Category Archives: Culture

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.


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.


A Salem Ghost Story

Even though I recognize no connection between Halloween in general and the Salem Witch Trials (because #theywerenotwitches) and for that reason don’t particularly care for Salem Halloweens, I do like the holiday itself, especially its All Hallows Eve foundations. I like ghosts too, and ghost stories, especially if they are crafted elegantly and not just made up by Salem tour guides. For these reasons, I am always looking for a good Salem ghost story and last week I found one! It’s a humorous ghost story rather than a scary tale, written by Brander Matthews (1859-1929), the very prolific and pioneering professor of dramatic literature at Columbia University. “The Rival Ghosts” was first published in Harper’s Magazine in 1884 and then in Matthews’ Tales of Fantasy and Fact in 1896. Its plot features a Salem house haunted by two ghosts who duke it out before they enter into a spectral marriage, bringing peace to both the house and its owner, a Mr. Eliphalet Duncan, on the eve of his own marriage. Eliphalet Duncan is a young New York lawyer, of Scotch and Yankee stock, as his father had come over from Scotland and married a girl from an old Salem family, dating back to the days of the Witch Trials of course. Both his parents died when Eliphalet was quite young, leaving him two legacies: a haunted Salem house and (eventually) a Scottish title. The Salem house is described as “little” and dates back to the seventeenth century, so I’m picturing it as either the Narbonne House or the John Ward House, both of which I gothicized a bit. The Crowninshield-Bentley House might be a bit late but I’ll throw it in there too: “The Rival Ghosts” is not illustrated in either of its editions, but it seems to be calling out for some imagery!

The Narbonne House of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site; John Ward and Crowninshield-Bently Houses, Peabody Essex Museum.

The Salem ghost never appears to the master of the house, but visitors would see and hear its presence on the second day of their stay, when it became determined to drive them away. So Eliphalet was a bit isolated in his little old Salem house, which became even more unwelcoming after he received word that his Scottish cousin had died, leaving him with the family title. Apparently the title came with a ghost, who was to attend his lord at all times and places, and so the Scottish Ghost was suddenly in Salem. Neither ghost was threatening to the new Lord Duncan, but they clearly hated each other, and caused quite a ruckus in his little house: wailing, rapping, throwing things, and playing a variety of musical instruments. He was determined to find out more about them in order to get rid of them, so that he might have peace and visitors in Salem. Towards that aim he invited an old friend to the house, a very brave friend with whom he had fought in the Civil War: his comrade left on day three of what was supposed to be a week’s stay, driven away by the the cacaphony of the rival ghosts. A very frustrated Eliphalet fled as well, to the White Mountains, accompanied by the personal Scottish Ghost and leaving the House Ghost in Salem: “spooks can’t quarrel when they are a hundred miles apart any more than men can,” our narrator observes.

Window of Quaker Meeting House, Salem, Peabody Essex Museum.

On the top of Mount Washington (I guess the cog railway had been built), Eliphalet met the love of his life, the sister of a former classmate who was he immediately determined to marry: Miss Kitty Sutton. A long courtship and engagement ensued, during which he told her about the ghosts. She expressed great interest in his family house, but wanted it cleared of spectres, so Eliphalet returned to Salem on a mission. He pleaded with the ghosts to vacate and managed to enter into a dialogue with them, during which it was revealed that the House Ghost was a woman! She had been murdered by her husband back in seventeenth-century Salem and had lingered ever since. Eliphalet suggested a spectral marriage to give them all some domestic peace, but the ghosts protested that there was too much of an age difference (the House Ghost was about 200 years old, while the Scottish Ghost claimed to be 450 years old) before finally consenting. There followed a double wedding, of ghosts and humans, and off the former went, leaving the little old Salem house to the new Mr. and Mrs. (Lord and Lady) Duncan. While it’s not entirely clear how their marriage led the ghosts to vacate, it’s a nice ending to a charming tale, full of spirited negotiations! Another discovery this past week: the old house interiors paintings of the Russian-American artist Morris Kantor (1896-1974), painted in 1930-31 after a summer tour of visiting historic houses. Maybe it was just the timing of these twin discoveries, but they seem like perfect atmostpheric illustrations for “The Rival Ghosts,” particularly this first one: The Haunted House. 

