Monthly Archives: May 2017

Spectral Visions on Derby Wharf

All summer and fall the Salem Maritime National Historic Site is featuring a virtual exhibition called “The Augmented Landscape” which brings eight spectral sculpture assemblages–visible only through a smartphone equipped with the layar app–to Derby Wharf. It’s a more artistic form of Pokémon Go, with global and topical themes and layered connectivity. Everyone in Salem is missing the site’s major attraction—the Friendship–and while this exhibition/experience is not a replacement, it is certainly a distraction! The creations are the work of four artists commissioned by Boston Cyberarts: John Craig Freeman, Kristin Lucas, Will Pappenheimer and Tamiko Thiel. Thiel’s “GardenAnthropocene” imposes a vivid and chilling vision on a familiar place, a “dystopian science fiction future for the landscape as we enter the Anthropocene, a new geologic time period created by human activity……[in which] native plans grow and mutate in response to the earth’s changing conditions, adding to their evolving climate and altering the landscape as we know it”. This doesn’t sound–or look–good!

Spectral Collage

Spectral Garden GardenAnthropocene

Thiel’s other installation, “TreasuresOfSheRem” focuses more on the past than the present, featuring the coins and commodities that Salem traders brought to the East to exchange for tea, spices, porcelain and other exotic goods. Poppies, yes, but somehow I didn’t know that sea cucumbers were so important to the China Trade……

Spectral Money

Spectral Treasures 2

Spectral Treasures TreasuresOfSheRem

More familiar cod hover over the wharf in Will Pappenheimer’s “Ascension of Cod” and privateers clash, visualized through a “virtual ball of classic galleon type ship masts obtained from disassembled ship models accessed from shared 3D model websites”. I think I was supposed to conjure this up (and that’s what it feels like) in front of the Derby House rather than by Pedrick’s storehouse—I couldn’t quite master the geographical aspect of these installations and ended up with strange things in strange places (but maybe that’s the point?)

Spectral Cod

Spectral PrivateersAscension of Cod and Privateers

My favorite installation is Kristin Lucas’s “Elephant in the Room”, referencing the Crowninshield Elephant that landed in Salem in 1796. He looked funny in the Derby Garden and a bit better in front of the Custom House, but never really in his element. Lucas’s “Goodbyes” also stressed out-of-element images, representing departure, which (on the other hand) is of course quite appropriate for a port. For me, the most literal of the virtual installations are John Craig Freeman’s “Virtual China” and “Virtual Russia”, which project images of Wuhan and St. Petersburg onto Salem’s port[al], emphasizing global connectivity, past and present.

Spectral Goodbye

Spectral people

Specral China

Spectral RussiaGoodbyes, Virtual China and Virtual Russia


Soldiers of the Revolution

For the past couple of years, the focus of my Memorial Day remembrance has been the Revolutionary War soldiers of Salem, a rather forgotten lot when compared with their fellow veterans of more recent wars. There are seldom flags marking their graves this weekend, and rarely do their headstones even refer to their service. I wander through the old burial grounds of Salem looking for age-appropriate candidates, and then consult the (digital) volumes of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War when I get home. Last year I featured the Revolutionary War veterans of Broad Street Cemetery: this year I am focusing on Salem’s third-oldest cemetery, the Howard Street Burial Ground. Howard Street is primarily known for its associations with a spectral Giles Corey and as the resting place of a host of Salem sea captains (including a few famous privateers), but there are at least ten notable Revolutionary war veterans interred in this sacred space as well, and probably more: there are many damaged and “time-washed” stones in Howard Street, rendering them into potential tombs of unknown soldiers.

Soldiers Unknown

Soldiers Unknown2

Soldiers Unknown3

But then you get lucky, and run right into the well-preserved headstone of Stephen Wood (1747-1841), a “soldier of the Revolution”: I just love that simple, succinct, reverential phrase. Wood fought at the Battles of Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Princeton, and White Plains with the 6th Massachusetts Regiment and lived, as you can see, to be 94 years old.

