Tag Archives: Hamilton Hall

Mid (19th)-century Thanksgiving

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Thanksgiving was a very different holiday in some ways, but familiar in others. It did not become a national holiday until 1863: before that the Salem papers (I’m using the Salem Register in this post) note with each passing year how many governors have issued proclamations adopting the “joyous festival, so long the ‘peculiar institution’ of New England”. How jarring to see this phrase applied to Thanksgiving—when I thought it was an exclusive reference to slavery!  I’m not sure I’m really comfortable with the phrase “Universal Yankee Nation” in this 1847 article either.

Thanksgiving 1847 collage

Apart from the provincial pride, Thanksgiving was also a busy public holiday, rather than merely a family gathering. It was both sacred and secular, and everyone was out and about in the morning (for church services) and the evening (for concerts and dances). I assume they ate their Thanksgiving dinners in between, as there were lots of advertisements for various foodstuffs  in the weeks before the big day, which was always in November in Massachusetts despite some December dates chosen by other states. Provisioning and preparations were very important: not just for family meals, but also for the meals that were prepared by different civic groups for orphans, prisoners, “inmates of the Alms House”, and (during the Civil War) soldiers.

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These advertisements from the Salem Register (from 1847-75) give some semblance of what Thanksgiving festivities were all about in mid-nineteenth-century Salem but are an under-representation: people really wanted to give thanks in as many ways as possible, especially during the Civil War. But they also wanted to celebrate: Thanksgiving is always referred to as a “festival”. Turkey–and other fowl– was definitely on the menu as you can see from the “warning” to Salem’s resident birds, and cranberries as well. I remain extremely impressed by the entrepreneurialism of Mr. John Remond, an African-American man who served as the resident manager and caterer of (a very busy) Hamilton Hall while also running several provisioning businesses downtown: he arrived in Salem from the West Indies in 1798, all alone and only ten years old, and seems to have transformed himself into one of the city’s major players by the 1820s. He and his wife Nancy (who also had her own business–and they had eight children) were also active abolitionists and do not seem to have suffered the handicaps faced by most African-Americans in the nineteenth century, but then again, advertisements only reflect one small sliver of their lives. But they can tell us that year after year in Salem, oysters, whether individually or in pies, were much in demand for Thanksgiving.


The Salem Resistance Ball

On Saturday night, a new event was held at venerable Hamilton Hall: the Salem Resistance Ball, commemorating the British Colonel Leslie’s forced retreat from Salem in February of 1775 in particular and a more universal spirit of resistance. Congratulations to the board of Hamilton Hall and the Ball committee for a job well done: there were lots of special touches to be admired about the event, and attendees clearly enjoyed themselves immensely. People turned out in a mixture of authentic period dress, costume, wigs, and formal wear, and there was even a suffragette in attendance! I think I got my act together, and wore a 18th-century-esque ball gown (from the 1980s), with a very new and puffy petticoat and my “old” reproduction 1805 corset underneath. There were several pre-parties and then we all arrived at the Hall, where there was lots of rum, a photo booth, lovely lighting, reproduction historical flags lining the ballroom, a light supper in the supper room, and lots and lots of dancing, led by period dancers and a caller who was an excellent instructor: I learned a lot. In particular, I learned that the “Grand March”, which signals the end of each and every Christmas Dance that I’ve attended at Hamilton Hall over 20+ years, is not supposed to be a sloppy melee, but actually a much more intricate promenade, and that it generally happens more towards the beginning of the dance rather than at its end. Perhaps the Hall’s newest ball can lead to some reform of one its oldest?

Before the ball Before the ball: a particularly beautiful sunset from Chestnut Street.

ball collage A very gracious pre-party.

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ball 10 The Setting.

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ball 28 Dancing.

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After the Ball

morning after Best dresses & the day after.


