Monthly Archives: November 2012

Christmas at the Willows

This weekend’s Christmas in Salem tour is focused on Salem Willows, for the first time (I think!) in this storied event’s 33-year history. The tour has developed its large following by opening up historic homes in the city’s central historic districts (McIntire, the Common, Derby Street), but every once in a while it branches out to showcase an outlying neighborhood: North Salem a few years ago and now the Willows. Eight homes are on the tour, all decorated for the season. By the time you are reading this, it’s too late to purchase tickets online, but they will be available at the Bentley School (25 Memorial Drive, Salem) on Saturday and Sunday. Christmas in Salem is the major fundraiser for Salem’s preservation organization, Historic Salem, Incorporated, and as such, it enables HSI to continue its preservation advocacy and outreach.

In terms of preservation, the Willows (or more formally the Juniper Point residential neighborhood, which is adjacent to the historic Willows municipal park) has been a bit vulnerable in recent years, given its desirable coastal location, its lack of historic district restrictions, and the transformation of its summer cottages to year-round residences. There have been some rather aggressive additions and an unfortunate teardown a few years back.  But the majority of the neighborhood’s close-knit Victorian and early twentieth-century dwellings appear perfectly preserved, and they provide a nice backdrop for a seaside Christmas stroll.

Willows Salem State

Willows 012

Willows SSU

A Craftsman cottage (not sure if this is on the tour–it’s just one of my favorite houses) in Salem Willows, framed by two early 20th century doctored postcards from the archives of Salem State University.


Picturing Louisa

Today is the birthday (in 1832) of Louisa May Alcott, who I have always thought of as a real Massachusetts girl, with her Transcendentalist upbringing, her independent spirit, and her lifelong reformist tendencies. Sometimes it’s hard to separate her from Jo in Little Women, but she was a real person who served as a Civil War nurse (briefly) rather than waiting at home in Concord, who had many menial jobs, who wrote sensationalistic penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym as well as her classic bestsellers, and who was a lifelong abolitionist and suffragette. She never married, and died at 55 from what some people say was lupus, others mercury poisoning, and she herself thought might be meningitis. I know Louisa had her own life, but I can’t help associating her with Jo, primarily because of the movies rather than the book.  When I picture Louisa, I generally think of Katherine Hepburn playing Jo in the 1933 version of Little Women, rather than June Allyson in the 1949 version or Winona Ryder in the 1994 film; I think June and Winona did well, but Kate is seared in my memory.  If I had not seen any of these films, perhaps I could separate Louisa and Jo; but I have (and there you see my main teaching challenge:  many of my students have learned their “history” from films).

Stacy Tolman drawing of Louisa, reproduced in Lilian Whiting’s Boston Days (1902); a 1933 publicity pamphlet for George Cukor’s 1933 Little Women.

Back to the book.  I have several editions of Little Women, but my most prized one is an 1880 copy published by Roberts Brothers in Boston and illustrated by Frank Thayer Merrill. I’ve looked at other editions, but I like my Merrill best, and since I’ve made the Louisa/Jo connection, this is how I picture the Louisa and her world as well.

The last way I picture Louisa is in Concord, at Orchard House and its environs.  And when I think of her there, I wonder about her and her family’s relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who purchased the Alcott’s first Concord house after he fled Salem.  He renamed their “Hillside” the Wayside, and it is just down the road from Orchard House:  apparently the Alcotts even became the Hawthorne’s tenants while their house was undergoing renovations.  Nevertheless, the relationship does not appear to have been a close one, and I wonder why. A recent book by Eva LaPlante, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, explores the relationship between Louisa and her mother, Abigail May Alcott, who was a descendant of the Salem Witch Trials judge Samuel Sewall.  Of course, we know that Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of another Witch Trials judge, John Hathorne. You would think that Louisa and Nathaniel could have bonded over these shared skeletons in their closets, but perhaps not.


Queen Anne and Napoleon III

We spent Thanksgiving in Saratoga Springs, New York, a city that on first impressions is as “Victorian” as Salem is “Federal”. I wasn’t able to spend the entire long holiday weekend there (and I was sick most of the time I was there), so I didn’t go on a long architectural/photographic walking tour as is my typical inclination, but I did dash down North Broadway, which is lined with Gilded Era mansions, as well as a few downtown side streets. I’m going back for more soon. Even before the quick trip to Saratoga, I had been thinking about Victorian houses here in Salem, and how I’ve never really done justice to this broad category of architecture. There are so many subcategories and styles!  I’ve always been a bit confused about two in particular:  Queen Anne and Second Empire. Not the styles of these houses, which are easily recognizable with their towers, turrets, and mansard roofs, but the names:  how did these thoroughly American houses get named for the last Stuart monarch, who reigned in Britain a full 150 years before a “Queen Anne” house was built across the Atlantic, and the French Second Empire ruled by Napoleon III (which was at least contemporary with Second Empire houses here in America)?  These names seem to imply a cultural imperialism that is incompatible with the assertive American spirit of the later nineteenth century, but then again, I’m neither an American historian or an architectural one, so my impression could be incorrect.