Soldiers Wood

The original marker of the most famous “soldier of the Revolution” buried at Howard Street, Colonel Samuel Carlton, was presumably too humble for his family, who replaced it with a more stately edifice in 1898, inscribed with his impressive service at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The Reverend William Bentley noted his death in 1804: He was born in Salem in the next house to that which he died in Union Street. His parents were from Andover in this Country. He was bred to the seas & was a Master of a Vessel till the war, when he engaged in the Northern army & had a Lieutenant Col’s. commission under Col. Brewer, in the campaign of 1777. He was sick & returned home & for the last 14 years was unable to make any use of his lower extremities. He was a very cheerful man, original in his expressions, & capable of drawing attention in his conversation. He has left numerous descendants. No man ever endured so much with greater patience.

Soldiers Carlton

Then there is Captain John Collins, another master mariner who joined up in 1780 and served until the end of the war, Mr. Charles Richardson, yet another simple “soldier of the Revolution”, the long-lived trio of Ebenezer Burrill (1755-1826), William Prossor (1750-1842), and Captain Henry Tibbetts (1762-1842), all “revolutionary pensioners”, Jonathan Archer, and Scottish-born Captain John Melvill, who signed up in May of 1775 and served in Captain William Blackler’s Company, part of Colonel John Glover’s Regiment. I am confused about the stark marker of Moses Townsend, dated 1828: there were two Salem Moses Townsends, father and son, who served in the Revolutionary War: the elder was a prisoner of war in the infamous Mill Prison near Plymouth, England, where he died in 1777; the younger lived until 1843. Could this be a memorial to the senior, buried over in Old England, or another Moses Townsend entirely?

Soldiers collage

Soldiers Townsend

Just a few steps away from the Howard Street Burial Ground is the grave of General Stephen Abbott (1749-1813), safely guarded within the confines of St. Peter’s graveyard with its adjacent Sons of the American Revolution marker. Abbott is a rarity among Revolutionary War soldiers in that he is always remembered, more for the fact that he was the founder and first commander of the Second Corps of Cadets in 1781 than his earlier service with General Washington. Salem’s claim as the founding place of the National Guard is based on that unit, and so every year at First Muster time guardsmen gather to lay a wreath at Abbot’s grave site, in Abbott Square. I imagine that there were more SAR markers in Salem at one time, in Howard Street, Broad Street, and elsewhere: were they “lost” over the years? Could we obtain replacements?

Soldiers Abbott

Soldiers Abbot 2


Memorial Trees

I’ve been thinking a lot about memorialization lately: the process and purpose, as well as its vehicles. Like most historians, I’ve always found public/collective memory fascinating (mostly in terms of what is remembered and what is not) but I think the combination of the pulling down of Confederate statues and our upcoming symposium on the Salem Witch Trials as well as the imminent dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge memorial site to its victims has shifted my interest into overdrive at this moment. Given my penchant for the built landscape, it should be no surprise that my favorite (this word seems odd in this context) memorials are artistic and architectural: images of the Korean War Memorial in Washington and the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” ceramic poppies installation at the The Tower of London in 2014 are forever etched in my mind. But last year, there was an even more moving memorial in Britain which piqued my interest in “living” memorials: the “we’re here because we’re here” commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 2016, during which thousands of volunteers played the part of “ghost soldiers” in remembrance of the 19,240 men killed on just that first day of the battle.

Memorial‘we are here because we are here’, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Topher McGrilli.

The Great War inspired (again, the word seems wrong) all sorts of memorialization on this side of the Atlantic, primarily in its immediate aftermath and into the 1920s. I don’t see Americans yearning for a poignant remembrance of the doughboys now, but maybe next year? In any case, one of the most national initiatives of remembrance following World War I was the planting of trees, another form of “living” memorial. Across the United States, from 1918 over the next decade or so, communities planted trees in memoriam of their lost loved ones. This was not a spontaneous movement, but rather one that was vigorously encouraged by the American Forestry Association, which asserted that the The Memorial Tree, “the tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray”, has become the tribute of the people of the nation to those who offered their lives to their country in the Great War for Civilization” and placed the article below in a parade of papers in January 1919.

