Faithful readers of this blog will know that I am captivated by the Remonds, an African-American family of ten who lead exemplary lives of advocacy, activism and entrepreneurialism in Salem in the nineteenth-century, often centered around Hamilton Hall, the Federal reception hall right next door to my house. I feel very connected to them and I’m interested in everything they did. The parents, John and Nancy, clearly raised their children to be independent and assertive, and were both independent and assertive themselves. The most public, and therefore most well-known, Remonds were the abolitionist speakers Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker, and while I have the utmost admiration for them they have their historians, while their siblings do not. There are also no photographs (in the public realm anyway) of the other Remonds, so we don’t “see” them. So I’ve been collecting as much information as possible about the “invisible” Remonds, and I thought I would cap off my year of #salemsuffragesaturdays with a spotlight on the amazing life of the youngest member of this distinguished family, Caroline Remond Putnam (1826-1908). She’s one of the most impressive women I have ever encountered. The closest I can get to her is her signature, sadly: on a petition against capital punishment signed when she was a teenager, on a letter addressed to Wendell Phillips sent from London (both from the digital collections of Harvard), on her passport application in 1865.
Even without an archive of personal papers to elucidate her life, it’s easy to see that Caroline was a very engaged woman: the advertisements for her businesses fill the pages of the Salem Register; her efforts towards abolition are referenced in successive issues of The Liberator. As the youngest Remond child, she had several examples to follow as every family member was busy: in business and in reform causes, or both. Her parents managed to enroll her older sister Sarah and Caroline in the Salem public schools, from which they were expelled for no cause other than their race, prompting the relocation of the family to Newport, Rhode Island. The Remonds returned to Salem when the girls’ schooling was complete, and to their several businesses. Caroline began working in hairdressing in partnership with several of her sisters, and on her own, and in the late 1840s she married Joseph H. Putnam of Boston, whose family was part of the African-American network of entrepreneur activists which extended to Philadelphia. Caroline never stopped working: as a personal hairstylist, as the owner of a Salem salon and wig factory called the Ladies Hair Work Salon with her sisters, and as the manufacturer of the popular “Mrs. Putnam’s Medicated Hair Tonic” for hair loss. She and Joseph had two children, Edmund and Victoria, but tragedy struck in 1859 when Caroline lost both her husband and her baby daughter within three months. Her reaction was to leave: she booked passage for Britain for herself and her young son Edmund to join her sister Sarah, and there are no indications that she planned to come back to the United States. But she did: back and forth across the Atlantic she went over the next 20 years or so, sometimes with a sister, often with Edmund. She came back because she had a lot to do: she had her businesses, and had assumed major leadership roles, chiefly in the realm of fundraising, for the American and Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Societies. After the Civil War she shifted her efforts towards the suffrage movement and the American, New England, and Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Associations, and was always recognized as a “well-known advocate” of the cause. Caroline clearly had many obligations in the United States, but she returned to Europe several times in the 1870s and eventually joined her sister Sarah in Italy (where she managed a hotel in Rome!) in the mid-1880s and then made a permanent move to England, where she died in 1908.
Abolition, Suffrage AND Pacifism: Caroline had big goals, and that characteristic Remond mix of activism and pragmatism regarding business matters.
It’s rather sad to see someone work so hard for the greater good in a country, and be so eager to leave it: after Frederick Douglass visited the Remond sisters (Caroline and Sarah, plus Maritcha) in Rome he reported that “they detest prejudice of color and say they would not live in the U. States, if you could or would give them America!” These sentiments were grounded in experience. Caroline experienced at least three cases of very public discrimination: she was with Sarah at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston in 1853 when they were ejected from their seats, on her first Atlantic crossing in 1859 she and her young son were barred from the first-class cabins in the Cunard liner Europa for which she had purchased tickets, and on a trip to New York City in 1870 her reservations for rooms at the Metropolitan Hotel were not honored. I’m sure these were just three public instances out of many more private ones. But still she pressed on, always trying to create a better world for herself, her family, her gender, her race, and pretty much everyone else.
Maybe you’ve seen this week’s New Yorker cover: a woman in her apartment on her computer, presumably in a Zoom meeting. She’s wearing a lovely blouse, earrings, and lipstick and her hair looks great, so all “above” is perfect. But below, out of sight of the computer screen, is another matter: she is wearing gym shorts and slippers, there is scattered paper everywhere, along with Amazon boxes, drinking vessels, and two cats. And she’s drinking a cocktail. That, dear readers, is me in the fall of 2020, teaching four courses while writing a book, with a new kitten running all around. Next week classes will end and I’m just about finished with a particularly difficult chapter: then I’m going to put on a skirt and tights and real shoes. This sad state of sartorial affairs has depressed me, as generally in December I’m thinking about what I’m going to wear to the Hamilton Hall Christmas Dance and other holiday events: obviously not happening this year. We’re also fortunate in Salem to see attendees of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancer’s Fezziwig’s Ball walking through the streets to Old Town Hall: again, not this year. So I’ve mustered up some historic Salem dresses and some new-old dresses in historic Salem settings to get myself in the holiday mood, material girl that I am.
My favorite Salem dress ever is Sarah Ellen Derby Roger’s wedding dress, in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. I looked for something similar with Salem provenance, and found this lovely pale pink gown with amazing sleeves. I also found the wonderful blog of historical clothing maker Quinn Burgess, TheQuintessentialClothesPen. Since Quinn has attended several events in Salem wearing her own creations, I thought you would like to see some period clothes in situ, at Hamilton Hall and Old Town Hall. Her dresses below are designs from 1812-1813, about a decade earlier than Sarah’s wedding dress and its more muted cousin.