Queen Anne (r. 1702-1714) in 1705 by Michael Dahl, and an carte-de-visite of Napoleon III (r. 1852-70), National Portrait Gallery, London.

I can understand the use of the term “Victorian” for nineteenth-century houses on both sides of the Atlantic, as Queen Victoria really dominated her long era, but Napoleon III was no Queen Victoria! I suppose the rebuilding of Paris–the cultural center of the world–in Second Empire style during his reign provides the general explanation for the use of that term over here. The use of “Queen Anne” remains a mystery to me, but here are a couple of Queen Anne houses:  the first one in Saratoga, the second in Salem. There are several great Queen Anne houses in Salem, mostly outside the city center, but this more compact example is just a few steps from the Common:  it seems to feature all the characteristic details of the style in a much smaller footprint than the grand Saratoga house. This is a house that even a Federal fan such as myself could love.

The Second Empire style was forged by the Haussman Plan, a comprehensive urban planning initiative in Paris commissioned by Napoleon III and administered by Georges-Eugène Haussmann between 1853 and 1870. Much of central “old” Paris was swept away and replaced by grand boulevards and squares lined with mansard-roofed and embellished multi-story buildings made of “sanitary” stone. The “haussmannization of Paris” was projected to the world via serial publications and French paintings, creating an international style.

Images of the new boulevards of Paris, 1850s-1870s, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

When I walk down the streets of Salem, I see structures, small and large,  that seem to be inspired by the Second Empire style:  American translations in a “colonial” context. Lafayette Street gives off a “French” impression in more ways than one, and not far from the Queen Anne house, just off the Common, is a multi-family painted-brick house that comes close to the French standard, at least to my untrained eye. The Salem house that really reads Second Empire to me, however, is over on my side of town, on upper Essex Street.  Even though Bryant Tolles (in Architecture in Salem:  an Illustrated Guide,1983) refers to it as reflecting “French Academic and High Victorian Italianate” influences, the Putnam-Balch House, which was built at the height of the Second Empire style, always reads “Paris, 1870s” to me. This majestic mansion, somehow all the more extravagant because it is built of wood, really dominates the streetscape with its sheer presence:  it once served as an American Legion post and has recently been restored.


Cranberry Picking

“…as why are Strawberries sweet and Cranberries sowre, there is no reason but the wonderfull worke of God that made them so…”.  John Eliot, the Puritan “Apostle to the Indians”, used the “American” name rather than the preferred English fenberry (variantly bear-berry and mosse-berry) in his 1647 treatise The Day-Breaking if not the Sun-Rising of the Gospell with the Indians in New-England, one of several seventeenth-century references to the sour little berry that was so common in Massachusetts. Along with corn, this was one native American crop that captured the attention of  the English early on–though most of their efforts seem to have been directed at transforming cranberries into something sweeter:  syrups, tarts, sauces.  They could not ignore a berry that ripened in the winter!

One last Thanksgiving weekend post on a fruit that remains one of Massachusetts’ few commercial crops, although we are no longer the country’s leading producer:  that title is now claimed by Wisconsin.  Still, there’s a major harvest every year starting in late September, and it’s a beautiful sight to see.  I just couldn’t make it down to the southeastern part of the state this busy semester, but here’s a great recent photograph of a bog at the A.D. Makepeace Company in Wareham, one of the state’s oldest producers.

Photo credit:  Charlie Mahoney for the Boston Globe; 1907 Makepeace Co. cranberry sign,Etsy.

The conditions of cranberry picking have changed a lot over the last century, for the better. Documentary photographers like Lewis Wickes Hine focused on the industrial exploitation of child and migrant labor in the early nineteenth century, and contemporary photographs of very small children, native Americans, and newly-arrived Europeans (in the case of southeastern Massachusetts, primarily Portuguese “bravas” from New Bedford, led by bog bosses called padrones) abound.

