Monthly Archives: January 2016

One Photograph and Three (?) Mantels

Today I am featuring another lost Salem house that we can only “see” in the form of its surviving pieces and photographs–only one photograph, really, which I presume was taken just before it was demolished in 1856 to make way for the Salem Athenaeum’s new Plummer Hall (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum). This is the Nathan Read House (1793), designed by Samuel McIntire for a man who was not a Salem merchant and/or shipowner but distinguished himself nonetheless, as an entrepreneur and the inventor of such diverse machines as a steamboat with paddles, a nail-cutter, a self-winding clock, and a coffee-huller, as well as a congressman and judge. Read’s house was McIntire-made but Bulfinch-inspired and it is reminiscent of another Essex Street house that is no longer with us: the Ezekiel Hersey Derby House further along Essex Street–Salem’s commercial “high” street was too dynamic and valuable for residences, even ones as lovely as these. It’s a miracle that the Gardner-Pingree House survived. The Read House was short-lived but pretty imposing while it lasted.

Read House Salem MA

The Nathan Read House (1793-1856).

In 1799, Read sold the house to Captain Joseph Peabody, a very wealthy Salem shipowner, and eventually decamped for Maine. For the rest of its existence, the Read House remained in the Peabody family, who eventually sold it to the shareholders of the Salem Athenaeum. Joseph’s son Francis dismantled several McIntire mantels from the house before its demolition, and installed them at his summer house in nearby Danvers, the eighteenth-century “King” Hooper mansion, better known as “The Lindens”. There they remained until the 1930s, when the Lindens itself was dismantled, shipped to Washington, D.C. in pieces, and reassembled in the Kalorama neighborhood of the District. The intermediary (and short-term owner of the Lindens) in this transaction was up-and-coming antiques dealer Israel Sack, who arranged for the house to be measured and photographed by HABS architects and also sold some parlor paneling to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Kansas City: the mantels appear in the HABS photographs (but looking quite different from previous photographs!) but not in the collections of the Nelson-Atkins museum, and they certainly don’t seem to be down in Washington (where the house is now for sale), so I’m not really sure where they are. The whole is demolished, but the parts are scattered: a not-uncommon Salem story!

McIntire Mantels Collage

McIntire Mantels HABS

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Lindens Living Room AD

Above: McIntire Mantels at the Peabody Essex Museum (upper right) and installed at the Lindens, Danvers, from Cousins’ and Riley’s Woodcarver of  Salem (1916) and Arthur Haskell photographs, 1934, Library of Congress. Below: the Lindens in its current Washington, DC location from its current listing, and its living room from January 2014 Architectural Digest. No McIntire mantel here!

See a related house story at the great blog Stories from Ipswich.


Anglo-Americana at Auction

There’s quite a bit of buzz here in Salem about a particular lot in an upcoming “Printed and Manuscript Americana” auction at Swann Auction Galleries: #84, a hitherto unknown edition of the Bay Psalm Book with Salem connections. It caught my attention a few weeks ago because of its importance in printing history, but of course the headlines here in Salem are all about its connections to the Witch Trials of 1692: it was owned by one of the judges, Jonathan Corwin and his wife Elizabeth, and later passed into the family of one of the trial’s victims, John Proctor. His descendants have held on to the book (which they apparently called “the witch book”) for over a century and are now parting with it. I wonder if its estimate of $30,000-$40,000 is due to its bibliographic importance or its ties to Salem? 

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I think it’s the former but I could be wrong. Two years ago, a copy of the first edition (1640) owned by the Old South Church in Boston set a new world record for a printed book at a Sotheby’s New York auction when it sold for $14, 165.000. The estimate for this newly-discovered seventh edition might be low.

No doubt the Bay Psalm Book will be the star, but several other items in this auction caught my attention: a first edition of one of the most important–if not the most important–early histories of English exploration, Richard Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589), a really neat anthology of shipwrecks and maritime disasters titled God’s Wonders in the Great Deep, or, a Token for Mariners (I am very slowly writing a book on wonder in early modern England and I had not thought of it in this way before–as deliverance from disaster), an engraving of a sketch made by British spy Major John André on the morning of his execution illustrating his voyage to meet Benedict Arnold (I’ve always had a thing for André), and last but not least, the expansive diary of a young Vermont woman named Elizabeth Houghton, including recollections from 1820 to 1836 and an AMAZING vernacular drawing of two women dressed in WILD “regency” dresses. Quite a treasure trove, this Anglo– Americana auction.