Sarah Ellen Derby Roger’s Wedding Dress, made in Salem from materials from India,1827, Peabody Essex Museum (Gift of Jeannie Dupee, 1979); Pale pink silk gown, Charles A. Whitaker Auctions. Quinn Burgess at Hamilton Hall and with her friends at Fezziwig’s Ball in Old Town Hall–an annual event sponsored by the Commonwealth VintageDancers. Photo credits: L. Stern (white and red dresses at Hamilton Hall) and James Sabino (The Festive Ladies at Old Town Hall).
Let’s go forward a bit to the middle of the nineteenth century, not really my favorite period for design, but the ladies below make it look good! I came across this Civil War photograph of Marianne Cabot Devereaux Silsbee, author of A Half Century in Salem (1886) in her photograph album at the Phillips Library in Rowley. Despite the volume, I imagine this must be a day dress, but I found a very colorful chartreuse and purple ballgown from a Salem family in the archives of Whitaker’s auctions in Philadelphia. I always thought I liked that color combination, but now I’m not so sure: I think I prefer Quinn’s more subtle gown—hardly a “little” black dress–indeed Quinn tells me it is blue!
Marianne C.D. Silsbee, Phillips Library PHA 58; Civil War Era silk ballgown from a Salem family, Charles A. Whitaker Auctions; Quinn Burgess in a navy c. 1860 dress at Hamilton Hall (photographer credit: Emma Forrest).
And speaking of little black dresses, I’m going to jump forward a century to show you one from a Salem purveyor: a Mollie Parnis dress from the Mayflower Vintage shop on Etsy. Gorgeous. I’m not sure I’d wear this to the Christmas Dance, as I prefer more of a ballgown for that occasion, but (if I could fit into it), I’d find someplace to wear it. I’m looking forward to the moment when I can even think about what dress I might wear, where.
There is no contest for me: my favorite Salem event has always been the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall: I have never missed it in all the years I’ve lived in Salem, even in the one year I had to go alone. Last year I was in terrible pain from sciatica, but I still hobbled over there and stayed for as long as possible. It’s just that important to me. Anything related to Hamilton Hall is a women’s history topic, very appropriate for my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts, as women have worked in the Hall, danced in the Hall, held fairs and other fundraising events in the Hall for a variety of causes, and supported the Hall in myriad ways for its two+ centuries. Women continue to support the Hall through two major fundraising events which date to the period right after World War II, when the Hall was in dire need of repairs: the annual Christmas (now Holiday) Dance and Lecture Series, traditionally held on Thursday mornings in February and March. I served as President of the Hall for six years, and on its board before and after, so I know how very, very important the funds from these events are: when we received the checks from the Dance Committee (all ladies) and the Ladies’ Committee which runs the Lecture Series, we breathed a sign of relief. The Hall was built by subscription, and incorporated only in 1986: at that time it had a very small endowment, and it still does: events have always supported it, making an event-less 2020 a very precarious time. But as always has been the case, the ladies rose to the occasion: the Lecture Series will be virtual, increasing accessibility for many people as it always sold out in a week or so, as will the Holiday “Dance”, with some very special patronesses.
I’m so happy about this invitation and event! It combines two endeavors which are very important to me: the preservation of the Hall and its traditions and the showcasing of some remarkable women of Salem who have not received the attention they deserve. There’s a long tradition of naming patronesses for dances at the Hall; these hostesses ensured the success of everything from military balls to debutante assemblies. When the Christmas Dance began, patronesses (and now patrons) became as integral to its popularity as the famous bourbon punch (which I am now realizing that I’ve referred to as rum punch in posts past. What can I say? It always knocked me out). I was a patroness about ten years ago and it was not only an honor but also great fun: waiters with silver trays of champagne kept coming over and people bow and curtsy to you—what could be better? When the chair of the Dance Committee notified me that this year’s dance would go on virtually with patronesses from the past , I was thrilled: what a perfect way to recognize the Suffrage Centennial in this challenging year! I was happy to put forth some candidates, but the ladies of the Dance Committee made their choices, and it was all their idea. I’m just thrilled to see Margery, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah (Symonds), Nancy, Louise, Clarissa and Sarah (Sherman) get their Salem due! Especially Nancy, whom I think of whenever I step inside the Hall, toiling away in the hot downstairs kitchen on the Rumford Roaster, while everyone was dancing in the ballroom upstairs.
Post-war Patronesses in a photo belonging to my friend Becky Putnam: staring directly into the camera, while in a perfect curtsy, third from the left, is her lovely mother Rosamond Putnam; Debutantes in 1969 in curtsy—-sorry for the quality but I wanted you to see the extended-front-leg curtsy which I found difficult to do when I was a patroness—they do too, although they really had to go low! My two favorite Hamilton Hall dresses: left is vintage Ceil Chapman from the late 1950s which I wore in 2004; right is from 2017. For some reason I cannot find a photo of myself as a patroness–if anyone has one, let me know! Even though there will be no dance IN the Hall this year, it is still as dressed up for Historic Salem’s virtual Christmas in Salem tour. Here is Jetsan, who belongs to current Hall president Michael Selbst, exhausted from his decorating efforts.
Hamilton Hall Holiday Dance link: a video will be uploaded for ticket-holders on December 19 featuring the patronesses and dance history. To the Ladies!
