Monthly Archives: November 2011

Christmas in Salem

It is not Christmas in Salem yet, but this coming weekend marks the Christmas in Salem holiday house tour, now in its 32nd year.  It’s hard to be objective when it comes to Salem, but I do believe that this is the best seasonal tour in our region.  Christmas in Salem, which is sponsored by Salem’s venerable preservation organization Historic Salem, Inc.,  always includes a mixture of private homes and public buildings, all decorated for the holidays by local floral designers.  It is designed to be a walking tour, focused on a particular neighborhood:  the Common, North Salem, Derby Street, Chestnut Street.  This year’s tour has a dual focus:  “Rediscover the McIntire District”, which means it will be occurring right in my own neighborhood, and the colonial revival architecture of  Boston architect William G. Rantoul (1867-1947).

The tour of 13 buildings, several of which are associated with Rantoul, will be held this coming Saturday, December 3rd, and Sunday, December 4th, with a special candlelight tour of 4 buildings on Friday evening.  You can still get tickets online  for the next day or so, but also at select locations around Salem this weekend.  All the information you need about the tour and other holiday events in Salem is at the dedicated website.  It doesn’t look like snow is in the forecast (a dusting would be nice), but the snow date is December 10th.  The proceeds from the Christmas in Salem tour will be used for the ongoing restoration of Historic Salem’s headquarters, the Nathaniel Bowditch (Curwen) House on North Street.

Slightly embellished versions of an illustration from Sidney Perley’s History of Salem (1924), above, and Frank Cousin’s circa 1900 photograph of the Curwen House, below.


I spent the last beautiful day of my Hudson River Valley Thanksgiving weekend visiting some of the region’s grand estates:  the Vanderbilt Mansion, Clermont, Olana and Wilderstein, all within a hour’s drive of one another. These are just a few representatives of the area’s rich legacy of past wealth and present preservation. Having been on the boards of historic structures here in Salem for the past couple of decades, I am very aware of the immensity of collective effort (and the piles of cash) it takes to preserve just one property; I can’t imagine how the Hudson River Valley community manages to maintain so many.

The Wilderstein estate in Rhinebeck  is referred to as the “stepchild” of the Hudson River Valley mansions in a 2007 article in the New York Times because it was the last to be transferred from the family that built it—the Suckley family, cousins to the venerable Livingstons who seem to be the foundation of all the great families of the Valley–to trusteeship.  The fact that the Suckleys ran out of money about 80 years before this transfer occurred in 1991 created a considerable preservation challenge for the non-profit organization that runs the mansion today.  When I first visited the house about a decade ago, it was a dreary dark brown, having received its last paint job in 1910 with very “good paint” according to the recorded remembrances of its most famous, and last, resident, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, some 70 years later.  Miss Suckley was the very close friend, correspondent and confidant of her sixth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived right down the road in Hyde Park when he wasn’t in the White House.  It was she who gave him the famous dog Fala, namesake of one of Wilderstein’s most popular annual fundraising events, the “Fala Gala”.

A lot of improvements have been made to the exterior of the house in the 20 years following Miss Suckley’s death, the most striking of which are shingle and siding repairs and the return of the original polychrome paint scheme.  The mansion is an elaborate Queen Anne confection, complete with a five-story tower, and it demands bright, contrasting colors!  You can see the dramatic change in the house’s appearance from the images below in which my photographs from yesterday are followed by those of HABS photographer Mark Zeek, taken in 1979.  I approached the house from the woods below, so it was neat to see that looming bright tower, followed by the gradual appearance of the entire facade.

The dramatic appearance of the Wilderstein mansion is accentuated by its situation, on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River, and its surrounding grounds, designed by Calvert Vaux.  On these same grounds, close to the river’s edge, is the estate’s carriage house/garage.  As you can see from the photographs below, including mine (sepia and color detail) from yesterday interspersed with the HABS images from 1979, this building has been in decline for some time.  Another great challenge for the overseers of Wilderstein, but I have no doubt that they are up to it.

Addendum:  a still image from the upcoming film (summer of 2012) Hyde Park on Hudson, starring Laura Linney as Daisy Suckley and Bill Murray (!!!!!) as FDR.

