Monthly Archives: November 2022

Deerfield Thanksgiving

I know that it was a back-to-big-family-Thanksgiving for many people, but because of health and almost-conflicting family events my husband and I found ourselves alone this year. We made a last-minute decision to head to Historic Deerfield, where we stayed at the Inn for two nights and had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at the Inn at Boltwood (previously the Lord Jeffrey Inn) in Amherst. We ran into old Salem friends and made new Pennsylvania friends at the Deerfield bar, walked around and in as many of those magnificent houses as we could, and “played” in the attic of the Flynt Center for Early American Life. I have under-appreciated this experience on past visits: there was something about this particular visit that made the “visible storage” of all sorts of items from Historic Deerfield’s collections—everything from ceramics to muskets to wrought iron, in multiples—so very engaging. Maybe it’s because we had this “attic” to ourselves. My husband and I have very different tastes, but he could be over there in the realm of metal-working tools while I was lingering in mocha ware, both of us content. We left the attic only because the weather was so beautiful: clear and sunny and bright, casting all those Connecticut River Valley doorways in stark relief.

Historic Deerfield has always been an exploration of maker/craft culture as much as architecture so a focus on objects on this particular visit seemed correct: I’ve always been too dazzled by the houses to take in the Deerfield-made baskets, famous blue-and-white embroidery pieces and pottery to take proper note of them in situ. Before there was Historic Deerfield, there was Arts and Crafts Deerfield, a haven and destination for traditional crafts and preservation at the turn of the last century, and before then there was of course colonial Deerfield: you can see and feel the layers as you walk down Old Main Street. We had the neighborhood to ourselves as we took a long walk on Thanksgiving morning, so we looked in a lot of windows and hung out in back amongst the barns.

A walk down Old Main Street from South to North and then back towards the Inn: village map with house names and dates.

A recent addition to Old Main Street are the Witness Stone markers laid before every house in which an enslaved person live and worked: these were installed just last month in partnership with the Connecticut-based Witness Stones Project. So there’s another layer uncovered and exposed. Museum neighborhoods can feel a bit static and fixed in time, but I’ve never felt that way about Historic Deerfield: rather it has always seems like an engaging mix of past and present or a cumulative work in progress to me. At the same time, time moves slower there: just turn off Route 5 for an hour or a day or two and catch your breath, take a walk, or rummage around in an attic.

Witness (to slavery) stones, a work in progress, and a signpost right in the midst of Deerfield Academy.


Daniel Low and the Art of Advertising

Very often, one of Salem’s longest-running and best-known businesses, Daniel Low & Company, is reduced to a pioneering seller of witch wares with their souvenir witch spoons and other “memorabilia” issued before, during and well after the very important Bicentennial of the Witch Trials in 1892. It all started with a spoon, say the proponents of witchcraft tourism, long ago: we didn’t start it! And they are not wrong: the Company certainly sold its share of witch spoons, plates, dishes, thimbles, scissors, and more unusual items like “penwipers”. But Daniel Low & Co was also a Salem institution for over a century: evolving from its jewelry and silver foundations to a major purveyor of all manner of decorative accessories for the home over its long history (1867-1994). It “sold Salem” in more ways than one: if you visited its landmark store, situated in Salem’s most historic square in the former site of its First Church, you would see not only floors of display cases but also “unique antique rooms” featuring reproductions of Salem’s more traditional products; if you ordered from the annual Daniel Low year book you would receive a receipt bearing an illustration of an historic Salem structure as well as a copy of the company pamphlet The Salem Pilgrim. 

You could write a book entirely on Daniel Low’s advertising methods and campaigns: there’s just so much information and copy. The company advertised both locally and nationally: to support both its wondrous store and its annual year book, issued from the 1890s into the 1960s (I think—I can’t find the end date). But it’s not just the means by which Daniel Low reached out and reached in to homes across America, it’s the messaging. The store’s advertising philosophy was expressed in a number of speeches and articles by Robert R. Updegraff, its manager of publicity, from the teens into the thirties. Everything I read by Updegraff, who seems to have been a pioneering practicioner of the new “art” of advertising, reminded me of Don Draper’s Kodak carousel pitch in Mad Men: aim for the heart, and treat your customers like neighbors. Only a year into his job, Mr. Updegraff summarized his pitch and his profession in a serialized article entitled “The Story of the Year”:  One thing is sure, the advertising man who is to be the real power in the future will be the man who stops thinking in terms of type and borders and magazines and billboards and street car cards and printing presses and halftones. He will think in terms of neighborliness and life. He will write simple, sincere, friendly messages to these neighbors of his. He will think and write in terms of ideas, emotions, experiences, merely using words as vehicles to convey his message and printing presses to multiply it. He will use illustrations only when they tell the story better than the same amount of space used in words. His advertisements will be efficient because they are sincere and have the beauty of truth. And they will be effective. [Macleans magazine, September 1913]. Updegraff believed that Salem’s past could be utilized to emphasize sincerity and exemplify the “beauty of truth”: not its witch-trial past but rather a more hopeful, gilded, and gentle “old Salem.” In a 1914 article in Printers’ Ink he elaborates on how the imagery of truly Colonial Salem conveyed an atmospheric sincerity in the Daniel Low Year Books which began offering “glimpses of old Salem” from that time until the 1950s.