It seems ridiculous, but when I moved to Salem I remember being surprised at the extent of Halloween hoopla and kitsch in the city: it seemed really tacky to me but not particularly concerning. It was the early 1990s, I was still in graduate school, and frankly more wrapped up in the literature and discussion surrounding the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing than the 300th anniversary of the Salem witch trials. I was also much more familiar with the European witch trials, an extended crisis by which over 100,000 people were accused of witchcraft in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so the Salem trials seemed like a much smaller event to me: in terms of size, extent, impact. I had visited Trier and Bamberg at the center of the witch-trial-storm in Germany, where hundreds had been executed for the “exceptional crime” in the 1580s and the 1620s: neither had transformed themselves in Witch Cities; I had spent considerable time in Essex, the county which was the most impacted by the less-intense English witch trials: no Witch Cities to be found there either. So I was surprised by Salem, even though I grew up only an hour away and had visited the Salem Witch “Museum” on a school trip (when I swear I saw the same “performance” that is playing there now). I suspect I was so bewitched by the architecture that I looked the other way!
18th century Witch Trial relief sculpture in Düsseldorf: Horst Ossinger dpa/lnw
After several years in residence, I lost my naiveté and came to realize just how insidious witchcraft tourism was in Salem and how powerful were its purveyors. Halloween just got bigger and longer, as the city’s identity, as well as the experience of residential life, were fused with a holiday that had a very tenuous connection to the 1692 trials, whose victims were not witches. One of the effects–an unintended consequence, I’m sure– of the 1992 commemoration was to provide a rationale for the continued commercial exploitation of the trials, under the label of toleration: Salem has risen above its moment of extreme intolerance so it is perfectly ok for us to profit from it! We are not profiting we are educating! This message facilitated the Halloween steamroller perfectly and kept it rolling; it is still rolling. Salem’s children are not in schools during this pandemic, but tourists fill our streets: priorities. So obviously, I’m not a fan, but even more so than the exploitative nature of Salem’s Halloween I am bothered (and actually a little bewildered) by the lack of any public dialogue about it. There is simply no procedural opportunity for any person—resident, victim descendant, whomever—to say Hey this is wrong, or even ask to tone it down. The city puts out a questionnaire to Salem residents after every Halloween season, but all the questions are about logistics (traffic, parking, carnival): it is either assumed that everyone buys into the hellish Halloween, or the city government just doesn’t care what its residents think about it. When I look back over my long residence in Salem, I think there were only two eventful opportunities to discuss the way the city was selling itself: a brief moment prior to the placement of the Bewitched statue in Town House Square in the Spring of 2005, and the first screening of the documentary Witch City in the Spring of 1997. The more recent opportunity was extremely limited, as the Salem Redevelopment Authority (SRA) moved fairly quickly to grant permission for the statue’s placement in Salem’s most historic square in time for TV Land, its sponsor, to reap the benefits of cross-promotional advertising for the film Bewitched in June of 2005. The city of Salem was unmoved by the fact that the statue of a fictional witch would stand in close proximity to the location at which the very real victims of 1692 were condemned as witches or the appeals of those victims’ descendants in 2005, and it remains so. There was controversy over Samantha in 2005, but I remember more controversy about the debut of Witch City in 1997, but that might be just because I had a more invested view.
City of Salem advertising in the 1990s: a still from the 1997 documentary WitchCity. City of Salem advertising today.
Whew! That was a long preamble to the central topic of this post: the documentary itself, and its Salem debut, prompted by its recent availability (for the first time) here. Witch City is a fast-moving, often-funny, always spot-on documentary about Salem’s escalating Halloween in the 1990s, a place and a time when “American history encounters American capitalism” (I think the latter won). It was made by several local filmmakers, Joe Cultrera, Henry Ferrini, Philip Lamy, Bob Quinn and John Stanton, and in classic documentary fashion it lets most of the participants speak for themselves: Arthur Miller and Elie Wiesel at Tercentenary events, the- then Mayor of Salem, Neil Harrington, the “official witch of Salem”, Laurie Cabot, and the owner of the Salem Witch “Museum”, Bif Michaud, among others. Mr. Michaud, of Marblehead, made an unfortunate and perplexing comment equating the Witch Trials and the Holocaust (you’ll have to hear it for yourself) in the film which leaked out, causing considerable discussion in town and the Peabody Essex Museum to cancel the Salem premiere so not to offend its neighbor. Somehow, my colleague Tad Baker and I came up with the idea that our Department might sponsor the premiere: we were new to Salem State, untenured and unconnected, but we had the encouragement and support of our senior colleague John Fox, who had worked with Joe Cultrera on an earlier film, Leather Soul. And so that’s what happened: the History Department sponsored the Salem premiere of Witch City at Hamilton Hall of all places: I remember the tech people laying wires all day long in the Hall but I can’t recall why we didn’t have it at the university! The show was sold out, the Hall was packed, and we had a great panel featuring Tad and Danvers Archivist Richard Trask, now both acknowledged as THE authorities on the Trials. There was lively discussion, and I remember thinking: we can talk about this, we will talk about this when it was over. Witch City went on to be screened at the Immaculate Conception church and eventually on our local PBS station, WGBH, but unfortunately the Hamilton Hall premiere was not the beginning of a sustained public dialogue about Halloween in Salem, but rather just one brief shining moment.
Boston Globepiece on the premiere by Anne Driscoll, a Salem Award winner 20 years later.
You can rent, stream, or download Witch City here.