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Anglo Americana Wonderp

Andre on the Hudson

Diary Dressesp

Lots from Swann Auction Galleries Printed and Manuscript Americana Auction, February 4, 2016: #84, an unknown 7th edition of the Bay Psalm Book; #152, a first edition of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations; #177, God’s Wonders in the Great Deep (1731);#29, an engraving of Major André’s last drawing; and #270, Elizabeth Houghton’s Diary.


The Most Poignant Epitaph Ever

The Old Burying Point is a sacred site best visited in the winter, or the summer, or the spring, or anytime other than October when costume-clad tourists are not draped over the graves taking pictures of each other. I prefer winter, because the very gnarly trees are bare, and nothing other than these same trees competes with the graves themselves. I was walking by the other day, thinking about the very recent death of a young scholar whom I knew, when I remembered a famous epitaph on a seventeenth-century grave of another young scholar: Nathanael Mather, son of Increase, and brother of Cotton. Nathanael died in Salem in 1688 at aged 19 and his grave is located on the western perimeter of the cemetery, just behind the Peabody/”Grimshawe” house. I went through the gate, turned right, and there he was, there it was, the most poignant epitaph ever.

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An Aged person/ that had seen but Nineteen Winters in the World.

An Aged person that had seen but Nineteen Winters in the World is a sentiment that is immediately and universally affective, and timeless: as moving now as it was when it was inscribed in 1688 (or later? see below). There are testimonies to these words that date back to the early nineteenth century; no doubt there are far more that I am aware of. Hawthorne incorporated a similar epitaph into his first novel Fanshawe for the title character (one imagines him sneaking out back before or after he visited his future wife Sophia at the Grimshawe house) and Lovecraft referenced it a century later. In between, my favorite photographer Frank Cousins gave it pride of place in a portfolio of Salem images which he marketed nationally.

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Epitaph Cousins 1890sp

The Grave in the 1890s

And what of Nathanael, the inspiration for this memorable epitaph? By all accounts he was a young man feverish with the desire to learn, both for his own sake and as way to know and glorify God, and this “fever” ultimately killed him. His “unusual industry” drove him to enter Harvard University at age 12, and during his time there he mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and wrote several books. His “pious education” continued after his graduation, and he followed a disciplined regime of constant study and prayer which rendered him a virtual shut-in. Real fevers set in, and “distemper”, and ultimately he was sent to Salem as a patient of Dr. John Swinnerton, at whose home he eventually died. His elder brother Cotton Mather, who apparently “closed his dying eyes” wrote later that it may be truly written on his Grave, Study kill’d him. In his Diary, Samuel Sewall recounts visiting Nathaneal at Dr. Swinnerton’s and, quite perplexingly, an alternative epitaph: the Ashes of a hard Student, a good Scholar, and a great Christian, which is also asserted in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana. So now we have an epitaph mystery: are both Sewall and Mather mistaken, or do we have an instance of an “enlightened” epitaph substitution at some later date?

Epitaph 038


Animal Adaptations

I don’t think I will ever tire of anthropomorphic animals, no matter how old I get. This weekend, to mark National Handwriting Day (not really, but any excuse to shop), I purchased a print of a letter-writing fox from the Litus Gallery, and then went back for more. The very dynamic discussion in response to my Samantha statue post last week referenced the word “whimsical” several times, so I wanted to reorient myself to that word and sense and to me, these works are most definitely whimsical, fanciful, even dreamy. But beyond the aesthetics, many of the Litus images (as alluded to by their titles) are also referential: the title of my fox is “Michael Drayton writing the Second Part of the ‘Poly-Olbion’, Fleet Street, 1617 and I also purchased a print of a clerk-like cat titled “John Selden leaving Hare Court, Inner Temple, August, 1614.” I don’t think that either the poet or the jurist was painted in these situations, but other examples of the Gallery’s work are based directly on particular paintings. I thought it would be interesting to match up the originals with the adaptations. The differences are not hard to discern!

Fox Writing Letters

Animal Adaptations Collage 1

Animal Adaption Collage 2

PicMonkey Collage 3

PicMonkey Collage 4 Rembrandt

Animal Adaptation Collage 6 Blake

Animal Adaptations Collage 5

Weighing the Fruits after Jan Vermeer’s ‘Woman Holding a Balance’; Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1664, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./ The Turnip Spinner (After Chardin’s ‘Gabriel Godefroy watching a top spin’/ Jean-Siméon, Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweler, Watching a Top Spin, c. 1735, The Louvre/ The Eight Lives of Mr. Tybalt (after Nicolaes Eliaszoon’s ‘Portrait of Nicolaes Tulp’; Nicolaes Eliaszoon Pickenoy, Portrait of Nicolaes Tulp, 1633, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam/The Book-Keeper (after Rembrandt’s ‘Young Man at His Desk,’); Rembrandt, Scholar at his Desk, 1631, Hermitage Museum/ I want, I want, after William Blake; William Blake, “I want, I want” from For Children: the Gates of Paradise (1793)/ Il Ladro di Fragola (after Jean Baptiste Chardin’s ‘Basket with Wild Strawberries’; Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Basket with Wild Strawberries, 1731.

All Animal Adaptations available at the Litus Gallery.


The Fount of Penmanship

I don’t usually subscribe to those specially-designated days–you know, Boston Cream Pie Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day–preferring the old saints’ days of yore with all of their associated traditions and folklore, but I am acknowledging National Handwriting Day today simply because I like the written word almost as much as I like the printed one, and scripts almost as much as fonts. And I fear penmanship might be on its way out. This Day was established by an entity with a vested interest, the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, all the more reason to ignore it, but they chose John Hancock’s birthday as the day and I welcome any occasion to acknowledge Mr.Hancock, one of my favorite founding fathers. I learned a lot about penmanship pedagogy a few years ago when I fell in love with a calligraphic cat and plunged myself into the world of nineteenth-century American writing manuals, but now I think the seventeenth century is a more important era in the development of writing instruction, at least in England. Influenced and inspired by continental influences like Jan van den Velde’s 1605 book, Spieghel der Schrifkonste (Mirror of the Art of Writing), English writing became penmanship, separated from “orthography” or grammar, segregated into a variety of hands and scripts, standardized through the dissemination of a succession of manuals and “copy books”. All those Victorian flourishes and calligraphic creations? Old news.

Mirror of the Art of Writing after 1620 met

Mirror of the Art of Writing 1605

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Above: writing samples from the early seventeenth century: a 1620 pen-in-hand engraving after Jan van den Velde, c. 1620, Metropolitan Museum of Art; a page from van den Velde’s influential Mirror of the Art of Writing, c. 1605; and title page of Martin Billingsley’s  The Pen’s Excellencie, or The Secretaries Delight (1618).

Below: in the later seventeenth century, it was all about “Colonel” John Ayres, master of a writing school in St. Paul’s Churchyard “at the sign of the hand and pen” in London, and the author of a series of copy books published in many editions between 1680 and 1700, including The Accomplish’d Clerk or Accurate Pen-man and The New A-La-Mode Secretarie or Practical Pen-Man (both 1682-83).

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Ayres_John-The_accomplishd_clerk_regraved-Wing-A4299-1376_05-p19p

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John Dee, Renaissance Man

The first ten or so years of my teaching career I would bring up John Dee (1527-1609) in one of my classes–he’s relevant to most of them really, whether it’s English history, or Atlantic history, or my courses on the early modern witch trials or the Scientific Revolution–and my students would look perplexed:  who? Once I told them a bit about the “Arch-Conjurer of England” they definitely wanted to know more, but they had no prior knowledge. That all changed about a decade ago when the first book in Michael Scott’s adolescent novel series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel was published, which features John Dee as a central character (Joan of Arc, Machiavelli and Shakespeare also show up as the series unfolds): now I’ve got a generation of students who know all about John Dee, or at least they think they do: in any case, the stage has been set.

(c) Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Anonymous English Artist, John Dee, c. 1594. Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

For me, Dee represents one of the last generations of men who could pursue “magic” and “science” at the same time: his life’s work represents just how blurry the line was between these two endeavors in the sixteenth century. He’s also a great example of the multi-faceted Renaissance Man, or at least an English example thereof. It’s really difficult to confine Dee’s interests and activities to a short blog post, but I’ll try: he was first and foremost a mathematician, but this foundational field drew him into so many others: astrology, astronomy, alchemy, geography, cartography, linguistics, cryptography, optics. He started out his professional life, while still in his teens, as an academic, but clearly sought to be a courtier, and enjoyed a close relationship with Elizabeth I, who at one point called him “hyr philosopher”. This connection gave him security, prestige, and influence, which he used to advocate for a stronger imperial policy for England; indeed he is generally credited with coining the term “British Empire”. It must have enriched him too, as he spent considerable money (and time) amassing a huge library which he installed at his primary residence at Mortlake, just outside London. He was an avid manuscript-hunter, pursuing and collecting all written knowledge on “high” (learned) magic, predominately alchemy and cabalism. But written, human knowledge was never enough for Dee: he came to believe that all of his questions could be answered only by beings of a higher order: angels. His pursuit of communion with the angels ultimately drove him down a path that threatened both his livelihood and his reputation, as a Renaissance magus practicing learned, “white” magic had to be very careful not to cross the line into the “black” arts of divination and necromancy in this age of intensive witch-hunting. Dee died a natural death, but lost his fortune, and his complex character was reduced to that of Prospero and Dr. Faustus by his contemporaries Shakespeare and Marlow.

(c) Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Victorian View of Dee as Conjurer: Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913), John Dee Performing an Experiment before Queen Elizabeth, c. 1880,Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Apparently the skulls in the original painting were painted over at some point!

Modern scholars (as well as authors of adolescent fiction) love Dee and have restored much of his complexity, but it is a difficult task to reconcile the scientist and the spirtualist. And now there is a new exhibition of materials (and instruments) from his own library at the Royal College of Physicians Museum in London: Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Dee to “speak for himself”: the RCP website states that: “Our exhibition explores Dee through his personal library. On display for the first time are Dee’s mathematical, astronomical and alchemical texts, many elaborately annotated and illustrated by Dee’s own hand. Now held in the collections of the Royal College of Physicians, they reveal tantalising glimpses into the ‘conjuror’s mind’.” I’m bringing students in my Tudor-Stuart class over to London during spring break this year, and this is on my itinerary–I think we can build on Nicholas Flamel a bit.

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John Dee’s own illustration of a page of the complete works of Cicero. (‘Opera,’ published Paris, 1539–1540) (© Royal College of Physicians / John Chase);  A horoscope chart scribbled in the lower margin of Claudius Ptolemy’s Quadriparti, Venice, 1519 (© Royal College of Physicians / John Chase); another great Dee doodle of three bearded faces in the margin of a treatise on alchemy (Arnaldus de Villanova, ‘Opera,’ published Venice, 1527) (© Royal College of Physicians / Mike Fear). You can see more items from the exhibition here.


Samantha Should Go

If I were Queen of Salem for a day the very first thing I would do is smite Samantha. I like Bewitched and Elizabeth Montgomery as much as the next person, but a television character has no business occupying such a prominent parcel in Salem in statue form–especially such a bad statue. I think public art should either be beautiful or significant and Samantha is neither: she should go. I never really understood exactly how she was deposited right there, in Lappin Park on Town House Square, in June of 2005. It was a deal struck between the TV Land television channel, who commissioned the statue from StudioEIS in Brooklyn, then-mayor Stanley Usovicz, and the Salem Redevelopment Authority. Is she supposed to be with us forever? I was in one of my periodic disengagement-from-Salem-because-it-is-driving-me-crazy moods at the time so I wasn’t among the protesters, but even one of the statue’s creators admitted it was crass at the time:

“If I were one of the people who had a house on the beautiful common there, would I hate it?” asked Ivan Schwartz, sitting at a conference table last week and discussing the Samantha statue. “Yes, probably. But it seems like [Salem] was going down that path long before this TV Land thing ever surfaced.” (Washington Post)

Well, Mr. Schwartz is correct: Salem has been “Witch City” for quite a while, which is why my feelings towards Samantha have evolved: I don’t really want to destroy her anymore, I’d just like to move her–to a less prominent and more appropriate place–where she can represent Witch City rather than Salem. Maybe in front of the Witch Museum? That’s a perfect pairing.

