Author Archives: daseger

A Converted Convent

Disclosure of shameless showcasing of husband’s work! On a beautiful Indian Summer day, with the sun streaming in through the large windows throughout, I toured the former Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame on Federal Street yesterday with my husband, the architect responsible for its conversion into eight residential units. The convent was built in 1878 for the Sisters, who joined St. James Parish in 1864 and served as instructors in the large parochial school next door. Ten years later, a regional Catholic directory records 14 sisters living in the building, with their Mother Superior, Sister Mary Felicitas, and the school office on the first floor (the Sisters were real educational heroines, who opened parochial schools all over the state, but particularly in its industrial cities: they arrived in Salem in 1854 to join the Parish of Immaculate Conception right in the midst of the Know-Nothing frenzy and then later came over to St. James—you can read much more about the Massachusetts Sisters here). I honestly don’t know how long the building has been vacant, but it is part of a large complex on Federal Street built because of the initiatives of Father John J. Gray, including his Italianate rectory across the street (also converted to residences), and the school and “new” (1891) church next door. The St. James Parish, Salem’s second Catholic parish, has now been merged with its first, Immaculate Conception, as Mary, Queen of the Apostles. The sale and conversion of archdiocesan buildings is a huge trend here in Eastern Massachusetts: this is my husband’s second convent conversion in Salem. With sensitive architectural adaptations we can all continue to enjoy these well-built buildings for quite some time. As you can see from the photos I ran around snapping, this particular building is BIG, with wide, long corridors and very high ceilings on both the first and second floors, but there are nooks and crannies as well (particularly on the third floor) and a finished basement. In back, there is a HUGE parking lot (very precious in Salem) right next to the brand-new new Community Life Center on Bridge Street. As the building was restored with Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, the units will be rented for a period of five years and then converted to condominiums.

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Convent 8Looking out these windows to the east and west, you see Old Salem in the form of the parochial school, which will also be converted into residences, and New Salem in the form of the Community Life Center and River Rock housing development beyond.


Where are all the Quince Trees?

I am encountering so many references to quinces in my early modern recipe books and regimens: to eat, to preserve, in tarts and jellies and marmalade, of course. These English people really loved quinces, or they depended on them, and so they brought them to New England, where every garden apparently had a quince tree or bush; apparently only one was needed because they were so fruitful. There was even a moment in time when quinces were considered as a possible staple crop here in Salem: according to Felt’s Annals of Salem, there was a succession of crop failures which led to scarcity of corn in the 1760s, provoking a public inquiry “whether some foreign vegetables might not be introduced, which would serve as a substitute for bread”. The “quince of Portugal” was proposed, along with the “Spanish potato” (did they not know that the potato was a native North American crop?). This is a good clue, confirmed by some of the English evidence: apparently the English variety of quince was not so pleasing as the Mediterranean variety, thus it needed a lot of cooking, steaming, boiling, roasting and sugaring: just perfect for what the English liked to do to all sorts of foods. According to Thomas Moffatt in Health’s Improvement (1655), quinces were worth the trouble: though their raw flesh be as hard as raw beef unto weak stomachs, yet being roasted, or baked, or made into Marmalade, or cunningly preserved, they give a wholesome and good nourishment.” This was fine for the seventeenth century, but in the nineteenth century I think people wanted to just pick a piece of fruit off the tree and eat it, and consequently Robert Manning, Salem’s superstar horticulturist (and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle) just gives a few paragraphs to quince trees in his New England Book of Fruits and seems more interested in grafting his beloved pears onto them to create dwarf varieties. As quince also served as a type of pre-modern gelatin the development of alternative sources and processes in the nineteenth century were factors that must have aided its gradual disappearance as well. By the later nineteenth century, there were only to be found in “grandmothers’ gardens” and now—nowhere.

