Category Archives: History

Elizabethan Caterpillars

Oddly enough, I was thinking about caterpillars before the big Tudor revelation of last week: the confirmation that a lavishly embroidered cloth-of-silver altar cloth in a small church in Herefordshire was fashioned from a dress which might have belonged to Elizabeth I. The cloth was discovered by Historic Royal Palaces Joint Chief Curator Tracy Borman, who has included it in her newly-released book, The Private Lives of the Tudors. Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty. Apparently Elizabeth had a reputation for casting-off her clothing to favorites, and her faithful servant Blanche Parry hailed from Bracton, the small village where this luxurious cloth has been hanging for over 400 years. The photographs of the cloth, particularly close-ups, show familiar Elizabethan flora and fauna (in a pattern that does indeed look very familiar to that of the dress which Elizabeth wears in the famous “Rainbow” portrait), including a rather conspicuous caterpillar hovering over a bear.

Caterpillar Cloth HRP

Jacobean Jacket METThe Herefordshire altar cloth (@Historic Royal Palaces) and a fitted jacked from a bit later (c. 1616) featuring a caterpillar among a world of flora and fauna, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So why was I thinking about caterpillars in general and Elizabethan caterpillars in particular? For the usual mix of scholarly/materialistic reasons. I am prepping for my summer graduate course on Elizabethan England, while at the same time spring cleaning the house and indulging in a bit of seasonal decoration, which for me means swapping out Spring rabbits for Summer bugs and snails: I had just replaced a John Derian glass tray featuring a card-dealing rabbit with one bearing a colorful caterpillar when I read the news about the Herefordshire discovery. And I’m rereading one of my favorite books, Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution which captures perfectly the dynamic world of fledgling naturalists and “scientists” in later-sixteenth century London. Harkness is probably better known for her fictional bestsellers of the past few years but for me, this is her jewel. I really had a hard time conveying to my students just how focused Elizabethans were on the natural world before it was published; certainly you can see–they can see– this preoccupation in Tudor decorative arts, and most particularly textiles, but I’m hoping that Harkness will really bring it home to them.

Caterpillar Tray John Derian

Jewel House Cover HarknessJohn Derian’s caterpillar tray & Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House.

So back to the caterpillar, which is such a distinctive creature in terms of both appearance and activity: it transforms and consumes, dramatically. Which quality determined their metaphorical characterization in Elizabethan England? Definitely the latter: when Shakespeare writes of a commonwealth of caterpillars in Richard II, he is referring to devouring parasites whom Bolingbroke has sworn “to weed and pluck away”. Another Shakespearian reference is to false caterpillars in Henry IV, Part 2: a rebellious group of “scholars, lawyers, courtiers, gentleman” who (once again) are preying on the people: prey, “pill”, pillage: the caterpillar is hardly the wondrous creature of the first British entomologists Thomas Penny and Thomas Moffett, who maintained a more empirical perspective. The latter’s great work (which is largely based on the former!), Insectorum sive Minimorum animalium theatrum (posthumously published in 1634), is more focused on metamorphosis than munching.

Moffett collage

Thomas Moffett’s Insectorum sive Minimorum animalium theatrium (1634–but largely based on Thomas Penny’s 500-page manuscript from the 1590s).


Fossil Factories

For me, the most haunted place in Salem is not a cemetery or anything to do with the Witch Trials (though it is quite near Harmony Grove Cemetery and Gallows Hill): it is Blubber Hollow, a site of intensive manufacturing and industrial activities from the seventeenth century until the later twentieth. The center of Salem’s bustling leather industry in the later nineteenth century, this was where the Great Salem Fire started in June of 1914, in a factory producing patent leather shows on the site of the present-day Walgreens on Boston Street (behind which is is Proctor’s Ledge, now confirmed as the execution site of the victims of 1692). Its name indicates that it was also associated with the production of whale oil, but for me it always conjures up an image of frenzied commercial activity, candles burning at both ends or oil lamps burning all night. No longer: those factories that survived the 1914 fire, or were built after, are empty for the most part, and coming down soon, as Blubber Hollow transitions from ghost town into residential neighborhood: one large apartment building has already been built and there are more to come. As you walk down Grove Street towards Goodhue, past the still-busy Moose Lodge and marijuana dispensary, the sense of imminent transformation is palpable but ghosts are still present.

Urban Archaeology 3

Urban Archaeology 2

Urban Archaeology 5

Relic smokestack.

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Urban Archaeology 8

Urban Archaeology 9

North River Canal

Texture at one of the former Salem Oil and Grease buildings, and the North River Canal.

Urban Archaeology 14

No one will be sorry to see Flynntan go.

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Blubber Hollow Hose House

Urban Archaeology 13

Past and Future: Blubber Hollow in its heyday and “Hose House” No. 4 in its midst, from Fred A. Gannon’s Old Salem Scrapbook, #6 (1900); North River Luxury Apartmentst @ 28 Goodhue Street.


A Pair of Pears

I had a pear-oriented day yesterday. I was trying to work on the syllabus for my upcoming graduate course on Elizabethan England as well as the three-semester schedule for our department’s course offerings. Both are rather tedious tasks so I was taking regular breaks and roaming (both digitally and literally) away for bouts of time. I always like to have an “inspirational image” on my syllabi, and under the pretense of looking for one I spent hours examining Elizabethan portraits. Hours. Who is this, where are they, what are they holding, why are they dressed that way? Then I would feel guilty and go back to the syllabus and the schedule. Then I would take another break and go outside and see what’s popped up in my garden, ride my bike, play with my cats, and come inside and scope out lots in upcoming auctions, between loads of laundry and stabs at my syllabus and schedule. So you see the rhythm of my day, and by the end of this day of searching for Elizabethan images and secreting away from my schedule I ended up fixated on a pair of pears (or two pairs of pears really).

800px-Three_Young_Girls_by_Follower_of_William_Larkin

Pears by Sultan Skinner Auctions

Anonymous follow of William Larkin, Three Young Girls, c. 1620, Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum; Donald Sultan, Pears screenprint from Fruit, Flowers and a Fish, 1989-91, published by Parasol Press, Ltd., New York, Skinner Auctions.

The painting of the three girls is not even Elizabethan–it dates from a bit later. But look at these girls, so beautiful and so ready, but for what? To greet an eminent visitor? To assume command of the household upon the death of their mother? The ripe fruit held by the older two might represent their maturity (and fecundity) while the younger girl is still “playing” with dolls–is this one a representation of Queen Elizabeth? I’m quite preoccupied with this painting: apparently lots of research remains to be done on both its projection(s) and its painter. Sultan’s pears appeal to me aesthetically, though I don’t have any questions about them (such is my reaction to much modern art). In their craftsmanship and detail they do, however, remind me of a very famous Salem pear: Samuel McIntire’s carving of an exemplar pear grown in Ipswich first captured by his contemporary, artist Michele Felice Corné.

Pear Carving McIntire PEM

Pear model by Samuel McIntire, 1802-1811, after a painting by Michele Felice Corné, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.

I don’t feel like I have to draw Salem connections to every topic I write about here, but sometimes I can’t help it! Salem actually plays a very big role in pomological history as it prospered at a time when pears were much, much, much more important than mere apples, or any other tree fruit. More generally, Salem’s horticultural history is another example of its heritage that gets completely overshadowed by the giant Witch Trials. From Governor Endecott’s pear tree, planted around 1630 and still standing in nearby Danvers (then Salem–read a very complete history here), to the nearly as old and much commented-upon orange pear tree on the Hardy Street property of Captain William Allen, to the popular colonial pear cider, or “perry” made from Salem fruit, to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grandfather Robert Manning’s vast “Pomological Garden” in North Salem, it is very evident that pears were popular, and perceived as representative of both Salem’s productivity and longevity. In a report on the Horticultural Exhibition held at the Essex Institute in 1850, the Horticultural Review and Botantical Magazine noted that this Salem must be a wonderful place for longevity. While we are boasting of our pears that begin to bear on bushes, three or four years old, these Salemites claim nearly as many centuries for some of theirs.

Pear Tree Danvers PC

Pears Buffum 1877

1910 postcard of the Endecott Pear Tree, Danvers; a pair of Buffum pears, one of the hundreds of varieties grown at Robert Manning’s “Pomological Garden” on Dearborn Street in the mid-19th century, from D.M. Dewey’s The nurseryman’s pocket specimen book : colored from nature : fruits, flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs, roses, &c (1872).