A half-century of Daniel Low & Co. Year Books: from Historic New England, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections Flickr photostream, Harvard University Digital Collections and my own collection.

Glimpses of Old Salem was a constant, but not Daniel Low’s exclusive pitch: it aimed to be a traditional-yet-modern “Treasure House” too, a phrase that was adopted by the Essex Institute and applied to all of Salem from the mid-century: before Witch City crowded out all other messaging at its close.


A Cooper’s Shop for Sale

Wow, I don’t think I’ve posted on Salem real estate for quite some time! I’ve just been so serious, but actually there’s not much point: generally as soon as something comes on the market it is snapped right up. I’m sure that will be the case with this little house too, but I’ve also admired it, so I ran over this weekend for the open house. It’s a little two-story shop on Kosciusko Street, overlooking Derby Wharf and the entire Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Two stories, open-floor plan on both floors with a little bedroom and bathroom carved out of the second floor (as well as a “galley” full bathroom on the first), no parking, not much yard: very simple and very atmospheric.

As you can see, there’s been quite a few twentieth-century alterations to this building, especially its fenestration. The plaque report by Historic Salem, Inc. asserts that it is an eighteenth-century structure moved to this site about 1870. The MACRIS inventory calls it “colonial inspired!” Both reports also suggest that it might be an ell that was previously attached to the adjacent building at 159 Derby Street. I’m not sure how this precise 1701 date, so proudly proclaimed, came about. A photograph from the 1930s features an exterior that looks quite different: this can be found at the amazing house history of 159 Derby, now the home of the Salem Arts Association, researched by art historian Franny Zawadski. I was thrilled to learn that both houses were owned by the Salem chapter of the Ukrainian Workingmen’s Association, an organization about which I intend to find out a lot more.

The Shop on the far right above, and on the 1874 Salem Atlas.

I think there’s a bit of Colonial Revivalish embellishment here but it’s fine with me: someone wanted this little old building to look like a ye old cooper shop and it does! It also looks like minimal maintenance to me: a condo alternative with a very tight basement (the advantage of being moved to this spot, I imagine). Since I haven’t written a real estate post in some time, I think I should address the location a bit more. Anyone moving to greater downtown Salem at this point has to consider the impact of tourism, as our City seems hell-bent on driving that engine as much and as far as possible. If you complain about tourism now, you’re going to get a “well, you moved to Salem so you knew what you were getting” sentiment, which I don’t think is fair if you located here twenty years or more ago when Haunted Happenings was much less intense in terms of length and traffic volume of both feet and vehicles. But if you move to Salem now, you better know what you will face (especially if you don’t have a parking place). I think this location has the benefit of being in the zone but protected by the expanse of the Salem Maritime park: I was in this vicinity during the most crowded weekends last month and there were far fewer people here than in the center of the city. I just don’t think the majority of Salem tourists are interested in “history” and this cooper’s shop is in the thick of it.

First and second floors looking out on the Custom House and Derby Wharf (it was kind of dreary outside yesterday but I think the weather just enhanced the coziness).


Remembering the Revolution: Two Caleb Footes

For this Veterans Day 2022 the stories of two Salem men named Caleb Foote: grandfather (1750-1787) and grandson (1803-1894). But there’s a shadow of another man in this post too, a young lieutenant named Benjamin West, the sole Salem casualty of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The younger Caleb Foote is the link between the other two men: a prominent newspaper editor and publisher, he also dedicated himself to the remembrance of both his grandfather, a privateer and prisoner of war who left behind quite a revolutionary record, as well as his great uncle, who did not. Their conjoined histories are a great reminder of both the sacrifices made by the first American veterans and the commitments that their descendants made to their memories.

