The official response to the Peabody Essex Museum’s reluctant admission to the removal of Salem’s historical archives to a storage facility in Rowley was the formation of a “Working Group” by Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and PEM CEO Dan Monroe. In partnership, Ms. Driscoll and Mr. Monroe chose the members of this group, identified as “stakeholders”, from among Salem’s local officials and heritage and tourism organizations. I was wary from the very announcement of this group, because I believe that all of Salem’s residents are “stakeholders”, impacted equally by a short-sighted and disrespectful policy which removed the material heritage of a great city. (I also really, really, really dislike that divisive and disingenuous term). Nevertheless, I knew that there were well-intentioned and thoughtful people in this Working Group, so I hoped for the best. Now it appears that the work of the Group is complete: as the agenda for its third (and presumably last) meeting this week includes the item “Final Statement”, I assume it’s a wrap.
So what has been accomplished? You don’t have to rely on my assessment: it’s all in the public statement issued on behalf of the Working Group on April 10. As a result of these “discussions” (one meeting was a meet-and-greet, the other a tour of the Rowley facility), the PEM has agreed to open Plummer Hall and the Saltstonall Reading Room of the former Phillips Library to the public as a “research facility” stocked with bound editions of the long-running Essex Institute journals the Essex Institute Historical Collections and American Neptune plus terminals that can be used to access “digital information from the Phillips Library”, very few items of which have been digitized! In fact, one of the few things that the PEM has seen fit to digitize is the American Neptune, and the Essex Institute Historical Collections is available right down Essex Street at the Salem Public Library, so this concession (which was actually announced before the formation of the Working Group) is a joke, an insult, and an outrage.
After I heard that the Working Group was concluding its work, just yesterday, the first image that flew in my head was that of Oliver Cromwell marching into Parliament on April 20, 1653 and dissolving the powerless remnant (Rump) that was all that remained of the Long Parliament for which he had waged a revolution, and afterwards overtaken, with the famously paraphrased speech: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go! (It was likely a far more colorful dismissal ). An ineffectual body, but yet the only semblance of “representative” government, disbanded just like that. I’m sure I’m the only person in the world who could make such a connection: it must be the April dates—and my preparations for my summer graduate course on early modern English history. Or it might be my desire to find refuge in the past when the present is so bleak.
Four very different Cromwells dissolving the Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653: British Museum, 1790; Benjamin West, 1782, Montclair Museum of Art; and Cassell’s Illustrated History of England.
So the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum remains resolute in their decades-long campaign to bury Salem’s history, successfully (so far) employing strategies of restricted access, the redeployment of resources, and a confusing (and likely very, very costly) renovation, aided very ably by the accommodations of our elected officials. There may be some external pressures from this point on, but I am so very sorry that those in positions of power and influence in historic Salem have chosen not to safeguard, much less fight for, its history.
April 25th, 2018 at 6:59 am
Thanks for updating us with the recent Salem Preservation Partners Working Group for Phillips Library – a bitter pill indeed.
Gee, too bad that your invitation to join this “Rump Parliament” was lost in the mail …
April 25th, 2018 at 10:15 am
Speechless….. What can Driscoll be thinking?
April 25th, 2018 at 2:50 pm
I’m as perplexed as you, Bonnie!
April 25th, 2018 at 11:48 am
Relax…all failed to show better for $ reasons…it happens! Get back up on your feet and continue with the super fantastics posts. This is an issue that will “politically” kill your work, not to mention your blood pressure and possibly cholesterol.
With love and appreciation, M.P. …an immigrant.
April 25th, 2018 at 12:17 pm
Well, it’s not necessarily the greatest idea to house all those artifacts under one roof – especially in a town that has only 3 full-time employees in their fire department.
April 25th, 2018 at 4:42 pm
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana But how do we remember our past if it is not accessible. Rowley is not accessible. Twenty years have past but many of us remember the last attempt to remove part of the museum, in that instance to Boston. We also remember a wise decision made by the Board to remain and make a bigger commitment to Salem. In my view that has worked out very well for the museum and the city. The substantial endowment can support, at the very least, upgrading Plummer Hall and the Daland House with an additional modest addition to handle growth. It is a win win and will be another lovely echo of Salem and the museums rich past. Call me Pollyana.
April 25th, 2018 at 9:50 pm
Donna, thanks once more for keeping us informed on what is happening with the Phillips Library and its priceless collection of Salem’s history. It will be good to have access to the building once more, but its core materials will be unavailable in Salem. I can’t believe that Monroe and Driscoll are such poor stewards of this material. I continue to doubt that Salem families and individuals will entrust the institution with their journals, papers, photos, etc. in the future. Where will Salem’s future history be preserved? I will continue my personal boycott of the PEM.
April 26th, 2018 at 10:32 pm
You say: I was wary from the very announcement of this group, because I believe that all of Salem’s residents are “stakeholders”, impacted equally by a short-sighted and disrespectful policy which removed the material heritage of a great city.
Good fight but you are running the risk to be called a “socialist”. I will very much like you win this battle. Politics and $ will be dreadful enemies.
Good luck to you and your cause.
April 27th, 2018 at 10:15 am
Thanks! I think that’s the first time I’ve been called a Socialist!
April 27th, 2018 at 2:12 pm
What’s the matter with a little socialism, lol! After all, as Charles Lamb once said, “The good things of life are not to be had singly, but come to us with a mixture.”