Anchor Away?

As if it is not enough to bury the archives of a historical seaport in an inland warehouse 45 minutes away, rumor has it that one of the prominent symbols of Salem’s maritime heritage will also be removed: the large anchor that stood sentinel in front of the East India Marine Hall for over a century. I don’t like to trade in rumor, but given the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum’s propensity to avoid announcements until their intended actions have become faits accomplis, I think I should. We’re all scrambling to save as much of Salem’s historic fabric as we can. But I have a question mark in my title and am ready, indeed eager, to issue a retraction. Looking at the latest renderings for the addition that is rising on the western side of hall, however, I fear that that won’t be necessary.

Anchor 1912

Anchors First

Anchors 2

Anchors NS MAG EssexStreetLookingEastatNight-ba45be61East India Marine Hall and its milieu, 1912-the near future? As you can see, the anchor—clearly maritime kitsch that would spoil the sleek streetscape envisioned—is not there. Below we have a livelier, anchor-centric rendering from Rich Mather Architects: unfortunately Mather died and the PEM looked elsewhere, although his colleagues and successors at MICA Architects carried on with the rest of his commissions.

Anchors Aweigh Rich Mather Landscape Architect

To be fair, the anchor has not been in front of the East India Marine Hall from the date of its erection, but only since 1906. It was a gift from Theodore Roosevelt’s short-lived Secretary of the Navy Charles Bonaparte, of the “American Bonapartes” descended from the little Emperor’s younger brother Jerome. Secretary Bonaparte seems to have been a remarkably tone-deaf official, as almost immediately upon his appointment, in response to solicitations for funds to restore the venerable USS Constitution, he asserted that Old Ironsides should be towed out to sea and used as target practice! This caused an uproar in Boston, as you can imagine: the Boston Transcript opined that “to New England sailors, firing on the Constitution would be almost as offensive as bombarding Bunker Hill Monument or Plymouth Rock” and the national press ran stories under the headline “Secretary Bonaparte’s Collision with New England Patriotism”. There were Save the Constitution fairs and petitions, as the combined forces of the Daughters of the War of 1812 and the Massachusetts Historical Society shepherded a movement which forced Bonaparte to back down. He wisely did so, and in his second (and last) annual report he called for patriotic celebrations in Massachusetts’ seaport towns, in recognition of the Bay State’s maritime heritage. This was the compensatory initiative that brought a hand-forged c. 1820 anchor to rest before the East India Marine Hall in 1906. As long-time Peabody Museum treasurer and trustee John Robinson noted in his 1921 pamphlet The Marine Room at the Peabody Museum of Salem,“as an anchor is the emblem of the Salem East India Marine Society, for whom the building was erected in 1824, the placing of this large, old-time anchor at its front is very appropriate”. Apparently not now.

15 responses to “Anchor Away?

  • Alan B Lord

    19th Century artifacts just don’t go with 21st Century, contemporary art galleries. “Out with the old and in with the new.” One of the country’s most historic cities is being destroyed. The country’s oldest living museum – Pioneer Village – will soon be a memory, too. It got a short reprieve, due to last year’s election, but you wait and see.

    • Chris


      Have you seen the Pioneer Village study/plans published in September that will move it to the Willows/Camp Naumkeag?

      It shows a (possible) big investment in Pioneer Village, as to when it will happen my guess is next year. The conceptual site plans with the pier and Arbella look really exciting.

      I think this may also be part of the reason the Y has renamed Camp Naumkeag to Camp Harbor Quest this year, because it will be moving to Forest River.

      • Alan B Lord

        No, I have not seen that, Chris. Thank you, so much, for that info. I will definitely check it out. The last I heard, Mayor Driscoll had pointed out that Pioneer Village was no longer financially “practical” and it would take too much of an effort to post signs, etc. to lead tourists there & it was not, presently, on the Trolley route. I am so glad to hear that there has evolved a plan to save it. It has always been my understanding that the Village is at the location of the landing that many of the first settlers used, but that would be a very small consideration.

        Pioneer Village should be aggressively marketed by the city, as both an educational experience (by way of school districts within driving distance) AND a tourist attraction. When I attended Masconomet, we had a couple of field trips to Sturbridge Village & we students & teachers all had a great time & really learned a lot. Naturally, the Willows’ businesses will profit greatly from its relocation to that area. I hope the plans are realized.

        I was extremely dismayed, when they decided to do away with the Read Fund Picnic, as I always considered it to be a great family affair. Times change, I know, but in my opinion, an effort should have been made to promote a family-oriented event, with the help of the PTO & others. Once again, marketing is the key.

        Are there any plans to start a Victorian Days Festival at the Willows? To me, the Willows is a gem & should be treated as such.

        All of this plays together, as far as I am concerned – That’s why I so readily digress . . . . . . . . Sorry, Donna.

  • az1407t

    Has the original entryway been demolished for the new addition? I hope not. I love that classic design. One of the pictures you posted shows it there, but another one doesn’t.

    • daseger

      Well I think the original entryway was in fact an entryway, as the building was freestanding—later it was turned into the window which was the background for the anchor.

  • Rick Dodge

    inquired about the anchor last year and got no one to answer, then saw that it’s not coming back after reading Historic Commission notes…The granite classical revival doorway on the right of East India Marine Hall was a 1906 addition and was not included on any architectural drawings of the new streetscape, then it reappeared. It is now supposed to be on the left side of EIMH. Anchor needs to come back. It had a great presence. Architects often use the words ‘street furniture’ to describe such objects. They are important links.

  • Susan Milstein

    At this point why does anything that PEM does surprise us? They clearly have their own agenda & appear to have no interest in serving scholars, or the general public. It would take an important patron, of donor to change their point of view I fear. Thanks for raising the issue.

  • Katherine Greenough

    Thank you for this story and the information about Sec’y Bonaparte – are you sure he was not a Trump appointee? Concerning the anchor, because the designers are planning to take away the wrought iron fence surrounding it now, my assumption is that they felt that the anchor might be an “attractive nuisance“ enticing people to climb on it and possibly get hurt. However, in my view, it is a (very solid) marketing tool letting witch-obsessed passersby know that Salem has something else very interesting inside
    the building.

  • Louis Sirianni

    The classical doorway on the right side of the Marine Hall was retained in the Mather rendering.
    Don’t tell me classical components can’t be included in contemporary design.n
    There was one on the left as well but it went the way of the anchor with the original
    “modern design” Death by small cuts. Let’s try to keep the anchor and the iron fence.

  • az1407t

    I never thought that PEM would even consider removing the wrought iron fence. It adds to the charm of the original building. Ditto for the anchor. Grrrrr!

  • fbradking

    Death by small cuts indeed, Louis. We are watching the slow, steady eradication of an icon many Salemites hold very dear. This is what happens when money talks and ego reigns.

  • anonymous revolted

    …you would think that U.S has more room for history and the “attachments” (i.e. monuments, architecture, and pertaining artifacts)…but it has become a fighting ground of who has the $ and who is “right” to save a part of the past or….NOT…..sad.

  • Nanette deMaine

    Is it time for an “Anchor the Anchor” button?

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