Trees Memorial

Maybe there was some spontaneity in this campaign, or at the very least it catered to ingrained instincts; trees had long been symbols of personal mourning in American culture—think of Andrew Jackson’s White House magnolias, planted for his beloved wife Rachel, and all those weeping willow samplers. But I think World War I marks a moment when tree memorials became something more collective and more public. In Europe, trees had been utilized as memorials of collective achievement, not loss: the French were so inspired by Boston’s Liberty Tree (later stump) that they planted their own, “perpetuating the memory of Liberty” in 1789.

Tree Englands Deliverance

Tree of Liberty 1789England’s Memorial of the Glorious Revolution, or of ” its Wonderfull deliverance, from French tirany and Popish oppression. Performed Through Allmighty Gods infinite goodness and Mercy By His Highness, William Henry of Nassau The High & Mighty Prince of Orange 1688′, British Museum; The French Liberty Tree, Lesueur Brothers, (18th century); French. Medium: gouache on paper. Date: 18th Century. Perpetuating the memory of Liberty; plantation d’un arbre de la liberte; Provenance: Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France / Giraudon. 

And back across the Atlantic we go, a century and more later. President Warren G. Harding responded to the Memorial Tree campaign with a statement in May of 1919, in which he offered his approval and encouragement (“I can hardly think of a more fitting testimonial of our gratitude and affection than this”) and noted that these plantings were “one of the useful and beautiful ideas which our soldiers brought back from France. The splendid avenues of France have been among the great delights and attractions to travelers there, and a similar development would equally add to the beauty and attraction of our country”. And so it began: judging by the photographs at the Library of Congress, Mrs. Harding (Florence) spent a lot of time planting trees, as did both Coolidges after her.

Tree Planting 1924 Boy Scouts LC

Tree Planting Mrs. Harding 1921

Tree Planting 1923 Mrs Harding LOC

Tree Planting Coolidge 1922

Tree Planting Mrs. Coolidge 1929Memorial Tree planting, 1919-1920: Boy Scouts, Mrs. Harding (2), President Coolidge, Mrs. Coolidge and Girl Scouts, Library of Congress.

As you can see very clearly in the Calvin Coolidge photograph, memorial trees were supposed to be registered with the American Forestry Association and have tags attached, but this didn’t happen everywhere and all the time: consequently there are memorial trees out there–“silent sentinels” in the words of the National Park Service–which are not recognized as memorials. Maybe someone remembers when they look at one of these tag-less trees, but a family memory does not a monument make!

Memorial Tree Badge LC American Forestry Association tree badge, Library of Congress.

I don’t know if any World War I memorial trees were planted here in Salem, but both memorials to the victims of 1692, the tercentenary memorial downtown and the soon-to-be-dedicated (I think July 19?) Proctor’s Ledge Memorial feature trees as integral features of their design and symbolism: black locust trees (on which the accused witches were purportedly hanged) for the tercentenary memorial and a single oak tree at Proctor’s Ledge. These trees are marked and will not be forgotten–nor will those they represent.

Memorial Tree collageThe Salem Witch Trials Memorial off Charter Street in downtown Salem, and the design for the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture.


Stepping off in Salem

I browsed through a few promotional publications issued by the Boston & Maine Railroad Company a century and more ago this past weekend and was reminded of just how integral the train was to Salem’s economic and cultural life at the time, and well after. In 1909 New England Magazine emphasized the former in an interesting article called “The New Salem” which charts Salem’s transition from seaport to manufacturing center: “its railroad facilities (it is on the main line, Eastern Division of the Boston & Maine railroad, and has direct lines to Lowell and to Lawrence, which are great coal-carrying roads), are unexcelled, for its manufactured products can be loaded into box cars and sent with expedition to any part of the United States, Canada, or Mexico, where standard gauge rails run, without transfer”.  Boston & Maine emphasized their economic role in slimmer, more ephemeral publications, but their illustrated guide books, highlighting the shore, the mountains, and “picturesque” New England, tended to focus on their ability to effect cultural connections. Down East Latch Strings; or Seashore, Lakes and Mountains by the Boston & Maine Railroad. Descriptive of the tourist region of New England (1887), Here and There in New England and Canada (1889), and All along Shore: a booklet descriptive of the New England coast (1907), all issued by the “General Passenger Department” of the Boston & Maine, were clearly oriented towards “the vacationist’s enjoyment”. These books have instructive descriptions of what the vacationist should look for in each town once he or she steps off the trains, wonderful illustrations, and great maps—I could look at these railroad maps forever. All trails seem to lead to Old Orchard Beach or North Conway, but there’s lots to see along the way—or on the way back.