Fortunately members of the Foote family were meticulous writers and archivists of their own family papers. Caleb Foote the Patriot was a wonderful letter writer and journal keeper, both on land and on sea. So we know his Revolutionary story well, and his grandson amplified it by compiling and publishing his records in the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute in 1889. Several of the original texts are preserved among the papers of Divinity Professor Henry Wilder Foote (grandson of Caleb Foote III) at Harvard. According to a letter to his wife Mary, Foote was with General Washington at Cambridge in the fall of 1775, but returned home to Salem after the new year. He then took to the sea as yet another of Salem’s many daring privateers: his vessel, the Massachusetts brigantine Gates, was captured by the British off Canada in July of 1778, after which he was taken to England and imprisoned in Forton Prison near Portsmouth for the next two years. In Spring of 1779, he wrote to Mary back in Salem: I am sorry to inform you that you need not look for me till December or March next altho it may be my good fortune to be at home sooner. Please to remember me to all friends….Capt. Smith, Mr. Hines, Mr. Campton, Mr. Foster, Jacob Tucker, John Shaw, and Jonathan Tarent are in the prison with myself (as Salem served as a major privateer port, so many of its sailors ended up in Forton or Mill Prisons as prisoners of war). Foote grew increasingly exasperated with his imprisonment over his next letters, and with Mary as well, who did not seem to be writing him return letters (oddly he refers to her as “most affectionate friend” in his early letters and “dear beloved wife” in the later ones!) In the summer of 1780 he sounds bereft: my welfare…is very poor at present for here we lie in prison, in a languishing condition and upon very short allowance, surrounded by tyrants, and with no expectation of being redeemed at present, for we seem to be cast out, and forsaken by our country, and no one to grant us any relief in our distress; and many of our noble countrymen are sick and languishing for the want of things to support nature in this low estate of health; and many of they have gave to the shades of darkness. Some others have entered on board His Majesty’s ships to get clothes to cover their nakedness, which is to the shame of America.” This was the low point, after which Foote and several of his fellow prisoners managed to escape and find their way to Amsterdam, where they signed on as crew of the recently-commissioned Privateer South Carolina, which eventually brought them home. Foote kept the log along the way, and was discharged from service in January of 1782, near the end of the Revolution. Five years later he was dead at the age of 37, having never really recovered from his long and difficult service, and leaving Mary and their children in rather desperate straits according to the successive applications for aid sent to various Federal offices on her behalf by august Salem dignitories like Timothy Pickering and Nathaniel Silsbee.

Mary Foote survived her husband by nearly 40 years, during which time she saw her eldest son, namesake Caleb, die at sea, several years after his wife, leaving their sole child, five-year-old Caleb III, an orphan in 1810. His mother belonged to the large West family in Salem, and he was raised by them, chiefly his grandmother, who was the widow of Samuel West, bother of the Benjamin West who was killed at Bunker Hill. The Wests must have discouraged a seaman’s career for young Caleb, because he began an apprenticeship at the Salem Gazette and essentially never left: rising to editor, co-owner, and publisher. He was also a civil servant and the model of nineteenth-century civic engagement, serving as postmaster, school committee member, state representative, and Whig party chairman, as well as on every single infrastructure committee I could find and on the boards of nearly every Salem insitution. He was a temperate Mason. Caleb Foote spoke about his grandfather and namesake at public events regularly, but it wasn’t until towards the end of his life that he began taking up the cause of his great uncle Benjamin, who was for some reason left off the list of names on the Bunker Hill Memorial. Joseph Felt asserted that Benjamin West died “in the trenches” in his 1827 Annals of Salem, but he was unheralded in Boston until the venerable Foote took up his cause in the 1880s, perhaps inspired by his compilation work on his grandfather’s papers. And so we have some charming remembrances, first from Foote himself, who testified that this great-uncle of mine had some taste and talent for portrait painting, and a life-sized bust portrait of him in his lieutenant’s uniform, painted by himself hung in the house [of his grandmother West] , and its history was often mentioned to visitors. A copy of it is now in the possession of the Essex Institute, in Salem, and another in the family…..Another reminiscence was entered into the record that is even more poignant: a column from the late Henry Derby of Salem, whose grandmother was nine years old in 1775 and a neighbor of the Wests. She told her grandson that she remembered that morning of June 17 very clearly, when the young lieutenant came through her mother’s door exhibiting his insignia of office (a feather in his hat) to bid her goodbye. To the question, “Are you going, Benjamin?” “Yes—right away,” was his quick reply and off he went, never to return. Mrs. Derby remembered his artistic skills too. He had a shop downtown with a beautiful and much-admired sign of himself in the process of painting a carriage: a perfect advertisement for his sign-painting business. After his death and the disposal of his effects, this very sign became the lining of an outside cellar door of his family house, his last earthly residence, and there gratified the eyes of children and passers-by whenever these doors were thrown open, till time and exposure erased the picture of this young patriot and martyr to liberty.”

Salem Printer Ezekiel Russell’s Elegiac Poem on the Bloody Battle at Bunker-Hill, Massachusetts Historical Society; West Reminiscences in William Whitmore Story’s A memorial of the American patriots who fell at the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 : with an account of the dedication of memorial tablets on Winthrop Square, Charlestown, June 17, 1889, and an appendix containing illustrative papers (Boston, 1889); Caleb Foote’s 1894 New York Times, obituary, also dated June 17!

