Never have I been so excited for the arrival of March, generally the muddiest month! February has simply brought us too much: snow, ice, hassles, damage, cancellations, time indoors. I’m clearing out my cache of February pictures today with the hope that March will mean the last of all this, but I might be too optimistic: there’s still feet of snow on the ground and cold weeks ahead. But nevertheless I am moving on–the days grow longer, the sun seems stronger, spring break is right around the corner and garden catalogs are stacked high by my bed.
Either end of frozen Chestnut Street, and in the middle:
The horizontal space of a Salem snowbank: the distance from the granite curb to the middle of the street:
For the most part, I think I’ve been pretty productive during this snowbound February, but I’ve also frittered away a fair amount of time: reading not very scholarly books and searching through some of my favorite databases for anything that might catch my attention: images, fonts, ideas. I love magazines about architecture and interior design, so I browsed through digital collections of twentieth-century publications and found several that intrigued me, not so much for their content (traditionalist that I am) but for their striking covers. Magazine covers are so boring now (with the exception of the New Yorker and a few other titles): there’s no abstraction or design, just a literal representation of what’s inside. This was not the case in the mid-twentieth century, when the images and letters of design magazines like Casabella seemed to (literally) leap off the page. La casa bella, a monthly magazine of “radical” modern architecture, commenced publication in 1928 in Milan and is still published today. Its first covers are pretty sedate, but in the 1930s (about the same time that the title was changed to Casabella) they get quite a bit more interesting, reflecting not just what’s inside but their time. Here’s a portfolio of images from 1929-73, all taken from the magazine’s current website.
Casabella Covers from 1929, 1930, 1933, the 1950s, 1963, 1969 & 1973.
It seems to me that from time to time one of our Founding Fathers emerges from the pack, to glow just a little brighter in a blaze of adulation. Certainly John Adams had his time a few years back, singled out by David McCullough’s book and the HBO series; more recently “Sexy Sam Adams” emerged as the hero of the History Channel’s (or as most historians refer to it, the Hitler Channel) Sons of Liberty miniseries, sponsored, of course, by Sam Adams beer. Now it’s all about Alexander Hamilton, the star of a namesake, sold-out musical on off-Broadway. Hamilton, written, directed and starring Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, is based on Hamilton’s rag-to-riches life, as charted by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, set to a score that sounds far more lively than that of 1776.
I don’t find the spotlight on Hamilton, or the success of Hamilton, even remotely surprising. After all, I live in Alexander Hamilton world: the first thing I see every morning when I wake up is Hamilton Hall, the c. 1805 assembly hall named after the Federalist hero/martyr, and the sign boldly attesting to that fact. And even if you’re just familiar with the outline of his life you can understand that it would make for a good story: illegitimate Caribbean orphan sent to New York, student, lawyer, lover, soldier, author, first Secretary of the Treasury, victim of a duel. Fill in the details and you’ve got a blockbuster!
Hamilton updated: 1957 Rand McNally ad; defaced $10 Batman bill; Alexander Hamilton birthday print by A5/Day; Alexander Hamilton small-batch Vodka.
For this Washington’s birthday weekend, I am thrilled to be able to feature photographs of the ongoing restoration of the Joshua Ward House, where our first President stayed when he visited Salem in the Fall of 1789. I featured the house in a previous post, where you can see historic photographs and read some of its history, but I was not able to access the interior at that time. Since then, the house has been purchased and is presently being transformed, with great attention to detail, into an inn. I have no name or link yet, but will certainly revisit this project: my strong impression is that the owner wants to pay homage to the house’s namesake builder, the worldly merchant, successful distiller, and every-hospitable Joshua Ward, and dispel its dubious haunted reputation forever. Even though it’s right around the corner from my own house, I am booking a room as soon as it is opened: the very room where President Washington slept, restored to all of its former glory.