Quince San Diego

Quince Fuchs

Quince Cakes

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Quince Bush Arthur Wesley Down 1895 MFAQuince, Cabbage, Melon & Cucumbers, by Juan Sanchez Cotan, 1602, San Diego Museum of Art; a Quince tree in Leonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants), 1542the eighteenth-century recipe book of the Marchioness of Wentworth and a recipe for “Quince Cakes”;  “Quince stock when grafted or budded with a Pear”, Robert Manning’s New England Book of Fruits, 1847; Arthur Wesley Dow, “Our Quince Bush”, 1895, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Well, except for the Bonnefont Herb Garden at the Cloisters (below) and there are a few quince boosters out there so maybe we will see a revival. Since they are small trees, they are perfect for urban courtyard gardens like mine, so I’m looking for a space…..and speaking of small urban gardens, for those of you in Salem (or nearby), the creator of one of the most impressive gardens in Salem (which you can see here) is giving a talk this Thursday night in the atrium of the Peabody Essex Museum. No doubt her garden is illustrative of her knowledge, which means we will all learn a lot!

Quince Cloisters

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Gardening event

 


Sugar and Sage in the 17th Century

I’m working on three projects during my sabbatical this semester, but the one that has (re-)captured my attention, and to which I have devoted the most time so far, is an old study of the more utilitarian features of the long English Renaissance, including agriculture, medicine, home-keeping, construction (rather than architecture), engineering, navigation and other individual and collective “industrious pursuits”. Food and drink are at the intersection of several of these pursuits, so I’ve spent several weeks researching not so much what early modern people ate and drank but rather what they were supposed to eat and drink according to contemporary “authorities”. This is far more interesting than the basis of my other industrious pursuits, which is of course math. Eventually I must get into math but right now I’m enjoying reading about food. There are many opinions in the early modern regimens organized around the Galenic concept of the non-naturals, external and environmental factors which affect health: air, food & drink, rest & exercise, sleep & waking, excretions & repletions, and “affections of the mind”, but in this post I’m going to focus primarily–but not exclusively– on the advice of a physician-entomologist named Thomas Moffat, which was published posthumously as Healths Improvement: or, Rules Comprizing and Discovering the Nature, Method, and Manner of Preparing all sorts of Food used in this Nation in 1655, with “corrections and enlargements” made by Dr. Christopher Bennet. Moffatt wrote the original manuscript around 1595, and he segregated diet from all the other non-naturals in a manner that is more modern than early modern: it is an orderly and due course observed in the use of bodily nourishments, for the preservation, recovery, or continuance of the health of mankind. 

Food Moffett

Even though he was a practicing physician and an avid entomologist, Moffatt’s diet advice is more ancient Greek/biblical than empirical, though he does make the interesting distinction between “full, moderate, and thin” diets, which increase, repair, and lessen flesh, spirits and vapors in the body respectively. Most adults should follow moderate diets in alliance with their designated humoral complexion or temperament, representing the particular combination of humors (blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile) with their attendant qualities, or degrees (hot, cold, moist, dry). Everything and every substance has humors, not just bodies, so foods should be chosen to preserve health according to the rule that like is sustained by the like, or restore health by employing foods with contrary degrees. That’s all pretty standard for this time, but Moffat explores food to a greater degree than many of his contemporaries:  its taste and distaste, its preparation, when to eat it—and when (and how) to kill it if it is a beast. All beasts are fair game, both domestic and wild (even hedgehogs) and all parts of all beasts (believe me). A few expressions of vegetarianism will emerge over the course of the seventeenth century, but Moffatt’s treatise is not among them. Nearly every food is good for someone at sometime, but the when must be considered along with the what, as for example, seemingly-harmless butter, which is best at break∣fast, tolerable in the beginning of dinner; but at supper no way good, because it hinders sleep, and sendeth up unpleasant vapours to annoy the brain, according to the old Proverb, Butter is Gold in the morning, Silver at noon, and Lead at night. It is also best for children whilst they are growing, and for old men when they are declining; but very unwholesome betwixt those two ages….a veritable lifetime of no butter! Thankfully, Moffatt seems to be the only one proffering this advice; most regimen writers assert that butter is just fine, especially when salted and mixed with honey and/or sugar, the universal panacea of the early modern era (for those who could afford it).

Food Sugar Nova Reperta 1600 FolgerMaking miraculous sugar in Nova Reperta (New Inventions of Modern Times), engraved by Jan Collaert I, after Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus, and published by Philips Galle, 1600.