Morris Kantor, The Haunted House (1930), Art Institute of Chicago; Still Life (1931), Artemis Gallery; Interior (1931), Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Revenues and Reparations in the Witch City

I often find that my profession and my residence are in conflict: it’s challenging to be an historian in Salem, especially at this time of year. More than one person has suggested that I move, and I think every one of my colleagues has done so when I come in all hot and bothered about one thing or another. But even though Salem is often frustrating, it is always engaging and has offered me many “teachable moments” throughout my career. The past few days, beautiful autumn days, have been a case in point. On Friday, we were considering the immediate and slightly longer-term aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials in my two freshmen seminars. I am not an American historian or an expert in the Trials, but the historian who is both of those things in my department, my colleague Emerson “Tad” Baker, has been working in the administration for the past few years so I have been pinch-hitting. Students come to Salem State with a certain degree of awareness and/or interest in the Trials and so we thought we should offer a freshman seminar focused on 1692 to introduce students to both college work and Salem. I put a lot of work into last year’s seminars so I thought I should repeat them this year, but never again: Tad is back and that is that! Anyway, on Friday we were reading about apologies, reversals, and restitution: several participants in the trials (Judge Samuel Sewall, the jurors, accuser Ann Putnam) issued apolgies after their conclusion, the General Court of Massachusetts reversed the attainders of witchcraft conviction for some (but not all) of the accused “witches” and also compensated their families for some (obviously not ALL) of their damages upon petition. Both my students and myself were very touched by the petition of Isaac Esty, Sr. for restitution following the execution of his wife Mary, one of the three former Towne sisters accused of witchcraft in 1692. Mary and her sister Rebecca Nurse were executed while their sister Sarah Cloyce escaped to Framingham. Here is Mr. Esty’s petition of September 8, 1710 and a transcription, from the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project:

Isaac Esty Sen of Topsfield in the county of Essex in N. E. having been sorely exercis’d through the holy & awful providence of God depriving him of his beloved wife Mary Esty who suffered death in the year 1692 & under the fearfull odium of one of the worst of crimes that can be laid to the charge of mankind, as if she had been guilty of witchcraft a piece of wickedness which I beleeve she did hate with perfect hatred & by all that ever I could see by her never could see any thing by her that should give me any reason in the lest to think her guilty of any thing of that nature but am firmly persuaded that she was as innocent of it as any to such a shameful death — Upon consideration of a notification from the Honored Generall Court desiring my self & others under like circumstances to give some account of what my Estate was damnify’d by reason of such a hellish molestation do hereby declare which may also be seen by comparing papers & records that my wife was near upon 5 months imprisoned all which time I provided maintenance for her at my own cost & charge, went constantly twice aweek to provide for her what she needed 3 weeks of this 5 months she was in prison at Boston & I was constrained to be at the charge of transporting her to & fro. So that I can not but think my charge in time and mony might amount to 20 pounds besides my trouble & sorrow of heart in being deprived of her after such a manner which this world can never make me any compensation for. Isak Esty sen’r.

He had lost his wife 18 years previously, but it sounds like it was yesterday. She hated witchcraft: her death and execution was a “hellish molestation” for which “this world can never make me any compensation for.” She was imprisoned for 5 months, including three weeks in Boston, and he was compelled to pay for all of the associated expenses, which might amount to £20, “besides my trouble & sorrow of heart.” I found the combination of profound emotional distress and relatively inconsequential damages moving; my students did too. So there we were, discussing this horrible event and a community’s attempts at reconciliation. Class dismissed, and I’m walking home through the streets of Salem, and when I get to downtown there are laughing witches, young witches, older witches, half-dressed witches, all sorts of witches—all so celebratory, and happy to be in Salem, the Witch City, where Mary Esty and her sister died with others, proclaiming fervently that they were not witches. Later vindicated, but forevermore witches, because Salem needs to be Halloweentown, and what would Halloweentown be without witches? Our present Mayor, and soon-to-be Lieutenant Governor, expressed the connection succinctly:

