Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Hidden House with quite a History

Hidden behind a four-story brick apartment block built in the early twentieth century on lower Essex Street is a much older, much-altered house which has the appearance of a Georgian cottage. It’s not quite that, but close. The Christopher Babbidge House has been through quite a……..metamorphosis; I’m not sure if I have it completely straight or correct but here goes. According to Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture in Salem, the house is first period, built by tailor Babbidge as early as the 1660s on Derby Street. It descended in the Babbidge family until the mid-eighteenth century, at which time is was acquired by Richard Derby, patriarch of the famous Salem merchant family. Cousins is the only source of the original Derby Street location and seventeenth-century origins, but all the other sources (Sidney Perley, Historic Salem Inc., plaque research, and MACRIS seem to agree that it acquired its Georgian appearance and was considerably enlarged (and presumably moved to Essex Street if you follow Cousins) at this time or shortly thereafter, as Mr. Derby transferred it to his daughter Mary and her new husband George Crowninshield as a wedding gift. So by the 1760s we have a large (five-bay) Georgian house with a gambrel roof located directly on Essex Street. This was the house in which several of the famous Crowninshield sons (George Jr., Jacob, and Benjamin) were born.The wealthy Crowninshields had many Salem houses, so this one was eventually sold to a succession of owners, and in 1859 it was cut in half by current owner Phineas Weston, who wanted to build a new (Italianate) structure on the eastern end of the lot. The eastern half of the house was removed to Kosciusko Street while the western half remained on Essex, presumably shored up. The house seems to have flourished under the ownership of the Bowker family in the later nineteenth century, when Cousins took some lovely pictures, but in 1914 it was moved (again, according to Cousins) to the rear of its lot to make way for the brick buildings in front. So there we have it: a house that was moved, remodeled, expanded, cut in half, remodeled, and moved again. A true survivor on (or just slightly off) the streets of Salem!

Babbidge House Essex Street Cousins

Hidden House 2

Hidden House Babbidge

Babbidge House Stairways

Derby House Stairway HABS

The Babbidge-Crowninshield-Bowker House on Essex Street by Frank Cousins, 1890s, and today; drawing by Sidney Perley from the Essex Antiquarianits celebrated stairway by Cousins and Perley, and detail of the newel post at the Richard Derby House on Derby Street (HABS, Library of Congress, 1958)–so you can see the Derby connection.


The Two Mrs. Fenollosas

I came across a dress so beautiful the other day that I started thinking about its owner/wearer, Elizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa, wife of the famous “Orientalist” and cultural ambassador Ernest Fenollosa, who happened to grow up in the house right next door to mine here in Salem. Actually “Lizzie” Fenollosa, who was also Salem-born and -raised, was Fenollosa’s first wife, who accompanied him to Japan, where he was eventually appointed Director of the Imperial Museum in Tokyo in 1888. Here is the Worth dress, which the curators of the Philadelphia Museum of Art believe might have been worn for her presentation at the Imperial Court coincidentally with her husband’s appointment. [Correction: please see comment below; Mr. Fenollosa was a professor of philosophy at Tokyo University and a curator at the Imperial Museum, but not its director.]

Fenollosa Dress

Women’s Evening Dress: Bodice and Skirt. Designed by Charles Frederick Worth, English (active Paris), 1825 – 1895. Worn by Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa, c. 1886-1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Owen Biddle, 1978.

I had never seen this stunning dress before but I was not surprised to see it in the collection of the Philadelphia museum, as the Fenollosas’ daughter Brenda was married into the prominent Biddle family of that city in 1913. Her son Owen Biddle and his wife donated the gown (along with another) to the museum, and she herself donated a lovely Meiji scroll from her father’s collection (and in his memory) in 1941. I was surprised to see another Fenollosa-related item in the museum’s collection, however: a photograph of her father’s second wife, Mary McNeil Fenollosa, by the photographer Eva Watson-Schütze, dated 1905. Obviously this item was not donated by the Biddle family, for the Fenollosa divorce was scandalous its day. I have no idea what Brenda’s feelings were, but her mother named Mary as a co-respondent in the 1895 proceedings.

Fenellosa Mary

Portrait of a Woman in Japanese Dress (Wife of Ernest Fenollosa), Eva Watson-Schütze, 1905. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1905. Gift of Harvey S. Shipley Miller and J. Randall Plummer, 2004.

