Until relatively recently, a friend and near-neighbor of mine operated a horse and carriage business here in Salem, catering to the tourists and brides and grooms; in fact she transported my new husband and myself from the church to the House of the Seven Gables for our reception several years ago. She and her husband have now moved to Maine, where I hope they enjoy peace and quiet and land, but I’m going to miss the sight of her in her formal driving attire and the sound of her horse’s hooves clattering down the street. There really is no better sound to take you back, while you’re sitting in your double parlor on your Duncan Phyfish sofa! Maybe another carriage (or two) will come to town, but I suspect this is a business which looks a lot more romantic than it actually is.
It is increasingly difficult for me to be romantic about cars; in fact, the older I get, the more I wish they would all go away. Of course that is easy for me to say, indeed very easy for me to say, as I live in a small city which is connected to other cities by rail, and I walk to work. So I really could do without a car, but of course I don’t. But when I look at certain historic images of Salem, particularly art and ephemera as opposed to photographs (which show the grittier reality of streets filled with horses), I always think I want to live in that world, a world without cars. The painting that conjures up this world most directly for me shows a man driving a rather dashing horse and carriage (accompanied by an almost equally dashing dog) through the vacant, spotless streets of Salem with no encumbrances in sight. It’s a mid-nineteenth century view that hardly presents reality, and so all the more evocative of days gone by; it also reminds me of a trade card I have from a bit later in the century.
Samuel Chamberlain in Market Square, Salem. 1855-60 (pastel on paper). American School (19th century), Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.
Period representations of Salem streets, as opposed to photographs, seem to show horses either dashing about, like those above, or standing still, like the drawing of an apothecary shop below. Again: spotless streets and a loyal dog, in this case standing by. The charming drawing below of James Emerton’s apothecary shop at 123 Essex Street was rendered by his brother William Henry Emmerton (I have no idea why they spelled their names differently, but they did), who was a prominent architect working in Salem, Providence, and Portland, Maine. (According to his family history, Materials towards a Genealogy of the Emmerton Family, William would fall prey to the newest transportation technology in 1871, when, coming to spend Sunday with his family, who were on a summer visit to Salem, he was one of the ill-fated occupants of the last car in the accommodation train at Revere, when it was ‘telescoped’ by the engine of the express train overtaking it. Though not mangled in the collision, he received such injuries from the steam that he survived, mostly unconscious, but a few hours.) The published advertisement for James Emerton’s shop follows, along with a circa 1900 postcard of the buildings of the old Essex Institute which shows the actual building (in the background, with the awnings, now all gone) and images of more Essex Street businesses in the 1850s.
William Henry Emmerton, Apothecary shop of James Emerton in Salem, c. 1850 (pen & ink and sepia wash on paper), Peabody Essex Museum; advertisements from the 1851 and 1857 Salem Directory.
The more I examined the romanticized images of Salem streets scenes with horse-drawn carriages in my digital files, the more I realized that most of them were from the 1850s, the decade by which most of Massachusetts had been linked together with railroad tracks. Clearly there was an emerging awareness of how the “iron horse” was going to change town and country, but it was far too soon to envision the coming of the car.
Horse and train meet in Salem: Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, 1851.