates for the number of executions for witchcraft between 1450-1750 are in the range of 40,000 to 60,ooo people across Europe, with southern and central regions of Germany accounting for between 17,000 and 26,000 executions, as compared to between 5000-6000 executions for all of France, around 1000 executions for England and Wales, and a mere 50 estimated executions in Spain, where there was little religious diversity to fuel the fires.  The intense witch-hunting in Germany, especially between 1580-1630, has led its leading historian to assert that “witchcraft is as ‘German’ as the Hitler phenomenon, and will similarly occupy our attention for a while longer”. (Wolfgang Behringer, Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria:  Popular Magic, Religious Zealotry, and Reason of State in Early Modern Europe, 1989 & 1997).

Images of conspiratorial witchcraft in early modern Germany are lurid, much more lurid than the hexentanz (witches’ dance) and hexentanzplatz (witches’ dancing place/floor) postcards issued in huge numbers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, although there are similar motifs and themes.  Below is an illustration of the hexentanzplatz at Trier from a 1594 Flugbatt (“flying pamphlet”) about the massive witch trials in that city (which may have resulted in as many as 1000 executions between 1581 and 1593) and a hexentanzplatz postcard from about 400 years later.  As you can see, the earlier image is of an orgy-like witches’ sabbat, while the later image is of an equally fantastic, but much less nefarious, dance.

The other difference between these two images is that the one below refers to an actual place:  the Hexentanzplatz is a mountain plateau in the Harz Mountains of north central Germany.  Located in modern-day Saxony-Anhalt, it is a site that has long been associated with pre-Christian rituals, along with the nearby Brocken, the highest peak in the mountain range and another supposed sabbat site.  As interest in German folklore intensified in the nineteenth century, so too did interest in this region, and it became the site of a mountain-top hotel, an open-air theater, and Walpurgis Night (April 30-May 1) festivities.  So this postcard is both an expression of the popular interest in witchcraft as well as a form of advertising.  More Hexentanzplatz postcards from the 1890-1930 period are below, some a bit more commercial, some a bit more creative, and all featuring witches.

And here are two images of Brockenhexen, witches flying to Brocken mountain for the Sabbat:  the first is a commercial postcard from the 1890s, the second an illustration from an 1878 article in Harper’s Magazine (via the New York Public Library Digital Gallery).

These German witches actually have nothing to do with Halloween; they flew to the mountains on Walpurgis night, the transition between spring and summer.  But their images were easily relevant to another pre-Christian seasonal holiday, Halloween, especially given the German dominance of the postcard publishing industry before World War I.  In fact, 75% of all postcards disseminated in the United States before 1914 were printed by one of Germany’s 30 postcard manufacturers, either under their own auspices or in collaboration with an American publisher.  Americans wanted their witches to be on Halloween postcards, along with other symbols of the holiday, and Germans responded to this demand, generally with images of much less menacing withes than the Brockenhexen. Here are three more witches “made in Germany”, including one flying over a very familiar place.

Flying Waldensians

We’re about halfway through my Magic & Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe course and I haven’t even got to the witch trials yet, most likely much to my students’ frustration.  For foundation, I drag them through centuries of medieval history and theology to get them to understand the initial connection between witchcraft and heresy.  I could probably accomplish this task in a much shorter time, simply by presenting the image below in full context.

These flying women are included in the marginalia of the manuscript version of Martin le France’s long poem Le Champion des Dames (The Champion of Women), dated circa 1440.  You will notice that they are identified as “vaudoises” at the top, which could generally refer to witches, but more likely is a specific reference to the Waldensians (Waldenses, Vaudois), a heretical sect who existed on the fringes of medieval Christian society from their emergence and almost-immediate condemnation in the later twelfth century.  The Waldensians were essentially reformers, emphasizing the authority of the Bible over the Church, but their zealous preaching led to their gradual demonization by branding them as disciples and servants of Satan.  The Waldensians of the later middle ages, like the witches of the early modern era, were said to worship their master at inverted/perverted “sabbats” in which they are envisioned paying homage to a goat/devil.  Another text from the mid-fifteenth century, Johannes Tinctoris’s Traite du crisme de Vauderie, includes a graphic illuminated image of a Waldensian sabbat—note the flying figures in the sky.