Sweeteners make everything better—water, wine, butter–not just better-tasting, but better, according to all opinions: “Sugar agrees with all ages and all complexions”, wrote Thomas Cogan in his Haven for Health (1584). Water should be avoided at all costs, unless it was pure rain water or mixed with sugar or honey; ale, beer and wine were much preferred, especially “Rhenish” (white) wine. Writing several decades before Cogan, Philip Moore summarized his diet advice according to ease of digestion and engendering of “good juice” in his Hope of Health: partridges, pheasants, chickens, capons, hens, small birds, newly-laid eggs, rare or poached, young pork, veal, new milk, fresh fish from gravelly and stony rivers…bread made of the flour of good wheat, being well-leavened, sufficiently salted and well baked in an oven, being two or three days old. And also pure wine. Even though “meate” is often used to refer to all food, it’s not difficult to glean that meat (or flesh) was key to a healthy diet, and chicken and mutton were generally preferred, “boiled and eaten with opening (fresh) cordial herbs”, a beefed-up version of the pottage most people probably were eating.

Food November

Food Trevelyon Miscellany 2Two calendar illustrations from Thomas Trevilian’s marvelous Miscellany, 1608: Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b. 232 (formerly Folger MS 450517).

There is still a reticence about fruits and vegetables among seventeenth-century regimen writers, particularly the former, although that is changing: a terrible famine in the 1590s inspired a major reconsideration. William Vaughan, in his Approved Directions for Health, both Natural and Artificial (1600), asserts that fruits are eaten more for wantoness than for any nutritive or necessary good”, but he praises many vegetables, and gives us a recipe for the very best “sallet” made of pennyroyal, parsley, lettuce and endive, which “opens the obstruction of the liver and keeps the head in good plight”. Moffatt is more open to fruit, but like most of his contemporaries, he warns against the raw state: all apples are worst raw, and best baked and preserved (with rosewater, honey and/or sugar, of course). But by all means avoid “melomachia, the ‘apple-fight”; [as] cruel fluxes surprised the Army upon this, and many died of intolerable gripings. It seems as if most fruits are acceptable if they are baked, roasted, or “cunningly preserved”, with sugar, and taken with wine: figs, in particular, draw much commentary as a wholesome fruit, but only if consumed in the right way. According to Moffatt, figs are dangerous without wine, but wholesome with it. Vegetables can be nourishing as well, but only if you pick the “whitest and tendrest-leafed” and steep and cook them for quite some time. In addition to the application of fire, the accompaniment of wine, and sweeteners, garden herbs and spices, both “homebred” and imported or “outlandish”, can change the nature of everything, particularly sage, the versatile herb of salvation from time immemorial. Moffatt (and Bennett) leave sage to the herbalists, an indication of the increasing specialization of medical texts in the seventeenth century, but Vaughan gives us a “wholesome diet drink” for everyone, made of a variety of the most useful domestic herbs, processed in seventeenth-century style.

Stoneware jug 17th century with Vaughan Diet Drink


A Carnival in Salem, 1906

I was pleased that a proposal to situate a commercial carnival for the city-wide celebration of Halloween on Salem Common was abandoned by our Mayor a few weeks ago, but many people in Salem were not. The carnival is a private enterprise, but it serves a public function: the crowds that come to Salem increase with every year because of the profitable association of the 1692 Witch Trials and Halloween and crowd control measures are needed. Apparently the carnival serves in that capacity, and also provides a place for families and teens who have had enough of the haunted houses, tours, and “museum” offerings that form the regular fare of Haunted Happenings. So after the Common was ruled out, the City sought other locations for the carnival (even at this late date!) and have come up with one in the vicinity of the courthouses on Federal Street. This seems like an even more disruptive location to me but the increasing requirements of Haunted Happenings trump everything in this City. Over the past few weeks, the public discourse about the Carnival and its location was really interesting, so I sought a bit more historical context. Salem has quite a history of public civic celebrations, but I think the best precedents for its Halloween carnivals of the past decade are the turn-of-the century “trade carnivals” that were sponsored by the Merchants Association. The carnival of 1906 opened on this very day, and was held in and around Town House Square, not too far from where the 2018 carnival will be held.