I just love the idea and the historic reality of the “Farewell Tour” taken by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824: the exuberant reception, and the deep appreciation expressed by both Americans and Lafayette again and again and again, everywhere he went. I also like all the thingsthat were produced for this occasion: prints, plates, paintings, ribbons, all manner of print and material commemorative culture. In honor of its namesake, Lafayette College has amassed a large collection of Lafayette memorabilia but it is by no means the only repository of such items. Like every American town and city where Lafayette alighted, Salem greeted him with great enthusiasm, on this very day nearly 200 years ago, and Lafayette left his mark: the main southern thoroughfare to Marblehead was named after him, as well as one of my favorite rooms (the room with the bar!) in Hamilton Hall. The Hall was the site of the elaborate dinner (including 65 separate dishes) for the General/Marquis prepared by its increasingly-renown African-American caterer John Remond and his wife Nancy, with the ladies of Salem providing the decorations: the Salem Gazette reported that the “whole effect was beyond our powers of description” on the next day.
Even more so than the Hall, it’s these ladies that I am interested in, as I bet they were all decked out. I love the Lafayette ladies’ accessories from this era: the ribbons, hats, gloves, and fans which were worn at the parades in his honor and then tucked away in some keepsake box, perhaps brought out at the time of his death in 1834, and then packed away again. They’re not difficult to find, as Lafayette’s tour was so extensive, and women who could afford to displayed their patriotism in a very exuberant and festive fashion: we have to remember that Lafayette was not only a valiant foreigner who answered America’s call at a crucial time, he was also the last living Revolutionary General in 1824. He was more than “the Nation’s Guest”, but he was also French, so deserving of a display.
Gloves with Lafayette’s image from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; a silk bag from the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum, and a ribbon from the collection at Lafayette College.
Fans are the most elaborate of Lafayette mementos, in my humble opinion, and several Salem ladies had fans for the farewell tour–whether they were domestically produced or French imports I do not know. There’s a lovely Lafayette fan featured in the Museum Collections of the Essex Institute which I assume is still in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I can’t find it, of course, because PEM. The Museum of Fine Arts has two fans which likely belonged to Elizabeth and Sarah Derby, if the initials are any indication. If they did in fact belong to the Derby girls, I don’t know if they had them in hand on that day, this day, in 1824: all of the newspaper accounts reported heavy rain in Salem. And after that he was gone, but the adoration continued: in a piece that was reprinted up and down the east coast the Salem Gazette observed that “Everything is Lafayette, whether it be on our heads or under our feet…..” in October.
Fans in the collections of the Essex Institute (Peabody Essex Museum?) and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Salem Gazette, October 12, 1824.
Like everyone else, I’m thinking about healthcare workers these days, so I wanted to focus on Salem women who were physicians or nurses for this week’s #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: I’ve found THREE practicing women physicians in Salem before 1900 and lots of wartime nurses. But I don’t have their stories straight yet: I need more context, more details, more narrative. They are not ready, or more accurately, I am not ready for THEM. So I thought I would focus on philanthropic ladies’ fairs in general, and one fair in particular, as these events were a major expression of the civic engagement of Salem women in the mid-nineteenth century. Starting in the 1830s and extending through and beyond the Civil War, Salem ladies held fairs for a host of benevolent societies and causes: seamen’s aid, widows and orphans of seamen, anti-slavery, the Sanitary Commission and other efforts to support the Union army, temperance, suffrage. These fairs were months in the planning, raised significant funds, and got a lot of press. They were not only a major form of civic engagement for women, but also of civic action and association. It seems impossible to underestimate them, although I’m sure I’m only dealing with the veneer of Salem society that had the time and the resources to dedicate to such endeavors. But still, you’ve got to follow your sources, and many of mine lead me to fairs.
Ladies Fair for the Poor in Boston, 1858. Boston Public Library
I believe that the first fair in Salem was in 1831, but the first fair that made a big splash and set the standard for all of the fairs to follow was held two years later at Hamilton Hall as a benefit for the newly-established New England Asylum for the Education of the Blind (later the Perkins School for the Blind), the first institution of its kind in the country. Its founding director, Samuel Gridley Howe, has developed a reputation as the authoritarian husband of abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe of Battle Hynm of the Republic fame, but in the 1830s he was a handsome and dashing doctor (and also a passionate abolitionist) who had served six years in that most romantic of conflicts, the Greek Revolution, and wrote about it. It’s easy to understand how and why he inspired devotion among the ladies of both Salem and Boston: there were competing fairs for his school in 1833, which drew a lot of attention to both. There were quite a few articles on the rival fairs in a variety of newspapers, and we also have the Fair program, as well as the substantive research of Megan Marshall, who identifies Elizabeth Palmer Peabody as one of the prime movers behind the Salem event in her Pulitzer-prize-winning book The Peabody Sisters. Three Women who Ignited American Romanticism.
Samuel Gridley Howe in the 1850s; Megan Marshall’s great book, although I also like the earlier text on the Peabody sisters: Louise Hall Tharp’s PeabodySistersofSalem, which I read over and over again as a teenager—I think it’s one of the reasons I ended up in Salem! A really good example of collective biography.
Elizabeth was the eldest of the famous three Peabody sisters of Salem (who deserve their own post; I can’t believe I haven’t written about them yet!), all of whom became intertwined in a Boston world of romanticism and reform. Middle sister Mary would marry educator Horace Mann, and youngest sister Sophia would eventually marry Nathaniel Hawthorne, but in the 1830s they were all struggling in somewhat-genteel poverty. Elizabeth had made the acquaintance of Howe (through Mann) in Boston, and believed in him and his cause, but she also saw the fair as a way to promote the artistic talents of Sophia and possibly raise the family’s dwindling fortunes. This explains why Sophia’s name—(along with that of Hawthorne cousin Ann Savage)—are the only names in the entire program for the Ladies Fair.
Catalogue of Articles to be Offered for Sale at the Ladies’ Fair at Hamilton Hall in Chestnut Street, Salem, on Wednesday, April 10, 1833 for the Benefit of the New England Asylum for the Blind, National Library of Medicine @National Institute of Health.