Martin le France and Johannes Tinctoris MSS at the Bibliotheque nationale de France.

The association of a well-known heresy and witchcraft through the sabbat demanded some sort of travel mechanism, as everyone knew that demonic rituals were held in faraway places–the inaccessible “blue mountain”, the dense Black Forest, the isolated “field of the goat” (Akelarre in the Basque Country).  What better way to get there than on a flying broom?  The alluring image of dangerous and demonic agents utilizing a familiar household object to reach their secret destinations immediately caught on, and remains very much in play today.

Raphael Tuck Halloween Postcard from the 1910s.

Past and Future in Ipswich

This past weekend we went up to Ipswich, about 12 miles north of Salem, to take a look at some very old houses and a very new wind turbine.  There is discussion of installing a turbine on Salem’s Winter Island so we wanted to check out the one in Ipswich, and there are lots of other attractions there:  cider doughnuts, beautiful beaches and farms, and the largest collection of First Period houses on the North Shore, perhaps even anywhere in America.  Here are some pictures of the largest and most famous one, the John Whipple House, built by 1677, moved to its present location off Route 1A in 1927, and owned and operated by the Ipswich Museum.

I love the very colonial clam-shell paths to the house and around the period “housewife’s garden”, the super-sloping roof and the windows–all of them.

And now for a contrasting view of the future in Ipswich:  the wind turbine, located on a large coastal DPW lot well out of the center of town.  Though both graceful and green, the turbine is indeed huge; it’s really difficult to see how it could possibly fit on the much smaller lot here in Salem.  There are a couple of shots here for perspective, including one across the marsh from the turbine.  I did not find it very noisy, however, which seems to be the other major issue with its potential siting.

On our way home (well sort of) we stopped at our favorite place in nearby Essex for friend clams:  J.T. Farnhams.  You eat your fried clams sitting on picnic tables overlooking the marsh looking back at Ipswich, and the house below, which I always think is going to be claimed by the marsh but never is.

Best Bats

Even though I don’t jump on the Halloween train here in Salem, I do decorate my house for the season.  I can’t help it; I am an habitual holiday decorator.  And I generally invite people over for Halloween night, not because I want to celebrate, but because I want them to hand out the bags of candy for the hours that it takes to appease the hordes of trick-or-treaters here in Salem while I hang out in the back.  So I like the house to look festive.  My fall decorating theme of the past few years—lots of owls everywhere—has become far too common so this year it’s all about bats.  Unlike most people, I don’t find bats even remotely scary or icky.  To me, they look cute and interesting and unique—a mammal that flies!  So I’m enjoying the various bats around the house; I may even keep them around until Christmas.

My decorating approach is both historically crafty  and acquisitive;  I look for historic images that I might be able do reproduce somehow—cards, garlands, decoupage–and I shop.  Since Etsy has been around I’ve done less and less crafting and more and more buying!  There are lots of digitized historic images of bats available, from the medieval bestiaries, early modern natural histories and nineteenth-century encyclopedias.  Here are some of my favorites, in chronological order.

Pierpont Morgan Library MSS 0081 (circa 1185) and 175 (circa 1500):  two hanging bats and a hybrid man (king?)-bat:

Seemingly very modern, but actually from the seventeenth century, is the Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera’s Studies of Two Ears and a Bat from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Its motto:  Fulget Semper Virtus (Virtue Shines Forever).

