Tag Archives: books

Secret Staircases

Every old house has secrets, but every old house does not have deliberately-constructed secretive places for hiding or hidden means of conveyence: such spaces are special. Novelists love secret staircases, and historians do too: they are evidence of intent. Well, I think everyone is fascinated by secret spaces in general: I have been since I was a child and my mother told me all about priest holes in England and that was that. When I was older and in England I was determined to find as many as I could, armed with the books below. When I was older still, and looking at the house I now live in, its owners (who were also realtors) showed me its two secret spaces: a door hidden in the master bedroom closet that opens up into the in-law apartment next door and a tunnel in the basement that opens up under the street. There’s a big door, with a big lock, leading to some underground space! I always call it a tunnel but I’m not sure how far it goes under Chestnut Street: as soon as the previous owners opened up the door and I saw black I ran upstairs! Twenty years later, I still haven’t been in that space: it’s too scary. I can assure you, however, that my husband and every single contractor who has worked in this house has been in there—they all seem to think it’s some sort of large coal bin but of course the previous owners told me it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I have a theory that it might have been a space to store rum, as the man who built my house was Salem’s biggest distiller and he lived right across the street, but I’ve yet to find proof. So all of this is just an introduction to say: I’m interested in secret spaces! (And I was a Nancy Drew fan too and the Hidden Staircase is my favorite.)

I think that the American equivalent of priest holes are secret staircases and one of the most important secret staircases in America is right here in Salem, at the House of the Seven Gables. For generations of children in our region and beyond, myself included, the first impression or memory of the Gables is undoubtedly of the secret staircase: every child (and many adults) that I have taken to the Gables has been struck by both the idea and the experience of the secret staircase. Its aura is very interesting because it is a twentieth-century installation rather than an original feature of this seventeenth-century house. The House of Gables Settlement Association’s founder, Caroline Osgood Emmerton, and her architect James Everett Chandler, were “inspired” by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel in their restoration of the house: and so it acquired four more gables, a rebuilt central chimney, a second-story overhang, and a cent shop as well as additional room for the companion settlement mission. I love the headline for this Boston Sunday Globe article from January 1910:  all is revealed!

The house also acquired a secret staircase, right alongside the new chimney, even though there is no secret staircase in The House of the Seven Gables. So why? There are several reasons. The house’s previous owner, Henry Upton, maintained that there had been a secret staircase and so Emmerton believed that she was putting something back that had been there before. She also believed, apparently, that the novel needed a secret staircase and so she was giving the house one: “For it seems to be that we feel the absence of the secret staircase in the story just as we feel the absence of a bit of a picture-puzzle that has been lost and has left an unfiled place in the picture.” [The Chronicles of Three Old Houses,1935]. This seems like a bit of a rationalization to me, so I’m wondering if she merely wanted a secret staircase in the house to increase its allure: such discoveries made headlines in those days and they still do.

Boston Evening Transcript 8.5.1911 (not the word “museumized”!); the era of secret staircases: that found in Governor Tilden’s Gramercy Park mansion made national headlines in 1905.

And once the secret staircase was there, it took on a life of its own. I’m working on an article on the Colonial Revival in Salem, and just read a wonderful study on interpretation at the House of the Seven Gables over the last century, based on a succession of scripts [Tami Christopher, “The House of the Seven Gables. A House Museum’s Adaptation to Changing Societal Expectations since 1910,” in Amy K. Levin, ed., Defining Memory: Local Museums and the Construction of History in America’s Changing Communities (2007); the chapter on the Gables in Colin Dickey’s Ghostland is great too.]. In the beginning, the staircase was explained in terms of smuggling/tax evasion or “a means of escape in witchcraft times.” Then there was a shift to the Underground Railroad, and finally an admission of its 20th century origins. The staircase has reflected historical interests, and historical inquiry over time, but it has also been a means to express simple (childhood) curiosity, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Early twentieth-century postcard and the secret staircase in 1950 (National Geographic) and today (or recently).


Anniversary History: Local Edition 2023

Looking ahead to the new year from a local history perspective, there are commemorative moments for at least six events: five European settlements and a tea party, the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, to be precise. A century and a half earlier, there were settlements at Gloucester, Massachusetts and Portsmouth, Rye (the Pannaway Plantation) and Dover (the Cocheco Plantation), New Hampshire. The ill-prepared and -fated Wessagusset Colony was established in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1622 but its demise came the following year after the brutal Wessagusett “Incident,” more appropriately referred to as a massacre. Commemorative history should acknowledge both the good and the bad, the heroic and the tragic, the kind and the cruel, and so the Wessagusett Massacre of March 1623, a veritable “red wedding” which harmed relations between Native Americans and English settlers for years to come, demands a spotlight. Like the first Gloucester settlement by the Dorchester Company, Wessagusett was decidedly not a plantation in the seventeenth-century sense, but rather a fishing and trading station of 60+ men financed by London merchant Thomas Weston. “Weston’s Men” were completely unprepared for the New World and by the winter of 1622-1623 they were starving, and altogether dependent on both Plymouth and the Native Americans in the region. But foodstuffs were scarce for everyone that winter, and everyone was anxious. Rumors of an impending Native American raid on both settlements drove the Wessagusett men to seek aid from Plymouth, and militia leader Myles Standish and eight men sailed a shallop to the northern settlement and issued an invitation to Massachusett tribal leaders Pecksuot, Wituwamat, and others to attend a summit during which commenced a slaughter just as they all sat down to dinner. I’m going to let Charles Francis Adams tell the tale, as he presented it in his anniversary address on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Weymouth: the savages were taken by surprise, but they fought hard, making little noise but catching at their weapons and struggling until they were cut almost to pieces. Finally Pecksuot, Wituwamat and a third Indian were killed; while a fourth, a youth of eighteen, was overpowered and secured; him, Standish subsequently hung. The massacre, for such in historic justice it must be called, seeing that they killed every man they could lay their hands on, then began. There were eight warriors in the stockade at the time,—Standish and his party had killed three and secured one; they suddenly killed another while the Weston people despatched two more. Only one escaped to give the alarm, which spread rapidly through the Indian villages. Interesting language for 1873: savages is employed, but Adams does not refrain from calling this slaughter a “massacre” unlike many of his contemporaries who labeled it a pre-emptive strike. Several Wessagusset men also died during the massacre, and the rest opted to abandon the settlement; Standish returned to Plymouth with the head of Wituwamat on a pike in ancient English warrior fashion, “to ornament the Plymouth block-house as a terror to all evil-disposed savages” in the words of Adams. This massacre seems worthy of a bit more commemorative reflection, at least a fraction of what the Boston Massacre receives continuously.