As I had never been in the house and long desired to, my expectations were…great, and I was not disappointed. Even in its present state, a work site, it is beautiful both in its entirety and its details. Seeing it so exposed made it even more beautiful perhaps: layers of paint being sanded off, ceilings opened to the rafters, pocked beams everywhere, doors on the floor. It seemed both vulnerable and stalwart to me, especially as I looked out the windows (of George’s second-floor bedroom, of course) and thought of all the things this house has seen: water and wharves when it was first built in the 1780s, then a filled-in busy downtown, then a huge Gothic fortress-train depot, then nothing because commercial structures blocked its view, then a notorious traffic-clogged “plaza”, now a mixed picture of preservation and poor planning. The Joshua Ward House has weathered all of these developments and is standing by, nearly fully-equipped, for future ones.
First floor: looking out at Salem; famous entrance hall and staircase; soon-to-be inn tavern room; front and back fireplaces.
Second Floor: more of the famous staircase, Washington’s bedroom, opposite (southeast) bedroom, entrance to the back of the house.
Through, back, up: stairs, second and third floor bedrooms, the attic.
Pieces of the past (even the relatively recent past):
Some orientation: Jonathan Saunders’ c. 1820 map of Salem (house marked by * ) and Sidney Perley’s 1905 map, both from the Boston Public Library; the Ward House in the mid-20th century, obscured by billboards and facades, and today.
I have received so many emails from readers expressing both sympathy for, and interest in, our big snow that I’m going to take back the vow from my last post and focus on snow yet again today. We seem to be in the snow management phase here in Salem: the Mayor called in the National Guard, many (though not all) streets are clear, people are out and about, the snowbanks are stacked high, and the discussion seems focused on commuting and ice dams. Regarding the former, my perspective is that of a pedestrian, and its all about navigating the sidewalk tunnels that have been formed by the looming snowbanks, which are eye-level (my eyes, and I’m pretty short) at best and way, way above my head at worst. I like walking the mile or so to work even in weather like this, and though I think of myself as a rugged New Englander because of this, yesterday I was put in my place by one of our visiting professors, whose commute includes riding a bicycle (thankfully she is Dutch) from Cambridge to Boston to get the train up to Salem! Now that’s a tough commute–the latter part might be even more difficult than the bike hike as our public transportation system (the MBTA, which we simply call the T) is in full-fledged operational crisis right now–a wake-up call for a city that wants to take on the Olympics, for sure! Certainly my tunnel commute is not so difficult, and I’m always easily distracted……..
Going to work in snowbound Salem: first I check all the leaks in the house before I leave…..this is a little one.
Then I’m off….pretty wide paths downtown, which narrow once you get on Lafayette.
I take little detours to check on my favorite houses, then back in the tunnel, as far as I can go:
Interesting icicle formation…cute little white house, looks like no one is living there, hope they don’t have any ice dams….back on track and end in sight.
Appendix: Design for T-shirt produced to reward heroic snow efforts and fund anti-measures, available through the Mayor’s Office. Of course, it is witchy but it doesn’t seem to bother me as much as usual.
I’ve got nothing…but snow: sorry, worldly readers, I must feature snow yet again! With another 17 inches deposited from this weekend’s storm, we are now up to about 7 ½ feet by my unofficial calculation. We’ve got two major ice dams over our bay windows (thanks Victorians!!! the 1820s house is tight as can be) that have been depositing incessant drops of brown water into our house over the past few days, and I woke up happy this morning because it was so cold that the leaking stopped…for awhile. That about sums it up. You do develop perspective when you go through a prolonged period of weather adversity, and begin to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not sure that our tunnel is coming to an end yet (it’s only February!), but I did see a lot of light this weekend. Saturday night we walked to dinner through the snowy streets and I noticed it was so light outside, and when we returned home it seemed lighter still. What the weatherman was calling a blizzard was intensifying, and the sky was an eerie light gray–I almost expected to see the famous Boston Yeti out back….and there he was!
Sorry it’s so blurry–I can’t venture out back because we haven’t shoveled, so this (these) picture(s) was taken through my dining room window, while it was snowing. And yes, this is a rather pathetic attempt to place the Boston Yeti in Salem; he/she lives in Somerville, I believe. Seriously, that snow-lit sky was beautiful on Valentine’s Day evening, even though it meant ever more snow.
And yesterday, blustery cold. Behold the inside of my second-floor library window, with major ice-dam leak above: all clear and dry today, for now. I promise: this is my last post on snow!
