Escape from Salem, part II: Portsmouth Parallel

I was up in my hometown (York, Maine) this past weekend, and spent Saturday morning in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a favorite old and perennial haunt. One of the reasons I moved to Salem long ago is that it reminded me of Portsmouth: both are historic port towns with vibrant downtowns (now, not always), well-preserved historic districts, and a wealth of cultural institutions. Salem has many advantages that Portsmouth does not have: a major museum (the Peabody Essex), a university (well, you could make an argument that Salem State is either an advantage or a disadvantage I suppose; oddly Portsmouth feels more like a “college town” than Salem to me), proximity to Boston, a National Park, a Common! Portsmouth has at least one distinct advantage over Salem: it has retained its status as a “market town” over the centuries as it hasn’t faced the commercial competition that has challenged Salem’s commercial center (and pushed it towards becoming “Witch City”). Portsmouth has always worked towards the development of a stable, year-round commercial economy rather than a seasonal one, and it shows: it is a city that is oriented towards residents more than tourists. Portsmouth has also experienced the same building boom as Salem over the past decade or so, but they have handled it much better in my opinion: with the exception of a few big boxy buildings past and present have been merged more harmoniously in its center. Salem has a larger, more densely-settled population than Portsmouth and much more intensive traffic as it is situated at a crossroads, whereas Portsmouth is a destination unto itself: this makes Salem a noticeably busier place, exponentially so in October. So it was nice to drive easily into Portsmouth on Saturday morning and walk around the very clean (another big difference) city: the shops and restaurants were full of people even though it was not Halloween-central, imagine!



portsmouth-collage Above: Past and Present  on Portsmouth streets; below–alleys and secondary roads were transformed into pedestrian malls in Portsmouth, not a main street like Salem’s Essex Street. Portsmouth has no Common, but it has some great, well-kept parks—Aldrich Park is below. LOVE the signage, especially the inclusion of former buildings on the site along with biographical information.




There are so many great houses in Portsmouth: below are just a few, downtown and skirting Strawbery Banke. I didn’t even make it over to the South End. Fewer “Salem Federals” than in Salem of course, but there are some…this first house below, which looks like it is a private residence now, was a restaurant called Strawberry Court when I was high school, and this is where we went to dinner before my junior prom!







I had family responsibilities, so I didn’t have much time for shopping or a stop at the Book & Bar (can you imagine a better place?), but I did get waylaid by the amazing African Burying Ground Memorial.




I had seen the Memorial, In Honor of those Forgotten, before, very briefly, but I spent more time immersed in it Saturday morning: immersed is the word, as it does not consist of merely a few statues, but an entire installation, woven together by the words of the 1779 “Petition for Freedom” sent to the New Hampshire legislature by Portsmouth slaves and figures representing both those same slaves and the atoning Portsmouth community, today. Very powerful.







Through Brown-colored Glasses

I can’t manage escapist day trips in the middle of the week so I was stuck in Salem, but life was not too rough on Chestnut Street, with beautiful, sunny weather, decorations on nearly every stoop, and a film crew present all day on Wednesday. I also wanted to play with an app (Vignette) on my phone and pretend that I was my very favorite turn-of-the-last century photographer Frank Cousins, so I shot my neighborhood, house, garden, and cats in sepia. Perhaps this was another form of escapism? In any case, it was interesting to see which architectural styles were actually accentuated  in brown, and which were not. I also experimented with a few other filters, just for comparison’s sake, but my favorite is definitely sepia. After all, the very first header of my blog was the sepia shot of the street below, taken in the 1890s by an unknown photographer.


And here are some of my pictures from the last few days: some things definitely look better in sepia (Halloween decorations, Greek Revival houses, architectural details)–others, I’m not so sure–but it definitely brings out the shadows so evident at this time of year.filtered



The filming at #12 (below) definitely looks better in color, but I like one of the old cars hired for the shoot in sepia, even though it was bright, blazing red. After everyone left, I managed to customize the filter and get a bit of both.




I love Chestnut Street Park–sometimes called McIntire Park–in sepia, as well as my own garden, as it has no color at this time of year anyway: it kind of accentuates the fading. Inside, I only like my mirrors in sepia–and definitely not my cat Trinity, who is a very colorful calico. She looks uncharacteristically depressed in this tone.



Escape from Salem, part I: South Shore Ramble

After last year’s full immersion into Haunted Happenings, Salem’s month-long celebration of its apparently fortunate association with the tragic Witch Trials of 1692, I’ve decided that a better course of action for me this year is to get out of town. I try to engage in the festivities every three years or so, but last year was just too much:  too much craven exploitation, too much tackiness, too much trash. Last year nearly broke me: if my husband had had a similar reaction and intent, we would have sold the house and moved to Ipswich. I don’t want to move, so this October I will simply escape Salem whenever I can–or hunker down in the house (I’ve brought in supplies). I’m sure my family, friends and students will appreciate this decision, as I’ll be a much nicer person to be around, but this is a declaration for my faithful readers: my blog’s title will be a misnomer for most of this month, although I might be able to sneak in a few midweek walks.

October is also a busy academic month, so I’ll have to take quick regional road trips whenever I can. The other day, I meandered around the South Shore, a world apart from the North as any greater Bostonian knows. I got off the highway in Dedham, which has a wonderful historic downtown, drove on small roads all the way down to Plymouth, and then back up north via Route 3A on the coast. I took tons of photographs, but it was a rainy, cloudy day so most of them didn’t really “pop” (especially as I seem to have a predilection for two-story square white colonial houses–you don’t need to see a multitude of those!) Now, before I get multiple protests from local readers, let me say that in the greater Boston area, many people do not consider Dedham to be part of the South Shore, as it is decidedly not on the coast and too far west: as you can see, it is not on this “North Shore vs. South Shore” map from Boston MagazineBut I’ve never known how to classify Dedham geographically so I am including it here—northwestern towns like Burlington (??????) are regularly included in the North Shore, so it seems only fair to include southwestern towns like Dedham in the South.

north-shore-vs-south-shore-map Map by John S. Dykes, Boston Magazine

Downtown Dedham: even though it’s about half the size and much less urban, Dedham is kind of like Salem in that it’s a county seat and a “mother of towns”—an early settlement from which all the surrounding towns later separated. Dedham is also difficult to get into because of traffic and a confusing intersection of major arteries–but well worth the effort.









……all in the immediate downtown with the exception of the amazing first-period Fairbanks House. Then it was down to Plymouth via routes 138 and 106 with a pitstop in Plympton.

Plympton and Plymouth:




SHEEP in relatively rural Plympton and this rather stately old brown house….on to Plymouth which is large geographically and always somewhat less historical than you expect it to be–however there are some great old houses there, and of course the Mayflower II. I don’t think we need a picture of the rock, and I’ll leave Plimoth Plantation for another post.





Then back up north via Route 3A, through Duxbury, probably the most beautiful town in Massachusetts, which one local radio host used to refer to as “Deluxbury”. Very pristine–and no sidewalks! Then on to Marshfield–where my camera promptly ran out of power. I will return–I have an entire month of daytrips ahead of me!





There are so many beautiful houses in Duxbury it was difficult to choose , so I just limited myself to one–the very Salem-like Nathaniel Winsor House, headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Shingles everywhere on the South Shore, less common on the North. LOVED Marshfield Hills, especially these last two houses.

Antique Apples

I was listening to the TED talk of biodiversity warrior Cory Fowler the other day when I suddenly became panicked about the dwindling variety of apples in our world. It must be the season, but immediately this issue resonated with me: we have apparently lost 86% of the varieties of apples we had a century ago: 86%! Of course I am very, very late to the party: Thoreau was wandering around the woods and fields of Massachusetts 150 years ago reveling in the sheer variety of pomological splendor before him while at that same time observing that “it is remarkable how closely the history of the apple-tree is with that of man” and “the era of the wild apple will soon be over”. He complains about the preponderance of Baldwins, now relatively rare, but it seems like all we have are boring McIntosh, Delicious, Gala, and Granny Smith apples in the grocery stores today. I looked through some agricultural books, journals, and catalogs from the middle of the nineteenth century, beginning with the several editions of Robert Manning’s Book of Fruits and proceeding through The Apple Culturist (1871), and came up with a list of about 150 apple varieties which were cultivated just in Massachusetts at that time, including the aforementioned Baldwin, along with Bellflower, Blue Permain, Canada Reinette, Duchess of Oldenberg, Early Joe, Fall Pippin, Fenouillet Jaune, Grimes’ Golden Pippin, Hawthorndean, Hubbardston’s Nonsuch (to which there is a monument dedicated in Wilmington, Massachusetts), Myers’s Nonpareil, Newtown Spitzenberg, Northern Spy, Pickman Pippin, Pick’s Pleasant, Pound Royal, Red Astrakhan, Rhode Island Greening, Roxbury Russet (very famous as “New England’s first pomological experiment”), and my very favorite, Westfield Seek-no-further. There are a few local growers still cultivating some of these varieties, but most of them are no more.

We can’t taste all of these antiquated apples (though some, it seems, we can!), be we can see them, thanks to a great visual source: the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, which contains over 7000 images of fruit from 1886 to 1942.We used to have over 7000 apples, and now we have pictures.






roxbury-russetA Baldwin apple, 1915, by Mary Daisy Arnold; Early Joe, 1898, by Deborah Griscom Passmore; Hubbardston, 1928, Mary Daisy Arnold; Northern Spy, 1905, by Elsie Lower; Roxbury Russet, 1905, by  Amanda Almira Newton:  all U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705. A real Roxbury Russet from Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Salem and “Dark Tourism”

For a while I’ve been wondering where Salem fits into the academic field of “Dark Tourism”, a term coined by Scottish tourism professors John Lennon and Malcolm Foley in 1996 and utilized by a succession of authors, operating from a variety of perspectives and within several disciplines, over the past thirty years. There is even an Institute for Dark Tourism Research (at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK), and its director, Philip Stone, has crafted the most succinct definition of a concept-in-progress to date: ‘the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions which have real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre as a main theme’. While this certainly sounds like October in Salem to me, it could also apply to many heritage tourism sites: Civil War battlefields, World War One cemeteries, concentration camps—much of Dark Tourism literature is concerned with the memorialization of the Holocaust. Certainly one could call a visit to the 9/11 Memorial an expression of Dark Tourism, and maybe even the Fabulous Ruins tour in Detroit. Dark Tourism is about death and suffering, but it can also be about remembrance and awareness.



The abandoned town of Prypiat in Ukraine, now a stop on the Chernobyl tour, ©Getty Images; Charter Street Cemetery in Salem.

Call me cynical, but I don’t think the majority of Salem’s witch businesses or tourists are focused on remembering the names and experiences of Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd and  Elizabeth Howe. They seem to be indulging in a sub-category of Dark Tourism called “Fright Tourism” (which itself seems to be a sub-category of Morbid Tourism–and there are many other sub-categories, such as “grief tourism” and “disaster tourism”–as well as a more academic umbrella term, Thanatourism ) identified by Westfield State geographers Robert S. Bristow and Mirela Newman, in which the authors compare two major Halloween destinations: established Salem and Romania, emerging center of Dracula tourism. They conclude that “the fantasy afforded by Salem or the one proposed in Romania is basically harmless to the visitor, yet may degrade the quality of life for the local population”. While I find no argument with that statement, I’m as focused on historical memory as economic infrastructure in Salem (probably more so) so I’m looking for a more comprehensive, cultural analysis. At this point, I’m not sure that the literature of Dark Tourism is going to satisfy me, but two titles just might: Tiya Miles’ Tales from the Haunted South. Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era and Stone’s and Richard Sharpley’s The Darker Side of Travel: the Theory and Practice of Dark Tourism.

The more I delved into this literature, the more I realized that Gettysburg (rather than Romania!) might be the best comparison for Salem so I would love to hear any insights about the tourism scene there, and I also think it may be all about GHOSTS. A post on the Gettysburg Compiler, a great blog written by the students and staff of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, really resonated with me when I read it a while ago. The author, Susan Johnson, writes about her experience at a Civil War conference panel on Dark Tourism. On the panel was a ghost tour leader in Gettysburg, who tacitly implied that the Park Service’s efforts to portray complex historical interpretations to the public were too mentally exhausting for the average tourist, who, instead of wanting to engage with the big questions of Civil War history, would rather have fun learning about the Civil War through the means of a ghost tour. One of the main points the panel argued was that Dark Tourism was the new way of tourism, a “fun” and “spooky” way for tourists to engage with the past. I left the panel disgusted by the macabre fascination with death and the exploitation of the very real suffering of men and women living from 1861-1865 to sell a few tickets and walk around town at night with a goofily-clad individual holding a lantern and telling ghost stories that usually are not true. Bingo, just substitute 1692.



Looking for some insights into Dark Tourism, “haunted heritage”, and Salem (always Salem!). The travel writer J.W. Ocker lived as one of us last October, so this book should be interesting–it’s just coming out now.

Fashion Shoots in Salem

I would not say that Salem is the most fashionable place I’ve ever been to, but it does have its moments, and one of those moments is happening now. When it comes to clothing, “Salem style” is dominated by perceptions and projections of revamped goth, but this motif has penetrated the highest realms of fashion in recent years. The Fall 2007 ready-to-wear collection of the late great Alexander McQueen was inspired by the experience of his distant ancestor, 1692 victim Elizabeth Howe, and this year has been proclaimed “the season of the witch” by several fashion journalists who noted the dominance of capes, collars, chokers, and “chanelling gowns” in the spring runway shows. According to The Gaurdian‘s Priya Elan, the idea of “caricature” is what the witchy aesthetic is about, distilling femaleness down into opposites. It’s a high-fashion update of goth, with its incorporation of Victorian fashion and the tension between bold, dark colours, delicate fabrication, malevolence and timidity. Standing in opposition to the unfussy silhouettes of athleisure, it retains a certain otherworldly mystique and is all the more interesting for it. 

witchy-wear“Salem-inspired” looks from Alexander McQueen (Fall 2007) and Prada (Fall 2016), Vogue Magazine.

This “witchy aesthetic” is on full display in the September 2016 issue of W Magazine, which features a portfolio of images entitled “Power” by renown fashion photographers Inez van Lamswweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, shot in Salem. To set the scene, the introduction to the fashion story proclaims that “over 300 years have passed since the Salem witch trials, but echoes of the hearings still haunt the Massachusetts town”, apparently making it the perfect setting for moody modern enchantresses. Shot at Pioneer Village and Derby Wharf and a few other locales around town, the photographs are beautiful but the projections pretty standard.



salem-fashion-6-w W Magazine photographs by Inez and Vinoodh, styled by Edward Enninful.

But there are other aspects of “Salem Style”. The Peabody Essex Museum is the beneficiary of two major collections of contemporary fashion, those of local icon Marilyn Riseman and international icon Iris Apfel. Certainly these pieces (700+900) are more of a reflection of these ladies’ styles rather than that of Salem, but at the very least they will make the city a more fashionable destination! And while it doesn’t have the couturier air of the W Magazine shoot, the Boston Globe also chose Salem for its Fall 2016 fashion feature. Rather than atmospheric fog and weathered buildings, the Globe feature was shot at the recently-refurbished Merchant hotel, with its bright and colorful, even glossy, interiors. Here we have a more enlightened expression of Salem style. 



salem-fashion Photographs by Sadie Dayton for the Boston Globe/Styling by Janine Maggiore/Ennis, Inc.

Appendix:  Some tourism features on Salem from the past could almost be fashion features—I particularly like this National Geographic photograph from 1945 and Life magazine photo from 1949, which illustrated an article on Marion Starkey’s Devil in Massachusetts. 

Girls pose by a jail that recalls the witch trials of 1692 in Salem

salem-fashion-nina-leen-august-8-1949 B. Anthony Stewart for National Geographic, 1945/ Nina Leen for Life Magazine, 1949.

A Rare Emblematic Eagle

It is interesting to trace the adoption of the eternal eagle as a national symbol for the United States in the first fifty years of its existence, and its adaptation in Europe and Asia by entities eager to take advantage of the new American market. The eagle has been used in heraldry since time immemorial, so it took more than baldness to make it American (remember, Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey for the national symbol, in part (I think!) because eagles were so universal). There’s a very informative essay on “Eagles after the American Revolution” at the Metropolitan Museum’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (a resource I use often) which commences its analysis with Edward Savage’s Liberty, reproduced on reverse-pained glass in China for the American market around 1800. The image shows the former American emblem, a native goddess representing Liberty, passing her torch to the new not-very-bald American eagle.


Chinese reverse-painted glass depiction of Edward Savage’s 1796 print “Liberty”, c. 1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And after that, a veritable explosion of American eagles, appearing in all sorts of poses and forms before standardization occurs. There is a relatively rare eagle emblem from this era that seems so Salem to me: a triumphant seafaring bald eagle rides into a harbor on a shell boat, with shield and flag brazenly displayed. The harbor looks more romantic than federal, but still, the image seems to represent the commercial and maritime foundations of the American enterprise. This past weekend, I almost purchased a saucer bearing one of these “Eagle riding on/in a shell” images, but ultimately decided it was too dear. Manufactured by only one Staffordshire pottery firm, R. Hall & Son, in the 1820s and 1830s, it seems to be one of the few transferware patterns that has held its value over the past decade.








“Eagle Riding on a Shell” transfer-printed pottery in green, blue, rose and black made by the Ralph Hall Factory, Tunstall, Staffordshire, England, 1822-40, from the Collections of the Winterthur Museum, Skinner and Northeast Auctions–interspersed with some centennial textiles made by the American Print Works in Fall River, Massachusetts in the 1870s (another era of eagle creativity), collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum

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