“The Return of Myles Standish from Wessagusset,” from Pioneers in the settlement of America: from Florida in 1510 to California in 1849 by William August Crafts, 1876. Ironically, nearly 300 years later (299!) Myles Standish lost his head when the Standish monument in Duxbury was struck by lightning: according to this post by Carolyn Ravenscroft, archivist of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, his replacement head was too heavy for the damaged “body,” so an entirely new Standish was created by Boston sculptor John Horrigon, pictured here in 1930.

I’m not sure what the plans for the commemoration of the Wessagusset Massacre are but all the early settlements have been planning their 400th anniversaries for quite some time, particularly Gloucester, which has assembled a multi-layered calendar of commemorative initiatives and offerings focused overwhelmingly on the city’s social history. I’ve been so impressed with the “400 Stories” project, which aims to collect, present and preserve stories from 400 of Gloucester’s residents from 1623 to 2023, thus connecting the past to the present. There are books, an artistic competition for a new commemorative medal, walking tours, festivals, and a gala: the evolving celebratory schedule is at Gloucester 400.

Portsmouth is all geared up too, although its big reveal party is on January 6 so I don’t know all the details. The PortsmouthNH400 site is here, and so far its signature product is a lovely bookA History of Portsmouth NH in 101 Objects, to which both my Salem State History colleague Tad Baker and alum Alyssa Conary have contributed. There’s an ongoing speakers’ series and exhibition based on the book, and on January 6 Portsmouth’s Memorial Bridge will be illuminated in blue, PortsmouthNH400th’s commemorative color. Like Gloucester, Portsmouth is also collecting stories (of 400 words) from its residents, to be compiled in a commemorative book designed to update its 350th anniversary history. Rye and Dover also have their 400th anniversary committees and calendars, derived from considerable public participation: the mission of Dover400 is “to honor our past, celebrate our present, and to inspire our future through meaningful and creative community engagement.”

The 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party is going to be big: after all, from the Boston perspective, it was “the single most important event leading up to the American Revolution.” I’m excited about all of the offerings by Revolutionary Spaces at the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House, including an exhibition on the power of petitions, an “immersive theatrical experience,” and various programs on the nature and expression of protest. Of course the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum has plans as well, and is already counting down to the big reenactment on December 16, 1773. And there will be merch, including lots of commemorative tea.

Teas from Elmwood Inn & Oliver Pluff & Co.


A Big end-of-year Book Post

I always do a book post at this time of year for several reasons: it’s fun to go through the mental process of compiling “best of” lists, I like to offer gift suggestions, and the time between semesters is always one of intense reading for me. This year, I’m a little late for gift suggestions, but the two other inspirations apply: I read some great books over the past summer and I have my usual stack of unread books right by my bedside, all ready for December 26. This was the year that I published my own book, so I had more time for reading, but now I’ve just finished proposals for two new books, so the next year might not be so free (hopefully). I want to take advantage of the time that I have to read as much as I can, and I’m driven to learn more about: 1) Ukraine (because war); 2) commodities and trade in the pre-modern world (because saffron, the subject of one of my proposed books; 3) information dispersion, broadly defined (because academic+general interest); 4) the history of science (because academic+general interest); 5) early American history (because Salem, the subject of the other proposed book); and anything to do with design (just because). No fiction recommendations here, sorry: I  like fiction, I try to read fiction, but I just don’t seem to be able to finish novels at this point in my life. I put them down because I get curious about something: there are dog-eared spine-cracked books all over the house! So here goes: this is a “best of” list of what I’ve read or was on my radar in 2022 rather than what was published this year, and it’s pretty academic, but there are some fun and beautiful books here too.

Ukraine: I read Yale historian Marci Shore’s The Ukrainian Night: An Intimate History of the Revolution this past summer (and into September—it took me a while): I really learned a lot. My Ph.D. is in European comparative history, but boy, this book made me realize how little I know about Eastern Europe—and the twentieth century. The Ukrainian Night places the Crimean crisis of 2014 in historical context and thus also provides the context for the current crisis, and it is very much a personal, “intimate” history rather than an academic tome. I picked up Polish journalist Pawel Pieniazek’s Greetings from Novorossiya (2017) for more personal history of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and Timothy Snyder’s introduction: the latter (also at Yale) is my guide to everything Ukraine on Twitter (still). I imagine we’ll get “first-draft” histories of the Russian assault and Ukrainian response soon.