Oddly enough, love and war often do go together and we all know that absence often makes the heart grow fonder, so it’s only natural that the burgeoning greetings card industry would flourish during World War I. In the west, domestic producers had to replace that large part of the market that was previously produced by Germany, and “WWI silks”, embroidered greetings produced in France and Belgium, constituted one of the most important cottage industries of the war. It can be a little jarring to see military themes on cards that were supposed to foster sentiment, but it was a competitive market, and I’m sure that manufacturers wanted to seem current, and relevant. And you really can’t beat the sentiment when you see my ammunition, you’ll surrender your position, which was evidently quite popular as it was issued with a variety of images. So in celebration of St. Valentine’s Day and commemoration of the Great War, here is a selection of valentines from 1914-1919: from Great Britain, the United States, France, and (the most intimate of all, handmade on the Front) Australia.
I have a real romance author as a neighbor, so I am venturing into this territory with some trepidation, but as Valentine’s Day quickly approaches I want to shift the focus from snow, snow, snow, which is all we are talking about here. In Salem, the perennial romance that is dragged out nearly every year for this occasion is that of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, which I find boring, boring, boring. It’s been done to death, like so many Salem stories, because it is easy: they both came from conspicuous families and were great diarists, she painted some charming scenes, he was so very handsome. If I were going to pen a Salem romance, which I am not (I am not creative enough for fiction, which this post will verify) I would write the love story of Philip English and Mary Hollingsworth. Now I have no idea if these two people were actually in love (they come from a different time and are not so “open” as Nathaniel and Sophia) but their intertwined lives would sure make for a good story!
Actually, I don’t know why there is not more scholarly work on Philip English, whose life is intertwined not only with Mary but with two of the seminal events of the seventeenth century: the English Civil War and the Salem Witch Trials. He’s the perfect “transatlantic man”, with one foot on either side of the ocean: born on the English Channel island of Jersey to a very connected family in 1651, the very same year the Royalist Carteret family, including his godfather Sir Philip De Carteret (III), surrendered the island to Parliamentary forces. Philip d’Anglois grew up in the midst of a network of merchants, fishermen, and smugglers who had several North American ties–and after the Restoration, his Carteret connections would no doubt come in useful too. He emigrated to Salem by 1670, became Philip English, and immediately commenced making his fortune, no doubt using both his old Jersey and Royalist connections and the new ones forged in New England, most notably through his marriage (in 1675) to Mary Hollingsworth, the only daughter of wealthy merchant and tavern-keeper William Hollingsworth and his wife Eleanor. There followed: the death of William (lost at sea!) and a likely considerable inheritance for Mary and Philip, the construction of a stately, much commented-upon, mansion house in the east end of Salem, seven children, the acquisition of a fleet of over 20 ships, a wharf, and considerable real estate on the harbor, and in 1692, accusations of witchcraft brought forward first against Mary and then Philip. After brief bouts of imprisonment and the confiscation of their considerable property, they fled to New York, where they apparently lived in splendor, and returned home to extract their revenge after the hysteria was over. But it was too late for Mary, who died soon after her return to Salem, aged 42.
A 1680 map of the Channel Islands by Thomas Philips, British Museum; The English “Great House” in Salem, built between 1683-90 at the corner of Essex and present-day English Streets: later it was known as the “40 Peaked House”. The Reverend William Bentley records visiting in 1791, and observes that “the rooms are the largest in Town [and]….even the Cellars are plastered.” Image from Ralph Paine, The Ships and Sailors of Old Salem: the Record of a Brilliant Era of American Achievement (1912).
How would I romanticize these biographical facts? I would play up both Philip’s and Mary’s early years, his life in Jersey and at sea and her domestic life. I think I could turn him into a pirate pretty easily, and the Peabody Essex Museum has a sampler of hers, which would provide me with the opportunity to engage in a dreamy, internal narrative. Once he arrives in Salem, their courtship would obviously provide lots of romantic opportunities, and I would emphasize their cultural clash and his exotic “otherness” both before and after their marriage: he was “French” and Protestant, but not quite Protestant enough for Puritan Salem, which doubtless contributed to his accusation in 1692. Seven children! That has to point to some sort of attachment. He goes away, and comes back, away and back. She was first accused of witchcraft (there were rumors about her mother, who ran the family’s Blue Anchor Tavern, which I could certainly exploit in a work of fiction), he comes to her rescue, then he is accused, and they escape to New York: lots of room for embellishment in this course of events. And shortly after their triumphant return to Salem, Mary dies–either from the treatment she received in prison and the difficulties of life on the run, or tuberculosis, or complications stemming from her last childbirth. A tragic romance (and I think I’ll leave out his second marriage and the possibility of at least one illegitimate child).