And she is expressing a majority opinion. Halloween is very popular in Salem: the crowds get bigger and bigger with each passing year, and apparently so do the revenues, for both private businesses and the City. According to several sources, Salem tourists spent 140 million in the Witch City in 2020, 35% of which was spent during October: and that was a Covid year. I’m sure revenues will be off the charts this year, as crowds certainly are. I had numbers on my brain as I walked home on Friday night and woke up the next morning with them still in my head. We had discovered that the Massachusetts General Court alloted £578 to the Salem victims’ families in 1710-1711: how much would that be now my students asked? We went over to my favorite past-to-present currency calculator at the UK National Archives and came up with around £60,648, which is about $79,000 in US dollars. $79,000, 19 executions, one crushing, five deaths in jail, a succession of reversals of attainder and apologies: this all adds up to the “legendary witch history” referenced by Mayor Driscoll above, the basis of Salem’s spectacularly successful witchcraft tourism. 140 million in a pandemic year, with 49 million generated just in October, compared to a mere $79,000! I wonder if a reconsideration of compensation is in order? That would be one way to justify the exploitative nature of Salem’s witchcraft tourism: acknowledge it for what it is, just business. Thanks to all of the genealogical research on those accused of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Salem we probably know who and where all of their descendants are: why shouldn’t they get a cut? I just kept thinking about these numbers when I was walking around Salem this past weekend, amongst HUGE crowds: people = profits.

Scenes from a Salem weekend, October 2022: light and dark and a very well-dressed witch; there’s a tour guide in there somewhere (no one could hear him, so no one was listening); the line for PEM’s Ropes Mansion which seems to be identified primarily as “Allison’s House” from Hocus Pocus by Salem tourists; Chestnut Street from my bedroom window (that line of cars went on all day long on Saturday)’ the Salem Witch Museum is very proud that this is the 50th anniversary of Haunted Happenings.

Am I really recommending reparations? Sadly, no. I just want to point out the inequities between past and present, and the exploitation of the former by the latter. It’s nothing new, but I don’t think you can call it out enough. While reparations are most commonly referenced in the disastrous imposition on Germany following World War I and the ongoing issue of compensation for enslavement here in the US, there have been more successful experiments, most notably the restitution initiatives extended to the families of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. But a Salem reparations program would be impossible: so much time as passed, there would be so many claimants, and so much money involved!  Reparations would also run counter to Massachusetts state law, as politicians past protected witchcraft profiteering proactively. The legal exoneration of the persons convicted of witchcraft in Salem in 1692 came in three phases. In 1711 Chapter 80 of the Resolves reversed the attainder for the majority of victims, but excluded six women:  Ann Pudeator, Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott and Wilmot Redd. Following World War II, relatives of Ann Pudeator started lobbying for her exoneration, which was finally achieved with Chapter 145 of the Resolves of 1957 . Finally, following the appeal of Salem State University graduate student Paula Keen and the concerned families, Chapter 122 of the Acts of 2001 included Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott and Wilmot Redd in the 1957 law, in which they were simple referred to as “others.” The 1957 Pudeator bill was debated for quite some time, particularly in the period 1954-1957, as legislators openly questioned the impact of the exoneration on tourism and the possibility that it might expose the Commonwealth to legal action. Consequently the language of the bill’s final passage specifically provides that descendants of the victims of 1692 may not sue for damages! No worries for Salem.

United Press National Headlines 1954 & 1957: not sure why Senator Evans of WAKEFIELD was so concerned but he gets the most quotes for sure!

The word “reparations” usually means money, but it also refers to repairing one’s reputation, image, or perception (and not simply replacing it with something new and shiny, as in Salem). I’ve been thinking about that process too, because of another witchcraft course I’m teaching this semester, Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (yes, it’s a pretty intense semester). Unlike the situation in Massachusetts, there were no immediate attempts to rehabilitate the many victims of the succession of witch trials which occurred in much of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; indeed, that process is happening now. This very year the provincial governments of Scotland, where witch-hunting was particularly intense, and Catalonia, where witch trials began relatively early, have apologized formally for their witch hunts. Both exoneration movements were clearly feminist in inspiration, highlighting the fact that the majority of the victims in both regions were women, but both also focused on the necessity of repairing the historical memory of the accused. I’ve been so struck by the Catalan discourse, triggered by the slogan/hashtag No Eren BruixesThey were not witches. I hope that that the apologies to those who were not witches paves the way for true historical understanding through reparation in both Catalonia and Scotland, rather than expedient exploitation once the slate has been wiped clean.

“They were not Witches,” (they were Women): a call to action in Catalonia. 