Train touring collage

Train Touring DE LATCHSalem was one recommended stop along the eastern line up to Maine in the 1880s–but Old Orchard Beach was really the place to be in the summer. Bird’s Eye and route maps are always included and tipped in.

Train Tour 5

Train Tour Map 1902

The chapter on Salem in Moses Foster Sweetser’s Here and There is a fascinating mix of past and (1887) present, with a slight reference to the witchcraft “delusion” and much more emphasis on the China Trade and Hawthorne: before the 1892 Bicentennial Salem hadn’t quite evolved into its Witch City identity. Sweetser refers to Salem as a “mother-city”, and notes its somewhat-faded grandeur as well as its current vitality: “Of late years there has sprung up a new Salem within the old, a metropolis for the adjacent populous towns of Essex South, with active manufactories, richly-endowed scientific institutions of continental fame, and a brilliant local society, made up in part of cultivated immigrés from Boston, who find here the choicest advantages of urban life in a venerable and classic city”.  I love this observation—it contradicts what I think is the mythology of a long decline for Salem and it also sounds like now (although the émigrés are coming more from Cambridge and Somerville than Boston).

Train Tour

Train Tour 4 The North and South Churches in Salem, and the “Old Witch House” in Here and There in New England and Canada (1889): I’m not sure the Witch House ever looked like this!

Sweetser departs Salem for points north “passing out from the castle-like stone station of Salem, the cars rumbling into the the long, dark Salem Tunnel, for half a century happily known as the “Kissing Bridge” of this route, and the locale of more than one bright osculatory poem”. Well there’s one avenue for further research—and once again I wonder, why did we tear our depot down?

Train Tour 6


May Flowers

I’m sorry that my posts are short and spare these days, with more space between them: this is the busiest time of the year for me. The spring semester is technically “over”, but it dies a lingering death: with reports to write, two commencements and many meetings to attend. I want to spend as much time in my garden, which is overrun with violets, but can only snatch an hour or two each day. The weather has been very erratic here: rainy and raw last weekend, followed by lots of sun and very hot days, then a big cool-down. It ranged from 90-something degrees to 60 degrees at the end of the week: on Thursday night I sweated through our graduate commencement wearing my polyester and velvet academic regalia in an un-air-conditioned gymnasium, but yesterday I was pretty comfortable, even a bit chilly. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful time of year, so even though I don’t have much to say to you at the moment I have lots to show you: some shots of the most beautiful May flowers in my garden and around my neighborhood. We have shifted from the pink period of spring into a mostly-white-with-purple-accents phase, with many more colors to come.

May FLowers T

May Flowers TBW

May FLowers LW

May Flowers A

May Flowers LV Trillium, lungworts, anemones and lillies of the valley in my garden above; viburnam, wisteria and irises at the Ropes Garden below, along with the best viburnam hedge in Salem along Federal Court and Solomon’s Seal in the Peirce-Nichols garden.

May Flowers BW

May Flowers Ropes

May Flowers I

May Flowers V

May Flowers SS2

May Flowers SS

P.S. I did see some real mayflowers in the Salem Woods a few weeks ago but unfortunately did not take a picture!


Harbor Views

Among my collection of Salem stereoviews I have very few of the coastline or harbor, preferring structures to nature, always. But Salem’s coastline–and especially its harbor–has been built almost from its founding as both a settlement and a working port, so I’ve started to look for some shoreline stereoviews. I haven’t had much luck in terms of items for purchase but the other day I dipped into the digital collections of the American Antiquarian Society and came up with several harbor views unknow to me–the only one I was aware of is the first one by Frank Cousins, the others are new (to me) perspectives. These are all undated but I think they are from the late 1880s and early 1890s: it is notable that I’m searching for “Salem Harbor” but finding very few images of the “working” harbor, which would have consisted of rotting wharves by this time. The images below portray a harbor of leisure: the Willows, beaches, docks for day trips. Salem was emerging as a tourist destination at this time because of its carefully-crafted history, but also because it could tap into the draw of the New England seashore. No one wants to see those old wharves at this time, but fortunately artists like Philip Little were capturing them for posterity.