But it’s in the next century that we get the best bats:  the bats of the Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-88.  Buffon’s pioneering and lavishly-illustrated (by French illustrator Jacques de Seve) 36-volume Natural History:  General and Particular (1749-88) contains illustrations of all sorts of bats, from long-eared to vampire (first named by Buffon), and as it was a reprinted frequently over the next century-and-a-half  it is a treasure trove for hunters of antique animal images.  Here are some of my favorite Buffon bats from the 1753-54 volumes of the Natural History, via the University of  Strasbourg:

A variety of bats from the 1799 edition of Buffon’s Natural History:

The Etsy seller antiqueprintstore has digitized images of bats from an 1831 edition of Buffon for sale; their postcard-sized prints can be used in a variety of ways.  I post them up on my parlor mirrors, along with the usual seasonal paraphernalia.

Tuesday Addendum:  I wanted to add this great 1919 Salem postcard, generously forwarded to me by the Salem native, author, collector, and researcher extraordinaire Nelson DionneI love it!

Cutting Cartoons

As we’re off to New York City at the end of the month for a little break, I’ve been making of list of things I’d like to do and see.  Time will be limited, and I’m going for a nice balance of cultural pursuits and shopping.  Regarding the former, one event that is pretty high on my list is the new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:  Infinite JestCaricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine (through March 4).  A genre that exists at the intersection of print and visual culture is right up my alley, but the prints that I’ve been able to access online look a little tame, mocking manners and fashions rather than actions and ideas. Here are two images from the exhibit:  the first is an English print based on an image of the Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm of a gentleman farmer aghast at the appearance of his dandified son, while the second is a hand-colored lithograph by an anonymous French artist, mocking the fashions of 1830.

Apparently one section of the exhibit focuses on political satire, and (of course) includes James Gillray’s classic “Plum Pudding” cartoon from 1805, in which the very thin British Prime Minister William Pitt and the very small Napoleon carve up the world.  You can’t beat this for an image, and a teaching tool; it is immediately accessible.

I often incorporate cartoons into my teaching as they really drive home the point I’m trying to make.  Reformation cartoons, in particular, hammer (bludgeon) my points home.  I can understand why the curators of the exhibit began with Leonardo (everything begins with Leonardo!) but I would have worked Luther into the title as Reformation cartoons are really in a league of their own.  The early Protestants would stop at nothing to demonize the Pope, as you can see.

Not-so-subtle Reformation “cartoons”:  Martin Luther’s “Against the Papacy founded by the Devil”, 1545 (the Pope, with donkey ears, is sitting on a pyre in the midst of the mouth of Hell, surrounded by demons who are in the process of crowning him their king), a really neat cartoon card with a flap which folds down, exposing Pope Alexander VI as the Devil, and Philip Melanchthon’s famous/infamous “Pope-Ass”, first published in 1523.

What better way to reveal the zeal of the reformers than through these images?  More than a century later, the connection between the Pope and the Devil is maintained in this print from 1680, at probably the height of popular anti-Papism in Britain.

Moving into the more secular world of the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, cartoons branch out in several directions; they continued to mock those in power but also those in “fashion”.   At nearly the same time that Gillray was making fun of Pitt and Napoleon, he was taking on the elaborate turbans of society ladies in the delightful “Lady putting on her Cap” (Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum).

Several decades later, a more serious subject is taken on by Robert Seymour, in “The Absentee” (1830).  An absentee landlord of an Irish estate lives the good life while his tenants starve, years before the great potato famine.

And finally, two cartoons that anticipate twentieth-century political caricatures:  the first, from 1871,  illustrates Chancellor of the newly-unified Germany Otto von Bismarck on top of the world.  It’s by the French illustrator Jean Renard, and clearly presents a French perspective:  not only is Bismarck stepping on France, he’s only wearing his underwear.  Renard manages to make the imposing Bismarck look both imperialistic and ridiculous at the same time.  The second is a classic images that always helps me to explain late-nineteenth imperialism to my students:  “China–the Cake of Kings…and Emperors” from 1898.  The cake (it actually always looked more like a pizza to me) that is China is being carved up the world’s powers (Queen Victoria/Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm/Germany, Tsar Nicholas/Russia, Marianne/France, a Japanese warlord) while its personage looks on helplessly.  Things have definitely changed over the last century!

