The twentieth-century American artist Walter Ernest Tittle (1883-1966) was sought after on both sides of the Atlantic for his etchings, illustrations, and contemporary portraits. Among his diverse works are magazine covers, presidential portraits, and a whole series of drypoint “international dignatories” rendered in the 1920s, but also two slim volumes—advertised as “gift books”— in which he merged both original and historical texts and images to create a “lost” world of colonial holidays: The First Nantucket Tea Party (1907) and Colonial Holidays (1910).
These books are gorgeous, even though the images inside are a bit…….overwrought. I’m willing to leaf past some of the colorful colonial “belles” just so I can see Tittle’s fonts and illuminations: everything works together. As its subtitle reveals, Colonial Holidays is a compilation of historical references to Christmas and other holidays, embedded in Tittle’s gilded pages. He wishes the Puritans were more joyous in their celebrations, but “time brings change” and William Pynchon’s diary reveals some holiday merrymaking in Salem during the Revolutionary War. The new Assembly Room seems to have been very busy during the extended Christmas season with concerts and dances; “the elders shake their heads with, What are we coming to?” And so many sleds in the streets of Salem!
Tory that he is, Pynchon is not interested in George Washington’s Christmas, but patriot that he is, Tittle shows us Mount Vernon at Christmas—-no Valley Forge for his illuminated pages, but rather Christmas with the President and Mrs. Washington in 1795 and another reference to 1799–though Washington would have just died so certainly that was no festive occasion. The First Nantucket Tea Party does not have a Christmas setting perse but is also all about Colonial festivity, on the particular occasion of the return of Captain Nathaniel Starbuck Jr. from his “late long” voyage to China supplied with a chest of Chinese tea. Everyone is very excited about the tea, but for me it’s all about the amazing font used throughout the text. Merry Christmas!
My contribution to Thanksgiving next week at my brother’s house will be Indian Pudding, which I have made many times in years past, always with variant recipes. As we are getting into the holidays, my general plan is to avoid some of the more serious topics here on the blog in favor of food, decorations, and traditions, but as I started looking into the history of this pudding, a dish that was always around and which I always took for granted, I started getting into some material that was not light, fluffy, and cheery. Indian Pudding is more complex than I thought! The general story is one of colonial New Englanders missing their old English puddings, and substituting “Indian” corn meal out of necessity, but this is too simple a tale: you can also connect this native pudding to the French and Indian Wars, the inventive expat Count Rumford, slavery and abolition, vegetarianism, and “Yankee” thrift. It’s more American than Apple pie.
An advertisement for Durgin Park in Boston, which always featured Indian Pudding and closed just this year, from Historic New England, and a typical “old New England” recipe card featuring IP (not one of my recipes—I’m egg-phobic so I always bake the eggless varieties).
The Oxford English Dictionary lists a 1722 cookbook as the first source of the phrase “Indian Pudding”, but the first reference I could find was not in a cookbook, but rather in “Indian Pete” Williamson’s “memoir” French and Indian Cruelty, exemplified in the Life and various Vicissitudes of Fortune of Peter Williamson, who was carried off from Aberdeen in his Infancy and sold as a slave in Pennsylvania (York, 1757). This is a sensational and suspect source, in which Williamson ascribes all sorts of barbaric behavior to the “savages” of North America, including cannibalism and the concoction of “Indian Puddings” out of their British victims. Published in the midst of the French and Indian War (which was the North American theater of the Seven Years War) this was lurid propaganda, but the reference pops up in several other North American “descriptions” later in the century before disappearing (thankfully). Much more influential was Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford’s recipe for “wholesome” and cheap Indian pudding, prescribed as a beneficial food for the European poor in his Essays, political, economical, and philosophical (1796). Thompson, Massachusetts Loyalist, accused spy, and accomplished inventor (who served an apprenticeship in Salem) achieved fame, fortune, and title in Britain and Bavaria, but always seems a bit sentimental about his native land. He devotes quite a few pages to Indian Pudding, describing its benefits, providing a recipe (with American variations) and even giving directions on how to eat it.