Salem Harbor Stereoview Cousins “Pennsylvania Pier” by Frank Cousins, from his “Salem in 1876” series, which was published in the early 1890s.

Salem Harbor Stereovew 6

Salem Harbor Stereoview 7 Collins Cove “Collins Cove” is written on the back.

Salem Harbor Stereoview 8

Salem Harbor Stereoview 4

Salem Harbor Stereoview Naugus Head “Salem Harbor from Naugus Head”.

Salem Harbor Stereoview 2

Salem Harbor Stereoview 5

Salem Harbor Stereoview 3 This last view is the most rare and mysterious: no date, no photographer, no publisher. I think it is from the end of the Willows looking back towards Salem on the Beverly Harbor side but am not sure—any other ideas?

All Stereoviews courtesy the American Antiquarian Society.


Victorian Slum Sightseers

Years ago I remember enjoying historical-reality series like The 1900 House, Frontier House, and Colonial House, but I’m not having quite the same response to the current representative of this genre, Victorian Slum House. Two shows in, I have spent most of my watching time trying to figure out what bothers me about the premise and the presentation, rather than enjoying the process of “historical” immersion. I’m usually a fan of creative approaches to history, and I think “historical empathy” is a worthy, if unattainable goal, but there’s something about this particular series that is troubling me. I thought I’d use this post to isolate my concerns.

Victorian Slum House Cover

I’m sure you can guess the premise even if you haven’t seen (or heard of) the show: several 21st-century British families of different composition are installed in a meticulously-recreated slum house in London’s East End (actually Stratford) to play out the working- and living-conditions of the 1860s through the 1910s each week in survival-of-the-fittest fashion. Among the families there are ties to the East End of the past and what appears to be a very earnest desire to “know” and “understand” their ancestors by living their lives for a few weeks. There have been very few pop-up historians so far, but nevertheless lots of historical information is put out there for context: the high price of food, the importance of piece-work, the constant in-migration into London leading to ever-increasing rents and density, mechanization, globalization and (in weeks to come) political empowerment. The cast talks about the filth all around them, and we see some of it, but we don’t see the darkness and we can’t smell the smells: the communal outhouse is shown only (so far) as a place where kippers were smoked.

Victorian Slum House

Victorian Slum House 8

Ultimately two very random references surfaced in my brain: one quite silly and the other more serious. Everyone does everything on their beds, together, so I was immediately reminded of all those scenes of the Bucket family home in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. More seriously, the impactful words of E.P. Thompson, written in the preface to his classic tome The Making of the English Working Class (1963), kept surfacing in my mind: his intent to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity”. The enormous condescension of posterityThe English working class was rescued by a half-century of social historians, so now they are far more familiar and heroic to us, but perhaps another form of condescension has emerged in this age of history-as-entertainment: it’s more about us than it is about them.

Victorian Slum House 5

I do think the “cast” was earnest and well-intentioned, though rather craftily put-together by the producers: obviously the 21st-century bespoke tailor (above) was in the best position to succeed in the Victorian era: the administrative assistant, disabled professional golfer, and retired carpet-store salesman were not so well-equipped. And they threw an American in there too, who proclaims her interest in migration. Ultimately we’re only supposed to really experience “history” through these people, so we need to know what they are seeking. We know they have learned something when they shed tears: when they realize how hard their ancestors had to work or how close they are to the edge with no safety net beyond. These are the moments when we–the audience–are supposed to get it as well, as we put ourselves in their places. But the tears don’t last long, and are followed by smiles when the players admit they can go back to their comforts and devices. They are just historical tourists, and we are daytrippers.

Victorian Slum House 3

Victorian Slum House 7

Victorian Slum House 9

Scenes from Victorian Slum House watched from my comfortable parlor.


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