A few notes on imagesafter I read about the self-portrait trade sign on the cellar door above, I spent hours trying to find some semblance. No luck: honestly, the close I could come is Norman Rockwell’s Colonial Sign Painter from 1936! As charming as Norman Rockwell can be, this is not what I was looking for. Much more interesting is the story of the West self-portrait at the Essex Institute, which turns out not to have been a self-portrait, but rather a portrait by his cousin Benjamin Blyth. All this is explained in an article on Benjamin Blyth by Professor Henry Wilder Foote, grandson of Caleb Foote III: what a coincidence! I couldn’t find an image anywhere, which is often the case with portraits which are referenced as deposited with the Essex Institute in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century catalogs and periodicals: I presume it’s up at the Peabody Essex Museum’s storage facility in Rowley. In any case, I love the inscription on the back as noted by Foote: The Gentleman The Patriot The Soldier The Hero.

Norman Rockwell, The New Tavern Sign (Colonial Sign Painter), 1936, Norman Rockwell Museum.


The Skeletons of Lagrange Street

Salem is a place where everybody always says that the “past is present” or something to that effect; one discerns the ongoing presence of the past in the old structures and streets and cemeteries. That used to ring true for me, but not so much anymore. I still have a sense of Salem as a palimpest city, though: with layers and layers of history beneath my feet, reinforced when I walk by one of the seldom-ceasing infrastructure projects downtown and see all the cobblestones that lie beneath. I often think of Salem in the nineteenth century, when there was so much new but also so much more old all around, as a time when people must really have been aware of the past in a material way because of the contrast: the factories were so big and noisy and the surviving relics of the “olden time” so decayed, rather than perfectly preserved (if they survive) today. And it seems as if every time one of those relics was demolished for new construction, more relics were found underground, sometimes human remains. Nathaniel Hawthorne has a story in one of his notebooks of a skeleton that was found, in parts, underneath High Streeet, identified by one of the older residents of the neighborhood as a Frenchmen who came to town. It was a notable, but not a shocking, discovery: I perused nineteenth-century Salem and Boston newspapers and regular reports of skeletons uncovered in Essex Country appeared fairly regularly, generally presumed to be Native Americans. Even early in the century, Salem’s great diarist, the Reverend William Bentley, ran over as soon as remains and “curiosities” emerged from the soil: to Winter Island, to Northfields, and to Southfields. Over time, the majority of the reported skeletons of Salem seem to have surfaced in a pretty specific area: in South Salem, along Palmer’s Cove, on a street that was called Lagrange in the 19th century and is now Leavitt. Here is the unfolding tale of their uncovering:

So, some awareness that there might have been an Indian Burial Ground in what was then Southfields as early as the 1850s, and a succession of extractions from 1809 on with no apparent effort to protect the site. Of course not, this follows in the tradition of founding father Thomas Jefferson, who conducted an archaelogical dig adjacent to Monticello even as he noted local Native Americans making “sorrowful” visitations, and Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes, who directed U.S. Army medical officers to collect the skulls of Native Americans in 1868, so that the craniological collection of the Army Medical Museum could facilitate “the progress of anthropological science by obtaining measurements of a large number of skulls of the aboriginal races of North America.” Later in the nineteenth century, the pseudo “race sciences” of phrenology and eugenics continued to justify this competitive collecting. The reference above to the Essex Insitute’s possession of an infant skeleton is not surprising, given that one of its founding institutions was the Essex County Natural History Society. It’s my only clue as to where any of these skeletons might have wound up (so far), but it is leading me nowhere: the Peabody Essex Museum’s 2018 completed inventory of human remains and associated funerary objects (in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act or NAGPRA of 1990) does not reference remains from the Lagrange area specifically. The inventory includes “the physical remains of 45 individuals of Native American ancestry” taken from sites in Salisbury, Newbury, Ipswich, Gloucester, Marblehead, Revere and Salem. The Salem remains were taken from an “old cistern in Front Cellar in 1993” (????) and south Salem, so this could be Lagrange Street: the cranial fragments unearthed from this site apparently belonged to a teenager. It looks like one skeleton (in the 1892 clip) simply dissolved in the open air, but I am curious about how the rest of the remains were treated, and what became of them. My only remaining thread is intrepid medical examiner Frank S. Atwood, who seems to be taking the remains into professional custody, at the very least. Called to the scene of yet another discovery at the corner of English and Essex Streets in 1909, it is reported that he ordered their burial elsewhere. In just the past year or so, several unmarked graves of African-Americans have been identified and restored, and I’m wondering if that is within the realm of partial possibility for these earlier, displaced, settlers of Salem.

Lagrange Street on the 1911 Salem Atlas: in three years all this would be swept away by the great Salem Fire, and then rebuilding, again.


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