Back in America, Indian Pudding was a staple in all the cookbooks issued from the later eighteenth century well into the twentieth–as far as I could tell: I checked in with a sample about every twenty years. There are notable variations: boiled or baked, plain or fancy, eggs or no eggs, savory or sweet, all sorts of additions in terms of spices, berries, and nuts. The pudding becomes progressively sweet in the early nineteenth century, presumably as it is moving from breakfast porridge to dessert, but then there is a reduction of sweetness in the later nineteenth century, as it was featured as an economical and “healthy” food, and a favorite dessert of vegetarians. In between, there is an amazing abolitionist argument put forward by Nathan Bangs in his Emancipation, its necessity and means of accomplishment : Calmly submitted to the Citizens of the United States (1849) in which he associates rice pudding with the perpetuation of slavery and Indian Pudding, “the good old food of New England” with freedom! (This argument does seem to discount the sugar and molasses in “Yankee” Indian Pudding).
Indian Pudding was already “old” in 1849 and became older still—definitely out of fashion in the later nineteenth century except for working families and housewives more concerned with thrift than show. The Colonial Revival movement put it back on the table, especially the Thanksgiving table, for “old-fashioned” holiday meals at the beginning of the twentieth century. And after that, I’m not sure what happens to Indian Pudding: I guess it depends on the family, and the region. It is included in all of the cookbooks which were labeled American in the twentieth century, but that might be more for custom than utility: I have a feeling that pies prevail.
I don’t think this unhappy family (in the American Agriculturist, 1894) is pondering pudding, but the juxtaposition is amusing; Anna Wells Morrison’s “Colonial Thanksgiving” menu in the 1902 Delineator features “Indian Meal Pudding”; Jeri Quinzio’s Puddingis part of the Edible Series at the University of Chicago Press.
I was up in New Hampshire this past weekend for a spectacular summer wedding on Dublin Lake, and of course I made time for side trips; the Granite State continues to be a place of perpetual discovery for me after a lifetime of merely driving around or through it, to and from a succession of homes in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts. On the day before the wedding, some friends and I drove north to see TheFells, the Lake Sunapee home of John Milton Hay (1838-1905), who served in the administrations of Presidents Lincoln, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Hay is the perfect example of a dedicated public servant and statesman, attending to President Lincoln as his private secretary until the very end, at his deathbed, and dying in office (at The Fells) while serving as President Roosevelt’s Secretary of State. He was also a distinguished diplomat, poet, and a key biographer of Lincoln. Fulfilling the conservation mission that was a key part of his purchase and development of the lakeside property, Hay’s descendants donated the extended acreage surrounding the house to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1960s, and it eventually became the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge. Hay’s daughter-in-law Alice Hay maintained the house as her summer residence until her death in 1987, after which it was established as a non-profit organization, open for visitors from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekends.
When it comes to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century country or summer residences in New England which are now open to the public, it seems to me there are three essential types: those of very rich people (think Newport), those of statesmen (The Fells; Hildene in Manchester, Vermont; Naumkeag in Stockbridge), and those of creative people (The Mount in Lenox; Beauport; Aspet, Augustus Saint-Gauden’s summer home and studio in Cornish, New Hampshire). The last category is my favorite by far, but there’s always lots to learn by visiting the houses of the rich and the connected, and John Milton Hay was as connected as they come. I was a bit underwhelmed by the house, which is a Colonial Revival amalgamation of two earlier structures, until I got to its second floor, which has lovely views of the lake and surrounding acreage plus a distinct family feel created by smaller interconnected bedrooms opening up into a long central hall. The airiness of the first floor felt a bit institutional, but this was an estate built for a very public man, after all. For the Hays, I think it was all about the relation of the house to its setting, rather than the house itself.
The gardens surrounding the house also seemed a bit sparse although it was a hot day in late July and we might be between blooms; certainly the foundations and structures are there, especially in the rock garden that leads down to the lake. This was the passion of Hay’s youngest son, Clarence, who established the garden in 1920 and worked on it throughout his life. After his death in 1969, the garden was lost to forest, but it was reestablished by the efforts of the Friends of the Hay Wildlife Refuge and the Garden Conservancy. When you’re standing in the rock garden looking up at the house, or in the second floor of the house looking down at the rock garden and the lake beyond, you can understand why the well-connected and well-traveled John Milton Hay proclaimed that “nowhere have I found a more beautiful spot” in 1890.