P.S. I did finish the syllabus, but not the schedule.


What to do with my Stereoviews?

I’ve been a collector of sorts for much of my life but I never collected historic photographic images until I started this blog: I quickly realized their power to tell stories and provide context in this, our digital age. So I started buying some Salem images, mostly stereoviews, which were produced in vast quantities in the later nineteenth century. There were about six or seven major publishers of stereoviews here in Salem at that time, but I’ve focused almost all my collecting efforts on images associated with Frank Cousins, as either photographer or publisher. I just completed my collection of his sentimental “Salem in 1876” views, encompassing nearly every corner of central Salem. Now I’ve got a (shoe) box of stereoviews and I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

Stereoviews

Stereoviews 2

Steroview Chestnut Street Cousins

Frank Cousins published views taken both up and down Chestnut Street and all over the city, documenting “Salem in 1876”.

Stereoviews are relatively easy to acquire, especially of a city like Salem which has been selling its image, in one way or another, for quite some time. They turn up online very frequently and I always find them at the larger flea markets and paper shows. My collection is pretty focused on Cousins, but it also has a few views that I have never seen anywhere else, including a great (though completely unattributed and undated) view of Front Street from Washington Street and a rather unusual (forested!) view of the South Church that stood across Chestnut Street from my house for nearly a century. This McIntire masterpiece burned down in 1803: I’m trying to gather as many images of it so I can glean its impact from every possible perspective. My verdant view is contrasted with a more typical image of the church, from the best source for digitized stereoviews: the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library (where you can make “stereogranimators”).

Stereoview Front Street Salem

Stereoview Second Church Tilton

Stereo South Church Salem NYPL

(Stereo)view of Front Street, ?date, ?photographer); the South Church on Chestnut by Peabody & Tilton, c. 1875 and Guy & Brothers, c. 1884, Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

Obviously I have a predilection for streetscapes but I like some (not all; some are creepy) of the more intimate, “up close and personal” stereoviews too. I’ve seen quite a few of people just standing outside their houses, being captured for posterity. A double dose of daily life. I love this image of a Salem Willows summer cottage with its residents, all ready for summer. This is not mine, unfortunately, but from another great source of stereoviews: the Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Libraries.

Stereoview Juniper Point UMASS Lowell SP

“View at Juniper Point, Salem Neck, Mass.”, n.d., Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries (the original Willows cottages were built for Lowell residents who wanted to summer on the coast).

So again, what to do with those stereoviews that I do possess? Ultimately I will leave them all to the Salem State University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, because what Salem needs is a Center for Salem History there, as the Peabody Essex Museum ceased its historical-society function long ago. But in the meantime, I’d like to find a more clever and creative way to preserve and display them. I’d like to get them out of the box! I guess I could frame them in some interesting combinations and create a gallery wall, but that’s about the extent of my creativity. Brass floating frames? Display them with a special “twinscope” at hand like this cool exhibit from just last year, Syracuse in 3-D (1860-1910)? I’m open to suggestions, because I do think there is something very engaging–both aesthetically and historically– about images in multiples. As evidence, I give you this beautiful invitation to the Pickering House’s annual garden party by Salem artist Racket Shreve, paired with Cousins’ stereoview, of course.

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Stereo Pickering

Stereoview Pickering House Cousins 1876

Scene from the interactive “Syracuse in 3-D” exhibit by Colleen Woolpert (+ more here); Racket Shreve’s quatre-Pickering House invitation; Frank Cousins’ “Salem in 1876” stereoview of the Pickering House.