Ernest and Lizzie Fenollosa were childhood sweethearts in Salem; they were married right after his graduation from Harvard and then set off together for Japan, where he took up a position at the Imperial University at Tokyo and became fully immersed in traditional Japanese culture, eventually rising to his post at the Imperial Museum. He converted to Buddhism, but they did not appear to lead an ascetic lifestyle, if their house, their many western visitors (and her dress!) are any indication. During their time in Japan, Fenollosa also acquired a huge collection of traditional Japanese art, which he sold to Boston physician and philanthropist Charles Goddard Weld with the condition that it eventually be donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it now constitutes the Fenollosa-Weld Collection. The Fenollosas returned to Massachusetts in 1890, where he was appointed curator of the Department of Oriental Art at the MFA and organized several high-profile exhibitions. After he took up with Mary McNeil Scott, a twice-married southern secretary at the Museum, both his marriage and his curatorial career were over–although he continued in his scholarly activities. Lizzie and Brenda remained in the Boston area, but Ernest and Mary took off after their marriage: to New York, back to Japan (she had spent time there too, which explains much of their instant connection), to Mobile, Alabama (her hometown), and to London, where he died of a heart attack in 1908.

Fenollosa CollageElizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa, Ernest Fenellosa, Mary McNeil Scott Fenollosa.

The two Mrs. Fenollosas were very different women bound together by one man, as well as their experiences in Japan, I suppose. Elizabeth Fenollosa seems to have been a private woman, although by all accounts she was a gracious hostess and certain details about her divorce did leak out to the papers…..Mary Fenollosa was much more public, writing popular novels under the pseudonym Sidney McCall, poems under her own name, and serving as an advocate for her husband’s work after his death. Truth Dexter, her first and most popular novel, tells the story of a southern wife (the title character) whose marriage is endangered by a brazen Boston socialite! That was too much for Lizzie, who told the New York Times that her intellectual ex-husband must have collaborated on the book as it contained too many little-known details of their lives together. I think that book, plus the fact that she’s a Salem girl, puts me on Team Lizzie, but both women certainly lived colorful lives that took them far from their places of origin.

Fenollosa House Buffum Street

Fenollosa House Japan Harvard Houghton

From Salem to Tokyo: Elizabeth Fenollosa’s childhood home on Buffum Street in Salem, and the Tokyo home she shared with Ernest, Fenollosa Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Pokémon and Public History

Public history is about engaging the public with the past and its public memory, often through places, so you would think that an augmented reality game that drives people to historical sites would be welcomed by museum professionals and heritage site managers. Their reaction to Pokémon Go, however, has been decidedly mixed.While park sites seem to embrace the game and its players, several museums and sacred sites have just said no to Pokémon Go. In Washington, D.C., the United States Holocaust Museum opted out after a photograph of a poisonous-gas-emitting Pokémon named Koffing in the museum elicited quite a response online. The museum’s communications director, Andrew Hollinger, issued a statement that “Playing Pokémon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is extremely inappropriate. We are attempting to have the Museum removed from the game”. Likewise, Arlington National Cemetery tweeted the following statement on July 12: We do not consider playing “Pokemon Go” to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We ask all visitors to refrain from such activity. Many cemeteries across the country have followed suit, but several museums have invited visitors to “catch ’em all” within their walls. I think that art museums can embrace Pokémon Go as perfomance art that brings in much-needed millenials, but history sites have a different mission and response, especially those charged with commemorating tragedy.

Pokemon PEM

Pokemon character 5Pokémon popping out in the vicinity of the Peabody Essex Museum and Salem Maritime National Historic Site Visitors Center downtown–I have no idea what their names are: they just appear and I “throw” balls at them and take their pictures. They’re everywhere–even in my backyard and office!

So that brings me to Salem, a real hotbed of Pokémon Go activity from the release, and especially last weekend when an event called SalemGo! Catch ‘Em All! PokéWalk organized by the always-inspired folks at Creative Salem brought hundreds of Pokémon players to downtown. With its compact urban streetscape and multitude of historic markers, sites, and museums (real and “experiential”), Salem is a perfect setting for Pokemon, so I followed these enthusiastic hunter-gatherers to see how they engaged with all of the above. To be honest, I didn’t see a lot of engagement: most people proceeded with eyes fixed on their phones from Pokésite to Pokésite, barely passing a glance at the actual building/ monument/ installation/entity. However, I did not see any historically-insensitive trespassing (even though both the Old Burying Point and the adjacent Witch Trials Memorial are Pokésites, as well as the Quaker Cemetery on Essex Street) and it was fun to see so many backpack-bearing players out there, on the streets of Salem: in teams, in pairs, entire families, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, grandfathers and granddaughters.

Pokemon Team

Pokemon Team 2

Pokemon Pair 2

Pokemon Pair

Pokemon Pair 4

Pokemon quartet

I soon realized I couldn’t make an evaluation of the impact of Pokémon Go on heritage sites during this event–it was a Pokéwalk not a Pokéstroll. I’d have to go out on my own and see just how the hunt for these virtual creatures could impact connections to both place and the past. So that’s what I did, as early in the morning as possible. I didn’t come to any great conclusions, but here are my thoughts, descending from nitpicky and Salem-specific to a bit more substantive and general.