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This was quite the extravaganza! I have looked everywhere for a photograph of the Japanese pagoda with its 1286 incandescent lamps, with no luck, and it’s difficult for me to see how it would fit in Town House Square (see postcards below). The display of electricity must have been awe-inspiring at this time, as well as the other attractions: near the courthouses (perhaps in the same location of the 2018 carnival), a stereopticon and moving pictures were continuously exhibited on a screen for the duration of the carnival. This was a display of media-in-transition, as the stereopticon, a double-lensed “Magic Lantern”, is widely recognized as a key forerunner of films. Electric cars from all the neighboring towns brought “thousands” of people into Salem for the festivities, all greeted by “‘Welcome’ signs [with] letters formed of small electric lamps in several locations”. Two years later, we can read (in the Boston Globe) about an even bigger trade carnival held in late April: commercial life was not so exclusively connected to exploiting the Witch Trials/Halloween at this point in time, although it was definitely a growth industry. The 1908 carnival featured an elaborate opening parade with the Mayor (Hurley) on horseback, merchant (princes) in barouches, and the entire Fire Department of Salem, with their muster-winning handtub engine the White Angel, “which made a fine show”. Schools were closed for the occasion, and once the carnival was officially opened, there were band concerts in (again–what must have been a very crowded) Town House Square every afternoon and evening.

Carnival Town House Square

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Carnival Ridgway_Stereopticon_Advertising_Co_36_Cambridge_St_Boston Boston Athenaeum

Carnival White Angel Salem2_3029_2048x2048PEMContemporary postcards of Town House Square; Ridgeway Stereopticon Advertising Co., trade card, Boston Athenaeum (I imagine the Salem screenings looking like this); a great photograph of the famous White Angel handtub from the PEM’s Phillips Library, published in Pediment ‘s Salem Memories, Volume II and available here.


Saratoga September

We were in Saratoga Springs for a big family wedding this past weekend, one of four (or did I hear six?) that the city absorbed effortlessly: by all appearances Saratoga has its tourism game down and seems to be just as accommodating and entertaining to its permanent residents. Everything about it speaks to careful planning and “showcasing” for lack of a better word: wide boulevards, strong commercial and residential architecture (in close proximity), a Visitor’s Center and History Museum both in the city center within a beautifully-maintained park (+carousel), a performing arts center a bit further out in the Saratoga Spa State Park, an intact Armory transformed into a military museum, a mixture of commercial and boutique hotels, uniform, aesthetically-pleasing SIGNS (including iron markers for every neighborhood), public art that both reflects and enhances its streetscape, a seasonless economy, and clean sidewalks. Saratoga Spring has been a city of attractions for a long time, offering up a succession of healing waters, potato chips, horse racing, gaming, and a variety of arts to its many visitors over a century and a half, and its experience—and pride–shows.

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Saratoga past and present

Saratoga past and present 2Horses and ballet slippers (a nod to the New York City Ballet’s summer residence at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center) abound on Saratoga’s main streets as do markers; the Saratoga History Museum in the former Canfield Casino has both permanent and rotating exhibits and tours; two views of old and new—I really liked this gallery floor made up of scanned postcards of all Saratoga’s great hotels. AND now for some houses: this is just a sampling, as there are MANY to see, mostly different varieties of Victorian and some early twentieth-century styles. You could take a walking tour focused entirely on variations of the Italianate.

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1918

I like to run through Salem’s larger cemeteries because I’m not the best runner so I really don’t want a (live) audience. Last weekend I did something to my back, so instead of jogging yesterday morning, I was walking around Greenlawn Cemetery rather awkwardly. I would not call this exercise, as I had to stop and read nearly every gravestone I passed by, and at one point, I found myself right in the midst of a collection of graves of people who had all died in 1918. They were not related; the only thing they had in common was the year of their death. None were very old, and most were quite young. Almost immediately—as I looked all around in this one little section of a large urban cemetery and saw that year everywhere I turned—I realized that this was a special moment, during which I could grasp just a semblance of how horrible that early fall was exactly 100 years ago, when young men were far away fighting a terrible war while also falling victim to a plague of influenza that was attacking the home front at the same time. I’m not sure that all the markers with 1918 inscribed on them testify to deaths by war or flu (although I will find out), but just for that moment, I could feel the magnitude of the loss–and assault—by both forces.