Trees for Lafayette

This is not to complain–I know lots of good Salem people are working on this–but rather to offer some perspective: Salem’s grand boulevard Lafayette Street needs some trees (and some love). This is the route on which I walk to work nearly every day, and I crave the protective canopy it once had. I’m also tired of picking up trash, and hoping that the commitment to the future that tree plantings represent would also instill a bit more stewardship for this once-grand street. Lafayette Street was laid out a bit later than the rest of Salem: over the course of the nineteenth century following the erection of a bridge to Marblehead and the partition of the vast farm of Ezekiel Hersey Derby. The earliest photographs I have seen are from the 1870s: they show a boulevard of mansions, and trees: elms of course, but also other varieties. We have very precise dating for the planting of the elms of upper Lafayette Street from a wonderful book, John Robinson’s Our Trees. A Popular Account of the Trees in the Streets and Gardens of Salem, and of the Native Trees of Essex County, Massachusetts, with the Locations of Trees, and Historical and Botanical Notes (1891):  It has been said that the trees on the upper portion of Lafayette Street were planted within the line of the Derby estate, on account of some opposition to placing them in the street itself. The street was laid out in its present magnificent width at the suggestion of Mr. E. Hersey Derby in 1808. Mr. David Waters informs me that his father, but a short time before his death, while passing these trees, said that when a boy he was called by Mr. Derby to assist at planting them, holding the samplings while the workers filled the earth in about them. Mr. Waters, Senior, was born in 1796 and would have been twelve years of age when the street was laid out. The date of the planting of these elms, thus corroborated, may, therefore, safely be placed at 1808. In addition to a few images of the entire tree-lined street, we also have several photographs of the “wooded estates and pleasure gardens” (a phrase from an 1873 guidebook to greater Boston) of Lafayette Street before the Great Salem Fire of 1914. When you compare these lush images with those taken in the days after the Fire, it’s painful.

Lafayette_Street,_Salem,_MA 1910

Lafayette Street Cousins cropped 1891

Lafayette Street Cousins Derby Mansion 1891

Lafayette Houses Collage

Lafayette Church 1880s

Shades of pre-fire Lafayette Street: a very popular postcard c. 1910; Frank Cousins’ photographs of the very verdant street (1876) and the Old Derby Mansion (1891), demolished in 1898, Duke University Library; Gothic Revival and Victorian houses on upper Lafayette, still standing, while the McIntire-designed Josiah Dow House (built 1809) in the lower-right hand corner is gone (Smithsonian Institution collections and Cornell University Library); rendering for the Lafayette Street Methodist Church, American Architecture and Building News, 1884.

The Fire laid waste to half of the street (from Derby to Holly and Leach Streets), and later on many of the surviving mansions of the other half–rather massive Victorians, Queen Annes, and Italianates–became subdivided and commercialized. After the replacement of some of these structures by some truly terrible mid-century apartment buildings, the Lafayette Street Historic District was created in 1985. Trees will really help Lafayette Street, but other challenges remain: chiefly the constant traffic which seems to grow worse and worse with every passing year and the incremental though persistent expansion of Salem State University (my employer) at its upper end. Students and staff have turned this end of Lafayette into one big parking lot, a trend that has not been mediated by the construction of a large campus parking lot in my estimation. I think a new South Salem train stop would help with the parking, but I’m not sure about the traffic: I watch it every day on my way to and from work and the majority of it does not seem to be university-related: this is also the only route to Marblehead, after all.

Traffic is tough, but more trees will shield and shade Lafayette Streets residents…and walkers. And as I said at the top, there are plans for more trees, and better maintenance of existing trees, throughout Salem. Just last week the City Council formed the Leaf-oriented Resiliency and Arboricultural Expansion Taskforce with its associated acronym, LORAX, for just that purpose (yes, you read that correctly: LORAX). The plans for the major new development at the corner of Lafayette and Loring Streets also have lots of provisions for trees. I’m not really a fan of the new building (which will totally dominate the view from my office) but I’m really happy to see plans for all these new trees, including some disease-resistant elms (there is one Elm still alive on Lafayette–I think? See below!)

Lafayette Street 1908 Final

Lafayette today

Lafayette after the Fire pc

Lafayette 1917 SRCR Final

Lafayette Tree

Upper Lafayette in 1908 and today; the 1914 fire was so devastating, in so many ways, and all of the reports reference the lost trees almost as much as the lost buildings: the Rebuilding Commission Report specified many trees–some of which are visible in the 1917 photograph above: if trees were a priority then, they should be a priority now! Lafayette’s surviving Elm, near the corner of Fairfield Street.


Scent of a Queen

While I was looking for spring wine concoctions in A Queen’s Delight the other day I came across a recipe for “Queen Elizabeths Perfume”: Take eight spoonfuls of Compound water, the weight of two pence in fine powder of Sugar, and boil it on hot Embers and Coals, softly, and half an ounce of sweet Marjoram dried in the Sun, the weight of two pence of the powder of Benjamin to make a sweet, long-lasting perfume. As you can see, other delights are in there, including a rose and cypress perfume supposedly utilized by her brother Edward, and a toothpaste made of Mother of Pearl.