  1. It’s Salem COMMON, not Commons!
  2. So happy that the Witch Museum is NOT a Pokéstop; but unfortunately the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Gallows Hill Museum/Theater and 13 Ghosts or whatever it is called are.
  3. BUT super excited that the ACTUAL site of the Salem Gaol is a Pokéstop (and not just the Witch Dungeon Museum–which appropriated the plaque of the actual site).
  4. Where oh where is the United States Lightship Museum? I thought it was on Nantucket, but Pokémon Go tells me it is a PokéGym here in Salem.
  5. I spoke to several Park Service rangers, all of whom told me they were excited to see hundreds of visitors on Derby Wharf. Pokémon Go could well be a boon to all of our National Parks, in this their centennial year.
  6. A Pokéstop is just that, a stop. But wild Pokémon can appear anywhere, at any time, and lure you anywhere. Strange creatures tried to lure me into both the Witch Trials Memorial and the Old Burying Point, but I resisted.
  7. So many churches and monuments!  You can definitely tell that Pokémon Go is based on the Historical Marker database, which includes sites both conventional and a bit more obscure–driving people to the latter, even if they’re not spending much time there–has got to be a benefit. Awareness is always a benefit.

That’s about it: I don’t really have any particularly penetrating insights into this phenomena, as you see. I would love to hear from some heritage professionals–particularly those who manage sites that are a bit more….sensitive. I must say that while I don’t particularly care about catching Pokémon in the context of the game, I love capturing them on my camera. There’s something about the juxtaposition of obviously unreal things in real settings that is quite captivating: I expect to see notice of some big exhibition soon! In the meantime, here are my own offerings, starting with the creature at the Witch Trials Memorial.A surreal site indeed: I really don’t want to see similar creatures getting any closer to those benches.

Pokemon character 4 WTM

More Pokémon in less sensitive settings below. There are a whole bunch on Federal Street, particularly in the vicinity of the Peirce-Nichols House., so heads up. ….

Pokemon character 8

Pokemon character 7

Pokemon character 9

Pokemon character 10

Pokemon character 11

This guy appeared in my office at Salem State, also a hotbed of activity.

Pokemon office 2


Time for Salem Switchel

July was pretty hot; August will likely be cooler, but I still think it’s time to revive an old summer drink here in Salem called switchel. A colonial “ade” made of ginger, vinegar, and a sweetening agent, switchel has enjoyed a revival over the last few years, and is currently being produced in such variant hipster havens as Vermont and Brooklyn. In older texts, it’s often referred to as “haymaker’s punch”, implying agrarian origins, but I’ve also found plenty of references to switchel in maritime and military sources. There’s a famous reference to it in the account of one of the major naval battles of the War of 1812, between the USS Constitution and the HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. Anticipating a great victory, the Guerriere Captain James Dacres ordered his cooks to “prepare the switchel” for the soon-to-be captured Americans. After Old Ironsides prevailed, this phrase was incorporated into a mocking/patriotic American sailors’ song: When prisoners we’ve made them, With switchel we will treat them; We’ll welcome them with Yankee Doodle Dandy, O. It’s definitely one of the first American beverages. There’s a very nice reference to Salem switchel in the memoirs of Boston Brahmin Robert C. Winthrop, who marched up to Salem on a hot summer’s day in 1822 in the company of the Boston Light Infantry to camp out on the Common:a wisp of straw for our bed, and a bit of thin bunting above our heads, through which we could see the sentinel stars keeping their watch in the sky, more vigilant than any sentinels we could station, were our only and all-sufficient accommodations; and a little molasses and water and ginger–a switchel I think it was called–was our best drink. Elizabeth Hall’s Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy (1857) contains the basic recipe (mix half a gallon of molasses, one quart of vinegar, 2 ounces of powdered ginger with five gallons of water, boil and cool to make a beverage that is not only “very pleasant”  but also “highly invigorating and healthful”) but it is clearly suitable for all sorts of substitutions and additions: the modern Vermont versions contains maple.

Switchel Vitick's

Salem is a major foodie town today, with countless restaurants and bars, a distillery, a cider taproom, a brand new beer brewery, beer hall & garden, and a whole bunch of clever and crafty people: surely someone could produce and market a special Salem Switchel drawing on our city’s past and present? A Salem variety should no doubt feature molasses, but I think rum would also be an appropriate (and appealing) ingredient. And I have the perfect containers for inspiration: these are beautiful vintage bottles produced for S.B. Winn & Son, producers of ginger ale and other beverages, and Eldredge’s Lagers, all made in Salem over a century ago.

bottles 3

 

bottles 6

Salem Bottle

Winns Ginger Ale Ad


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