I might be pushing it a bit with my title, but since I’ve returned from Winterthur earlier this Spring, I’ve been obsessed with exploring “Salem as source” for antiques and collectibles in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the passion for antiquing emerged. This is another avenue into Salem’s influence on the burgeoning Colonial Revival; I think its architectural influence has been established, by a succession of architects coming to town to sketch starting as early as the 1870s. It was during that Centennial decade that a group of Salem ladies put together a collection of regional “relics” for display both at the Essex Institute and the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, a visual representation and projection of “Old Salem” that was also published for a national readership in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (for January 22, 1876) .I just don’t see how items such as the baby-clothes worn by Judge Curwen who tried the Salem Witches, a chalice made of the woodwork of a house still standing, which was built by Roger Williams in 1635 and is known at the Witch House, a wine glass used by General Washington while in Salem, and an Elizabethan wainscot cupboard which has been stored away for the past fifty years in a barn could have failed to capture the American imagination!
I pursued a variety of texts to support my thesis of Salem’s central role as antiques destination/influencer, including secondary texts such as Elizabeth Stillinger’s The Antiquers (1980) and Brian G. Greenfield’s Out of the Attic (2010) and texts from the first era of antiquing such as the Shackletons’ Quest of the Colonial (1907) and Walter Dyer’s Lure of the Antique (1910). I was not disappointed by either the historical or the contemporary view, and I love the older texts. Robert and Elizabeth Shackleton remark that Salem is “dear to memory, not only from its treasures of the past but from being the place where, Westerners that we at that time were, we first saw a grandfather’s clock ticking away, in a private house, in the very corner in which it had ticked through the Revolution,” and Walter Dyer’s book is filled with Salem treasures, captured by the camera of Salem’s very own Mary Harrod Northend.
A Treasure Trove of Silver in an old Salem house, from Walter Dyer’s Lure of the Antique (1910).
All of these texts, and others, point to several key factors which made Salem a collector’s paradise: the famous collections of individuals like Henry Fitzgilbert and George Rea Curwen and the Essex Institute, with its period rooms assembled by George Francis Dow, the photographs and texts of Frank Cousins and Miss Northend, and the perception of the sheer antiquity of the city, whether shaped by Nathaniel Hawthorne or the witch entrepreneurs, or both. In assembling his influential period rooms (largely drawn from Curwen’s bequest, and which have become historic “objects” themselves—I believe they are going to be reassembled in Plummer Hall by the PEM), Dow followed the lead of the Centennial ladies and focused on the humanity or “everyday life” of colonial dwellers, in order to enhance their accessibility. Dow clearly felt that he was in competition with more entrepreneurial purveyors of “old Salem” when he remarked in 1916 that Salem used to be viewed and “visited as a monument, a shrine—-something to be studied. Now the visitor lightly pauses, here are there, butterfly-like, or is whirled through the streets in an automobile, while on the running board a small boy “guide” delivers an extraordinary distortion of fact plentifully soused with fiction.” (Essex Institute Annual Report 1916: OMG what would he think NOW!!!). But, more visitors to Salem meant more visitors to Dow’s period rooms and historic houses at the Essex Institute, and eventually to his Pioneer Village, and to Caroline Emmerton’s House of the Seven Gables, and to Salem’s growing number of antique shops: tourism, then as now, is a double-edged sword. Periodical and ephemeral evidence points to a healthy number of antique shops in Salem in the first half of the twentieth century, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s.
Amazing photo of a lady (perhaps Mary Harrod Northend?) at the original location of the Hooper-Hathaway House (now on the House of the Seven Gables campus) inspecting some Old Salem wares in Dyer’s Lure of the Antique. The caption reads: “Don’t expect to buy these old treasures for a song. You are lucky to get them at all.” Once the Ward House was relocated and opened, it became the workshop of Sarah Symonds, who “perpetuated antiques” in the form of plaster-cast doorstops and mementos of famous Salem structures (Boston Herald, January 17, 1918). I think the days of buying antiques from guileless Salem homeowners were gone even by 1910, and in the next few decades the number of shops advertising in periodicals exploded.
Salem Antique advertisement from the 1922 volume of the magazine Antiques, and from the collections of Historic New England.