It is so great to have the entire catalog for this fair, evidence of the creative craftsmanship—and scavenging I suspect—of Salem ladies! Lots of dolls and figures (I would love to see the “large” Queen Elizabeth): so much needlework, so many pincushions, and the two “splendid” paintings by Miss Sophia Peabody, of a place she had never seen—but would much later, after she married Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was a huge success in terms of proceeds, a fact acknowledged even by the Boston papers, and inspired many repeat performances.
$3000! in proceeds reported in the Boston Post; Hamilton Hall this morning: still the site of much civic engagement, but unfortunately not today, or for a while……..
An amazing weekend in Salem, for the city, objectively and collectively, and for me, personally. I’m writing at the end of a long day, which will be yesterday, during which I gave a morning presentation on the Remond Family of Salem, an African-American family who operated many successful businesses in the mid-nineteenth century while simultaneously supporting every social justice cause it was possible to support (which were many) next door at Hamilton Hall, and then made my way to the long-heralded opening of the new wing of the Peabody Essex Museum. Both were really important events for me: I’ve been focused on the Remonds since I moved next door to Hamilton Hall, and in attendance at my talk was George Ford from California, a Remond descendant who is so dedicated to his family’s story and memory that he just want to be where they were. And except for a few professional events I had to attend at the Peabody Essex, I have not visited the museum since December of 2017, when the non-announcement was made that its Phillips Library, encompassing the majority of Salem’s written history, would be removed to a new Collection Center in Rowley, Massachusetts. Over time I realized that I was only hurting myself, as the Peabody Essex is indeed a treasure house, and the historical references of new Director Brian Kennedy and media reviews of the new wing and the #newpem infused me with hope, and so I was excited to return, but also a bit anxious. (There was also a big food truck festival in Salem but don’t expect me to report on that!)
The Remonds in the morning, and the new PEM Wing in the afternoon!
As exasperated as I can often get with Salem, you must know that it is an entirely engaging city and place to live, always, but this weekend was particularly intense. If the famous PEM neuroscientist Dr. Tedi Asher had affixed monitoring devices to me I would have given her readings off the charts, I am sure! I was nervous about going into an institution which I have been so critical of over these past few years–not to exaggerate my influence, it was just an internal feeling. I have friends and acquaintances who work at the museum and it never felt good to criticize the place where they worked. Everything seems different now, with the new Director, Brian Kennedy, acknowledging Salem, community, founders, even slavery (i.e. historical realities rather than cultural idealizations, and potential engagement or even interest in historical interpretation!) with every passing press report. Expectations can make you anxious too though, and I was anxious to see what role the new dedicated Phillips Library gallery in the new wing would play, as an expression of priorities, as an indication of respect for the old (dry) texts which always require a bit more effort to make them shine. So here I go into the PEM, heading straight for the new wing, with all of my anxieties and expectations. What do I see first?
A wall! And an amazing N.C. Wyeth mural titled Peace, Commerce, Prosperity–both of which I loved. Before I looked at anything, I was struck by that wall: the side of the East India Marine Hall which I had never really seen; it must have been alongside the former Japanese garden but I never noticed it for some reason. Maybe I was just focused in my mind on the back wall of Hamilton Hall which borders my own garden, which I stare at all the time and think of the Remonds working on the other side, but all I could see when I entered the new wing was this wall. It might also have been my admiration for the Georgian Pickman House, which formerly stood in the same spot I was standing in—-maybe I was trying to conjure up its orientation—but for whatever reason, I stood staring at that wall for quite some time. (Yes, Salem’s history is weighing on me, just a bit). Then I snapped out of it, spent some time looking at the lovely Wyeth mural, and moved into the new Maritime gallery, where I was caught. There’s no other word for it, caught. I was transfixed by everything, and as soon as I got to the trio of paintings of ships in various stages of “tragedy and loss” by the Salem deaf-mute artist George Ropes, I realized that I wanted–or needed– to come back to this very intimate gallery every day, or as often as possible. Such a clever installation with its angled walls, ensuring that you discover something new around every corner, and everything so very evocative of the perils and promise of the sea. And such a thoughtful mix of old exhibits and new, including the venerable glass-encased ships’ models we can see in all the old photographs of the Peabody Museum. I saw many things that I had only seen in pictures before, but also “old friends”. There were texts, not just paintings and objects. Stunning, substantive, respectful: I was very impressed.
The treasures of the new Maritime Gallery: the George Ropes paintings are STUNNING; I can’t possibly capture their beauty here. Lovely to see many East India Marine Co. artifacts plus texts and sketchbooks; Ange-Joseph Antoine Roux, Ship America at Marseille, 1806; a reverse glass painting by Carolus Cornelius Weytz, c. 1870; Ship Models and dashing Salem Sea Captains John Carnes and Benjamin Carpenter by William Verstille; Vases by Pierre Louis Dagoty, c. 1817.
The Asian Export Gallery on the second floor of the new wing was extremely well-designed as well, with an entrance “foyer” covered entirely in c. 1800 Chinese wallpaper from a Scottish castle showing us just how cherished, and integrated, products from Asia were in the west. This opened up into a spacious gallery, providing a vista for what can only be called a “Great Wall of China”! This space was delightful aesthetically, but it was also a teacher’s toolbox for me: all of our introductory history courses are focused on global connections and trade, so I was able to photograph about three PowerPoint’s worth of photographs, for which I am very grateful. Then it was upstairs to the new wing’s third floor, where Fashion and Design reigned—particularly the former, so many mannequins. I have to say that compared to the other two galleries, this one left me cold, but I’m sure that I’m in a minority as it was the most crowded space of my afternoon. We all respond to different materials in different ways of course, but I was struck by the contrast of the rather “old-fashioned” display of Iris Apfel’s ensembles with the modernity of the actual clothing: draped sheets à la eighteenth century with bespectacled mannequins in front? To me it looked inartful, kind of like a throwaway installation, but maybe I’m supposed to notice the juxtaposition? I’m not sure: there were just too many mannequins—it was a crowd for me. There was a readily apparent flow, or connection, between the objects in the Maritime and Asian Export galleries below, but here I could not link the fashion and non-fashion items into any semblance of a story. But again: it was crowded, so I’ll have to go back and try again.
Perfect place to text, no? LOVED this painting of Two English Boys in Asian Clothing, c. 1780 by Tilly Kettle, “the first prominent British artist to work extensively in India”; the “Great Wall” in its partial entirety and detail; the Fashion and Design gallery on the third floor of the new wing.
By this time, I was running out of time (chiefly because I spent so much time in Maritime World) but I wanted to see how some older spaces were impacted by the addition of the new wing—namely the adjacent East India Marine Hall—as well as the heralded dedicated Phillips Library gallery. Here disappointment began to kick in, so read no further if you want a fluffy, disengaged appraisal: that’s not what I do here. The old hall, so stunning and so missed by me, was all dark, reduced to background for artist Charles Sandison’s digital projections of words and phrases from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ship captains’ logs. I had seen this before, as PEM’s first “FreePort” installation a decade or so ago, so I was surprised to see it again. I really liked it before: it was definitely immersive. It was not what I wanted to see now; I was hungry for real words and texts after their authentic integration in the Maritime gallery and so these fleeting, ephemeral images felt fleeting and ephemeral. But this is a temporary installation so I’m not going to go on and on about it; I’m looking forward to what’s next for East India Marine Hall.
Charles Sandison: Figurehead 2.0.
On to the new Phillips Library dedicated gallery space! I was anxious, so maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly, but it actually took quite a while to find it. My very handy Visitor Map, which was handed out to everyone as we entered the PEM, indicated that it was right behind East India Marine Hall on the same floor, but because the circular staircase in the rear of the building was blocked off you couldn’t quite get there from where I was without going up, down and all around for some reason. Again, it might have been me, I was going by sheer sensation here, but the difficulty of access seemed to combine with the closet-like room I eventually found to give me a profound impression that the Peabody Essex Museum really didn’t want to showcase the collections of the Phillips Library. Here was an afterthought, thrown in behind the restrooms. I hate to rain on this parade, but that is what I felt. The “Creative Legacy of Hawthorne” exhibit seemed uninspired to me as well, but to be honest, I couldn’t really take it in, I was so disappointed by this sad space. I’ll have to go back and look at it again, if I can muster the willpower. I know that the new Phillips Librarian is happy to have this space, and I’m sure he and his staff will do as much with it as they possibly can, but there’s no way that I can say that it was anything other than a great disappointment to me, right now. The contrast between this disposable space, and all of the wonderful, powerful, thoughtful and spaciousgalleries I had just seen was almost unbearable: I just had to walk away. There was a large panel which gave a brief history and description of the Library and an introduction to its new reading room in Rowley which I couldn’t quite capture with my camera so I made a collage of different sections: there was no filter with tears, “broken” and “recoil” didn’t look quite right, so I settled for worn.
Well let’s try to end on a high note, shall we? No one likes a killjoy. The whole opening of the new wing was handled wonderfully by the curators and staff of the PEM: everyone was on hand, all weekend long, to help, and guide, and answer questions. The Visitor Map (and these cute buttons for all of the new galleries, except, of course, for the Phillips Library) is great. There was a wonderful spirit about the place. Not only is the new wing impressive architecturally: it offers some interesting views of Salem from its upper stories. The new garden is a thoughtful space: I’m looking forward to seeing how the plant material fills in. It was good to be back in the Peabody Essex Museum after my long absence. Salem’s mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, shared her reactions to the opening of the new wing on social media and someone forwarded her post to me. She was clearly as excited as the rest of us and why not: it was, again, a big weekend for Salem. Mayor Driscoll wrote that As we enter these doors we’ll know more about 16-year old sea captains who sailed around the globe and brought back treasures and trinkets to their hometown. Humankind is amazing when it comes to rising up to challenges. We tell those accounts, see those treasures, wonder what it was like and how it came about, marvel at the possibilities….we do all that here. In this space. In our city. Yes in our city, in Salem: but we can’t tell those accounts if we don’t have our history: trinkets and treasures are not enough. And we don’t have to wonder, we could actually learn and know, if we had our history, but we don’t: it’s not here, in our city, in Salem.
The Phillips Library Gallery is #206 on the Visitor Map + adorable buttons; the new garden; view from the third floor of the new wing.
I’ve been collecting all sorts of information and anecdotes about the Remonds of Salem, an African-American family who are in the center of many movements and activities in mid-nineteenth-century Salem: they were zealous pursuers of the abolition of slavery and the desegregation of schools and transportation and every aspect of daily life and work, but they also advocated for other forms of social justice in their day, including women’s suffrage and the abolition of capital punishment. They were extremely entrepreneurial: the parents, John and Nancy Remond, served as the resident caterers of Hamilton Hall right, while also operating a number of sideline businesses until well in their seventies, and their children followed suit, pursuing advocacy work and building up successful businesses in the fields that were open to them. I’ve been fascinated with the Remonds—all of the Remonds—for quite some time, I guess ever since I moved into this house, right next door to what was their base of operations at Hamilton Hall, almost twenty years ago. I posted about them several years ago when Salem announced it would be naming a new park after the prominent abolitionists Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond, but I know a lot more now. The Board of Hamilton Hall secured a grant last year to prepare educational materials on the Remonds, and I supervised a Salem State intern named Katherine Stone to help with the research: she uncovered some great family history, I kept going this summer, and I’ll be offering a general presentation of the family’s activities and networks on September 24 and 29 at Hamilton Hall as part of Essex Heritage’s annual Trails and Sails programming.
Some of my Remond files; for some reason I’ve been keeping all of the genealogical information in a notebook I bought in Portugal.
There’s a lot to say about this family: and that’s my central theme, that they worked together as a family, and as part of network of African-American families, both in Salem and up and along the northeastern coast, who all worked together to improve their lives and the lives of other African-Americans at a contentious but somehow still-hopeful time. At least it seems that way to me; I’m not trained in American history so my knowledge is impressionistic. The Remonds are kind of like my window into this time, and they are so gung-ho, I’m like, let’s go! But certainly they had their share of disappointments: they left Salem from 1837 to 1842 after Salem’s schools were re-segregated, transferring all of their energy, entrepreneurialism, and activism to Newport, Rhode Island, and poor Charles Lenox Remond, intrepid agent of the Massachusetts and American Anti-Slavery Societies, was always appealing for reimbursement of his expenses. The networks are so amazing: it’s no accident that Charlotte Forten, now herself the namesake of a Salem park, ended up with the Remonds when they returned and Salem’s schools were desegregated yet again, as well as another famous future educator, Maritcha Remond Lyons.
Signatures of Susan, Nancy, and Maritcha Remond on a petition to abolish the death penalty, 1850, Harvard Antislavery Petitions Dataverse; Trade card from the Remond Family Papers, courtesy of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum at Rowley, Massachusetts. The Library staff made lovely reproductions of several Remond items for me, and Hamilton Hall, and we’ll be using these in our educational materials.
There’s so much to say that I’m worried that my presentation will not have enough focus: it’s always easier to explain the importance of someone or something if you focus. I wish I could give an entire talk on just one of the Remond’s big dinners—and there were many: for the Marquis de Lafayette, for Chief Justice Joseph Story, for Nathaniel Bowditch, for President John Quincy Adams, and more. But I think the biggest dinner happened TOMORROW in 1828, a feast for the 200th anniversary of the arrival of John Endicott in Salem. It’s probably just because I have more sources for this particular dinner, but it seems to have been a very big deal. The Phillips Library has two menus for the dinner, a clean version and an annotated one: John Remond contracted for a fixed price with the owners of Hamilton Hall for these dinners, but if the number of attendants rose above the agreed-upon number he was paid more. He was not just the cook (in fact, I think Nancy was doing most of the cooking, with his elder daughters Nancy and Susan as they came of age–not for this dinner) he was very much the event planner: and no detail was overlooked. The newspapers recorded every detail of this dinner: all the attendees, all the speeches, and decorations, including “pictures of our distinguished forefathers, and of individuals of more recent date, whose characters, and whose services, were not forgotten in the libations of gratitude poured out upon this joyous occasion.” The article in The Salem Observer also noted “the tables loaded with the richest viandes, and the most delicious wines and fruits served up in elegant style by Mr. Remond. In the centre of the Hall, stood the identical table which belonged to Governor Endicott, and covered with a profusion of pears recently gathered from the tree which he planted.” [Where is that Endicott table?]
Courtesy Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.
And then we have another, anonymous, account of a visitor who was in town for the big anniversary celebration and dinner. It was quite a day, a “grand celebration” in which it “seemed as if all Boston had moved to Salem. Many great men there beside myself.” This observer is constantly remarking upon the festivity of the day and wondering what the Puritan people of Endicott’s day would think of it: at the North Church for the anniversary program, he finds “the house blazing with beauty and fashion. Contrasted ladies with Puritan mothers. Imagined good dames of 1628 coming into assembly, and finding daughters decked out in such trim. Guessed they’d make fine havoc of laced veils, flounced petticoats, love-locks (???) and whole alphabet of sinful finery.” By the time that dinner rolls around in the later afternoon, however, our anonymous observer has forgotten 1628 and is completely in the culinary moment.
Salem Observer, September 27, 1828; turn-of-the-century Turk’s Caps from the Book of Cakes (1903) by T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley.
