Tag Archives: Community

Choice vs. Necessity

Last night’s public forum in the atrium of the Peabody Essex Museum, in which the museum leadership presented their arguments for why the Phillips Library collections “must” go to Rowley and a large crowd thrust and parried in opposition, was dramatic, to say the least. I’m going to try to present a relatively objective summary here, but given my bias, I will probably fail. Nevertheless I haven’t quite figured out what went on last night, so I need to process it a bit, and this is how I process. Essentially Museum CEO Dan Monroe, who offered no apologies for the disrespectful and reluctant admission of the Rowley relocation just a month ago, presented a rather straightforward point of view, with very few nuances, that the Phillips collections “must” be housed in Rowley, along with all of the physical objects not on display, because there is no room for them in Salem. Regarding the library collections, this necessity flows from the fact that the “stacks”/vault addition to one of the existing Phillips buildings is “impossible” (definitely Mr. Monroe’s favorite word of the evening) for storage and “habitation”. There was no serious discussion of rebuilding the stacks addition, or of utilizing the Armory building next door: both are “impossible” so it is absolutely necessary that the library go to Rowley. The conflation of the Library materials and the physical collections overemphasizes the “impossibility” of keeping the former in Salem. Mr. Monroe and his colleagues were also very consistent in their assertions that preservation is their most important priority, and must trump accessibility and location. This is a very effective argument, as no one could possibly want to see these important materials rotting away (or under water, as one supporter of the museum argued vehemently–drawing attention to Salem’s vulnerable coastline but not to the fact that all of the PEM’s buildings, including the one it is building now, are in the path of this inevitable destruction).

PEM Forum Mr. Monroe at the PEM forum last night.

There were some very positive things about the forum: the large and diverse crowd, of which most, but not all, seemed to be in opposition to the Phillips-removal plan, the attendance of Salem’s mayor, state representative and state senator, all of whom stayed for the entire long evening, and several substantive and passionate comments. I’m grateful that the PEM even hosted the forum: they didn’t have to (or maybe they did for public relations purposes). But I saw or heard no dialogue; disconnect instead ruled the night. From my perspective, the disconnect stemmed from the fact that the Museum is currently in the midst of a 200 million expansion plan funded by a 650 million “advancement” campaign, so it seemed quite obvious that they were choosing the Rowley path rather than resorting to it out of necessity. They have the means to tear down that defunt stacks addition and start fresh: they just don’t want to. There were various attempts by the crowd to extract an admission of this choice by Mr. Monroe and his colleagues, with no success. The other source of disconnect related to the important issue of accessibility, both physical and digital. Mr. Monroe focused almost exclusively on the former, and asserted that Salem residents must sacrifice “convenience” for preservation several times; he would not accept any responsibility for the PEM’s glacial pace of digitization (a perfect word I am stealing from the tweet of a very prominent early Americanist) because digitization is “very, very expensive”—again, this coming from the CEO of an institution that has raised 650 million dollars over the last few years. There was a third source of disconnect that I can’t quite articulate yet—but will try to in my next post (I know I promised I would move on and away from the Phillips–but I just can’t yet, sorry). We did hear confirmation that the beautiful Phillips Library reading room will be open and accessible to the public at some point, but what will be in it I do not know. The new chief of collections and library director, John D. Childs, indicated that they were open to conversations about the “non-unique” (and presumably less vulnerable) items in the collections, so I am going to take some small measure of hope from this statement–but of course I want the unique items too!

PEM forum 2 The shuttered Phillips Library.

Public History

I have to admit that, having written this blog for seven years (unbelievable–seems like a month!), an enterprise I undertook because I wanted to indulge my own curiosity but also learn to write less for an academic audience and more for the general public, and serving as chair of a department that has a very popular concentration in Public History, I never really understood what public history was until I became involved with this movement to resist the relocation of the Phillips Library away from Salem. Now I know that history is a commodity, for lack of a better word, that has limitless value, and also the power to unite all sorts of people: young, old, natives, newcomers, liberals, conservatives (well, this is Massachusetts) and those who fit into none of these categories. It’s hard to define this commodity which is also a force, because people have very different ideas about what history is: for some it is all about family, for some it is all about civic pride, for some it is about sacrifice, for others it is about heroism, for some it is about books, for others images, or things: for all, heritage. I’m used to presenting history, both here and in my professional life, but this has been a month of listening to people talking about their history. And with each assertion about their history, their power grew, eventually turning a one-way announcement (admission, really) into a two-way dialogue. Tomorrow night, we will see the very public acknowledgement of that dialogue at two events in two locales: a forum at the Peabody Essex Museum in which the leadership will lay out their plans for the (ware-)housing of the Phillips historical and literary collections along with all of the material objects not on view in a consolidated stewardship/storage facility in Rowley occuring at the same time as the Salem City Council will debate a resolution calling for the PEM to work towards “keeping Salem’s treasured history in Salem”.