Samantha Destination Salem

The Samantha Statue in Lappin Park (somewhat dressed for winter, but before our recent snow), courtesy Destination Salem.

So who or what could replace Samantha?  That is a difficult question, despite, or perhaps because of, Salem’s rich history.

An “old planter”?  Well we already have the magisterial statue of Salem founder Roger Conant by the Common. Unfortunately he is often mistaken for a “witch” because of his proximity to the Witch Museum as well–maybe he and Samantha could trade places? No, I think not.

Accused “witches”?  Well, we already have the subtle but stately Witch Trials Memorial on Charter Street. This is a reflective place (when it is not full of tourists eating sausage rolls on its memorial benches) deserving of its official status, but is could be supplemented by a more humanistic installation at Town House Square, I suppose. Statues of Bridget Bishop and George Jacobs–the victims from Salem Town?  Philip English–who escaped, survived, and sought revenge? My very favorite memorial to a witch-trial victim is the relief sculpture of Katharina Henot, burned at the stake in Cologne in 1627, in which she is paired with Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest who served as a participant/confessor in several witch trials before he wrote an extremely influential indictment of such proceedings (the Cautio Criminalis (1631)), on a facade of the Cologne City Hall. They are actually quite modern creations, one of 124 relief figures carved for the exterior of the Rathaus. The Lappin Park site is a courtyard, rather than a building, so I think we need to go for something/someone more freestanding.

Rathausturm Koeln - Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, Katharina Henot

Samuel McIntire? Revolutionary War soldiers and sailors from Salem? Timothy Pickering? One of the Derbys? We already have a great statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Hawthorne Boulevard. The great philanthropist Captain John Bertram and/or his granddaughter Caroline Emmerton, founder of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association? If I had my druthers (which I would, because I would be Queen), I’d probably go with Captain Luis Fenollosa Emilio of the Massachusetts 54th, a Salem native and author of The Brave Black Regiment (1891). He fought with the 54th for three years and was the sole surviving officer of the ferocious battle of Ft. Wagner in 1863: he deserves commemoration somewhere.

Statue Emilio

Captain Luis F. Emilio of the Mass 54th and 23rd, Library of Congress.

If I step down from my throne, however, I think it’s probably best to install something less literal and more abstract or conceptual in this particular location: something that could speak to as many people as possible and really make both passersby and crowds stop and think (or at least stop). I could even go in a more whimsical direction: the people who like the Samantha statue generally mention its “whimsy” but I think whimsy has to emanate from good art and Samantha looks like she is sitting on a turd rather than a cloud. We can do better.

Just to get the ideas flowing, I rounded up some of my favorite installations: most are public, some I have seen in person rather than just in pictures, some are memorials and some are just “statues”, all are (in my humble opinion) just great.

Reading Chaucer Jackson

Philip Jackson (b. 1944), Reading Chaucer, Portland Gallery, London.

Statue Les Voyageurs Marseilles

One of Bruno Catalano’s Voyageurs in Marseilles–travelers with missing parts!

Statue Shoes Budapest

The extremely poignant installation of “Shoes on the Danube” in Budapest by Gyuala Pauer and Can Togny, dedicated “to the memory of the victims shot by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45”.

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A “house” with roots by Leandro Erlich at the Summer Festival in Karlsruhe, Germany via Designboom. (I would LOVE to see something like this in Salem–a 17th century house!)

Appendix: Just adding a few lines as this post was shared quite widely on Salem Facebook groups and there was a lot of commentary that readers of the blog won’t see. Lots of love for Samantha; she is widely credited (not the statue so much as the television character and show, which filmed in Salem in 1970-71) for saving Salem from the wasteland that it was becoming at that time. So the statue is seen as a symbol of revival through witchcraft tourism. Also: tourists love her so she should stay, she’s “whimsical” so she should stay. There were some people that supported a move: to the Willows & the Hawthorne Hotel in particular. No support for Captain Emilio!


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