There is one antique dealer from this era who really stands out, at least to me, but I think also in general: Miss A. Grace Atkinson, who kept a “shabby” shop at the “Old Witch House” on Essex Street right up until its conversion into the Witch House of today. Not only is Dyer’s book filled with items from the “Atkinson Collection”, but according to the long correspondence between her and Henry Francis du Pont, she was also a source for Winterthur. I think Miss Atkinson might have been the sister of James Almy’s second wife Emma, because of her residence at 395 Lafayette Street, the Colonial Revival mansion built by Mrs. Almy after the dearth of her prominent storeowner husband, but I can’t confirm that. She was by all accounts a shrewd collector and dealer, however, and did not hesitate use the witch connection to advance her business.
Atkinson’s Advertising, and her shop on the left-hand side of the Witch House, in photographs from the New Bedford and Cambridge Historical Societies, via Digital Commonwealth; Some items from the “Atkinson Collection” in Dyer: she was particularly known for her selection of Lowestoft.
This weekend, I gave a talk on Salem author Mary Harrod Northend, the Martha Stewart of her day (1904-26), at the House of the Seven Gables and my favorite part (not sure about my audience’s) was her commentary on tea rooms, accompanied by her always-illuminating photographs. In a 1915 article in American Cookery, Miss Northend hails “The Coming of the Tea-House” as a sign of both women on the move and an indication of increasing interest in her beloved Colonial style: even though she admits that tea houses are of Japanese origin those “that are dotted along the automobile routes of New England never fail to give to the tourist the savor of the time when the old coaches drove along the turnpikes, the travelers stopping at ‘ye ordinary’ or inn for crisp waffles, maple syrup and fragrant, steaming coffee” (I really did not know that waffles were colonial fare). She highlights those that possess such ambiance, and also the social roles of tea houses and rooms, particularly for women: who opened them for respectable “livelihoods” and frequented them at all stages of life: as college students, young mothers, and empty nesters (although she of course does not use that term). Miss Northend seldom indulges in social history so this is interesting in general, and particularly so is her story of the Puritan Tea-House in Beverly, whose owner, “losing her home in the Salem fire, took refuge in a small, homely little house, just a minute’s walk from the station and cornering two roads. It is at the center of a group of all-year-round houses founded by people who had tired of the bustle and confusion of the city. It was an ideal spot for a tea-house and an easy matter to remodel the little old farmhouse to present-day use”. And so this Salem refugee thrived in Puritan-style.
Mary Harrod Northend’s Tea-Houses, c. 1915-1925, courtesy of Historic New England: The Tea House at the Gables, the Fernery and Martha Ann Tea Shop on Essex Street in Salem, and the sign for the Tea Kettle and Tabby Cat in Wenham.
My self-education in historical architectural photography is now quite stalled in the realm of the photogravure, and I just can’t see enough tonal prints of old buildings, preferably but not necessarily of the New England variety. There is a slim volume titled Under Colonial Roofs by Alvin Lincoln Jones with forty stunning photogravures from negatives by Charles Webster that I keep by my bedside but I like the Internet Archive copy even better because it is annotated by a snarky little anonymous note facing the title page: the first good photographic study of New England’s historic houses was Alvin Lincoln Jones’ Under Colonial Roofs which appeared in 1894. The pictures, which are of a high quality, show us many buildings that have since disappeared. The picture of the Paul Revere House, when compared to a modern view, gives us some idea of how drastic the 1907 restoration must have been. Jones’ picture leads me to conclude that it is very easy to over-restore a building. I wonder what he/she thought of the coincidental restoration of the House of the Seven Gables! The 1894 version of the Paul Revere house is in fact very revealing, as is that of the Wells-Adams House, also in the North End, which would come down in the very same year that Under Colonial Roofs was published.
Jones showcases only two Salem houses, a very un-restored Corwin/Witch House, which he calls the Roger William House as it is several years before Sidney Perley disproved that connection, and the Pickering House, which looks then pretty much like it looks now. There are so many more I wish he had included! But images of Salem’s “ancient” houses were being dispersed far and wide by Frank Cousins in the 1890s, so I can understand his sparing coverage. There are lots of Essex County houses in the volume: I was particularly drawn to the Cobbett House on East Street in Ipswich, which appears to be no longer with us, the striking image of the Whipple House (again–in its un-Colonial-revivalized state) and the Peaslee Garrison House up in Haverhill, which looks like it could have been built in East Anglia.
Jones takes us to all of the usual houses in Lexington, Concord and Duxbury, but does not venture onto the Cape or “out west”. Perhaps the anonymous note-inserter is correct: there is something about the untouched, organic images of two houses that I am familiar with—the Abbot house in Andover and the Peter Tufts House in Medford (which Jones calls the “Cradock House”) that are so very revealing, even more than the photographic technique. These houses would survive the twentieth century: not so the Barker House in Pembroke, then boarded-up, overgrown and abandoned.
The 1920s was a decade of intensive commemoration in Massachusetts, in recognition of the 300th anniversaries of the landing at Plymouth in 1620 and the arrival of John Winthrop here in Salem in 1630, bearing the royal charter that formally recognized the Massachusetts Bay Company. The commemoration culminated with the formation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentennial Commission in 1929, which oversaw thousands of events, including processions, pageants, historical exercises, old home weeks, exhibitions and expositions, the publication of various commemorative materials like Massachusetts on the Sea and Pathways of the Puritans, and the erection of roadside historical markers across the Commonwealth (the Salem markers are all “missing”—I’m coming to the unfortunate conclusion that there has been a long cumulative campaign to remove as much of Salem’s tangible history as possible, with the relocation of the Phillips Library as the end game! Maybe we are cursed–or maybe I’ve lost my perspective).
Smithsonian/National Postal Museum
There was also some sort of map initiative: as I’ve found several pictorial/historical maps–of the commonwealth, various regions, and individual towns–published in this period, often by the Tudor Press and under the auspices (and with the approval) of the Tercentenary Conference of City and Town Committees. Elizabeth Shurtleff’s Map of Massachusetts. The Old Bay State (which is in the Phillips Library but fortunately also in David Rumsey’s vast digital collection) is one such map, and there are others representing Cape Cod, Cape Ann, Boston, and several other Massachusetts towns and cities. As you can see from the cropped images of James Fagan’s map of Shawmut/Boston 1630-1930 and Coulton Waugh’s map of Cape Ann and the North Shore, these maps were “historical” in an extremely subjective way, emphasizing achievements above all. As explicitly stated by Fagan, they pictorialize progress above all. I’m sure that this message was particularly important given the coincidental timing of the Massachusetts Tercentenary and the onset of the Great Depression.
So far, I’ve seen 1930 pictorial/historical maps of Ipswich, Concord, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cambridge, and the other day, while looking for something altogether different in the digital collections of the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, I came across of one of Salem! Very exciting–I thought I had chased down every Salem map in existence but no, there was (is) ThePort of Salem, Massachusetts by Warren H. Butler, published by the Tudor Press in 1930. This is a perfect Colonial Revival map really, focused on recreating a rather whimsical/historical “olde” Salem rather than tracing the path of progress. I love it, even though my own house seems to have been swallowed up by an extended Hamilton Hall on lower Chestnut Street. It’s hard to date this map: in the accompanying text, Butler says “here are the ancient streets of Salem”, but while the streets depicted seem to be vaguely Colonial, the buildings that line these streets are of varying periods. His Salem is a port city first and foremost, but while he includes ships in both the harbor and North River and Front Street is really Front Street, the massive Gothic Revival train station is here too. Samuel McIntire’s courthouse is located in its historic location on Washington Street, just a few steps from the Greek Revival courthouse that still stands, vacant, in Salem. All of the Derby houses are on the map, including the majestic–and ephemeral—McIntire mansion which once sat in the midst of present-day Derby Square. In fact all of my favorite Salem houses, still-standing and long gone, are on Butler’s map: it’s a historio-fantasy map of non-Witch City, and I want to go there!
You can zoom in on Salem’s “ancient” streets yourself at the BPL’s Leventhal Map Center.