Portuguese cranberry pickers at the Eldridge Bog in Rochester, Massachusetts, and the “tenement” that housed them, September 1911, and a boy “scooper” at the Makepeace Bog. The caption of the last photograph reads: Gordon Peter, using scoop with metal teeth not covered. Said 10 years old. One of the smallest scoopers that we found. Usually scooping is done by adults. Been picking 3 years. Location: Makepeace near Wareham, Massachusetts. Lewis Wickes Hine, Library of Congress.

The pictures above contrast sharply with the recent photograph of the cranberry harvest at Makepeace, but also with artistic representations of cranberry picking in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Two paintings that fall on either side of Hine’s photographs are Eastman Johnson’s Cranberry Pickers, Island of Nantucket (1880) and Provincetown artist Ross Moffett’s circa 1930 Cranberry Pickers. Moffett’s modernistic representation of the workers in their spare Cape Cod context is a lot bleaker than Johnson’s more romantic image, but both artists seem to focus on the landscape at least as much as on the pickers.

Eastman Johnson, Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket, 1880, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego; Ross Moffett, Cranberry Pickers, c. 1927-30, Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Pilgrim Pants

Eat, drink and shop: the association of Thanksgiving and commerce is nothing new.  Pilgrims were used to pitch almost everything in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  not so much now.  I’ve seen pilgrim advertisements for all sorts of food and drink, which is understandable, but there were also lots of ads for various types of clothing, which is not really that logical an association; after all, one does not think of the Pilgrims as fashionable. That was not the pitch, however, for the famous “Plymouth Rock $3 pants”, which all New England men apparently wore in the later nineteenth century. Rather, the appeal was affordability and durability; these pants were stalwart and persevering, just like Pilgrims. The very collectible lithograph below, from the archives of both the American Antiquarian Society and the Boston Athenaeum, is a play on the classic Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers painting by Charles Lucy. This painting was turned into multiple prints and postcards before World War I, so it’s only natural that it became the basis of a very anachronistic advertisement.

Plymouth Rock $3 Pants lithographic advertisement by G.H. Buek & Co., 1885, American Antiquarian Society; 1915 postcard print of Charles Lucy’s Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

The other article of clothing commonly associated with Pilgrims, primarily before World War II, were socks, which don’t have to be very fashionable. The Pilgrim brand of clothing, one of Sears’ most long-running (1905-1964), started with socks, and took off from there. While Pilgrims didn’t always appear in ads for this line, they definitely established the brand in the first decades of the twentieth century. Women’s “Pilgrim Positive Wear”, guaranteed to last for six months, were advertised everywhere. Other companies followed suit with ads that featured Pilgrims wearing durable, seldom-in-need-of darning socks. Just one more thing to be thankful for, according to the Norman Rockwell-illustrated ad in the Thanksgiving 1922 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.


The Spoils of War and Thanksgiving

I’m going to bypass any politically correct discussion of Thanksgiving this week and return to the source:  William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.  Bradford was the second governor of the Plymouth Colony, and his personal history of the spiritual and literal journeys of his fellow Separatists out of England and to the New World is one of the earliest and most important sources of British American history. Bradford began writing the book in 1630, and it covers the formation of the Plymouth colony up to 1647, including that first legendary “Thanksgiving”, which did not become an official holiday until two centuries later. Ironically, one factor which rather inadvertently led to the establishment of Thanksgiving as the quintessential American holiday was the theft of the source which first referenced it.

A paragraph from Plymouth Plantation; Paul Manship’s idealistic image of the first Thanksgiving, 1930s, Smithsonian institution.

Bradford’s book was known and referenced by colonial American historians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it remained in manuscript form. After the siege of Boston, when the British occupied downtown, troops ransacked the Old South Church (and turned it into a riding school, of all things) and found Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation lodged in the steeple. One (or several–who knows?) soldier took it as a spoil of war, and it made its way to Canada and later to Great Britain where it somehow (again–who knows?) found  its way into the Library of Fulham Palace, the official residence of the Bishop of London.  There it was used and referenced by several British historians of early America, bringing it to the attention of American scholars–who had apparently forgot all about it?  I know; there are a lot of question marks in this story! In any case, the sole copy of this very important American source  was in England and a movement to get it back began organizing in the 1840s. It took a while–a half-century to be precise– but the British “borrowers” did consent to have the text printed while it was in their possession.  It was published in 1856, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and it clearly revived interest in the history of the “Pilgrim Fathers”.

Old South Church, Boston, apparently threatened after surviving the great Boston fire of 1872, and in 1898, Boston Public Library; Fulham Palace in the later nineteenth century.