The demand, supply, consumption, and exchange of a range of commodities in the late medieval and early modern world are all academic and personal interests of mine, and 2022 was a banner year for books on all sorts of economic history. Any former student of mine will tell you that I believe that the Black Death was the most consequential event ever, for a variety of reasons, so I have been waiting for Belich’s book forever. It’s brilliant, and ties together all the trends and themes I have been teaching for years. I wanted to assign it to my undergrads this past semester, but I thought it would be a bit much for them. Future grad students, however, are duly “warned.” In terms of economic dominance in the world the plague made, it’s increasingly all about the Dutch, so Pioneers of Capitalism. The Netherlands 1000-1800 is a welcome book too. I like its long time span: too often the Dutch “Golden Age” seems to spring from a rather shallow pool. Anne Gerritsen’s The City of Blue and White has been by my bedside for a year or so, but I recently moved it to the top of the stack.

The City of Blue and White is definitely calling me, but it will probably have to wait until I have finished Pamela H. Smith’s latest book From Lived Experience to the Written Word. Reconstructing Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern World as I’m reviewing it for an academic journal. I wish I had read this book before I wrote my own, but Smith is a prolific and active scholar so I had the benefit of her prior publications. She teaches at Columbia, where she is also the Director of the Center for Science and Society and its Making and Knowing Project, which “explores the intersections between artistic making and scientific knowing.” There’s nothing new about “maker culture” and it was far more robust and fluid in the early modern era, when making became knowing. Jumping up a century or so and into the realm of visual information dissemination, I am obsessed with the new book series from San Francisco’s Visionary Press : Information Graphic Visionaries, edited by RJ Andrews, who told Print magazine’s Steven Heller that he is “obsessed with craft. To me, the most fascinating thing is to understand the story behind how something came to be.” That’s just how I feel, so I wish I had put these three books on my Christmas list. I’ll just have to buy them myself, beginning with volume on Emma Willard’s history maps (the “Temple of Time,” above, is just one) which are just fascinating in so many ways.

Speaking of ambitious and confident Victorians who believed in progress passionately, Iwan Rhys Morus’s How the Victorians Took Us to The Moon is a survey of nineteenth-century British innovators as well as the innovative “spirit” of their era. It’s a bit biographical for me but that approach definitely increases its accessibility. The other history of science, broadly and brilliantly focused, which I purchased this year is Lorraine Daston’s Rules: A Short History of What We Live By. I thought it would be a good aid for teaching, but I just devoured it, and find myself picking it up often: reference and readability: you can’t beat that!

My Salem State colleagues and I are collaborating on a book of essays for Salem’s 400th anniversary in 2026 and I’m going to have to do a deep dive into several periods of American history for my contributions. Since I’m not an American historian, I need some foundations, and I really like the “American Beginnings” series from the University of Chicago. Three series books are above: the first two explore a topic that my colleague Dane Morrison has been working on for a while: how trade to the East in particular and maritime history in general contributed to the formation of American identity. Dane has a book out this year too: Eastward of Good Hope. Early America in a Dangerous World. Salem was absolutely central to this expansive trade and thus to America’s emerging identify, and this is the broad context that we want for our book.

I’m just realizing that this is a very serious list so let’s lighten it up a bit! I’m not sure it’s an actual genre, but my favorite books to read for pleasure are “house stories” focused on houses and their evolution over time, along with, and because of, the people who lived in them. Here are three examples I picked up this year:

I absolutely hated the recent Netflix series on Anne Boleyn, Blood, Sex & Royality: it is that same weird hybrid documentary drama approach last seen in The Last Czars, which remains the most appalling historical “thing” I have ever seen. It’s so odd to see the main characters, actual historical people, engaging in intimacies followed by the commentary of a talking head. Anyway, one of the talking heads in Anne’s story, Owen Emerson, is one of the authors of The Boleyns of Hever Castle, which I absolutely love. I bought the book after I viewed the program, just to get all the horribly imagery of the latter out of my head, and it did. Clive Aslet’s The Story of the Country House is just wonderful, and I think Ruth Dalton’s Living in Houses. A Personal History of English Domestic Architecture (over four centuries) is going to be great too: I do hope I have time to read it. As you can see, I really need some stories of houses outside of Britain, so please send recommendations! Merry Christmas to all, and to all: try to reserve the week between Christmas and New Year’s for yourself: for reading (or whatever else you like to do).


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.


Are Hollyhocks Colonial or Colonial Revival?

And now for a really important question, but about all I can take on during these dog days of summer: are hollyhocks Colonial or Colonial Revival? The hollyhocks were simply beautiful and characteristically statuesque at the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site when we stopped by on the way back from Vermont a few weeks ago and I started thinking about them. Hollyhocks don’t look like a particularly useful plant but they are on the cover of so many books on “Colonial” gardens published at the beginning of the twentieth centuy: they seem to be the very symbol of the Colonial Revival garden (along with the sundial and the arbor). So what’s the story, Colonial or Colonial Revival?

Hollyhocks in Cornish, NH and on the cover of early 20th centuy gardening books: Shelton (1906); Ely (1903); Bennett (1919); McCauley (1911); “Colonial” woman and hollyhocks in font of the John Ward House, Salem in a c. 1911 photo by Mary Harrod Northend; layout for a Colonial Garden from Colonial gardens; the landscape architecture of George Washington’s time (1932).

So as you can see, hollyhocks were a mainstay in the “old-fashioned” gardens of the Colonial Revival era, but were they actually revived? Were they also present in gardens from centuries prior? I think that the answer is a qualified yes: hollyhocks were both Colonial and Colonial Revival, but the hollyhocks of the earlier era were a bit different than that of the latter. When horticultural authors in the early modern England referenced hollyhocks (which they spelled in many different ways, believe me), they meant Althea officinalis or what we call Marsh Mallow today. Marsh Mallow is a great old plant that I used to have in my garden but it disappeared last year. All mallows were utilized for their soothing effects, and John Winthrop included them in his order for “garden seeds” dispatched to London in 1631. The hollyhock in particular seems to have been an Asian variety brought west in the wake of the Crusades, and while it is often said that the naturalist William Turner fashioned the name hollyhock (or holyoke) in his 1551 Newe Herball, it dates from the fourteenth century at the very least. Turner’s Herball contained woodcut illustrations copied directly from the lovely colored engravings of Leonhard Fuch’s De Historia Stirpium (1543), and he also followed Fuchs in giving hollyhocks the scientific name Malva hortensis. The Fuchs illustration is below: as you can see, it is definitely a familiar hollyhock, but noticeably smaller than our modern variety. And that’s what happened to the Hollyhock: it was improved through hybridization in the nineteenth century. Malva hortensis became Althea Rosea and ultimately Alcea Rosea. The Boston nurseryman John Breck, author of the influential The Flower Garden or Breck’s Flowers (1851), disdained the popular dahlia and promoted the humble hollyhock, as a great improvement has been made in this old-fashioned, ordinary flower, within a few years, that has brought it before the public under a new phase; and it now bids fair to become as popular as many other flowers have been when taken in hand by the florist. Breck was referring to the cross-breeding success of his colleague across the Atlantic, Saffron Walden nurseryman William Chater, who had produced double hollyhocks with large flowers, “of better form, more substance in the petal, and more decided in colour.” And thus the hollyhook took off, its success limited only by the onset of a rusty disease that is still with us, unfortunately.

Sixteenth- and nineteenth-century hollyhocks: Wellcome Images; George Baxter’s print of Valentine Bartholomew’s Hollyhocks (1857), Victoria & Albert Museum.

Another major factor in the increasing popularity of the hollyhock must have been the many artistic depictions appearing on both side of the Atlantic from the 1870s: painters of all artistic schools, from impressionism to realism, painted stunning and soaring hollyhocks, often in the company of women. I could include hundreds of such paintings in this post, but I’ve limited myself to just a few of my favorite works. I’ve started out with Ross Sterling Turner’s Hollyhocks from 1876 because he is a Salem artist, but it’s not as representative as a painting fom the very same year by another New England artist, Eastman Johnson. Girls and hollyhocks just go together! It’s no wonder that the garden writers of the next decades, among them so many women, favored them. Hollyhocks were also a framing device, as Childe Hassam demonstrated in his many depictions of his friend Celia Thaxter’s garden on the Isle of Shoals in the 1890s (reproduced in An Island Garden in 1894): they could define an entrance, a view, or even the gardener herself. My favorite depiction of hollyhocks is in Abbot Fuller Graves’ painting Portsmouth Doorway (1910) at the Peabody Essex Museum, but everybody else’s impressionist over-the-top hollyhocks with a woman-in-white work seems to be Frederick Carl Friesek’s Hollyhocks from the following year.

Ross Sterling Turner, Hollyhocks (1876), LA County Museum of Art; Eastman Johnson, Hollyhocks (1876), New Britain Museum of American Art; Childe Hassam, In the Garden (Celia Thaxter in her Garden) (1892); Smithsonian Museum of American Art; Abbot Fuller Graves, Portsmouth Doorway (1910), Peabody Essex Museum; Frederick Carl Frieseke, Hollyhocks (1911), National Academy of Design.


An Array of Amazing Caterer-Abolitionists!

I’m starting to work on the proposal for a book on Salem history to be published for the city’s 400th anniversary in 2026. This would be a joint enterprise: I have a colleague (and collegial) co-editor, Brad Austin, and we hope to have contributions from as many members of Salem State’s History Department as possible. Brad came up with the tentative title, Salem’s Centuries: 400 Years of Culture, Conflict, and Contributions, and we already have chapter proposals on topics ranging from the material culture of witchcraft in the seventeenth century to Catholic women in the nineteenth century to initiatives in support of Jewish refugees in the twentieth. As usual, I’m kind of in an odd spot: I’m not an American historian and my academic expertise is winding down just when Salem’s history is beginning! But I do think I have learned some things here, and so I’ve committed to chapters on the Remond family in the nineteenth century and urban development/preservation in the twentieth. I’m going to trust my co-editor and my colleagues who have more authority in these eras to prevent me from embarassing myself! For the Remond chapter, I want to use the family’s hospitality and provisioning roles as avenues into civic life in Salem during the early Republic. I’m fascinated with the idea that John and Nancy Remond, in particular, were catering events for institutions which excluded them. I always thought they were exemplary (and I still do, in many ways), but it turns out that there were actually many African-American caterers working up and down the Atlantic seaboard under similar conditions, pursuing their professional careers in civic settings while at the same time working to advance their civil rights. Despite the identification of African-American caterers in Philadelphia as “as remarkable a trade guild as ever ruled in a medieval city… [who] took complete leadership of the bewildered group of Negroes, and led them steadily to a degree of affluence, culture and respect such as has probably never been surpassed in the history of the Negro in America” by no less than W.E.B. Du Bois in his Negro in Philadelphia: A Social Study (1899), I know very little about these powerful purveyors. This is a perfect exemple of the potential pitfalls I am confronting with this project: I know a lot about the Remonds and their Salem world, but very little about the national context in which they lived and worked.

The Remond menu for the 200th Anniversary of the Settlement of Salem Dinner at Hamilton Hall in September of 1828 (I’m not sure why this was not held in 1826?), Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

Clearly I’ve got to up my game, but this effort will not be a hardship if I get to learn about people like these amazing caterer-abolitionists:

Joshua Bowen Smith (1813-1879): a Pennsylvania native who became a prominent Boston caterer and abolitionist, and later a Massachusetts state senator. Smith catered for Harvard University and many prominent Boston families including that of Robert Gould Shaw, with whom he was reportedly quite close. He was also a close friend of Massachusetts Senator Senator Charles Sumner (along with George T. Downing, below). Smith employed African-American refugees from the South in his business, and aided them in numerous ways through his membership in Boston’s Vigilance Committee, his participation in the Underground Railroad, and his foundation of the New England Freedom Association. Neither his abolitionist activism or his connections aided him when he was stiffed by his fellow abolitionist Governor John Andrew, who refused to pay a $40,000 bill submitted for catering services for the 12th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers. Andrew claimed that the legislature had not appropriated the funds, but managed to pay other provisioners without appropriations. Smith was consequently in a financially-vulnerable situation for the rest of his career, but this did not stop his public service.

Joshua Bowen Smith, Massachusetts Historical Society; Bill of Fare for the 75th Anniversary of the American Revolution Dinner for the Boston City Council, 1851. Boston Athenaeum Digital Collections.

Thomas Downing (1791-1866): I think I’ve called John Remond an “oyster king” a few times, and he certainly earned that title in Salem, but his contemporary Thomas Downing was the original Oyster King of a bigger kingdom: New York City. Downing was a native of Chincoteague Island off Virginia (one of my favorite places as a child because of my love for Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague: my pony’s name was Chinka), the son of enslaved and then freed parents. He made his way north as a young man, spending some time in that foodie mecca Philadelphia, and then came to New York where his skills as both an oysterman and an entrepreneur enabled him to open the ultimate oyster establishment in 1825. By all accounts, Thomas Downing’s Oyster House was a cut (or several) above all the other oyster “cellars” in New York City, and so it attracted a more genteel, monied, and political crowd. Downing expanded the scale of both his establishment and his business over the next decade, filling mail orders for an international clientele (including Queen Victoria!). Just like John Remond in Salem and Joshua Bowen Smith in Boston, he was also very active in several abolitionist efforts: he founded the Anti-Slavery Society of New York as well as the refuge aid Committee of Thirteen, and worked for both school and transportation desegregation. I’m sure he and John Remond would have heard OF each other, but I’m really curious if they knew each other: they seem to be moving forward on tandem tracks. Downing was definitely the king of PICKLED oysters, which Remond also offered, but I don’t think the New Yorker moved into the latter’s lobster territory.

A stoneware pickled oyster jar from Thomas Downing’s Oyster House (New York City Historical Society) and a handbill for John Remond’s pickled oysters (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum).

George T. Downing (1813-1903): followed in his father’s footsteps in both his profession and his activism, though primarily in a different setting: Newport, Rhode Island. It’s difficult to discern the difference between a restauranteur and a caterer in this period, but Downing Jr. seems to have operated as both with his establishments in Newport and his role as manager of the Members’ Dining Room at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington from 1865 to 1877. This position was preceded by a long struggle to desegregate the Newport schools: the Remonds had removed to Newport during their own struggle for school desegregation in Salem in the later 1830s, so I’m pretty certain there is a connection here. Both before and after the Civil War, Downing Jr. was active in all of the abolitionist and equal rights organizations which his father and circle supported, always striving for more equality, more access, and more opportunities for African-Americans.

George Thomas Downing and his family, Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. What I would give for a photograph of all of the Remonds!

Robert Bogle (1774-1848): the first of the emerging Philadelphia African-American “caterers’ guild” referred to by Du Bois above; in fact, Bogle is often credited as not just the first African-American caterer but the first caterer, period (although the term was not used until after his death). He merged the professions of caterer and funeral director in Philadelphia for several decades, inspiring Nicholas Biddle to pay tribute to Boggle in 1830 as one whose “reign extends oe’r nature’s wide domain begins before our earliest breath nor ceases with the hour of death.” Bogle’s Blue Bell Tavern opened in 1813, and soon became famous for its meat pies and terrapin creations as well as a gathering place for Philadelphia’s political leaders: this is the hospitality entrée that accomplished caterers of any color could obtain, but perhaps one of the few avenues of access for African-Americans in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the wonderful digital exhibition on the life and work of an enslaved Charleston cook presented by the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative at the College of Charleston observes that the multi-faceted role of caterer was “one of the few, and most lucrative, prominent public positions that could be acceptably filled by an African American during slavery.”

Nat Fuller (1812-1866): It must have been difficult enough to be an African-American caterer in the North during this period, just imagine what that role would entail in the south! Fortunately we don’t have to imagine because we have this great digital exhibition: Nat Fuller’s Feast: the Life and Legacy of an Enslaved Cook in Charleston. As an enslaved teenager in Charleston in the 1820s, Nat Fuller was apprenticed to a remarkable free African-American couple who seem to be playing the same culinary and catering roles in Charleston that John and Nancy Remond were occupying in Salem, at the exact same time: John and Eliza Seymour Lee. Charleston John was the event manager for several venues; his wife Eliza the famous cook and pastry chef. After Nat Fuller completed his culinary training under Eliza, he worked as an enslaved cook for his slaveholder William C. Gatewood, an ambitious man who entertained frequently, for the next three decades under “evolving” conditions: in 1852 Gatewood agreed to let Fuller live outside of his household with his wife Diana (another famous pastry chef) under the so-called “self-hire” system. The Fullers began to operate independent provisioning and catering businesses in Charleston, paying Gatewood a percentage of their profits. By the later 1850s, though still enslaved, Fuller was Charleston’s “well known” and go-to caterer, staging elaborate events like the Jubilee of Southern Union dinner celebrating the completion of a railway between Memphis and Charleston in May of 1857 for 600 guests. In the fall of 1860, though still enslaved, Fuller opened his famous restaurant, the Bachelor’s Retreat, operating it throughout the war except for a few periods of illness and relocation, and at which, as a newly-free man, he hosted a dinner celebrating the end of the war and slavery in the spring of 1865. Abby Louisa Porcher, a white Charleston lady, documented this momentous event in a letter soon afterwards: “Nat Fuller, a Negro caterer, provided munificently for a miscegenation dinner, at which blacks and whites sat on an equality and gave toasts and sang songs for Lincoln and freedom.” Perhaps Fuller could not operate as a caterer-abolitionist like his colleagues in the North, but he emerged as an advocate for racial equality as soon as he was enabled. He died in the next year.

 

Appendix: you can read all about the “reenactment” of Nat Fuller’s Feast on the occasion of its 150th anniversary in 2015 here; Invitation below. Another prominent southern African-American caterer, John Dabney of Richmond, was born into slavery, is the subject of a beautiful documentary, The Hail-Storm. John Dabney in Virginia, which you can watch here.


Books for Women’s History Month 2022

Next week is Spring Break and I haven’t decided if I’m going to get away or get reading a large stack of bedside books. A lot of said books are about later medieval/early modern trade and agriculture in preparation for my new project on saffron, but many are about women’s history over a succession of periods so I thought I’d share some titles for this Women’s History Month. As you will see, there is no rhyme or reason or unifying theme around these titles other than women: all sorts of women in a succession of chronological contexts. I’m always interested in English women of the medieval and early modern eras, lately I’ve become quite interested in the entrepreneurial Salem women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I find rich and/or powerful women of all eras endlessly fascinating. It was not always this way: I almost didn’t get the position I currently hold now because I protested the name of a course which my interviewers wanted me to take on: “Herstory in History.” I proclaimed, with all the confidence of a twenty-something, that that was a ridiculous title for a course as women were PEOPLE and all history is about PEOPLE. But the past decades have taught me that a feminine focus in enlightening: it’s another gaze, another perspective, another open window on the past. I still don’t teach a course exclusively on women’s history but I certainly have incorporated a lot of women’s stories into my courses, because of books like these.

So I’ve read all of the books above and am recommending them to you for the following reasons. Judith Herrin is a wonderful historian whose Formation of Christendom got me through the first few years of teaching medieval history. While I teach mostly western medieval history, knowledge of the Byzantine Empire is pretty essential to understanding everything in this era, and Herrin’s book is really substantive and ambitious (and also very academic). Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: the Women who Ruled England before Elizabeth is a more accessible book which presents contextual biographies of four powerful medieval queens: I’m showcasing the Folio edition published in 2017 but there are more affordable options. Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer and Brewsters is a classic examination of women’s work in late medieval England which I consult regularly, and Monuments and Maidens and The Pocket. A Hidden History of Women’s Lives are two very creative books which examine longer eras from cultural and economic perspectives.

Vast uncharted territory above, but all these books have been recommended to me by colleagues and friends, beginning with Malcolm Gaskill’s The Ruin of Witches, a very welcome microhistory of a non-Salem American witch trial. Salem has become so boring: let’s look west to Springfield, Massachusetts! While not strictly women’s history, I don’t really think any history is strictly women’s history. I’m interested in Material Lives, To Her Credit, The Ties that Buy because I keep encountering entrepreneurial Salem women in that later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for whom I want to create more context and They Were Her Property appears to be an absolutely groundbreaking work. Jumping up about a century to the late nineteenth century and beyond, The Man Who Hated Women examines anti-vice activist Anthony Comstock’s campaigns against pretty much every everything and The Season and Double Lives looks at a broad spectrum of British women’s experiences in the twentieth century. And so we have progressed (chronologically) from empresses to socialites and “superwomen”!