Streets and Shops of Hudson, New York

I am not in Salem for Small Business Saturday but I promise to make it up to my city’s small businesses when I return from my Thanksgiving holiday.  Today I’m going to feature another historic small city which is experiencing dramatic revival and redevelopment:  Hudson, New York.  Like Salem, Hudson was a bustling commercial port in the first half of the nineteenth century, only to realize a similarly spectacular decline in the twentieth.  Hudson is now being refashioned as an antiques center in particular and a distinct interiors shopping mecca in general.  Strolling up and down a historic city street while browsing carefully choreographed windows at merchandise that you don’t see anywhere and everywhere is my idea of shopping, and yesterday’s very civilized experience was highlighted even more by the repellent scenes from the mall that I saw on the evening news when I returned.

Some scenes from yesterday’s Hudson shopping excursion, all taken on Warren Street, the main street that runs right through the center of town:

Streetscapes, including the Hudson Opera House and a very carefully restored Greek Revival House just off Warren Street.

Some shop windows and signs, along with a really beautiful metal Christmas wreath in the center.

Shop interiors and merchandise:  Rural Residence, Hudson Home, Moderne, and (unfortunately) a few shops whose names I did not jot down.  EVERY shop in Hudson is worth a visit.

Way out West

My whole family is out at my brother’s house in Rhinebeck, New York, not very far west at all really, but clearly beyond the known world according to the satirical (but often accurate) Boston-centric map below.

Not sure how to attribute this map; it shows up in several places and I don’t know whose original idea it is:  step forward if it’s yours!

I always orient myself to locations through architecture, and I thought I’d showcase some “western” examples of some of my favorite Salem houses.  In a post from a couple of weeks ago, the Down East Dilletante reminded me of Santarella, an amazing house deep in the “land of dragons”, and so I thought I would visit it on the way to New York.  I have a distant memory of seeing this house long ago but had forgotten how charming it is:  the ultra “storybook” house, built in the Berkshire village of Tyringham in the 1920s by British sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson.  I wrote about Salem’s storybook house in a post from last winter, and I can see a basic similarity in the structures with their rolling thatch-like roofs, but Santarella clearly lifts the fantasy style to a whole new level.  I took these pictures on the cold and wet day before Thanksgiving, but somehow the weather heightens the “gingerbread” quality of what is essentially an elaborate asphalt roof.

Santarella from the front and its rear towers; Salem’s more restrained storybook house.

Even beyond the land of dragons is Rhinebeck, an old Dutch colonial town in the middle of the Hudson River Valley.  Rhinebeck is a beautiful little village of streets lined with amazing houses which are always striking to me for their decidedly non-New England details.  I’ll show some of my favorites in a later post but for today, just one.  My brother and his partner have a full house for the holidays, so my family and I are staying in the village at the Beekman Arms, one of the oldest inns in America.  Actually we’re staying down the street a bit at the Delamater Inn houses annex of the Beekman, centered around Andrew Jackson Davis’s 1844 Delamater House, built in the universal (or at least American) Gothic Revival (or Carpenter’s Gothic) style that transcended regional architectural designs.

The main building of the Beekman Arms, Delamater House (1844), and the Brooks House in Salem (1851), based on a design of Andrew Jackson Downing.

Stars, Stripes and Turkeys

A century or so ago, Thanksgiving seems to have been commemorated as one of our most patriotic holidays, on a par with Independence Day.  Its gradual transition from custom to national holiday was definitely accelerated by wars:  the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II all brought official recognition of a day of collective and public thanks-giving in November.  In 1789, George Washington signed a proclamation designating November 26 a day of national Thanksgiving, and in the midst of the Civil War President Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday of November be “set apart as a day of thanksgiving and praise”.  During another time of national crisis, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress gave its official seal of approval for the last-Thursday holiday in an act that was signed by President Roosevelt on December 26, 1941.  Along with wars, the constant flow of immigration no doubt also motivated the celebration of Thanksgiving as a unifying, national (and also increasingly secular) occasion, and the postcards below really reflect that message.  They are all from the first decade of the twentieth century, a peak period for European immigration into the United States, and the vast postcard collection of the New York Public Library.