18th-century-esque

Next weekend is the first-ever Resistance Ball at Hamilton Hall, commemorating Leslie’s Retreat, Salem’s opening act of the American Revolution, as well as the spirit of resistance over time and in our own time. Its organizers are encouraging, but not demanding, period dress so I have to figure out what I’m going to wear. I have a magic closet on the third floor full of evening dresses from the late 50s and early 60s that I rely on for all formal occasions, but I think this event calls for something different. It’s too late to go the custom reproduction route and I detest cheap costumes. About a decade ago, I commissioned a period gown (and stays!!! which were actually more expensive than the gown) for a ball marking the 200th anniversary of the Salem Athenaeum: I just assumed I would wear this regency gown for the Resistance Ball but when I took it out, put it on, and pranced around in it the other night I realized it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Too late, too Jane Austen, not enough Abigail Adams. So now I’m at a loss as to what to wear.

Resistance Ball

If I had realized my mistake sooner I probably would have ordered a dress or a robe à l’Anglaise from one of the amazing seamstresses out there: I have an old silk petticoat that would suffice. I particularly like the silk jacket below, but putting together an outfit around that little number would take time and considerable money, not just for the jacket, but for all the underpinnings: it’s all about the silhouette in historical clothing. With my time constraints, I’m thinking about the basic design elements of late eighteenth-century fashions—corsetry, cinching, embellishment, neckline, silhouette–and seeing if I can come up with something “18th-century-esque” for next week. I don’t think I’m going to go as far as the Versace corset dress from the 90s below, but I definitely want an updated eighteenth-century look.

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There is lots of inspiration out there because of the combined aesthetic influence of Hamilton and Outlander: polyvore sets abound! American Revolutionary women have never been singled out for their sartorial style, but their near-contemporary across the Atlantic, Marie Antoinette, seems to have a fashion moment every twenty years or so. Now, however, the Schuyler sisters and Clare Fraser rule. There are lessons for updating in the strategies of the costume designers of both productions. Hamilton designer Paul Tazwell seems to focus on color, and notes that “in keeping the overall design as contemporary feeling as possible while still in the silhouette of the 18th century, I kept the detailing as simple as possible so that it didn’t feel too decorative and fussy. I used mostly silk taffeta for the dresses on the women because it stays crisp and light and moves in a way that viscerally feels like the 18th century to me”. Outlander designer Terry Dresbach (who maintains a beautiful blog with many insights into her process) is dealing with a time-traveler, so a bit of adaptation is required: a 1940s Dior jacket that Clare might have worn in her 20th century life is transported to the eighteenth century along with her, and both are altered in the process!

Hamilton Girls

outlander-christian-dior-exclusive-designHamilton’s Schuyler sisters on stage, dressed by Paul Tazwell; the Dior inspiration for Outlander’s “time-traveling” jacket by Terry Dresbach.

Thinking about both the essentials of eighteenth-century style and their adaptation, I browsed around for hours (what a rabbit hole!) and put together a working digital inspiration board. Pinned mostly from ebay and various designer archives, these are the dresses that seem to represent the look I’m going after best. Moving around the board clockwise, we have a very editorial look by Jean Paul Gaultier, a detail of a really beautiful Prada black taffeta gown, an Azzedine Alaia wedding ensemble (for some reason this screams 18th century to me!), a Zac Posen dress, a Carolina Herrera gown, and Dita von Teese in a Vivienne Westwood toile dress complete with panniers. Even if I could find one of these pieces, I couldn’t afford them, but they got me thinking in different directions about bodices, bows, draping, and toile…….what about a toile dress? Too day/summery? It would have to be the right toile, and the right style–too late for that now.

Resistance collage

Of all the designers above, it is clearly Vivienne Westwood who has been the most immersed in and influenced by the eighteenth century over her long career. She’s amazing at focusing in on the key elements and bringing a new artistic sensibility to them. The poster for the big present/past fashion moment several years ago, Le XVIIIeme au goût du jour (The 18th Century Back In Fashion) exhibition at the Palace of Versailles, features (half of) her bold dress on its poster, and two years ago her eighteenth-century-esque clothes were exhibited in situ at the newly restored Danson House in London (lately seen in the television series Taboo). Westwood’s “Sunday” day dress from a few years back looks to me like the perfect distillation of eighteenth-century style, but it’s really too informal for a ball and I can’t find one anyway.

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18th century Westwood Cut From the Past Danson House 2015 A Vivienne Westwood corset at Danson House.