Flight to Newbury

While I usually make plans to be as far away from Salem as possible on Columbus/Indigenous Day weekend to avoid the crowds and traffic, we had obligations this year so I was stuck in town. I can hide in my house or run over to the Salem Woods to escape the tourists, but not my feelings of anxiety at this time of year. It’s really hard for me to embrace the party as I can’t forget it is based on collective and individual tragedy so I’m just kind of seething in Salem. I wish I could lighten up, but I can’t so the best thing to do is get out of town: if not for a weekend at least for a day, or even a few hours. So as soon as I heard the laughter outside of my house I ran outside, jumped in the car, and drove north. The Newburys (Newbury, Newburyport, West Newbury) always calm me down with their seemingly endless inventory of perfectly restored old houses and litterless streets. Plus, this weekend the “Battle for Newbury” was on at Historic New England’s Spencer-Peirce-Little House: certainly a Revolutionary-war reenactment would distract me. And it did.

Two preserved early Colonial houses in very different places: Salem’s Witch or Corwin House and Historic New England’s Dole-Little House in Newbury. Heading north on Route 1A you come to another HNE property, the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, scene of the annual “Battle for Newbury.” Abbreviated tours of the house, which is dated 1690 with many later additions, were offered so I popped in with a bunch of soldiers (dining-room mantle, Federal parlor and back staircase above) but it was such a beautiful day to be outside!

So of course the real battles for Newbury occcurred across the pond during the English Civil Wars but it’s always fun to be with people who crave history, even in an idealized sense. That is certainly not the environment in Salem. And it was peaceful in Newbury, even with the mid-afternoon skirmish: clearly the reenactors, both soldiers and civilians, like to spend time together indulging in camp life. There were colonials from Rhode Island and Acton and Marblehead, Massachusetts, and the redcoats in His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot are from Wrentham, I think (though they drill in Lexington). After a few hours at the Farm, I made a little tour of other seventeenth-century structures in Newbury and Newburyport and ended up at another Historic New England house, the Coffin House (1678), home to generations of the prolific Coffin family. I had a great tour and learned all about the evolution of the house, from its later seventeenth-century origins (oriented south), to its 1712 addition (what you see in “front” from Route 1A), and its 19th century division (so many interior windows!) and acquisition by Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) in that fateful year of 1929. So much history, so much texture! So calm.

The Coffin House in Newbury: exterior and original (back) house and newer (1712) addition in front: main room, bedroom, buttery, Georgian kitchen and parlors.


The Most Magical Plants

Well, October is upon us here in Salem, so that means I’m going to spend all my time inside or on the road. I’m just not a fan of Haunted Happenings, the City’s Halloween festival that starts earlier with each passing year: crowds are converging from at least mid-September now. On September 22, when eight convicted “witches” were hung at Proctor’s Ledge in 1692, you can see people dancing in the streets in Salem. Haunted Happenings is now in its 50th year and this is an anniversary worth celebrating for many, but for me, it’s just fifty years of turning tragedy into treasure. While I do not see or celebrate the connection between the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials and Halloween, I still find the customs and traditions associated with the latter holiday very interesting, and as I’m teaching my “Magic and Witchcraft in early Modern Europe” course this semester, I find myself subsumed in the source and secondary literature of these complex topics. I haven’t taught this course in 5 years so it definitely needs a refresh! I have learned so much teaching this course over my career at Salem State: at the beginning I offered it simply as a corrective to what I saw (and still see) as a simplistic understanding of witch trials here in Salem, but every time I taught it I learned more about Christian theology and European folklore: after about a decade of teaching it I felt that I needed to undertake more serious study of the former and and contemplated going to Divinity School and now I feel like I need an advanced degree in folklore! It’s all so interwoven, and the focus on both magic and witchcraft over the medieval and early modern eras enables one to see how and why pre-Christian beliefs were assimilated into Christianity—and/or demonized. This coming week we are going to look at some important high and later-medieval herbals and the “magic” that was contained therein, so I decided to make a list of the top ten magical plants. This was a more difficult task than I though it would be as so many plants have protective/proactive virtues associated with them, but this is my list. I’m leaving out Mandrake because we all know that’s the most magical plant of them all, and as many plants were seen to be powerful in both facilitating and dispelling magic I’m going with the most efficacious, by reputation.