Queens Delight 4

This herbal scent seems a bit more complex (and long-lasting) than Elizabeth’s other perfume, recorded in C.J.S. Thompson’s Mystery and Lure of Perfume (1927) and the inspiration for the “perfume garden” designed by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins which won a Gold Medal and the title of “Most Creative” at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show. I wish I had seen this garden–which presented the evolution of Elizabeth’s perfume from plant to bottle in a “polysensorial” way–but we can all buy a bottle of the finished product at the Historic Royal Palaces gift shop (oh no, they only ship to the U.K). I think I might prefer the marjoram-based scent anyway; rose damask is a bit cloying.

Scent of a Queenp

PerfumeGarden2009

Perfume Garden Sketch ChettwoodArchitects

Elizabeth Perfume HRP

Sketch and photograph of the award-winning Perfume Garden, 2009, from a portfolio here; Elizabeth’s inspirational rose damask eau de toilette, available (in the U.K.) here.

Speaking of cloying: neither of these perfumes contains the exotic ingredient found in so many recipes for scented sachets, pomanders, and waters in the sixteenth and seventeenth century: musky secretions from the anal glands of the civet cat (not a cat at all), which could mask all unpleasant odors and serve as an aphrodisiac. Shakespeare gave King Lear a civet reference–Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination–but a century later it was fortunately out of fashion if Samuel Cowper’s rhyme is any indication: I cannot talk with civet in the room, a fine puss-gentleman that’s all perfume.

Elizabethan Perfume Collage

Barbier Elizabethans 1928

Another perfume recipe from A Queen’s Delight and an Elizabethan perfume bottle from the “Cheapside Hoard” and the Museum of London; the Elizabethan pouchoir print by Georges Barbier from Richard Le Gallienne’s Romance of Perfume (1928).


Lincoln’s Laboratory

I’ve been digging around in bins and folders for scraps of paper for as long as I can remember, and I do recall one item that caught my attention years ago: it was an envelope with a still-bright print of Abraham Lincoln depicted as some sort of wizardly chemist, an alchemist, I also recall thinking, in the midst of a rather wordy laboratory. It had a sticker marked $5 on it which struck me as quite steep at that time. Now I see that this same envelope fetched $2600 at a recent auction! The envelope, produced by the Salem stationery and publishing firm of G.M. Whipple and A.A. Smith (1860-1875), has become a highly-coveted example of Civil War propaganda, and I clearly missed out.

Union Alchemist

Whipple and Smith were not only showing their colors; they were marketing a relatively new product: the envelope itself. Before 1851 U.S. postage was charged by the sheet, so people simply folded their letters with sealing wax and mailed them off. In that year a flat postage rate was introduced for mail under a half-ounce and traveling less than 3,000 miles, so protective “covers” were introduced, which became patriotic covers a decade later. More than 10,000 embellished envelopes were produced in the North during the Civil War, much less in the South. They became collectible items even during that time, as many survive unaddressed—like the one I saw some time ago and those below. I can see why the “Union Alchemist” envelope is coveted today: its image and message is a bit more intricate than the majority of pro-Union covers I have seen–many featuring Jefferson Davis swinging from a rope (actually he is there, in the upper left-hand corner, in a specimen jar, next to General Beauregard).

Union Alchemist 3

Lincoln is writing prescriptions in a laboratory full of his distillations, including pure refined national elixir of liberty and metallic soap for erasing stains..for the southern market; he is not only the Great Emancipator (and the Great Distiller) but also the renowned rebel exterminator. It’s such a great image and item: what was I thinking years ago when I passed it by? I’ve found quite a few more in auction and historical archives, but none available, for $5 or $500: this is definitely one that got away, but I did catch a Salem octopus!

Lincoln Envelope Hakes Auctions

Lincoln's Laboratory PMA

Union Alchemist 2

Union Alchemist 5 Cowans

Union Alchemist 8

Union Alchemist Bangor

Civil War Cover

Whipple & Smith’s “Lincoln’s Laboratory or the Union Alchemist” covers, from Hake’s Americana & Collectibles, The Helfand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The John A. McAllister Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Cowan’s Auctions, PBA Galleries, and the Bangor Historical Society.


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