So that’s where I am now, pretty much nowhere, although I can just raid my third-floor closet and wear classic vintage formal. I’m trying to remember what my now-vintage Laura Ashley dresses, which I think are still at my parents’ house up in Maine, look like, though I seem to recall they are more nineteenth-century-esque than eighteenth-century-esque. And very puffy sleeves: all wrong.


A Bicentennial Banquet

Salem was founded in 1626: its tricentenary was very much a big deal, celebrated with myriad events over several weeks and its quatercentenary is already on the horizon. I don’t know anything about its centennial, but its bicentennial was marked with at least one event (and probably more): an elaborate banquet at Hamilton Hall presented by the in-house caterer, John Remond. No doubt his wife Nancy, a “fancy cake maker” contributed much to the event, as well as his children. Catering and provisioning constituted the family business for this prominent free black family, along with hair dressing and unflagging advocacy for abolition. Despite the fact that 1826 would have been the bicentennial year, the feast actually happened on September 18, 1828: a bill of lading in the Remond Papers at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum indicates that Mr. Remond had received a delivery of “one large green turtle” just a week before, a valuable commodity that must have ended up in his first courses of green turtle soup and green turtle pie.

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The dish that really stands out for me on this elaborate menu is pigeons transmogrified: not being a culinary historian it seems rather exotic to me, and I wondered if this could be Remond’s original creation. No way: it’s in nearly all of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century cookbooks, apparently a classic. Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy (first published in 1747 and never out of print over the next century), the Joy of Cooking of its era, contains a recipe for Pigeons Transmogrifiedas does Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) and all of their imitators. There were basically two recipes for this dish, as you can see below: one which encased the pigeons in puff pastry and another encasing them in cucumbers. I think the former represents the straightforward English cooking presented by Mrs. Glasse and the latter is more French-inspired, and I’m not sure which version was prepared by Mr. Remond in 1828. In any case, his guests, all 170 of them, had plenty of other choices if their preferences did not include pigeons.

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John Remond’s menu for the bicentennial dinner at Hamilton Hall, Remond Papers, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum (accessed via American Broadsides and Ephemera);  title pages of Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy and  variant recipes for Pigeons Transmogrified.


The Weekend before Christmas

A very Salem weekend before Christmas highlighted by the Christmas Dance (now called the Holiday Dance) at Hamilton Hall, preceded by pre-parties at gloriously-decorated houses, and followed by shopping downtown on Sunday. I was supposed to wrap all my presents last night but fell asleep on the couch while watching the 1970 version of Scrooge (not as good as the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, but it had to do, yet even a musical could not keep my eyes open; in particular this musical).We had terrible weather on Saturday–sludgy snow/rain–but Sunday was unseasonably warm until a wind whipped up in the later afternoon. Not picture-perfect “Christmas Weather” but lots of people were out and about anyway.

Saturday: the Hall next door before the big dance and showing our ephemeral cover of snow–now gone. I took a few pictures of one very stylishly-decorated Dutch Colonial during one pre-party, but then misplaced my camera–magically it appeared at the very end of the evening when we ended up at the Merchant. No matter, because I can never take good pictures at the Dance. I hope you can make out the wonderful Christmas tree below–lit from within by a lady offering up a gift!

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Sunday: shopping at the Christmas Market at Old Town Hall, Waite & Peirce, Joe’s Fresh Fish Prints, Wicked Good Books, and Modern Millie’s, the always-impressive windows at Emporium 32, and the Poinsettia Tree at the Hawthorne Hotel.

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And some online shopping: LOVE these “Windows of Salem”  hand-drawn digitally-designed cards by EVArtandDesign: you can buy individual cards or a curated-collection with partial proceeds donated to Historic Salem, Inc.