Tables loaded with dainties of all climes…..went through the whole bill of fare from oyster-patties to transmogrified pigeon. Thought Remond best cook in the universe. I guess he still has 1628 on his mind a bit (before he gets into the champagne), as he “wonders what Pilgrim Dads would have said to such a carnival.” This is a colorful illustration of the authority that Mr. Remond (he is generally referred to as Mr., though also by just his last name) held throughout his career, and it is very clear from all the references I have collected that this is an authority that extended to his family, and that came not only from their professional achievements but also their role in the community, in Salem. So I just have to establish this is my presentation in the most succinct, but yet revealing and representative, way. And regarding this menu: it looks impressive and exotic to us, but these are some pretty conventional dishes for the early 19th century, with recipes that can be found in a succession of European and American cookbooks. I explored Pigeons Transmogrified here, Green Turtle soup is everywhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and teals are small ducks. Molded jellies are also very popular in this time, and a “Turk’s Cap” was a tubed and scalloped mold used primarily for cakes: in Remond’s time they look like pottery versions of a bundt-cake mold, but later on they were made of cast iron and resemble muffin tins. The use of the plural in the menu suggests individual little cakes to me, and Nancy Remond was by all account a spectacular baker well-ahead of her time–but I’m not sure her Turk’s Caps would have been quite as “Victorian” as those above. So here you have the other challenge before me: not letting the delicious little details get in the way of the big picture.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Salem was a mecca for architects-in-training, who came individually and collectively—most notably through the “summer school” of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s pioneering architecture program—to measure and draw details and outlines of its storied houses. Their work was published occasionally in the the American Architectand Building News as well as in a series of beautiful portfolios titled The Georgian Period. In volume III of the latter, published in 1899, the Rochester-based architect Claude Fayette Bragdon, a fascinating man of many interests including mathematics, set and lighting design, the occult, as well as architectural theory and practice, visited Salem for an afternoon, and rendered his impressions in both text and images. He acknowledges Salem’s two other major draws, the witch trials and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and then gets right into his categorization of Salem architecture: To the mind of an architect the buildings of Salem arrange themselves naturally into three classes: first, those very old houses, built by early settlers in the most primitive times, possessing all the dignity and simplicity and withal, the barrenness of the Puritan character, and around which cluster many strange, true histories and curious traditions; second, those built in later Colonial and Revolutionary days, usually by rich merchants and shipowners, when Salem had become a principal port of entry, and an important commercial centre, and in which the Colonial style is exhibited in its very flower, and third, those purely modern structures—confused, chaotic—which have sprung up in profusion in some part of the town, like weeds in an old fashioned garden. CONFUSED, CHAOTIC WEEDS! If this is Bragdon’s characterization of “modern” architecture in 1899, imagine what he would say now!
It’s not entirely clear why Bragdon’s illustrated essay is included in The Georgian Period: he was not affiliated with MIT nor was he was particularly reverent of colonial architecture. But I am very happy to be introduced to him via Salem, as he was a very interesting, multi-faceted man, who wrote several books on theoretical architecture and seems to have worked in every single genre of the decorative arts. He strikes me as a modern Renaissance Man, and I’m looking forward to learning more about him.
Just three of Bragdon’s works on architecture, in its widest possible sense.
Bragdon’s essay is included in a volume of select reprinted Georgian Period essays published in 1988 entitled The Spirit of New England, and MIT Summer School drawings and Frank Cousins photographs are added to round out his presentation—but of course that means the presentation is no longer his. But his words are there, as well as his drawings of “old colonial work”, including an interesting rendering of an Eagle-less Hamilton Hall. Missing McIntire? That’s pretty curious. Well, no matter, I’m still struck by Bragdon’s exuberant writing style. At the end of his six hours in Salem, he is reluctant to leave this veritable mine of architectural wealth but his impressions are “permanently” formed of an exceedingly quaint and picturesque old town, striving here and there to be “smart” and modern, like some faded spinster who has seen better days, who mistakenly prefers our shoddy fabrics to the faded silks and yellow lace and other heirlooms of an opulent past. I can see that, still, especially the bit about the mistaken preference for shoddyfabric.
This is generally a beautiful time of year to take photographs around Salem but it’s been rather cold and dreary for the past few weeks, with the exception of a few isolated days. I’m sure that when everything dries out we will be living in a lush and green world, but for right now I’m more predisposed to take out a book than go outside. So after I finished my grading (always a celebratory moment), I curled up with some old architecture and photography books and soon realized that one “Salem artist” whom I have never featured is Philip Kappel (1901-1981), an etcher and book illustrator who spent several years working with Philip Little and in his waterfront studio off Derby Street. Kappel was not really a Salem artist: he was born in Connecticut, educated in New York City, and as he was employed by several steamship lines over his career, he traveled the world six times over, gathering materials for his etchings everywhere he went. But he did publish a lovely book in 1966 titled New England Gallery with several Salem images inside, as well as some interesting commentary on his time here.
See what I mean about the weather? But Kappel’s Ropes Mansion and Witch House hint at brighter and warmer days, even with no color!
The Custom House (which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year) Derby Wharf Lighthouse, The Little Studio (just above the compass star)–where both Philip Little and Philip Kappel worked, in different seasons—and the House of the Seven Gables.
Kappel relates the standard histories of most of the Salem structures presented in New England Gallery but is more effusive about Chestnut Street because that is where his friend and mentor, Philip Little, lived. Little summered on MacMahan Island off Boothbay Harbor every year, and during a visit to the mainland he chanced upon a small exhibition of Kappel’s drawings and sought the young artist out. Kappel was teaching art in Boothbay, but Little thought he should and could do better, and offered him his Salem studio on Daniels Street Court, “hard by Salem Harbor, in the heart of the area which made Salem a great seaport in its heyday.” There, Kappel reveals, “inspired by its moods and reveling in its historic past, I never worked harder or produced more work. Every summer passed too quickly.” Kappel’s depiction of the Little house at 10 Chestnut Street includes the entrance pillars of Hamilton Hall, which gives him an opportunity to pass along a charming little anecdote: Many years ago Philip Little took me on a tour through Hamilton Hall. As we were descending the long flight of stairs that led to the second floor from the first, I notices a series of large white circles painted on the top step, and a similar treatment accorded the last step. (I have since learned that the circles have been removed.) When I asked the purpose of this unusual feature, Philip Little forthrightly informed me that the circles served as warning signals for those who might have “sipped too long and too much at the punchbowl,” alerting them to the impending dangers of a fall when taking the first step into the space, the circles on the last step indicating that all was well; a successful landing had been effected. There is carpet on those stairs now, but having been to one or two enthusiastic events at Hamilton Hall over the years, I’m wondering if we should put those circles back!