The New York Public Library also has a large collection of historic restaurant menus, many of which are digitized, allowing you to chart changing culinary traditions.  The standardization of Thanksgiving fare and the official recognition of the holiday definitely go hand in hand.  Having spent several Thanksgivings in Britain, I found this menu cover from the 1906 Thanksgiving Day Banquet put on by the American Society in London particularly appealing, and it also reflects the language of both Washington’s and Lincoln’s earlier proclamations, which called for the national day of Thanks-giving to be celebrated by Americans everywhere.

Early Takes on the Turkey

Before the turkey became the top-heavy symbol of consumption, it was the very image of the New World and America.  It comes as no surprise to me that Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey over the eagle as the symbol and embodiment of the new nation, writing to his daughter in 1784 that I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of AmericaHe is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” A true original Native of America, like the pumpkin, the pineapple, and the porcupine, once-exotic entities that became more familiar and “domestic” with the passage of time.

The Turkey is a conspicuous image on this seventeenth-century map of Dutch America by William Blaeu, along with its equally American badgers.  Europeans had already come to identify this flamboyant bird with the New World, perhaps because of its earlier inclusion (along with lots of other American animals) in Konrad Gesner’s Historiae animalium (1551-1587).

Turkeys are all over the place in the seventeenth century:  in paintings and prints, and even on pottery.  One of the most beautiful representations is not European at all, but an Indian painting of the turkey brought to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s court menagerie by a European embassy;  clearly the turkey had a global reputation by this time.

Ustad Mansur, circa 1612. Victoria and Albert Museum

Here are some more seventeenth-century images of the exotic bird:  a drawing by an anonymous Dutch artist from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and two chalk drawings from the British Museum.  The “turkey-cock” in the center was drawn by Dutch artist Jan Griffier as a study for a later painting (see below), while the last turkey resided in another royal menagerie:  that of King Louis XIV at Versailles.

And here is Griffier’s paining, completed in the first decade of the eighteenth century.  The turkey is shown along with other birds that are not native to Britain, where Griffier lived and worked. So it was apparently still a rare and cosmopolitan specimen, and a symbol of wealth and conspicuous consumption.

Jan Griffier, A Turkey and other Fowl in a Park, 1710. Tate Collection.

I don’t usually think of the turkey as “song bird”, but a particularly beautiful illustration of a “crested turkey cock” is included in Eleazer Albin’s three-volume History of English song-birds, and such of the Foreign as are usually brought over and Esteemed for their Singing (1741).

Indeed, by the time we get to Benjamin Franklin’s day, the general depiction of the turkey is one of an elegant and exotic bird, resident in all the best landscape parks.  Hardly a modern turkey.  I’m beginning to think that the long decline of the Ottoman Empire, accompanied by satirical characterizations of its most central country, led to the deterioration of the bird’s image as well.  Caricatures of the bird/country (like those below) begin to be a lot more prevalent than naturalist ones (like those above) after the turn of the nineteenth century.

You get the general idea:  poor Turkey/turkey being carved up and threatened by the European powers in British Museum satirical prints from 1802, 1803, and 1828:  I could download many more.  Franklin’s “courageous” bird is noble no more; maybe this is what happens when you take something out of its native environment!

Political Pumpkins

Here is the first of a series of Thanksgiving-related posts, although this particular one doesn’t really have much to do with the holiday at all:  only pumpkins.  There is something about the pumpkin–the word, the shape, the associations–that renders it particularly suitable for satire and caricature, political and otherwise.  You can place a pumpkin in a scene and immediately send forth a message, without words.  The image conjures up nativist, patriotic associations for Americans, while the Cinderella connection and sheer rotundity seem to be the central message of European illustrations.  I put “pumpkin” in the search engines of some of my favorite digital archives and this is what I got, in chronological order:

First off, a too-easy “pumpkin”:  poor Daniel Lambert, the largest man in Britain, who was forced to put himself on display out of extreme poverty in the early nineteenth century.  He died at age 39 and 739 pounds in 1809.

Two pieces of political ephemera from the Library of Congress:  a sheet music cover of the “Know Nothings Quick Step” dated 1854, featuring the American symbols of pumpkin, turkey and badger framing the “European invaders” who were so threatening to the anti-Immigration Know Nothing Party, and a Civil War-era pictorial envelope of former General George McClellan, who ran against Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election after being relieved of his military duties; I assume this is a pro-Lincoln piece.

An 1871 caricature of French Third Republic minister Ernest Picard, from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Finally, two illustrations from Puck Magazine (1871-1918), always a source of great historical images:  “Uneasy Turks” from 1908 (a time of popular revolution in Turkey not unlike the “Arab Spring”) and “Thanksgiving:  a study in Proportion” from 1912.  The latter seems to be a rather modern commentary on the trivialization of the holiday:  a very small church is dwarfed by material symbols of the day’s amusements:  feasting (pumpkin and turkey), entertainment (theater mask), and sports (golf clubs, shotgun and riding crop).

A Last Spread of Color

Just a short post today with some pictures of a pretty house that deserves a showing!  I was cleaning up my picture files and noticed that I had not published images of a colorful Victorian house off Lafayette Street, not too far from Salem Harbor and Salem State University.  These shots were taken about a month ago–definitely well into fall, but before the late October snowstorm.  This is a beautifully maintained property and the colors are perfect for this time of year: a dark orange/persimmon with red accents and greenish taupe trim.  It’s a painted lady situated on a sunny corner lot, and the juxtaposition of house, carriage house and garden seems perfectly aligned to me.  As you can see, a month ago the colorful garden was still in bloom.

Not so yesterday.  The garden has been laid to rest, but the house is still beautiful and bright, and ready for the holidays.

Salem Winter Market

Salem’s Farmers’ Market is so successful and beloved that it has been extended as a Winter Market, happening on Thursday afternoons through December 22nd on Artists’ Row, behind the Old Town Hall.  Once again Salem Main Streets provides us with another ongoing opportunity to shop for local, fresh, and unique goods.

So, instead of all sorts of vegetables, pulled straight from the earth, think cakes and pies pulled straight out of the oven, along with lots of fresh dairy products, preserves and crafts. Welcome Winter.

This Winter lithograph(1893), by English Arts and Crafts artist George Heywood Maunoir Sumner (from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum), would seem to be an appropriate image for this time of year, if it were a bit colder–but perhaps we should count our blessings.

Double Vision

This past weekend, I attended a nice event at the Salem Athenaeum for Salem collector Nelson Dionne’s new book Salem in Stereo. Victorian Salem in 3D. It’s a gorgeous little book, full of Salem stereo views which one can peruse with the included prismatic viewer. We did just that, as Mr. Dionne regaled us with tales from his lifetime of collecting and plans for future projects.  The book was published by HARDY HOUSE Publishing of Salem, and is available at their website.

So many stereo view cards survive, that America must have been “stereoscopic nation” in the later nineteenth century–and after.  The steady improvement of viewers after the invention of the new technology in the 1830s enabled everyday Americans to build stereo view collections for the purposes of both entertainment and education.  One could travel the world through the lenses of a stereoscope, and there are lots of charming “parlor stereographs” showing people doing just that.

The Holmes viewer and a stereoscopic shop, both 1870s, and a stereograph advertisement for the Underwood & Underwood Patent Extension Cabinet, 1902, all Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Big events and city scenes, like those included in collections such as that of the Salem shopkeepers Guy & Brothers, definitely comprised a majority of published stereographic offerings, but consumers clearly wanted more whimsical and domestic scenes as well:  weddings, domestic scenes (staged and otherwise), picnics, children and pets (just like videos today).  For some reason, sleeping children and cats were particularly popular, but you can find virtually anything by accessing the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views (over 72,000 images) at either the New York Public Library Digital Gallery or the Library of Congress.

Folder for Guy & Brothers Stereo View Collection and Whipple & Smith’s view of Winter Street in 1873 above; the “light keeper’s daughter”, Charlestown, Massachusetts, and sleeping children and cats cards below, along with a lone cat on a tree stump, somewhere in the Adirondacks in 1915.