The publication of Plymouth Plantation came at a time when the United States was increasingly divided over the issue and expansion of slavery, and the text seems to have stimulated interest not only in the Pilgrims but in the Northern settlement at Plymouth, to counterbalance the earlier Southern settlement at Jamestown. After the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln responded to the continued lobbying of the influential author and editor Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, a strong advocate for the extension of New England values to the rest of the country as a way towards national unity, and proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. George Washington had issued a similar proclamation, but Lincoln formalized the custom and standardized the date, in the spirit of both thanksgiving and union in the midst of war.

Two Winslow Homer views of Thanksgiving Day, 1865 from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated:  Hanging up the Musket and The Church Porch, Smithsonian Institution.

And what of Bradford’s manuscript?  It remained at Fulham Palace for nearly the rest of the nineteenth century, despite some high-ranking diplomatic deliberations. Trades were attempted, and some papers of King James I were sent over to Great Britain, with the hope of receiving Plymouth Plantation back.  To no avail:  the Bishop of London had to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had to confer with the Prince of Wales.  It all took some time:  not until 1897 was the manuscript returned to Massachusetts, where it remains, in the State Library.

Two pages from the Bradford manuscript at the State Library:  the title page and a list of Mayflower passengers.  Note the IT NOW BELONGS TO THE BISHOP OF LONDON’S LIBRARY AT FULHAM note on the former.


Fathers, Friends, Neighbors & Artists

While the Peabody Essex Museum continues to mount blockbuster exhibitions, there are more intimate exhibits at smaller venues here in Salem. The Salem Athenaeum and the KensingtonStobart Gallery are currently featuring shows that focus on relationships:  The Good Father (with some exceptions) is the Athenaeum’s Fall/Winter exhibition, and Artist Friends and Neighbors is on view at the Kensington-Stobart until December 2nd. Both exhibitions emphasize proximity, in different ways, and you can also get very close to the texts, images and artwork.

The Good Father was assembled by Elaine von Bruns, the “honorary” curator of a succession of Athenaeum exhibitions. A variety of fathers–from literary, artistic, and political realms, as well as the animal kingdom–are represented by both texts and images from the Athenaeum’s vast, venerable and diverse collection. There are early editions of Hawthorne and Melville on display as well as eulogies for the father or our country bound for the Athenaeum in 1800. Several classic illustrated editions are on view; though he was not a particularly good father, I particularly loved Fritz Eichenberg’s image of Heathcliff from the 1943 Random House edition of Wuthering Heights.

Good and bad fathers at the Salem Athenaeum:  Swedish artist Carl Larsson (1853-1919) and his daughter on the exhibit poster, pages from editions of Cheaper by the Dozen (1948), A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young (1924), Hamlet, and Wuthering Heights (1943).

For me, the Artists Friends and Neighbors exhibit  is a perfect blend of past and present inspirations and associations. Most of the exhibiting artists are friends of mine, and as the exhibition title implies, friends and neighbors to one another. An assemblage of work by Salem artists working today is also evocative of the circle of Salem artists who were friends and neighbors a century ago, many of which I’ve written about here:  Frank Benson, Philip Little, Ross Turner, Isaac Henry Caliga, Jesse Lewis Bridgman. It was quite the cultural milieu a century ago, and it is exciting to see echoes of this cumulative creativity now.  The curator of the exhibit, Jim McAllister, will be giving a gallery talk on this very topic on November 27. And quite apart from the historical inspiration, the exhibition is a lively display of very diverse talents and influences, with works in just about every medium from the participating artists:  Charlie Allen, Katy Bratun, David Decker, Julie Shaw Lutts, Barbara Burgess Maier, Trip Mason, and Racket Shreve. Whenever possible, click on the link so you can see these artists’ works for yourselves (or visit the gallery):  I couldn’t get images of everyone’s work and those images I did get do not do justice to the actual pieces.

Selections from Artist Friends & Neighbors:  Corpus Domini by Charlie Allen (oil on canvas); The Dictionary Series by Julie Shaw Lutts (encaustic collage); two very different fish by Katy Bratun; photographs by Trip Mason (please check out his portfolio here–photographs of photographs taken at night never come out very well!) and 81 Essex Street by Racket Shreve. I’ve included a photograph of the actual house for contrast.  Apologies to Mr. Decker and Ms. Maier–my pictures of their work were far too flashy.

Artist Friends and Neighbors, through December 2, Kensington-Stobart Gallery, 18 Washington Square West (in the Hawthorne Hotel), Salem, Massachusetts.

The Good Father, Salem Athenaeum, 337 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts.


%d bloggers like this: