Stereo Scenes of Salem, 1897-1947

Browsing through the vast collections of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) last week,  I came across a haunting image of the Corwin or “Witch House” in Salem. It was a stereo image taken by photographer Harry L. Sampson in 1947, so I assumed it was an artistic composition as that is very late for a stereoview, but it is deceptive: it’s not a stereoview or card but rather a dual image on a contact sheet, and part of of the Keystone-Mast collection of 350,000 images at the California Museum of Photography located at the University of California, Riverside. About twenty percent of this collection  (with more to come) can be accessed digitally via the portal Calisphere, which is linked to the DPLA. The Keystone-Mast Collection is the archive of the Keystone View Company of Meadville, PA, which was active from 1892 to 1963,  and constitutes a major source of visual documentation of the twentieth-century world. I’ve seen some of these images before, but not all, and I’m grateful for the context and source information as so many Salem images are floating out there without either.

Witch House 1947

Witch House 1926 Keystone-Mast Henry Peabody

Witch House 1920 Keystone Mast Henry PeabodyViews of the Jonathan Corwin “Witch House” in 1947, 1926, and 1920 by Harry L. Sampson and Henry Peabody, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Hawthornes House 1926 Keystone Mast

Keystone-Mast Underwood and Underwood

Pioneer Village 2 Keystone-Mast

Pioneer Village KeystoneNathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location in 1926 and 1897 (Underwood & Underwood); the newly-built Pioneer Village in 1930, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography.

Old Custom House 1926 Henry Peabody Keystone-Mast

Gables Keystone-Mast 1926

Conant Statue Keystone-MastThree 1926 images: the entrance to the Old Custom House, the House of the Seven Gables, and the Roger Conant Statue, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography.

While I’m discussing visual sources, repositories, digitization and access, I’m going to make a (-nother) little plea to the Peabody Essex Museum and Phillips Library: according to the 1925 Catalogue of Negatives in the Essex Institute Collections, the museum has among its collections thousands of negatives representing every single street in Salem (and many of towns and cities) in the early twentieth century: could some (many, all) these be digitized and shared via the DPLA, please? Such an initiative would be an amazing compensatory gesture on behalf of the PEM.

Negatives collageJust a few negatives listed in the 1925 Catalogue of Negatives in the Essex Institute Collections, which is available here


9 responses to “Stereo Scenes of Salem, 1897-1947

  • Brian Bixby

    One of the small disappointments of my childhood was stereoviews. My eyes are just far enough out of line that I couldn’t get the viewer to work very well as a kid. Now that I’m an adult, I can see them properly and truly enjoy them.

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    • daseger

      I love them and have quite the collection, but these are not really stereoviews–they are contact sheets. They look like NEW stereoviews, especially the first one–just love it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jeffrey D

        I have to add a plug for a wonderful book about stereoviews. I reccomend it whenever they come up but no connections to the book other than that I love it. The book is entitled “A village lost and found” by Brian May and Elana Vidal. It’s a lavish book focusing on several period stereviews published in the 19th century. Using them as an example, it discusses the whole stereview process and the way popular culture shaped what type of things were photographed, etc. It really is a well researched and fasinating look at why these things exist. These examples are of an english village but the whole idea of “street views” worked the same regardless of place.

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      • daseger

        Oh, wow—that sounds great! Must find it immediately. Thanks, Jeffrey!

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  • Almquist Nanny

    Am in understanding the 3 views of the Corwin house? 1) By itself looking 17th century, 2) With double hung windows and store in its front yard 3) Now with store and 2 houses in its front yard? When was the Corwin house like Paul Revere’s house returned to its 17th look?

    Thanks for the small plea to digitize the negatives of the Streets of Salem. Seems like just a tiny start to making things right.

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    • daseger

      I should have been clearer: the last (1920 shot) is from the side, rather the front–so essentially you are looking at the side view of the second shot. Yes, both the Revere and Corwin houses were restored to that 17th century look; I’m not sure we know whether or not they were authentic “returns”.

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  • tommcge

    Love these photo of my favorite city in North America. Thank you for sharing.

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  • Ian Ference

    Keystone & Underwood contact sheets are effectively stereoviews, inasmuch as they’re contact prints of the negatives used to produce the Holmes-style stereo cards that were popular between the late 1850s and early 1930s. Since the KVC negatives are mostly known destroyed or lost/assumed destroyed, with a tiny portion still in existence, the Keystone-Mast collection is the best record available of their entire catalogue. It’s just a shame that they charge such exorbitant usage fees for their back catalogue (especially since most of their catalogue is pre-1923, and thus public domain), even to researchers such as myself that are doing academic work and not trying to make a buck – when they folded, they should have left their archives to the NYPL or another organization that allows free research and usage!
    In any case, very cool & informative post, and nice selections of stereos – they merge quite nicely. 🙂

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    • daseger

      Thank you for this informative comment, Ian—I have several other posts about Salem’ early photographs and photographers on the blog, but I know very lot and would like to earn a lot more! I am really sorry to hear about the research challenge. The main visual source for Salem’s history are the photographs of Frank Cousins, most of which belong to the Peabody Essex Museum, which has not even digitized them, to my knowledge.

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