Six weeks into the struggle to convince the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum to return its Phillips Library to Salem, I find myself with lost faith and many learned lessons. The phrase “broken trust” has been applied to the PEM’s actions many times over these past weeks, but that is too legal a concept for me: I prefer to think in terms of faith, encouraged by Victor Hugo’s lovely observation that A library implies an act of faith which generations, still in darkness hid, sign in their night in witness of the dawn. Under the guise of preservation and with a consistent disdain for accessibility and accountability, the PEM leadership broke faith with the community of Salem, and now I have lost faith in them. I’m trying to separate the leadership from everyone else who works at this large Museum, in effect the Museum itself from the policy regarding the Library and its collections, but that’s tough to do when such an all-encompassing feeling as faith is in play. Working on it.
The interior of the East India Marine Hall past and present, and before the installation of the PEM’s newest exhibition, Play Time.
I’ve learned many lessons over these past weeks but I think the most important one is about prejudging in general and my own prejudices in particular. I’ve been concerned about the commodification of history in Salem for quite some time (as regular readers are all too aware!) and assumed that this trend was driven exclusively by the many tour guides in town, who were presumably more concerned with #tourismmatters than heritage. Now I know that that predisposition is largely incorrect, as I have seen and heard tour guides take earnest and public stances in support of the return of the Phillips while established heritage institutions have stood silently on the sidelines, taking no position and choosing not to exercise their more considerable influence. I remain impressed, and heartened, by the power of history to unite a broad spectrum of people, although at the same time I realize that history, or the perception of one’s history, is also intensely personal.
The Collections of the Essex Institute in the Phillips Library Reading Room, 1980, and the library collections reinstalled, 2008, Rizvi Architects.
I’ve been having difficulty separating the personal from the professional in my reaction to the PEM’s policy towards the Phillips ever since the “announcement” was made—actually I don’t even think I can get past the “announcement”, or lack thereof! But I better try, because obviously no apologies will be forthcoming; instead PEM CEO Dan Monroe offered only the assertion that there was an expectation by a number of people that we had a responsibility to consult with them about what would be done with the Phillips collection…an expectation we didn’t particularly share or understand in last week’s Boston Globe article. I certainly wasn’t expecting a consultation, but an announcement might have been nice, especially as the PEM’s last official word on the Phillips was that it would be returning to Salem in……..2013.
Thank goodness, when confronted with such adversity, healthy instincts of self-preservation begin to take over, and so I’ve started to privilege the professional over the personal in my considerations. When I look at the situation from the former perspective it is clear to me that I don’t need the Phillips Library in Salem or even in Rowley. I have a car, a Ph.D., and a flexible schedule so I can probably gain access to the new warehouse library during one of the 12 hours a week or so that it will be open (well maybe not, after my running commentary over these past weeks) if I want to. In any case, I’m an English historian, fortunate to be equipped with academic databases and dependant on repositories that have made the accessibility of their collections a priority. Local history is just a lark for me, right? Unfortunately, private priorities only work for a while: when I start thinking about all those records relating to Salem people, places and institutions, and all those Salem donors, I find myself right back in the realm of public history.
Actually, I do have three presentations coming up this year on the intersection of the Colonial Revival and historic preservation movements here in Salem—all of which were scheduled just before the temporary Phillips facility closed down on September 1, ostensibly so that materials could be readied for the big move to Rowley (which was not, of course, announced at that time). I was looking forward to using the library’s collections intensively for the first time in my career, an opportunity that will sadly not come to pass. I’ll have to make do, and I will make do, with the help of other institutions that have made their materials more accessible and lots of secondary sources, but I fear I will only be scratching the surface of this Salem story without the Phillips sources.
And I really fear I’ll be too reliant on the detailed-yet-romantic work of Maine-born architect Frank E. Wallis, whose reverence for Salem is all too apparent! Plates from Frank E. Wallis, Old Colonial Architecture and Furniture. Boston: George H. Polley & Co. Publishers, 1887.
I came across a book I had never seen before the other day at the wonderful Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture (beware, serious rabbit-hole potential here) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison: Newton Elwell’s Colonial Furniture and Interiors, published in 1896. I was doing something rather tedious so of course I put that aside and dug in. The book is not great in terms of information, and there were some pretty serious flaws that even an mere buff such as myself could spot immediately (such as referring to Samuel McIntire as James) but it is a treasure trove of plates, including many photographs of Salem interiors I had never seen before. These photographs are fascinating to me because many of them feature rooms decorated in a mishmash style that preceded the pure period room. Look at the east parlor of the Peirce-Nichols house below, for example: looking quite cluttered and Victorian rather than serenely Federal, with the exception of that beautiful fireside chair. Elwell wants to focus on the period furniture, but his photographs can’t always hide all the contemporary details of its setting.