John Remond’s Struggle for Citizenship

I’ve written about the Remonds, the African-American family who lived, worked, and strove for a succession of causes in nineteenth-century Salem quite a bit, but I think there is more to write, and more to learn. I live right next to Hamilton Hall, which was the center of many of their activities, and it’s really difficult for me NOT to think of it as their hall, their place. Rather intimate spaces in our home, including my study, the kitchen, and our dressing room (I know, who has a dressing room? Well, we live in a town house with interconnected bedrooms so that’s what we call the room adjacent to our bedroom as that’s pretty much all we do in there), look out to the Hall and so I feel like I am constantly in its presence or their presence. Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond are the famous Remonds, as they were both very active speakers for the Abolitionist movement here in America and also (in the case of Sarah) in England, but it is their father, John Remond (1788-1874), who captivates me. He was an incredible man in so many ways and I am constantly trying to understand the historical landscape which he navigated so successfully. He arrived in Massachusetts from Curaçao in 1798 as a lone ten-year-old and over the next decade established himself in several occupations, married Nancy Lenox of Newton, and became settled in Salem’s newest assembly house, Hamilton Hall. During the following decades, his primary occupational identity as caterer and manager of the Hall was supplemented by a succession of provisioning roles: restauranter, grocer, wholesaler. He acquired properties in Salem and supported the various entrepreneurial and activist pursuits of his eight children. “Venerable” and “famous” are the adjectives employed in his 1874 obituaries, indicating that he attained a high level of respect for the accomplishments of his long life. In retrospect, his career looks like the proverbial American success story, unencumbered by race (I’m sure this is not true, but it looks that way from afar). Those most “American” of commemorators, the Daughters of the American Revolution, even included several items associated with John Remond items in their 1897 exhibition at Copley Hall in Boston , including the bottle of Schiedam gin given to him by his mother, Marytelia, on the day he disembarked for the United States.

Undated photograph of John Remond, Collection of Hamilton Hall; advertisement in The Salem Literary & Commercial Observer, 1827 January 13; Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Ancient and Historical Articles, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1897; John Remond’s gin bottle on display in the “Salem Stories” exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum.

I saw John Remond’s gin bottle—his sole childhood possession!—at the Peabody Essex Museum the other day, where it is featured in the “Salem Stories” exhibition (see above): I think he would be pleased with its display both in Copley Hall at the end of the nineteenth century and here in Salem in the twenty-first. While his professional struggles are not immediately apparent and overwhelmed by his achievements, his personal struggles to claim the identity and rights of an American citizen are manifest, so I think he would have been particularly pleased by his inclusion in the DAR exhibition. There were several moments during his life where we can see his strong desire for citizenship: his naturalization in 1811, his son John Lenox’s acquisition of a Seaman’s Protection Certificate in 1839 (even though he was not, to my knowledge, a seaman), his own acquisition of an American passport in 1854, and his obvious frustration with his daughter Sarah’s inability to leave Britain five years later when the U.S. Department of State failed to recognize the passport that it had issued her in 1858! In the interim the Dred Scott decision had invalidated the paper trail of citizenship he had so carefully crafted for himself and his children, placing them all in a terrible limbo.

The paper trail records the paper trail: The National Era, The New York Times, and the Salem Register cover the passport paradox, 1858-1860. Sarah’s middle name was incorrectly presented as Lenox rather than Parker in the rather haughty Times!

Sarah Remond ultimately obtained a visa which enabled her to travel to Italy and back home for brief periods: she became a British citizen in 1865. From the vantage point of 1860 however, her father was in evident distress. In a long article published in the Salem Register in July of that year, he asked the reporter, or the readers, or the government: if we cannot be citizens either home or abroad, what is going to become of us?

 

Transportation segregation was another issue confronted by the eldest Remond son, Charles Lenox Remond: Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor’s Colored Travelers. Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War presents essential context for the restricted mobility of African-Americans both home and abroad. School segregation was an issue for all the Remonds, who moved to Newport for a lengthy period of time in 1835 after Sarah and her sister Caroline were expelled from Salem High School, only to keep fighting and return once the public schools were desegregated. This struggle will be the focus of an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum later this spring!


Sidney Perley’s Houses

Sidney Perley (1858-1928) exemplified that exhausting mix of endeavors—historical, genealogical, archaeological, architectural, legal, literary—which in his time was represented by the occupational identity of an “antiquarian.” It was a title he proudly bore, and one which had primarily positive associations a century ago. Now it is itself an antiquated term and I don’t know any historian who would refer to themselves as such. I’ve read pretty much everything Perley wrote about Salem, including the multi-volume History of Salem he published just before he died, and while I wish his work had a bit more context and interpretation, I still value it and think of him as a historian, primarily because he was so very focused on making early public documents public. His meticulous research and publication of probate records, deeds, and town documents was service-oriented; he was very much a public historian in his own time. And more than that: there is a famous dual characterization/division of historians by the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, who observed that they fell into one of two camps, either that of truffle hunters, “their noses buried in the details,” or of “parachutists, hanging high in the air and looking for general patterns in the countryside far below them.” Perley was the ultimate truffle hunter, and I’m grateful for all of the detailed information he dug out for me. Because he was trained as a lawyer, Perley’s publications on local history are overwhelmingly based on deed research, and this focus made him somewhat of an architectural historian as well: he sought to portray the built environment, not just land grants and transfers. His wonderful little series of “Parts of Salem in 1700” (and other Essex County towns too), first published in the periodical Essex Antiquarian and/or the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute and later incorporated in the the History of Salem, always included charming illustrations of houses, both on his hand-drawn maps and in the text. Now while I trust Sidney Perley completely in his dates for the construction, transfer, and demolition of these houses, sometimes I think he displays a little artistic license in their depiction. But maybe not: I’m just not sure.

The Essex Antiquarian Volume III (1899).