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Getting Ready for the Fourth

Salem celebrates the Fourth of July in a big way, with a Horribles parade at Salem Willows in the morning and fireworks accompanied by an orchestra at Derby Wharf in the evening. The Fourth is not perhaps as big an extravaganza as it used to be a while ago when a huge bonfire of barrels ruled the day (or night) in our city, but it is still big. I walked around and saw everyone putting out their colors today, and past the rather sad-looking Friendship which is missing its masts and getting hauled out for repairs the day after the holiday. The money shot of Fourth of July photography is the fireworks against the rigging and sails of the Friendship, so this year Salem photographers are going to have to be very creative! I put my own bunting on the house and stocked the refrigerator: my only regret is that I failed to make the famous Fourth of July punch featured on Chestnut Days past and in the 1947 Hamilton Hall Cookbook: apparently it takes two months to “ripen” so two days will simply not do.

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Fourth House Williams Street

Fourth Derby Wharf

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Festooned for the Fourth on Chestnut, Essex, Carlton, Williams and Winter Streets in Salem, the mastless Friendship, and the 1947 recipe for Fourth of July punch–too late for this year but keep in mind for next.

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Silken Skirts and Open Houses

On at least five occasions over the last century, residents of Chestnut Street opened their wardrobes and their houses, donning period clothing while giving house tours on a succession of “Chestnut Street Days” celebrating the apparel, architecture, and culture of Salem’s golden age. The first Chestnut Street was in 1926, organized to recognize Salem’s Tercentenary, and the last was sometime in the 1970s: I’m not sure precisely when but I’m assuming it must have been around the Bicentennial? I’ve posted on these occasions before, but just the other day a very nice man sent me a photograph of the first Chestnut Street Day which I’d never seen before, so I thought I would do so again: we have lots of new residents on the street who are probably completely unaware of these happenings. I also delved into the press coverage a bit and was amazed by the number of headlines the 1939 and 1947 Chestnut Street Days generated: my title is derived from my favorite, “Heavy Silken Skirts Rustle Again at Salem’s Chestnut St.Day Preview”, from the May 27, 1947 edition of the Boston Globe.

Chestnut Street Day 1947 Boston Globep

This preview was followed up by no less than seven articles in the Globe over the next month, covering every little detail of the organization and occasion of the 1947 Chestnut Street Day:  Luncheon Waitresses Chosen for Chestnut Street Day in Salem (all Misses, for the luncheon at Hamilton Hall, the beneficiary of this particular Chestnut Street Day), Salem’s Beautiful Old Houses to be Open for Chestnut Street Day (30 that year!), It Took Two Months to Ripen the 4th of July Rum Punch in Salem (no aspect of the life of “Old-Time Sea Captains” was left uncovered by either the organizers of the Day or the press), and finally, on the eve of the big day:

Chestnut Street Day June 24 1947 Boston Globe Headline

There was definitely a big emphasis on the “garb”, for both men and women, some of which still resides on the street in storage at Hamilton Hall but most of which was sold a few years ago, as I recall. Historic New England also has some clothing in their collection–and films of Chestnut Street days–from the Phillips family. Every piece of evidence indicates that no detail was spared: clothing, food, furnishings carriages, games, house flags, flowers. These days were huge undertakings, apparently involving everyone of every age on the street: a real community effort and display of pride of place. Here are some images from a succession of Chestnut Street Days, beginning with the great family photo I just received and proceeding up to 1952. I don’t have any 1970s images: I wish someone would fill me in on that particular occasion and send photos!

Chestnut Street Days 1926 Trumball

Chestnut Street Day 1626 Tom Sanders

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Chestnut Street Day 1926: Family photograph courtesy of Jim Trumball;  Tom Sanders and his horses and carriage courtesy Martha Sanders; Felicie Ward Howell, “Salem’s 300th Anniversary, Chestnut Street, June, 1926”, Christie’s.

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Chestnut Streets Days 1939 carriage SSU

Chestnut Street Day 1939 Gibralter Lady SSU

1939: Flyer featuring Samuel Chamberlain’s “Springtime in Salem”; another carriage and team of horses; two ladies buying Salem’s famous Gibralters from Mrs. Mary E. Barker in period dress, Dionne Collections, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Chestnut Street Day 1947 Press Coverage

Chestnut Street Day 1952 Ticket

1947 and 1952: One of MANY photographs and stories about the “famous” Chestnut Street Day in the Boston (and even New York) press, and a ticket to the 1952 Day, which featured 25 open houses.

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