It would be fine with me if the House of the Seven Gables was the iconic symbol of Salem rather than the witch: it seems to me that these two images were competing for that role in the earlier part of the twentieth century, but the witch definitely won out in the second half. I can’t tell you how many House of the Seven Gables postcards I have–maybe 50 different images, some only slightly different–and I have seen Gables puzzles, plates, patches, pens, pillows and all sorts of other items that don’t begin with the letter P. Such souvenirs are pretty common, so I’m a bit more interested in artistic representations of the house and the book. There are many of these as well: illustrations from the multiple editions of the latter (which never seems to go out of print) and drawings, prints, etchings, and paintings of the former. I’m always looking for works by some of Salem’s renown early twentieth-century artists–Frank Benson, Philip Little, Ross Turner–but they don’t seem to have been inspired by the house (although there is a nice etching by Little’s friend and studio-mate Philip Kappel), which is understandable, given the fact that our Gables is not their Gables. What we call the House of the Seven Gables was known as the old Turner Mansion (or more formally the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in their time, and before preservationist/philanthropist Caroline Emmerton transformed it and adjoining buildings (some of which she made adjoining buildings) into the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association after 1908, the old house really didn’t look that inspirational. This was a pretty run-down neighborhood, and part of Emmerton’s mission was to change all that, with a rather romantically “restored” mansion at its center. And so the old Turner mansion acquired several more gables and became the House of the Seven Gables.
The Making of the House of the Seven Gables, 1908-1915
The Turner-Ingersoll House in the 1890s and 1910s, after Mrs. Emmerton bought the house and established the Settlement Association. The middle picture, dating from around 1914, shows the house from the other side and the developing museum “neighborhood” and its vicinity, including the Seaman’s Bethel on the water, which Mrs. Emmerton later removed to Turner Street. Photographs from the Library of Congress and National Park Service.
With time–and long after Mrs. Emmerton’s death–the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association not only cleaned up, but cleared out, its previously “derelict” neighborhood, and now there is a large parking lot to the left of those hanging sheets below. But that’s another story. A succession of artists from the 1920s on did indeed find the revitalized mansion inspirational, beginning with two female artists who occasionally came down from their Cape Ann summer homes to capture old Salem on canvas: Felicie Waldo Howell (1897-1968) and Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002). Two very different visions, as you can see, followed by the equally variant views of Dorothy Lake Gregory, Frederic Coulton Waugh, and the contemporary artists Jim Leggitt, Philip Eames, and Matthew Benedict. Just a few images that appealed to me, among many, many Gables out there.
Portraying the House of the Seven Gables, 1921-2010