Phillips Forum with border

Phillips Friends Letter with border

Phillips ResolutionFlyer for the 1/11 forum, position letter of newly-revived “Friends of Salem’s Phillips Library”(which is so new that it is homeless but I think it is going to wind up here) & Salem City Council resolution (converted pdfs–sorry about the lack of clarity).

What a night! I am both excited and nervous, but ultimately grateful to be part of this community conversation about something that so many people recognize as important: and this very community as well. I will report back on the day after, and then I promise to move onto some other subjects, patient readers (although I suspect that this conversation will go on for some time).

Phillips mss447_b3f8_seriesi_womantwoboys Social ServicesOne of my very favorite photographs from the Phillips collections that I’ve found while DREDGING every and all online sources this month: from the anniversary of the Children’s Friends & Family Services, Inc. (Phillips MSS 447), 1839-2003, which began life as the Salem Seamen’s Orphan Society and has 54 boxes of records on deposit in the Phillips.


A Week to Remember

It’s a rare week in Salem that the Witch Trials are the focus of commemoration rather than commerce, and this week is just such a time: the combination of the 325th anniversary of 1692 and the completion of the new memorial marking the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge is creating a perfect storm of remembrance. Maybe I’m a bit more focused on it than the average person because I’m also teaching a graduate institute on early modern witch-hunting all week and moderating a panel on Proctor’s Ledge on Thursday, but I think many people in Salem and its environs will be thinking about the victims of 1692 this particular week. I find the timing very poignant: we had our 325th anniversary symposium on June 10, the date of the execution of the first victim, Bridget Bishop, but on July 19 the Trials intensified with the execution of five women: Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes. Even though more executions were to follow in August and September, July 19 was also a turning point in the village consciousness: if such a venerable and pious woman as Rebecca Nurse could fall prey to accusations of witchcraft, then surely anyone could. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll of Salem will dedicate the Proctor’s Ledge memorial on Wednesday the 19th at noon, the Danvers Alarm List Company, the stewards of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, are hosting a commemorative event that evening, and Governor Charlie Baker has proclaimed the 19th Rebecca Nurse Day.

Week 5 Hill

Week Rebecca Nurse

I went by the new memorial this morning, a glorious Sunday, as I wanted to spend some contemplative time there—it’s a small neighborhood site so I’m sure Wednesday will be a bit more busy. I’m so grateful to both the city and the neighborhood for making this memorial happen, as well as to the Proctor’s Ledge team of historians and geologists and interpreters who were not going to be satisfied with a generic “Gallows Hill” (earlier “Witch Hill”) execution site. Gallows Hill remains a neighborhood, however, and I sure there are those who live there who fear that their community will be overwhelmed by the witch-trial tourism that overruns the city in the fall and has transformed the downtown tricentennial Witch Trial Memorial into some less than sacred space. I hope that doesn’t happen too. I find the two memorials to be very complementary; if fact, when I was looking at the new one this morning I kept thinking about downtown, especially with reference to a poem about the latter by Nicole Cooley, from her 2004 volume of poetry inspired by the victims–and resonance–of 1692, The Afflicted Girls.

Week Text

Week Text 2

The absence she speaks of seems somehow less present at Proctor’s Ledge (if absence can be less present).

Week Memorial

Week Memorial 2

Week Worst Day

The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial in Salem, to be dedicated on July 19, 2017.

Heated July

I’ve got a lot going on for the rest of this month, so I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to post, except for the easy stuff maybe: gardens and cats, the occasional door. No long historical or architectural ramblings for a while; instead I’ve got to focus on the events and offerings of a new initiative of my university: Summer at Salem State, which encompasses both academic institutes and community events on successive Thursdays in July, all tied to the common theme of social justice in recognition of the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. Here’s the poster for the community events, all of which are going to be held at the Salem Maritime Visitor Center in downtown Salem and are free and open to the public.