Peirce-Nichols without Paint

Last weekend the absolutely beautiful weather and the Halloween season combined to make Salem a very busy place.  There were crowds of people on the streets and sidewalks, even in the McIntire Historic District, away from the tacky witchcraft sites.  In the midst of it all was an oasis of peace and tranquility:  the Peirce-Nichols House on Federal Street.  To my untrained eye, this early McIntire house looks similar to the house I referenced in my last post; like the former Derby Mansion on Washington Street, it is a transitional Georgian/early Federal house (built in 1782) that received a high Federal makeover (1801) by the iconic Salem architect.  But fortunately for all, this house is still standing, owned and maintained by the Peabody Essex Museum since 1917.

The first thing you notice about the Peirce-Nichols house is not the house itself but its fence, topped with hand-carved wooden urns carved by McIntire and restored by Colonial Revival architect William G. Rantoul in the 1920s.  As I was walking by, dazed as usual by the urns, I noticed the gate was open and walked around back to take a few pictures of the terraced garden, which used to extend all the way to the North River, but shrank considerably (like the river) over the nineteenth century due to the infrastructure needs of the city.

The garden, though peaceful, really is a shadow of its former self so I spent more time in the courtyard between the house and the stables.  Outbuildings are interesting anyway, but as the house is being painted it was also a place and a time to examine the unveiled, unpainted work of McIntire.  Unlike the fence urns, the master architect probably didn’t carve the wide pilasters himself, but looking at their scraped surfaces was an engaging way to take in a rather imposing house.

The photographs: a stable door, looking back at the house through the garden and stables, the back of the house, and unpainted details.

Front facade:  the  Peirce-Nichols House in  a 1920s “City” Maynard Workshop postcard.

Paper Mansion

Here is a charming image of a Salem house long gone, preserved first in paint by one of its occupants, Mary Jane Derby, and later in print:  the Pickman-Derby-Brookhouse-Waters House, built in 1764, redesigned for Salem’s merchant prince Elias Hasket Derby by Samuel McIntire in the 1790s. and torn down in 1915 to make way for the imposing Masonic Temple.

The original painting, dated 1825 and in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art, shows not only a lost building but a lost world:  this is Washington Street, one of Salem’s main streets, now lined with multi-storied buildings, shops, City Hall, and cars, cars, cars.  Back in 1825, not only do we see the beautiful Derby Mansion and the adjacent first-period Lewis Hunt House (demolished in 1863), but also trees, gardens, and a cantering horse.  Miss Derby’s view might be a bit romantic, but it is nevertheless engaging, and the architectural detail (McIntire’s pilasters, balustrade and cupola) is there.  Here is a Frank Cousins photograph of the mansion later in the nineteenth century:  still looking good despite its Victorian paint job, entry bay window, and rear addition, but beginning to get crowded out. I’d love to know more about that big white statue in both the painting and the photograph:  couldn’t turn up a thing.

Mary Jane Derby (1807-1892), granddaughter of Elias Hasket Derby, is generally labelled an “amateur” artist, but at the same time as she was assembling an album of Salem images for friends and family she was working with the pioneering Pendleton Lithography firm of Boston to reproduce her paintings as lithographs, including that of the Derby Mansion.  Her artistic career ended with her marriage to the Unitarian pastor Ephraim Peabody, but they seem to have had a happy and productive life together, as recounted in A New England Romance:  the Story of Ephraim and Mary Jane Peabody (1920), the collective memoir written by their sons Robert (founder of the Boston architectural firm Peabody & Stearns) and Francis.

The story of the mansion can be gleaned by its last photograph, published by the Detroit Publishing Company about 5 years before its demolition.  It is no longer the Derby Mansion, but “Colonial House”, having lost its first-floor reception rooms, garden, and stables to urban development.  It’s on a busy block, caught in a web of wires, and on its way out.

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