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The city of Salem has a “Veterans’ Squares” program through which intersections across the city are named after veterans who lived nearby. I happen to live near “Trask Square”, named in honor of Private George C. Trask, who died of pneumonia (often the end game of the flu) in Angers, France; his fellow Salemite Wallace C. Upton also died of disease much closer to home, in the Chelsea Naval Hospital. At precisely this time a century ago, influenza was raging in Boston and schools, churches, theatres, and even bars had been closed. The Massachusetts Historical Society has a great blog post featuring the diary of a young Salem wife and mother named Edith Coffin Colby Mahoney whose life changed quickly from late summer outings to the Willows to notices of deaths and “epidemics everywhere” from August to September 1918. She was right: as least 50 million* people died of the “Spanish Influenza” worldwide and perhaps 5000 people in Boston, which was the third hardest-hit American city after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In a report issued on this very date in 1918, the U.S. Public Health Service records the number of Salem flu cases at 1500, confirming Miss Colby’s impressions recording in her diary on September 26: “Torrential rain for 24 hours beginning at 3am today, some thunder in the P.M.. Most depressing day after bad news from Eugene. He died at 6:40am. Several thousand cases in the city with a great shortage of nurses and doctors. Theatres, churches, gatherings of every kind stopped. Even 4th Liberty Loan drivers parade postponed.”

And the city was still bearing the scars of the great fire just four years before……BUT the Red Sox won the World Series that year.

*I’m going with the CDC estimate; some are much higher. (https://www.cdc.gov/features/1918-flu-pandemic/index.html)

 


The Older Andover

About forty minutes inland from Salem to the northwest are the towns of Andover and North Andover, both early settlements and bustling towns today. Due to the anniversary of the last executions of the Salem Witch Trials on Friday, I had Samuel Wardwell—who hailed from Andover, along with several other victims—on my mind, so I decided to drive there and see if I could find the location of his farm, which is always referred to as lying in the “southern” part of what was then one big Andover. That was my goal, but I got waylaid and distracted by the other Andover, the North Parish, which became North Andover in 1855. I hadn’t realized that North Andover was actually the first settlement: whenever I see North or South or East or West I assume that that designated location was settled after the adjoining town without the geographical adjective (is there are word for that?) But in the case of the Andovers, this assumption is incorrect. And because I assumed North Andover was later, I had always given it short shrift and driven through or around or by it—but this Saturday, the weather was fine and I had time so I drove into it, and spent a considerable amount of time in the vicinity of its perfectly pristine center village, in which a striking Gothic Revival Church overlooks one of the prettiest commons I have ever seen. It was the first day of Fall, and the North Andover Fall Festival was in full swing, so I parked the car and walked all around the old town center.

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All of the houses above surround the large Common, and bordering it is the little building built for the North Andover Hay Scales Company, established in 1819, which Walter Muir Whitehill refers to as “a rustic corporation of twenty-five proprietors who not only missioned a public utility but had a good sociable time doing so”. (Old-Time New England, October 1948). And down the road apiece is the Trustees of Reservations’ Stevens-Coolidge estate, with its extensive gardens, and this intriguing brick double house.

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On the other side of the Common, I walked past the North Andover Historical Society, a rather stately Greek Revival house and two “Salem Federals”, which really do have the air of displaced Salem houses, especially the Kittredge Mansion (1784), which looks just like the Peirce-Nichols House! Apparently its design is attributed to Samuel McIntire, which is complete news to me—must find out much more about this house.

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Kittredge House

Kittredge House 2The Kittredge Mansion & gate in HABS photographs from 1940-41, Library of Congress.

Finally I came to the beautiful Parson Barnard House (1715), which was long believed to be the home of Simon and Anne Bradstreet and has been owned and maintained by the North Andover Historical Society since 1950. It is perfectly situated and colored for early fall reveries, and I could have sat there looking at it for quite some time, but Wardwell business was pressing, so I retrieved my car, drove over the other Andover, and took a really cool virtual tour of its downtown courtesy of the Andover Center for History and Culture.

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