The sheer (and quite casual) display of Salem furniture from the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is a little overwhelming: some of the pictures seem to be taking us into attics (or the storage area of the Essex Institute) where tables and sideboards are lined up in a random fashion. The chair that is featured in the second photograph above, of the mantel of the west parlor of the Peirce-Nichols house, is one from a set of eight crafted by McIntire, one of which sold at a Christie’s auction last week for $15,000 (which seems like a bargain to me, no?) But the 1890s was a key decade in the development of a Colonial Revival consciousness that was both very national and very local: a key decade for the identification of “Olde Salem”. Consequently along with the eclectic vignettes which mix periods and styles, there are also some “typical colonial” Salem rooms in Elwell’s book, forerunners of the period rooms of the next decades.
Plates from Newton Elwell’s Colonial FurnitureandInteriors, 1896.
My title is a bit provocative: I am sure art historians know where the various extant pieces of Samuel McIntire’s urns, swags, mantles, etc.. wound up after they were removed from structures that were burning or razed or mistakenly modernized. But I don’t. A case in point is the previous embellishment of the former stable of the John Robinson House on Summer Street. Just this past week I had a coincidental “happening” with this structure. I happened to run across an article in the March 1912 edition of Country Life in America about John Robinson’s garden (he was a famous horticulturist, author, and garden designer) entitled “A Little Garden in Old Salem” which features several photographs, including one of his stable, embellished with McIntire panels and urns taken from a Derby coach house and the South Church which had burned down nine years before. Then two days later, I happened to meet the charming artist who presently lives in the stable, which was converted to a residence many years ago (and separated from the Robinson House). As her house is no longer embellished with swags and urns, I asked her where they went. According to her sources (the stable’s previous owners, and the man who moved her into it), there was a fire, during which people in the neighborhood “saved” the McIntire pieces, but no one is quite sure where they all ended up. I confirmed the fire–which happened in 1950, just one year after the stable had been converted into a garage–but my photographic evidence dates from before this time, and after: obviously we have a present-day building which is quite transformed, as well as swag-less and urn-less.
Photographs of the Robinson Stable/House over the years: from “A Little Garden in Old Salem” by Wilhelm Miller (photograph by Arthur G. Eldredge), Country Life in America volume 21 (1911-12): all outfitted with McIntire panels and urns; from the HABS inventory at the Library of Congress, 1940, with panels and no urns but drawings of all ornamentation; today–rebuilt after the 1950 fire with no ornamentation.
Regardless of the whereabouts of the McIntire elements, the 1912 and 1940 examinations of the Robinson stable are interesting comparisons of relative appreciation for the famed architect and woodcarver of Salem: the earlier article scarcely mentions him while the HABS report is all about him! But ultimately one wonders how all that ornamentation got on the stable and off it: I am imagining frenzied pilfering/saving, both on the night of the burning of the South Church next door and the stable 47 years later. And where are all these elements now? I’m just not sure. The Peabody Essex Museum has urns from the William Orne House (demolished 1882) in their collection, and The Visitor’s Guide (s) to Salem published by its predecessor, the Essex Institute, in 1908 and 1916 indicate that urns from the South Church as well as other architectural elements are among its collection. South Church elements are also featured in Volume 13 of the pictorial Pageant of America series, published for the nation’s sesquicentennial. Are these the same urns taken off the stable for the photo shoot–or others rescued on that terrible night in 1903? And where are all those swag and rosette panels that we see affixed to the stable in 1912 and 1940? What is missing and what is accounted for? As I write this I’m looking down Chestnut Street and thinking about all those basements–but sadly, there are only Victorian doors and shutters in my own, as well as lots of late twentieth-century junk.
McIntire doorhead and urns from the South Church, destroyed by fire in 1903, from Volume 13 of the Pageant of America Series: The American Spirit of Architecture by Talbot Faulkner Hamlin (1926), New York Public Library Digital Collections. Details of the South Church spire from the Peabody Essex Museum’s archived microsite for its exhibition Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style.