Monthly Archives: January 2019

Allegorical Arrows

Historical imagery often contains symbols and emblems that we don’t understand:  we must learn to read them; whereas a contemporary audience could simply see them and understand the message within. I enjoy teasing out the meanings behind images from the past both here and in class–though here I’ve got a bit more creative freedom, and can chart the evolution of images all the way up to the present, when they have often lost their associations and exist simply as images. A great case in point (literally) is the simple and straightforward arrow: once I’ve swept away my seasonal decorations at home I’m often left with a bunch of arrows here and there as they are seasonless, timeless, and largely meaningless: I simply like their form. This is an Americana week for several auction houses, and yesterday as I was perusing the digital catalog for an important auction of folk art at Sotheby’s (The History of Now: The Important American Folk Art Collection of David Teiger|Sold to Benefit Teiger Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art) all I could see was arrows, which for the most part had assumed their modern directional meaning on myriad weathervanes.

artful arrows horse weathervane

artful arrows diana the huntress sothebys

artful arrows soaring bird sothebys

artful arrows goddess of liberty sothebysPrancing Horse, Diana the Huntress, Soaring Bird, and the Goddess of Liberty weathervanes from the Teiger collection, Sotheby’s.

Another lot in this same auction is an incredible later nineteenth-century Chinese wall plaque representing the Great Seal of the United States, with the emblazoned bald eagle clutching a cluster of arrows in his left talon—thirteen to be exact, representing the thirteen colonies, but also strength through unity. There is an explicit sense of martial strength on display as well, projected through the contrast with the olive branch in the eagle’s right talon. The Great Seal’s designer, Charles Thompson, was influenced in his use of arrows by other confederations such as the Iroquois (with their five nations) and the Dutch Republic (with its seven provinces) as well as by early modern emblem books such as Joachim Camerarius’s Symbola et Emblemata (1590-1604), merely substituting them for the more classical lightening bolts.

artful arrows chinese eagle sotheby's folk art auction 20 jan

Obverse Great Seal.tif

arrows symbols 16th c.The Chinese Great Seal and Charles Thompson’s original sketch, US National Archives; Joachim Camerarius, Symbola et Emblemata.

Emblem books are one of the rabbit holes of early modern literature, as you will see if you go here: but you can also find many arrows, representing not only military force, but also time and inevitable mortality, flight, children (Psalm 127), punishment, and of course love, when in one of the countless cupids’ bows. Medieval arrows are never ambiguous: they represent force and violent death in general, and martyrdom in particular. Saint Sebastian (died 288) and King Edmund the Martyr (d. 869) were both attacked by hordes of pagan/heathen archers, and so often depicted as shot so full of arrows they resemble porcupines; arrows remained their essential attributes as their cults developed over the medieval era. In the later medieval era, Sebastian re-emerged as the most popular plague saint, as the arrow came to symbolize the plague itself: the most dramatic expression of this motif is a fourteenth-century fresco on the wall of the former Benedictine Abbey of Saint-André-de-Lavauadieu in France, depicting a faceless woman armed with the arrows of plague and her pierced victims all around her.

arrow 2 collage

love removed

arrows of black death

arrows pub

Some early modern arrow emblems: “Ich fliehe sehr schnell”– Fly far and fast; “Vis nescia vinci”–force cannot be overcome with force; “Supplicio laus tuta semel”—he that was worthy of praise was one free from punishment; Cupid holds up the world: “Sublato Amore Omnia Ruunt“–When Love is Removed, All things tumble down; the Lavaudieu fresco, and a street sign in Bury St. Edmunds, bearing the three arrow-crossed crowns that have come to symbolize the Anglo-Saxon king Edmund the Martyr.

Back to the future: I guess arrows are just arrows, or mundane symbols telling us where to go, BUT who knew there was a hidden arrow in the FedEx logo? Not me.

arrows collage

arrow fed ex

Mid-century textile design by Tommi Parzinger, Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

 


A River of Molasses

Today marks a big disaster anniversary in our region: the centennial anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood of January 15, 1919, which killed 21 people, injured 150, and laid waste to several blocks of the North End of Boston. I don’t really have much to add to the narrative of events of that day, but I feel like weighing in anyway, primarily because this tragedy is the perfect example of unmoored history, lacking context and consequently inhibiting understanding for many. There’s a great book about this event (Stephen Puleo’s Dark Tide: the Great Molasses Flood of 1919) but whenever you bring it up in general company, people generally smile or laugh because molasses is trivial in our society; it’s akin to people being drowned—-or smothered?—in jello. But molasses was a major industrial product in 1919, recognized simultaneously as both beneficial and potentially dangerous but above all, vital. And when you look at what happened on January 15, 1919 with a historical perspective, it’s possible to see both major precedents and consequences.

molasses panorama bpl

molasses bpl 4901511479_88c285b656_o

molasses bh bpl4902097496_f15e748c9c_o

molasses bpl

molasses page 2Headlines and pictures from the day after in the Boston Daily Globe and the Boston Herald: “Red Cross Ambulance and Nurses making their way through the River of Molasses”, Boston Public Library.

Molasses was not only much more integrated into our cuisine a hundred years ago, but its importance in alcohol production had intensified with the increasing demand for industrial alcohol, which entered a golden age of production following the passage of the 1906 Denatured Alcohol Act, permitting the production and sale of tax-free alcohol for industrial purposes. The author of The Practical Handbook on the Distillation of Alcohol from Farm Products, including the processes of malting : mashing and macerating : fermenting and distilling alcohol from grain, beets, potatoes, molasses, etc., with chapters of alcoholometry and the denaturing of alcohol…., issued the year before the Great Molasses Flood, cannot contain it his enthusiasm for this development, which “opened the door of a new market for the farmer and the manufacturer”, as Alcohol leaped at once into fame—not merely as the humble servant of the pocket lamp, nor as the Demon Rum, but as a substitute for all the cheap hydrocarbon fuels,  and as a new farm product, a new means for turning the farmer’s grain, fruit, potatoes, etc…into that greatest of all Powers, Money. Molasses had long been lauded as feed for cattle, horses, and poultry, but now its uses seemed limitless, in everything from road construction to the manufacture of varnishes, paints, and munitions. The 1907 act provoked a wave of hastily-built distilleries, such as the Boston tank owned and “maintained” by the Purity Distilling Company, which began leaking almost immediately after its construction in 1915 and finally burst open four years later. But the North End flood was not the first molasses disaster: it wasn’t difficult to find stories of exploding tanks and bursting hogsheads in the first few decades of the twentieth century—and just in the Boston papers. There are far more stories about the “adulteration” of molasses, however (generally with tin): and thus it is easy to understand how regulation, of industrial construction, production, and labor, would emerge as a major consequence of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

picmonkey image

molasses june 12 1886 boston heraldMolasses accidents in March of 1908 and December, 1911 reported in the Boston Journal; report of adulterated molasses (one of many!), Boston Herald, June, 1886. 

 

The Great Molasses Flood & Fluid Dynamics: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/science/boston-molasses-flood-science.html.

The Great Molasses Flood &  “Misunderstood History”: https://www.masshist.org/calendar/event?event=2762


Reaching for McIntire

There might be a bit of fiction, or historical reach, in the narrative part of this post, but really it’s just an opportunity to show you some pictures of a newly-restored McIntire house which is available for RENT. The Butman-Waters House at 14 Cambridge Street, built in 1806-1807 by Samuel McIntire for Salem merchant (tailor, merchant, captain, colonel?) Thomas Butman, has been beautifully restored under the direction of one of Salem’s foremost residential architects, Helen Sides, and is available for rent immediately: it’s refreshed and ready and stunning, as you can see from these photographs. It features the most beautiful serpentine stairway I have ever seen.

mcintire first

mcintire re

mcintire re 2

mcintire staris re

mcintire 2

mcintire mantle detail

I told you, but you need to see more. The first, next-to-last, and last photographs are mine; while those in the middle are from the listing: which is here. The photographs speak for themselves but probably don’t convey what I can only call the humanistic proportions of the house: some architectural histories refer to the Butman-Waters house as “simple” and maybe that word is appropriate when comparing it with other McIntire houses, but it is “simply” elegant. The details make it so, but also the scale—and that staircase.

mcintire mantle re

mcintire mantle 2

mcintire detail collage

mcintire 11

mcintire second floor

mcintire third floor collage 1

mcintire 3rd view

mcintire stairThat staircase!

Every house has a story so here comes the semi-creative part, because Thomas Butman is a hard man to pin down. He was born in New Orleans, and he died in New Orleans, in the yellow fever epidemic of 1819-20, only 45 years old, along with the son and daughter from his first marriage. From at least 1803 until his death, he was in Salem. His second marriage, to Nancy Gedney Clarke, who was descended from two old Salem families, had occurred only three years before his death, and she and their infant son survived the yellow fever—actually I can’t determine whether they were even in New Orleans. Nancy and Thomas were married just two years when the beautiful house he had commissioned from Samuel McIntire a decade before had to be sold at public auction: when I patched together the succession of commercial notices Butman placed in the Salem newspapers from 1814-1818 it is clear that he was struggling, changing partners and storefront locations frequently. At first he is a tailor, and then a merchant: it’s hard to see how he could have afforded 14 Cambridge Street in the first place unless his first wife was very rich, and she’s even more mysterious than he is. Occasionally he is referred to as “Captain”, but “Colonel” or “Major” are his designations after 1811, when he and John G. Waters were named majors of the Salem Regiment which was preparing for what would eventually be called the War of 1812. Waters would eventually purchase 14 Cambridge Street: I like to imagine a kind of “band of brothers” bond which inspired to him to rescue Butman from financial distress but in reality the house was sold at public auction in 1818 and had a series of short-term owners before Waters acquired it in 1834. But it appears that while Butman was reaching for the life of a rich Salem merchant, Waters achieved it, primarily through the Zanzibar trade which reinvigorated the Salem economy in the middle of the nineteenth century. When Waters made news, it is about exotic cargos, including the two Arabian horses he brought to Salem, along with their “Arab handler”. The Waters family retained possession of 14 Cambridge Street all the way until 1962, when it was purchased by the Salem architect James Ballou and his wife Phyllis, and it remained in the Ballou family until just last year.

butman collage

14 cambridge collage1818 & 1912

And a few more views of the staircase, about which I learned an interesting fact from my friend Michael Selbst, the realtor: apparently it was reinforced by Mr. Ballou with the addition of iron rails every 10th spindle–you can see the brace if you look closely. What a great idea!

staircase

staircase 3

staircase 2

14 Cambridge Street, the Butman-Rogers House: rental listing here.


Slaves in the Hunt House

There were two prompts for today’s post, both of which came as I was getting ready for the spring semester, after a productive sabbatical in which I thought and wrote very little about Salem’s history. The first prompt was the wonderful recognition of the work of one of my colleagues, Dr. Bethany Jay, whose book (co-edited with Dr. Cynthia Lynn Lyerly of Boston College) Understanding and Teaching American Slavery won the prestigious James Harvey Robinson prize for the “most outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of history in any field for public or educational purposes” at this year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association. The second prompt came from a former student of mine, now an archivist-in-training and public historian-by-passion, inquired as to the location of the remains of the burial ground of Salem’s Bulfinch-designed Almshouse on Salem Neck, a property which is now the site of a 1980s condominium development. I looked through the usual sources to try to help her, but then (as usual), got distracted: by this obituary in the Liberator, dated April 30, 1836.

slavery collage

Here we can read of the death of a long-time resident of the Almshouse, centengenarian Flora Jeans, an African-American woman who was once the widow of Bristow Hunt, a slave belonging to Capt. Wm. Hunt, who resided at the corner of Lynde Street. At the time of the general emancipation of the slaves in New England, Bristow partook of the sweets of freedom, in common with others of his race, and in the elevation of his feelings consequent on his being placed on a level with his fellow men, he nobly fought for the liberties of his country and was killed in battle by the side of a connection of his master’s family, who is now living. Sigh. Yet another amazing Salem story, drawing me back in: this city’s African-American history, as well as its revolutionary history, and its nineteenth-century history, and virtually all of its history, is so minimized and marginalized because of the incessant drumbeat: 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692, 1692. 1692, 1692.

bucks of america mhsThe paint-on-silk “Bucks of America” flag in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1785-86, commemorating what is “believed to have been a Massachusetts militia company composed of African Americans and operating in Boston during the American Revolution, although no official records of the unit seem to exist”.

I don’t know much about American history; I began this blog partly because I wanted to learn more about Salem’s history because it seemed so overwhelmingly focused on the Witch Trials and I was curious about other eras and institutions. The last time I studied American history was in high school, where I can assure you I learned nothing about slavery and its myriad consequences. I avoided American history in college studiously, because it seemed so short and one-dimensional compared to the European and Asian history (I didn’t even think about African history). By the time I finished my doctoral program and started teaching I had learned a lot about slavery in the early modern Atlantic world, or about the slave trade, and I assumed that it formed a larger part of the secondary-school curriculum than when I was in high school. But that’s not the case, even now. Dr. Jay consulted with the Southern Poverty Law Center on their Teaching Toleration project, which surveyed 1000 American high-school seniors, 1700 history teachers, along with popular textbooks and state standards, in 2017 about their knowledge and presentation of slavery. The results were alarming, to say the least, and really surprising to me, although I suspect not as surprising to my Americanist colleagues: only 8% of high-school seniors identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War, few than one-third identified the 13th amendment as the formal end of slavery in the United States,  and less than half could define the “Middle Passage”. Eight percent.

I feel fortunate to have learned a lot about slavery—its structures, consequences, and abolition—from my colleagues as well as my students. It’s not an easy subject; I really would prefer to look at our founding fathers as heroes rather than hypocrites, believe me (but Martin Luther and both Cromwells are troublesome creatures too). I teach our capstone seminar, in which students write long research papers over the course of the semester, pretty regularly, and I let students choose whatever topic they like, within reason and with my qualifications. Because Dr. Jay is such a popular professor, I’ve supervised papers on slave children, anti-slavery societies, the circumstances surrounding the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts, and The Liberator, among other related topics. So I’m not surprised to see such a detailed obituary of a poor African-American woman in 1836. Another popular professor in our department is Dr. Dane Morrison, who teaches the Colonial and Federal eras: he has inspired a full range of Revolutionary topics in my seminars, including one on African-American soldiers who fought for the American side despite the enticements of the British. So I’m not surprised to read about Bristow Hunt either: despite the flowery rhetoric in the obituary, I assume he was offered manumission in exchange for his military service, rather than absolutely, as slavery was not formally abolished in Massachusetts (by judicial review) until 1783. I don’t really know this to have been the case, but the fact that he died by the side of a connection of his master’s family is pretty telling. I wish I knew more about Bristow—and Flora—and their lives rather than just their deaths. I wish we all knew more about them, and I’m a bit embarrassed of my previous preoccupation on the house in which Bristow and others were enslaved. I’ve always been fascinated by this first-period house, which was demolished during the Civil War. It survives in paintings and photographs, neither of which offer us any insights into what went on inside.

hunt-house-cousins-and-riley

hunt-house-on-washington-and-lynde-streets-salem-hneCirca 1857 photograph of the Hunt House in Frank Cousins’ and Phil Riley’s Colonial Architecture in Salem (1919); undated drawing, Historic New England.

The antiquarian approach focuses on the house, on physical remainders rather than social history. So I was being an antiquarian, just like Sidney Perley, who wrote in the Essex Antiquarian [Volume II, 1898] that William Hunt (whom he does not call Captain) died in 1780 possessed of the “mansion house”, bake house, barn and lot; in the division of his real estate in 1782, the buildings and eastern portion of the lot were assigned to his son Lewis Hunt [who was] a baker, and had his shop in the front end of the house”. When William Hunt died in 1780, slavery was still technically legal in Massachusetts despite its brand-new constitution’s provision that “all men are born free and equal, and have….the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties”. And in the early 1770s, when the public discourse calling for freedom and condemning tyranny was intense and incessant, he placed a series of advertisements in the Salem papers offering a reward for the return of another of his slaves, Cato. This much we do know.

slavery 1771 essex gazette may 28Essex Gazette, May 28, 1771.


Reverence for Ruzicka

I’ve long admired the prints of Bohemian-born Rudolph Ruzicka (1883–1978), both pictures and fonts—both are characterized by the “optical ease” which he sought for all of his work. Ruzicka migrated to the United States as a child, and received his art training in Chicago and New York City before launching his career as an engraver and designer: he operated his own shop but also worked for the Mergenthaler Linotype Company for his entire professional life, as well as for Merrymount Press in Boston. His body of work includes several portfolios of prints of New York City, Newark and Boston, at least four typefaces (including the classic Fairfield which I use a lot), and a beautiful book of calligraphic fonts titled Studies in Typeface Design (1968). Ruzicka’s pictorial work looks to my untrained eye like the perfect combination of early to mid-twentieth-century central European and American aesthetics (they have that WPA look before the WPA!), and I love that he obviously loved New England: he moved to Massachusetts in 1948 and then to a farm in Brattleboro, Vermont. While he portrays an obvious appreciation for the “pictorial aspects” of New York (and Newark as well) his scenes of greater Boston are beautiful. And as a bonus, the series of greeting cards designed by Ruzicka and produced by the Merrymount Press from 1911-1941 include several prints of notable Salem landmarks, which you can see below.

ruzicka louisberg square carnegie

ruzicka beacon hill gardens carnegie

ruzicka beacon hill view

ruzicka charles street church

ruzicka cornhill boston

ruzicka granary burying ground

ruzicka washington monument

ruzicka frog pond carnegieRuzicka’s views of Boston (including the old Cornhill and swimming in Frog Pond) above, and of greater Boston (including Peacefields in Quincy, Walden Pond in Concord, McIntire’s Gore Place in Waltham and Derby summer house in Danvers, and the House of the Seven Gables and Old Town Hall in Salem) below.

ruzicka carnegie 3

ruzicka quincy

ruzicka walden pond

ruzicka gore place

ruzicka glen magna carnegie

ruzicka gables carnegie

ruzicka market house carnegieAll images from the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art; the Harvard Museums also have a large collection of Ruzicka prints.


An Eventful 1851 in Salem

The media—exclusively newspapers—looked back at the year’s events at its end in the nineteenth century just as it does today. This accounting was traditionally presented in the first few days of January by the Salem Observer, and it’s interesting to read what was considered “notable” and worthy of inclusion and what was not (although it would take some research to determine what was not and I’m not doing that now—researching “the negative” is incredibly difficult at the local level). The January 3, 1852 report on the “Events in Salem and Vicinity during the year 1851” prepared for the Salem Observer is below, and below that are my observations of what seems particularly notable (or just interesting): so we have two filters of newsworthiness at work here.

Events Salem_Observer_1852-01-03_[1]

Events of 1851 Salem_Observer_1852-01-03_[1] (1) 2

Events of 1851 Salem_Observer_1852-01-03_[1] (2) 3

Events of 1851 Salem_Observer_1852-01-03_[1] (3) 4

Events of 1851 Salem_Observer_1852-01-03_[1] (3) 5

Weather notations are always interesting: sudden changes in January, a “violent” snow storm in March, a big storm, including flooding, in April, hail in July, the first snowfall on October 27, a “great fall of snow” just before Christmas and very cold weather after.

Crime: always achieves notice. A gang of burglars strikes in January! A particularly crime-ridden May, with a strange attack that sounds like 17th century lithobolia on a house in Danvers, some female counterfeiters in Marblehead, and a stabbing in the street in Salem.

Fire: the partner of crime in notoriety. The Atlantic House in Beverly burned down in January and a Marblehead house in February, the same month in which Benjamin Lang’s house on Lafayette Street in Salem was severely damaged by fire. This is a reference to 49 Lafayette Street, the boyhood home of Benjamin Johnson Lang, who was an extremely famous organist and choral conductor in the later nineteenth century. The house was rebuilt, and both Benjamin Lang Sr. and Benjamin Johnson Lang Jr. held music lessons there before the latter’s departure for Boston and greater things in 1855.

Deaths: it is in the reporting of deaths that you can really perceive how restricted “notability” was as obviously many more people died in Salem and its environs in 1851 than are reported here. One does wonder about the “highly esteemed” young Deborah Howard, however, who died as a result of injuries sustained from a tragic carriage accident in July. I can understand why Captain Nathaniel West’s death (at aged 95) was included, as he was one of the great golden age Salem sea captains. He apparently bequeathed Derby Wharf to the Salem Marine Society in his will, and also left funds for the establishment of a school of navigation—I wonder what happened to that?

Lyceum Lectures: lots of lectures at both the Mechanic Lyceum and the Salem Lyceum and other regional venues as this is the heyday of the Lyceum movement. Most of the lectures seem pretty apolitical: the great abolitionist Lucy Stone spoke before the Salem Anti-Slavery Society rather than at either Lyceum. As we know, things will heat up, but in 1851 Lyceum audiences were hearing about “The American Mind”, “Character”, “New England and Her Institutions” and both women and men by both women and men speakers.

Salem Harbor: is dead. Hawthorne’s characterization is certainly confirmed here, as only one Salem ship is referenced, the barque Dragon, and it reports to Boston Harbor rather than Salem! But there was a regatta in July: wish we could resurrect this event.

Appendix: the “Shadrach” riot reference deserves its own post. On February 21, “Colored Barber” Alexander H. Burton of Salem was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the uproar following the arrest of the runaway Virginia slave Shadrach Minkins under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Burton was released because he had an alibi–but I’d like to know more about his arrest and the connections between Salem’s and Boston’s abolitionist movements.


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