Vervainactually might be more powerful than mandrake. It was known as both an “enchanter’s plant” and an antidote against witchcraft. Gathering vervain seems to have been somewhat of a sacred ritual and there doesn’t seem to be anything that this plant could not do: protect, predict, heal, preserve chasteness and procure love. Snakes are often included in illustrations of vervain: both slithering varieties in the marginalia and more threatening serpents at center stage. Clearly it was percieved as an effective weapon against both.

British Library MSS Sloane 1975 and Egerton 747.

St. John’s Wort: a powerful demon-repellent as you can see by this retreating demon in the fifteenth-century Italian Tractatus de Herbis (British Library Codex Sloane 4016). Referred to as a “devil-chaser” on the Continent, St. John’s Wort was also worn as a protective amulet and used as decoration for doorways and windows on St. John’s Eve at midsummer, when its yellow flowers bloom. Its association with St. John the Baptist also bequeathed it medical virtues, and it was used to staunch bleeding, especially from the thrusts of poisoned weapons, and treat wounds.

British Library Codex Sloane 4016 and MS Egerton 747.

Rue: one of my very favorite herbs, and the sole survivor of my garden of plague cures from twenty years ago! The “herb of grace” was prized for its potency against the plague, infections, and also poison, signalled by its bitterness. It was also believed to be a preserver of eyesight, but it’s best to focus on the general rather than the particulars with this very efficacious herb, which could ward off witchcraft and was used in masses and exorcisms as well as an abortifacient. I just think its gray-green leaves are beautiful, and it adds structure to the garden all season long.

Plantae Utiliores; or Illustrations of useful plants, employed in the Arts and Medicine, M.A.Burnett,1842. 

Scabiosa: was far more interesting in the medieval period than its profile as a perfect cottage garden plant now. It was known as “Devil’s Bit” because of the appearance of its root, which looks like someone took a bite out of it. According to John Gerard, who was known to “borrow” information rather indiscriminately, “the great part of the root seems to be bitten away; old fantastic charmers do report that the Devil did bite it for envy, because it is an herb that has so many good virtues, and is so beneficial to mankind.” It was perceived as particularly beneficial to the skin, hence its name, a far cry from “pincushion flower.”

British Library MS Egerton 747; William Catto, 1915, Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums.

Garlic: also has a devilish nickname, the “Devil’s Posy,” and cure-all connotations, so that it was also known as the “Poor Man’s Treacle.” (Treacle is an English sweet now, but in the late medieval and early modern eras it was an anglicization for “theriac,” the universal panacea.) There’s an interesting old tale that when Satan stepped out of the Garden of Eden after his great triumph, garlic sprang from the spot where his left foot lay, and onions from where he had placed his right foot. Like so much folklore, I’m not entirely sure what to do with this information. The key attribute of garlic was its pungent odor: like the bitter taste of rue, this signalled strength: enough to ward off witches, plague, and I guess vampires (though medieval people do not mention the latter).

Garlic (right) and a coiled snake, British Library MS Egerton 747.

Foxglove: a plant with more folkloric pseudonyms than any other! Foxglove: gloves for foxes or fairies or witches? Fairy fingers, ladies’ thimbles, rabbit flowers, throatwort, flapdock, cow-flop, lusmore, lionsmouth, Scotch mercury, dead man’s bells, witches’ gloves, witches’ bells: these are just some of its variant nicknames. Dead man’s bells indicates some knowledge of its potentially poisonous effects, but its cardiac attributes were not known until the eighteenth century. What a tangle with all these names! It’s so interesting to me that a plant can be associated with both witches and the Virgin Mary, as digitalis apparently was. Some of its names also testify to belief in the “doctrine of signatures” by which the appearance of herbs signals their use: foxglove flowers were said to look like an open mouth, and their freckles symbolic of inflamation of the throat: hence, throatwort.

Woodblock trial proof for textiles, 1790-1810, Cooper Hewitt Museum.

Hollywas perceived as very holy, of course. Very little nuance or contradiction with this plant, which Pliny, who seems very accepted by the medievals even though he was a Pagan, credited with the powers to protect and defend against withcraft, lightening, and poison. Its red berries became associated with the blood of Christ over the medieval era, along with its thorny leaves, which made it even more potent. Plant it close to the house, all the traditional authorities say (I feel fortunate that someone did that for my house long ago).

Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal, 1737-39.

Moonwort: a little lesser known, but worthy of inclusion if only because it supposedly possesses the ability to open locks and guard silver, as well as unshoe any horses that happen to tread upon it or even near. Ben Jonson referred to it as one of the ingredients of “witches’ broth,” but by his time I think they were throwing everything into that brew. It’s a tiny, tight-fisted, flowering fern (Botrychium lunaria) that just looks like it must have magical qualities, but was also used to heal wounds.

George William Johnson, The British ferns popularly described, and illus. by engravings of every species (1857).

Henbane: is perhaps the most powerful of the bane plants, indicating death by poison, and another plant with both harming and healing virtues, demanding skillful use. It is always mentioned in reference to witchcraft in the late medieval and early modern eras, specifically as an ingredient in ointments (and salves which enabled witches to stick to their brooms!) This might be why it was referred to as the “Devil’s eye” in some regions. But it was also a powerful sedative, known to take away pain, and a hallucinogenic which could take away sense.

Henbane (on the right) in BL MS Egerton 747; Patrick Symons, Still Life with Henbane, 1960, Royal Academy.

Deadly Nightshade: related to henbane, but even more potent. Every bit of this plant was known to be poisonous, and early modern botanical authors urged their readers to banish it from their gardens. With knowledge and caution, henbane was a plant one could work with, but hands off deadly nightshade! Only the Devil tended it; in fact it was difficult to lure him away from this menacing crop of  “devil’s berries” and of course it was yet another ingredient in the strange brews of witches. Its botanical name, Atropa belladonna, indicates its use:  The eldest of the Three Fates of classical Greek mythology, the “inflexible” Atropos cut off the thread of life, and the “beautiful ladies” of Renaissance Venice used it in tincture form for wide-open, sparkling eyes. The English adopted the term belladonna in the later sixteenth century, but they also referred to deadly nightshade simply as “dwale,” a stupefying or soporific drink.

William Catto, Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museum.


Recovering Salem’s Hispanic Heritage: a Revolutionary View

September 15 commenced Hispanic Heritage Month here in Salem; as I walked by the flag-raising in Riley Square the other day I wondered, what now? How are we going to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month? And given that Salem has an increasing population of Latino Americans, how are we going to expand “Salem history” to include their stories going forward? If I could offer a suggestion (which I am prone to do), why don’t we take advantage of two dynamic historiographical trends connecting Salem and the Iberian world in the eighteenth-century: the renewed focus on the codfish trade which generated so much wealth (and so many connections) on the North Shore in the eighteenth century and new perspectives on Spain’s role in the American Revolution? The importance of the codfish trade between New England and southern Europe has been emphasized by academics for quite some time (this particular study has been very influential) but I don’t think it has trickled down (or out) to a more general audience. My department co-sponsored an afternoon symposium along with the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the Marblehead Museum, and Historic Beverly in 2019 entitled Salt Cod for Silver: Yankees, Basques, and the North Shore’s Forgotten Trade organized by the independent scholar Donald Carlton, but I think the trade remains relatively “forgotten,” and overshadowed by the China Trade which flourished after the Revolution. Actually I think the codfish trade is paradoxically both forgotten and taken for granted: the symbolism of the cod is everywhere in late eighteenth century Massachusetts and if not for this lucrative and expansive trade how else could both Salem and Marblehead appear on the list of the ten most populous American towns in the first census of 1790? To its credit, Salem Maritime has been stressing the importance of the pre-revolutionary fish trade almost since its founding, and in myriad ways: the map below is from its Spring 1940 Regional Review (I know it’s a bit hard to read, but Bilbao is definitely in the center of the world) and the “flying fish” from the site’s 2017 virtual reality “exhibition” (experience?) The Augmented Landscape

But neither fish or trade are particularly “sexy” or accessible topics of historical interpretation, especially historic interpretation for a general audience. Believe me, I know, I’ve been teaching pre-modern world history, which is very much about cross-cultural trade, for years: I’ve seen my students’ eyes glaze over many, many times even as I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to keep their attention. You need people, particularly individual stories, and you need a war (or some sort of conflict). So that’s why I’d like to see an interpretive focus on the relationships that were fostered by and through this long and lucrative trade and their eventful revolutionary impact. Material manifestations are helpful too: these are a major hook of the China Trade are they not? I’m not sure that the Iberian Peninsula can compete in this realm, but there was certainly a range of goods with the label “Bilboa” (the 18th century spelling) attached to them which were in demand in the later eighteenth century: most importantly Bilbao handkerchiefs, Bilbao yarn and caps, and Bilbao mirrors, which might or might not have been manufactured on the Iberian Peninsula.

A very typical 1770s shipping report in the Essex Gazette; of course the destinations listed point to the intersection of the fish and slave trades in the Atlantic system; Advertisements from the Salem Gazette, and a “Bilbao Mirror” from Bonhams Skinner. I should say that the only references that I found for “Bilbao caps” in the pre-revolutionary newspapers were in runaway slave advertisements.

The stories of the Salem men (sorry, they were all men when it comes to the maritime trade; manufacturing, processing and retail by-products I just don’t know) who dominated this trade can all be found in the papers of the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in Rowley: Samuel Browne early in the eighteenth century, the Derbys, the Ornes, the Cabots, and others later (and there are very helpful appendices to the finding aids for these papers along with a recently-digitized collection of logbooks). These later men, like their counterparts in nearby Marblehead, Beverly, Gloucester, and other New England ports, dealt with Diego de Gardoqui Y Arribuibar, the head of an eminent family merchant house in Bilbao, Joseph Gardoqui & Sons. The Gardoqui firm had been importing salted codfish from the British American colonies since 1763, and because of stiff competition with other Iberian ports, its increasing focus in commercial relations was on the merchants of the North Shore of Boston. Diego de Gardoqui developed relationships with the Marblehead merchants Jeremiah Lee and Eldridge Gerry, and also with members of the Cabot family based in Beverly and Salem and the Derbys of Salem. When the Revolution began, these connections resulted in the Gardoqui firm suppling the Americans with arms, gunpowder and other supplies even before Spain entered the war on the side of America and France in 1779; the first foreign rifles supplied to the colonists were sent from Bilbao to Massachusetts in 1775. Gardoqui committed to the Colonies personally and then officially, assuming the role of a Spanish government official tasked with overseeing military aid during the Revolution and Spain’s first Ambassador to the United States afterwards. He was present at the inauguration of George Washington in 1789. Diego de Gardoqui appears like an Iberian Lafayette to me, and I am not the only one: recent historiography and initiatives (like these sponsored by global utility company Iberdrola, which actually built our new power plant in Salem and recently emerged victorious from a major lawsuit brought by its owner/developer) seek to re-center Spain in the history of the American Revolution, right alongside France. Salem and its region are part of that re-centering story, and could look eastward for inspiration as it approaches the anniversaries of both its founding and the Revolution in 2026. In an interview explaining the Iberdrola project and its mission, the historian José Manual Guerrero Acosta asserted that “I believe that millions of Hispanic people living today in the US are entitled to recognition of the fact that the Hispanic world and its forebears, which made up part of the Spanish crown territories in America, were present in a significant way at the birth of their country.”

Two recent titles, including a stirring study of the namesake of Galveston, Texas, Bernardo de Gálvez; Diego de Gardoqui, Ca 1785. Courtesy Family Cano Gardoqui.

Bilbao was a bit of a free port in the eighteenth century, owing to its customary fueros granting exemption from Spanish taxes and its role as a haven for privateers, including those from Salem. Just offshore in June of 1780, Captain Jonathan Haraden, the “bravest of the brave” and “Salem Salamander,” fought his most spectacular engagement with the British privateer Achilles, ostensibly to cheering crowds in port. The Gardoqui firm reported Haraden’s exploits to Benjamin Franklin, then Minister Plenipotentiary, and Franklin replied on July 4: “Captain Haraden–whose bravery in taking and retaking the Privateer gave me great pleasure.” Haraden is such a hero in nineteenth-century naval histories and twentieth-century boys’ magazines, and currently in Eric Jay Dolan’s Rebels at Sea. Privateering in the American Revolution, but in Salem both he and his profession seem truly forgotten. Cape Cod pirates, some real, some not, rule while Salem’s very real privateers languish in the dusty recesses of Salem’s ever-dimming historical consciousness. We seldom hear of them, despite the facts that 158 privateering vessels originated from Salem during the Revolution, capturing 458 prizes, the largest prize tonnage of any single American port. Perhaps a revolutionary re-focus, inspired by the need to expand our city’s history to include as many of our residents as possible, might also forge a reaquaintenance (and/or re-evaluation) with some previously-aclaimed dead white men too! There’s a lot of ground–or should I say ocean—for exploration, inspiration, and revelation.

Top: Nowland Van Powell’s depiction of Captain Haraden’s engagement with the Achilles, which had stolen his prize, the Golden Eagle, off Bilbao, Eldred’s Auctions.

APPENDIX: Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that I’m not exactly a fan of Salem’s “heritage management,” so I can’t resist this comparison of two Bilbao-connected plaques: one featuring Diego de Gardoqui prominently placed in front of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead and another marking Jonathan Haraden’s very public victory over the Achilles, which is located inside a Korean barbeque restaurant on Essex Street in Salem. Seriously! BonChon, the restaurant in question, was one of my major pandemic take-out spots (it still is actually, as I adore their fried rice) so I became quite familiar with Haraden’s plaque during that time. The plaque was installed by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1909 on a house where Haraden once lived which was later demolished. I seem to recall that its replacement structure had the plaque on the exterior, but when that building was demolished and another built in its place a few years ago it ended up inside—not exactly sure why, but very Salem.


Open House in Essex County

It occurred to me the other day that during the long life of this blog I have never spotlighted Trails and Sails, a calendar of dedicated events and openings throughout Essex County in September organized by the Essex National Heritage Area. I feel remiss; I have friends and former students who work for Essex Heritage, and I myself am a commissioner! These folks know what heritage is and are able to discern it from tourism, and so they connect and cast light on institutions and areas which represent this region’s cultural and material legacy in meaningful ways. Trails and Sails is a 10-day extravaganza of free events throughout our region, beginning next weekend. I’ve picked my events, and my participation will pretty much revolve around visiting old buildings, but don’t let my game plan (mis-) inform yours: there are plenty of events that involve much more outside action like walking, paddling, biking, apple-picking, cider-making, birding, and even “forest bathing” (whatever that is) right here in Salem. So go to the website, or download the digital guide, and chart your course. Note that many (but not all) events and openings are recurring and some require reservations.

Saturday, September 17I’ve got to get into the glorious Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, so that will be my first stop. I’ve wanted to see this hall for about five years. From Lynn, I’ll drive over to Danvers to tour the 1670 Judge Samuel Holten House, another building which I’ve long admired and never been inside. Same with the Platts-Bradstreet House in Rowley, so that’s next, then back to Salem for a walking tour of Charlotte’s (Forten) Salem by History Alive, Inc.

Lynn’s GAR Hall, two seventeenth-century houses, and Charlotte Forten about to lead us around Salem!

Sunday, September 18: I know that I will have to do some lecture and presentation prep on this day but I am still going to the Open House at the Rocks Village Handtub Building and Toll House Museum on the Merrimack as I love that building and (again) have never been inside. I might as well go to the Brocklebank Museum on Georgetown as it’s on the way home.

Rocks Village,Georgetown, and the Jackman-Willet House in Newbury.

The following week, unfortunately, is super busy and I have my own presentation on Saturday the 24th, so that leaves Sunday the 25th, when I’ll go up to Newbury and see the seventeenth-century Jackman-Willet House and anything else that is happening in that part of the county. I feel like I’m missing out on some great events, particularly Fletcher Steele and Frederick Law Olmsted tours and a view of Gloucester from its grandiose city hall. But there’s always next year: Trails and Sails is an established tradition. As I was looking at the schedule, thinking about where I would like to go, and reflecting upon my past summer, it was just houses, houses, houses! I love visiting old open houses, but I think I must be an outlier among heritage tourists today. I’ve been talking to a few museum professionals over the summer, and they all tell me that house museums just aren’t as popular as they used to be. This might explain why so many in Salem are closed, including all of the Peabody Essex Museum’s houses save the Ropes Mansion and Salem Maritime’s Derby House (well, save the ell). But everywhere I have gone this summer—in New York, and all the New England states—there have been good-sized parties touring houses with me so it makes me feel like there are still some old-house afficionados out there! An anecdotal view, I know, but a hopeful one. Perhaps I should finally admit, however, that my essential childhood bedside book, Samuel Chamberlain’s Open House in New England, might have been a bit odd.


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