I’m not sure because sometimes he is a bit vague about the sources for his house illustrations. I would say that I have complete confidence in the depictions of about three-quarters of his illustrations: they were still standing in his time, or had been recently demolished, or had been sketched or photographed before demolition. But with some houses, he is relying on the memory of an anonymous elderly gentleman who gazed at the house early in his life, or on an undated sketch by an anonymous artist found in the depths of the Essex Institute. I’m always interested in the early days of historic preservation, or the first stirrings of some kind of preservation consciousness, so the depictions of these first period houses by Perley and his fellow antiquarians are just fascinating to me: their visions created houses that are still showcased in Salem, most notably the House of the Seven Gables and the Witch (Jonathan Corwin) House. Their visions shaped our visions of the seventeenth century. I like to imagine Perley’s houses still standing, and the best way to do that is to map them: my progress in the acquisition of digital mapping skills stopped as soon as I got my book contract in the summer of 2020, and as I am now working on another book it will stay stalled for a while, but I can cut and paste with the best of them! I am using Jonathan Saunder’s 1820 map of Salem from the Boston Public Library as the background for an evolving Perley map here, but later maps, with more crowded streets, really make these structures stand out too: they must have been so very conspicuous in Perley’s time. I find it interesting that in Europe, very old and very modern structures can coexist, side by side, but we seldom see that in America.

Jonathan P[eele?] Saunders / Engraved by Annin & Smith, Plan of the TOWN OF SALEM IN THE Commonwealth of Massachusetts from actual Surveys made in the years 1796 & 1804; with the improvements and alterations since that period as Surveyed by Jonathan P. Saunders. Boston, 1820. Proceeding clockwise rather haphazardly from the Epes House, on the corner of the present-day Church and Washington Streets, to the Lewis Hunt House, which was photographed before its demolition.

 

The MacCarter and Bishop Houses: the latter burned down in the 1860s but was fortunately sketched a few years before.

 

Some survivors in this bunch! The John Day House survived until Frank Cousins could photograph it in the 1890s (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum), I’m not sure if Perley’s “John Beckett” house on Becket Court is the “Retire Becket” House on the House of the Seven Gables’ campus? Half of the Christopher Babbidge house survives to this day, though it moved to the parking lot of the 20th century building which replaced it.


Salem’s Spider Man

Obviously I am shamelessly exploiting both popular culture and alliteration with my title, but nevertheless James Henry Emerton (1847-1931), one of Salem’s most successful commercial artists, did indeed love spiders. He was a self-proclaimed “zoological and botanical draughtsman” who illustrated some of the most popular natural history publications of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Emerton was of that generation of Salem boys (and maybe Salem girls, I’m just not sure) who could and would flourish in the natural history network of the city, where and when both the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum (which was the Peabody Academy of Science until 1915) had missions of advancing scientific understanding as much as cultural appreciation. The son of a prominent Salem apothecary, he was a self-taught artist and naturalist, beginning his collection of his favorite object of study, spiders, in his teens and expanding it right up until his death. He was not university-educated, though he did spend a year in Germany at several universities, at the same time as his younger brother Ephraim, who became a very prominent medieval historian and professor at Harvard. James returned to Salem in 1876, and was employed as a curator and instructor in natural history at the Peabody Academy, all the while collecting his spiders and illustrating the natural world around him. Throughout his career, he seemed to operate in three different intersecting worlds, working with prominent naturalists to illustrate their research in publications and exhibitions, as a creative artist, and as an active arachnologist. The illustrations in one of the most beautiful and authoritative botanical books of the later nineteenth century, Daniel Cady Eaton’s Ferns of North America, first published in Salem in 1879 by the prolific Samuel E. Cassino, placed him very confidently on the first path.

Emerton had several productive and lengthy academic collaborations which inspired him to expand his creative and reproductive skills from illustration to modeling with papier mache and plaster: consequently he is sometimes referred to as both a sculptor and an illustrator. Following the Ferns book, he began to work with Yale professor Addison Verrill, who was also employed by the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries and the Smithsonian. After some hardy Newfoundland fisherman hauled up a giant squid in 1873, Verrill and Emerton worked together to produce the first illustrated scientific study of that wondrous creature, and the latter produced a 40-foot-long model that was displayed with great fanfare at the International Fisheries Exhibition in 1883. A decade later, Emerton made a life-sized model of a giant octopus for the World’s Fair in Chicago, and both creatures were showcased in the Smithsonian afterwards.

Emerton’s giant squid on paper and at the London International Fisheries Exhibition, 1883; The giant octopus at the World’s Fair in 1893 (from Photographs of the World’s Fair, 1893), in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and the Field Museum, Chicago (present); Crab and lobster from George Brown Good’s Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States: Section I, Natural History of Useful Aquatic Animals, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

I’m not sure if the marine modeling took Emerton away from his preferred entomological illustration, but while working with Verrill in New Haven he met his wife, Mary, and they moved to Boston in 1885: this remained his residence for the rest of his life, though he traveled continuously and of course I’m still claiming him for Salem! In the 1890s he branched out, yet again, to produce anatomical models for Harvard Medical School Parkman Professor of Anatomy Thomas Dwight: apparently these models were used at the school throughout the twentieth century. Throughout this busy period Emerton was still collecting spider specimens and also engaging in some pastime painting, mostly of coastal landscapes. He supplemented his first spider book, The Structures and Habits of Spiders (1878) with numerous academic papers and also a more general (and obviously more popular) book entitled The Common Spiders of the United States (1902) and also turned his attention to butterflies and wasps. Both before and after his death in 1931, James H. Emerton received the highest honors for any naturalist: several taxa are named after him, including Agelenopsis emertoni, Emerton’s Funnelweb Spider.

Emerton’s Common Spiders, and illustrations from Wasps Social and Solitary by George W. and Elizabeth G. Peckham (1905); the great naturalist on one of his many travels.


%d bloggers like this: