Considerations of both donor intent and the importance of place were brushed off pretty quickly by the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum during the Q&A part of the public forum on the relocation of the Phillips Library last week, in contradiction to some of the museum’s own language on its website. Everything I have ever read about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life and work stresses the importance of Salem in the latter, whether the dark secrets of his Hawthorne and Manning ancestors, the physical relics of the past all around him, or his daily perambulations all around town. His great-grandson Manning Hawthorne, who donated several boxes of family papers (MSS 69) to the Phillips Library in 1975, remarked that five generations of Salem ancestors and Salem itself were in his blood, nor could he ever rid himself of their influence. He was never particularly happy in Salem, but it was of Salem Hawthorne wrote and to Salem he returned in an article about the author’s early years published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections in 1938.
Hawthorne provides a story for the 1860 fundraising effort on behalf of the indebted Essex Institute; “I should be very glad to write a story, as you request, for the benefit of the Essex Institute, or for any other purpose that might be deemed desirable by my native townspeople”. I wish he was still with us!
The PEM’s own words support the inextricable connection between Hawthorne and Salem: the messaging accompanying the PEM’s bicentennial Hawthorne exhibition in 2004 asserts that: With Salem as the birth and dwelling place of Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is understandable that the Phillips Library is a major hub of Hawthorne scholarship. In addition to the more than four feet of Hawthorne manuscripts, the library holdings include papers of the residents of Salem who were contemporaries and commenters on one of the leading 19th century American literary figures. The C. E. Fraser Clark* Collection of Hawthorniana augments the primary materials, and makes it possible to view all of the American editions and literary criticism of this premier writer. I feel the presence of Hawthorne pretty strongly still in Salem, primarily through extant buildings in which he lived and worked: a short walk around town can bring you to his birthplace, his childhood homes, houses belonging to his mother’s and wife’s families, and of course the House of the Seven Gables. It is difficult to see how an industrial warehouse is going to offer up the same ambiance for Hawthorne scholars, and consequently even more difficult to see the Phillips Library in Rowley continuing to serve as a hub of Hawthorne scholarship. And that’s another loss.
Hawthorne’s stencil from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site; just three Hawthorne houses in Salem: the Manning cottage (which happens to be my very favorite house in Salem) and homestead on Dearborn and a short-term rental on Chestnut.
*It is C.E. Frazer Clark, not C.E. Fraser Clark.
P.S. And speaking of ambiance, here are the two Phillips Libraries, past and future, Salem and Rowley (thanks to Paul Jalbert for the latter!)
January 18th, 2018 at 8:18 am
I think emphasizing the removal of Hawthorne materials from Salem should be very important element of this campaign, Donna.
The Hawthorne dimension, given its national significance, should probably really have been front and center from the outset, in terms of getting people and the press to pay attention.
If push comes to shove, I think the institutional descendant of the Salem Normal School, founded only six years after Hawthorne lost his Customs House job, could be a very fine repository for this essential Salem collection!
January 18th, 2018 at 11:25 am
I live in NJ but have visited MA often and have always been drawn to Salem in part for its Hawthorne sites. I was very sorry to see the abandonment of the authentic Essex Institute. Another place of history gone, replaced by a sterile modern block. Sad!
January 18th, 2018 at 12:53 pm
You might appreciate this quote from Ida Louise Huxtable in a 1974 NY Times article re Salem: “…rehabilitation was considered economically unfeasible. Asked about the possible preservation of building after historic building, the Redevelopment Authority would reply regretfully that it couldn’t be done. The real villain in the case was the system: “It can’t be done” is the constant refrain and conventional wisdom of bureaucracy when faced with anything but knee‐jerk procedures.
More things change, more they remain the same :-0
January 18th, 2018 at 1:01 pm
Thanks you for this; the struggle over urban renewal has indeed been in the back of my mind these past few weeks–I think there are some parallels. And we need an Ada Louise Huxtable!
January 18th, 2018 at 1:18 pm
Thank you so much for your wonderful research.
January 18th, 2018 at 10:06 pm
This is truly sad. Thought the Phillips Library would be there forever.
What is that object with the handle? Is that a stencil perhaps? Also, can’t read that word located below N. Hawthorne and above1847.
January 20th, 2018 at 11:34 am
This is the stencil/stamp that Hawthorne used at the Custom House, to indicate that he had inspected the contents of each crate.
January 20th, 2018 at 5:01 pm
What an amazing relic. Can you make out the word between N. Hawthorne and 1847?
January 21st, 2018 at 9:49 am
The PEM has become very stubborn about their position to move the library to Rowley. The public seems to not have much sway trying to negotiate a better outcome. There are a few groups in Salem that should gather together to persuade, and even pressure the PEM to try and convince them that it is to everyone’s benefit to stay in Salem. The local realtors, the neighborhood associations and city counselors, and the Salem Business Association, would all benefit from a library location in Salem.
The move to Rowley may have a ripple effect on business, housing, and certainly community.
Negotiating is key to moving this problem along, and if the PEM is not willing to come to the table with the general public then they may listen when it comes to more specialized groups.
I believe the catalyst for not moving back to the Phillips building is due to their desire for the PEM to someday create yet another museum expansion with the Phillips library, and its’ extensive grounds.
The PEM is the steward of so many historic buildings in Salem. The responsibility is tremendous. I hope they become more enlightened
with their duty to be a positive force in the city whose citizens have donated so much to them in the past, and whose generosity has made the museum a place wealthy in art and history.