Six feet of snow in the last two weeks have buried eastern Massachusetts. We received 19 inches of snow here in Salem from this last slow-moving storm, which landed on top of the 4+ feet that was already there. Last week, I laughed when I ran into people (usually shoveling) who proclaimed that this is worse than ’78 (always the standard for New England blizzards) but now I’m not so sure: this is bad. No one storm was worse than 1978 but collectively our three successive storms have produced far more snow than that fabled blizzard over this two-week period. Yesterday I noticed that the snow standard had shifted to the “Great White” Blizzard of 1888, leaving ’78 in the dust: with more snow on the way at the end of this week I wonder if we will be referencing the nearly-biblical “Great Snow” of 1717? I ventured into a deserted downtown to see the ice sculptures installed as part of the now traditional pre-Valentine’s Day “Salem’s so Sweet” festival: a great idea designed to drum up commercial activity in the doldrums of February. With all this snow, the doldrums (great word) are even more depressing for Salem’s shops and restaurants. So I was happy to see another great idea surface on Facebook yesterday: a “snow day shop and dine” in Salem initiative encouraging us all to get out of our homes and into these local businesses. I’m there, always happy to shop (and to lesser extent, eat) as an expression of my civic duty. I feel sorry for all the disruption and am experiencing it myself: I have a weekly Monday Renaissance class that has failed to meet for the last two weeks, and of course we have the Presidents’ Day holiday on this coming Monday (on which it will probably not snow). It’s going to be difficult to get a momentum going in that class: all teachers are feeling this way now, I am sure. On the other hand, I’m grateful that I’m not stuck on some suburban cul-de-sac and can step outside my door, leave my car buried, and stroll (well, trudge) downtown to see the sights, covered or uncovered.
I’m looking forward to the Valentine’s Day opening of the exhibit “Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850” at the Portsmouth Athenaeum: it is co-curated by my friend Kimberly Alexander and strikes me as the perfect afternoon activity for that particular day (of course I am female). You can read much more about the exhibit on Kimberly’s blog: SilkDamask. I want to see amazing shoes and support my friend, but she had me as soon as I saw the invitation, which features one of my favorite early modern genres, which I will call “occupational art”. The image is by Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756), an entrepreneurial artist and publisher from Augsburg who produced 170 “Mr. and Mrs.” engravings for his series Artists, Craftsmen, and Professionals (circa 1730). On the invitation, appropriately, we see the wife of a shoe peddler, and while I haven’t been able to source her partner in peddling, I did find another very striking couple, the porcelain maker and his wife, at the Winterthur Museum.
This genre seems to have two categories: the fantastic–even grotesque–and the realistic. Engelbrecht’s images fall squarely in the former, and while he appears to have been an innovator in many aspects of his business, these creative composites were nothing new. The depiction of people as assemblages of objects goes back to the Renaissance, and his near contemporaries Nicolas de Larmessin and Gerard Valck produced even more fantastic occupational images decades before him. Engelbrecht’s women are unique though: he even includes a lady cartographer and prosecutor! Images of real workers are going to have to wait for the nineteenth century for the most part, but in keeping with the shoe theme here are Valk’s and Larmessin’s leather workers, in all of their glory.
Gerard Valck’s Habit de Cordonnier (c. 1700) from the invitation to the Bata Shoe Museum’s 2012 exhibition, Art in Shoes~Shoes in Art; Nicolas II de Larmessin’s Habit de Cordonnier and Habit de Sauetier from hisLescostumes Grotesques: Habits desmétiers et professions, c. 1695, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Bibliothèque nationale de France; Gerard Valck print of Habit de Ceinturier after Nicolas de Larmessin, c. 1695-1720, British Museum.