Summer at Salem State Community Events - All_PRINT1

The first event, coming up this Thursday, features Salem native and documentary filmmaker Joe Cultrera and Boston Globe Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendes, is focused on the sexual abuse crisis within the Archdiocese of Boston in particular and the process of “uncovering truths” in general. I first met Mr. Cultrera years ago when my department sponsored a screening of his documentary Witch City, about the intensification of witchcraft tourism in Salem coincidentally with the 1992 tercentenary of the trials, and I can testify that he is very adept at uncovering truths. Witch City captured some of the most telling quotes from the two people with the most vested interests in a witchy Salem, Official Witch Laurie Cabot, who claims that the victims of 1692 “died for our freedom”, and Salem Witch Museum owner Biff Michaud, who has quite a lot to say in the film: the witch trials are “the sizzle of the city….I don’t think that we commercialize it at all. We give the people what they want. The witchcraft hysteria of 1692 is no different than the Holocaust in 1942. Is it more important to lose 19 of those lives on Gallows Hill than 6 million in Europe? In any case, they’re dead”.  I’m really looking forward to more uncovered truths in Cultrera’s film Hand of God, which will be screened prior to the discussion between the filmmaker and reporter Rezendes, who knows quite a bit about the particular subject matter and the general quest, obviously.

spotlight-ruffalo-rezendesBoston Globe investigative reporter Michael Rezendes and Mark Ruffalo, who played him in the Academy Award-winning best picture for 2016, Spotlight.

Next week is all about witches, or should I say those who were accused of practicing witchcraft, and died after their conviction, and are therefore forever identified as witches. I’m teaching a one-week intensive institute on “Witchcraft in the Atlantic World”, which I’m hoping will emphasize the connected and comparative histories of witch-hunting on both sides of the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Too often the historiography is separate, so I consider this a rather daunting task, especially in the all-day, one-week format. Thank goodness I have some great texts (we’re going to focus on primary sources in general and trial testimony in particular) and help from my friends, particularly Emerson Baker, author of The Storm of Witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience. Dr. Baker is one of the members of the team that verified the Proctor’s Ledge site (below Gallows Hill–long called “Witch Hill” in Salem) as the location of the execution of the victims of 1692, and the dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial is happening on Wednesday the 19th, followed by our second “Thursdays in July” event on July 20th featuring a panel on the process of verification and memorialization. What a week!


Proctor's Ledge collage

Our last community event, on July 27, focuses on contemporary wrongful convictions. A screening of the film The Exonerated will be followed by a discussion between journalist and Salem Award recipient Anne Driscoll and Sunny Jacobs and Pete Pringle, both of whom were wrongly accused and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and exonerated, later to meet and marry. Theirs is an incredible story, with (again) very particular, personal, and universal resonance.

Exoneration Witchcraft 1711An Act to Reverse the Attainders of George Burroughs and Others For Witchcraft. Regni Annae Reginae Decimo. Boston: B. Green, 1713. Printed Emphemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Appendix:  One more event! The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is commemorating the 325th anniversary of her execution on July 19th at 6:30 pm: http://www.rebeccanurse.org/.




Peaking and Strolling (in Gardens)

I’m looking forward to the Salem Garden Club’s biennial tour tomorrow, “A Stroll through the Garden’s of Salem’s McIntire District”, which will take place right in my neighborhood. All proceeds go towards the club’s community beautification projects, which are numerous and conspicuous! My garden was on this tour a while ago, early on in my knowledge of gardening in general and relationship with this particular garden, so I remember thinking “July–that’s so late” when they gave me the date. But several ladies assured me that Salem gardens peak in July. When the date for the tour came up, my garden was indeed peaking. I was happy about that in one way, but sad in another–I decided that I didn’t want my garden to have just one peak but rather to “crest” through the summer. So I changed its constitution a bit and brought in more plants picked for their leaves rather than their flowers. Right now the mallows are flowering, the meadowsweet just popped, and the first of the daylilies–but the roses are in a funk and the lady’s mantle is done. Something weird is going on with my bee balm–lots of powdery mildew which I’ve never seen before. But the border plants, germander, calamint, and veronica, are finally established and doing just fine. It’s all a bit subtle, which is what I’m going for, but I’m sure that tomorrow we will be able to peak in on gardens that are really peaking!

Garden First

Garden 8

Garden Mallows

Garden 4

Garden 3

Garden 2

Garden 6

Garden 9

Garden Stroll Poster

A Perfect Fourth

I had a wonderful Fourth of July yesterday: pretty much perfect in every way. The weather was wonderful (not-too-hot, sunny, low humidity), the company charming, the events engaging, the food was great, the fireworks AMAZING, and I got to take an afternoon nap in the midst of it all. Just a perfect day. It started out with the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence on Salem Common, then it was off to the Willows for the (again, traditional) Horribles Parade (rather tame this year in terms of political satire but I appreciated the historical perspective), then back home for lunch, and an hour or so of one of my favorite classic Revolutionary War-era films, The Devil’s Disciple (1959), followed by the aforementioned blissful nap, during which my husband and stepson were out checking our traps for a bounty of HUGE lobsters. Drinks in the garden, then off to Salem’s newest restaurant, Ledger, for the best burger I’ve ever had. We then made our way along Derby Street through huge crowds assembling for the fireworks to a friends’ harborside house, where we watched the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen. Really. Across the harbor, Marblehead and more distant Nahant were setting off their tiny little displays and the BOOM, Salem blew them out of the water! I’m just exhausted in the best way possible (despite the nap) so the photographs will have to tell the story, although they can’t capture the full-blown experience of the fireworks, of course.

July 4 13

July 4 First

July 4 Cottages collage

July 4 Parade

July 4 2

July 4 5

July 4 3

July 4 7

July 4 Film

July 4 Lobsters

July Ledger collage

July 4 Collage

July 4th: our house festooned, the reading of the Declaration of Independence, Willows cottages ready for the parade and the Horribles Parade, The Devil’s Disciple (very clever script by George Bernard Shaw and wonderful performance by Laurence Olivier), just one day’s lobster harvest, Ledger, so-named because it is situated in the former Salem Savings Bank, the Custom House morning and night. Below: FIREWORKS.

Fireworks Best

Fireworks 4


Fireworks 2

Fireworks 3

Fireworks 5

Fireworks Last

Fireworks 1



Preservation Awards 2017

Every May (which is Preservation Month in case you didn’t know it), Salem’s venerable preservation organization, Historic Salem, Inc., holds its annual meeting at which a slate of officers are elected and a slate of preservation awards announced–with the latter taking up considerably more time than the former. The awards are culled from nominations by HSI’s membership and the community, and generally include a variety of projects: private residences meticulously restored, adaptive re-use projects, large public projects that privilege preservation. I look forward to these awards every year, but for some reason I haven’t “covered” them in my blog:  I think it’s because annual meeting nights have fallen on teaching nights in years past and so I haven’t been able to attend, but that’s a poor excuse as I certainly could and should have featured the list in years past. These awards go to individuals (owners, developers, architects) but represent material and aesthetic contributions to the entire community as preservation is a public good. In any case, this year the HSI annual meeting fell on a Friday, but I would have attended regardless as (shameless full disclosure here) my husband’s firm received not one but two awards: for the Howard and Derby Street condominium projects through which a 1960s convent and the former Settlement House of the House of the Seven Gables were transformed into residential buildings. These projects were in good company: the newly-restored (and expanded) Essex Probate and Family Court (now the Thaddeus Buczko Building) the Notch Brewery & Tap Room, the Pickering House, the Baker’s Island Light Station, Old Town Hall, the former Klondike Building–turned-offices for the North Shore Community Development Corporation, and a beautifully-refurbished Victorian house in North Salem were also recognized on this past Friday night. Together, they represent the sheer variety of preservation work going on in Salem by individuals and institutions, efforts that are more important than ever in this era of bland new building.

Preservatio Overview

Preservation Old Town Hall

Preservations Awards Nursery

Preservation Awards Lafayette Street

Preservation Awards Howard Street

Preservation Derby

Preservation Awards Federal Street

The 2017 HSI Preservation Award winners: Old Town Hall was recognized for the rehabilitation of its historic windows, and the Pickering House for its fence and balustrade. The Nursery Street Victorian sets the standard for meticulous restoration, inside and out. The second-floor North Shore CDC offices on Lafayette Street, also stunning. Seven Howard Street is a mid-century modern convent turned condominiums, and the former Settlement House of the House of the Seven Gables led many lives before its recent transformation into residences.

Looking forward to 2018: The Salem Maritime National Historic Site is in the process of restoring the windows of the Derby House, the old “Grimshawe House” on Charter Street (where Nathaniel Hawthorne courted his wife Sophia) is in the midst of a thorough rehabilitation, and I’m really hoping that my employer, Salem State University, not only saves but restores this historic bungalow on Loring Avenue.

Preservation Derby 2

Preservation Charter

Loring Bungalow

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