Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

I Miss the Assembly House

I miss the Assembly House, a Georgian structure on Federal Street built as an assembly house in 1782 and transformed by Samuel McIntire into a more elaborate residence in the next decade: its proper name is the Cotting-Smith Assembly House (although it was charmingly called the “old Assembly House” after Hamilton Hall was built in 1805) and it was donated to the Essex Institute in 1965, the last building to be added to the Institute’s collection of historic houses, I believe. Of course the house still exists–I can see it at any time–but it has changed from when I first knew it: it has lost all of its trees–and its life. It is still, dark, and stark. It’s a shadow of its former self, or a ghost.

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assembly house drawing hne bestThe Cotting-Smith Assembly House yesterday afternoon and in 1926, 1920 (in a painting by Felicie Ward Howell, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), c. 1910 (Cornell) and an undated drawing (Historic New England).

I know, houses are not sentient beings as friends and family often tell me. But the Assembly House looks sad and it makes me sad to look at it, as I remember many happy times there in the 1990s, both before and after the Essex Institute and its houses were absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum. I remember: teas, two baby showers, several anniversary dinners, a graduation party, a cooking class (???), coffees for candidates for local office—it seemed as if we were in there quite a lot! I remember feeling that the house was rather homey, despite its elegant interior details. I remember sitting on the back stairs talking to two friends who are no longer alive. I remember being wowed by the front staircase—with its second-floor landing and pedimented door—every time I saw it. But all these memories are from a long time ago, at least 20 years. I miss all of the Essex Institute/PEM houses, with the exception of the Ropes Mansion which was restored and reopened a few years ago. (Actually what I really miss is the Essex Institute, but that statement will always produce eye-rolls among those who believe that the Peabody Essex Museum rescued both the Institute and the Peabody Museum. This may be true–but it’s hard not to notice those dark stretches of Essex—and Federal—Streets).

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assembly house bg 1985Photographs of the Cotting-Smith Assembly House interior, Historic New England; Los Angeles Time, 1926; Boston Globe, 1963 and 1985.

The house where Lafayette danced in 1784 and Washington dined in 1789 and Susan Coolidge (above) came out and many other people celebrated weddings, anniversaries, and simply lived their lives was “restored, refurbished, and remembered” according to the 1985 story in the Boston Globe above but seems largely forgotten these days. It was celebrated across the country in 1926 as Salem marked its 300th anniversary, but seems likely to be overlooked as the city marks its 400th.


A Very Merry House Tour

I felt a lovely spirit among the volunteers and tour-goers at this year’s Christmas in Salem tour yesterday: a clear and sunny 40ish day which made every open house shine. There were proud owners, dedicated stewards, enthusiastic guides and curious visitors everywhere in attendance. As I emphasized in my preview, it was particularly impressive to see such strong collaboration between Salem’s heritage and civic groups, not only between the tour sponsor, Historic Salem, Inc., and this year’s focus and host, the House of the Seven Gables, but also the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, two churches—Salem’s first Catholic Church, Immaculate Conception, which is now part of the amalgamated Mary, Queen of the Apostles parish, and the amazing Russian Orthodox church, St. Nicholas—-as well as the beautiful Brookhouse Home, a residence for senior women since 1861. There was of course the conspicuous absence of that elephant on Essex Street, the Peabody Essex Museum, but special compensatory recognition should be given to the relatively new Salem Historical Society, a group of young historians who formed during the prolonged closure—now apparently permanent—of the PEM’s Phillips Library. The SHS has no archives, of course, because the bulk of Salem’s archival history belongs to the PEM and is now housed in the relocated Phillips Library 40 minutes north on Route One, but they have goals: and chief among them is to get more recognition for Nathaniel Hawthorne. This tour was a means to that end, and a very material measure of their success is a brand new sign marking the sight of Hawthorne’s birthplace on Union Street, installed just in time for this “Vey Hawthorne Holiday” tour. The actual house, which was moved to the House of the Seven Gables campus in 1958, was on the tour as well, along with the storied mansion itself, the Custom House where Hawthorne (reluctantly) worked, and his least-favorite residence in Salem, his very own “Castle Dismal” (which is neither a castle or dismal).

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CIS collageFrom the brand new Hawthorne’s birthplace sign to the House of the Seven Gables, and then back to Herbert Street and “the house that Hawthorne hated” via Derby Street and the Custom House.

There were so many lovely houses on the tour interspersed among these Hawthorne sites: mostly early nineteenth-century, some eighteenth, with different degrees of detail and scale. There is a great range of houses along Derby Street, encompassing everything from the stately mansions alongside the Custom House and facing Derby Wharf, to simple Georgian cottages further along the street. I appreciated the diversity of structures, their number (this tour is an obvious bargain when compared to all the house tours I have attended this year!), and the mix between public and private buildings. It’s always a very personal commitment for a homeowner to open their doors for a house tour—and consequently it is an intimate experience for those that step within, and a privilege. But the public buildings have an intimate feel too, because the people that care for the House of the Seven Gables, the Brookhouse Home, the Custom House, and the churches, are so very committed to their preservation and interpretation. I ran out of time (because of a long lunch, another holiday tradition) and couldn’t quite make the Immaculate Conception by the end of the day, but several members of the congregation as well as the pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church were on hand to share their beautiful parish church, which was established in 1901. Beautiful day, great tour: if you couldn’t make it yesterday, it’s also on today: the weather may be a bit frightful but I assure you the interiors will be all that more delightful!

Just a sampling here: there was so much to see.

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CIS StairwayThe Captain William Lane House (with such a cheery laundry/mudroom! and decorated by Mr. Frank Bergmann who trims (other meaning) all my shrubs and trees; the Josiah Getchell House and the Thomas Magoun House along Derby Street–all absolutely charming.

 

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CIS CHAMBERLAINI’m just obsessed with the staircases now–two very different ones, from the Brookhouse Home (1810-11) and the Ives-Webb-Whipple House (by 1760). More from the latter–one of my favorite houses in Salem which is now for sale. The Captain John Hodges House on Essex (c. 1750), whose owners have some very compelling ancestors! I never take pictures of recent family photographs, but ancestors from 100+ years ago are fair game: I could not resist this remarkably handsome man, plus I am a Maine girl so must show you Joshua Chamberlain (center, dark suit, hat in hand), the hero of Gettysburg, at his 1912 family reunion.

 

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CIS Church interiorThe very festive Brookhouse Home and very serene St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, on Forrester Street.


A Very Hawthorne Holiday

This year’s Christmas in Salem house tour, the perennial seasonal fundraiser for Salem’s venerable preservation organization Historic Salem Inc., is Hawthorne-themed in recognition of the 350th anniversary of the House of the Seven Gables and features 15 decorated interiors in the greater Derby Street neighborhood along with a full schedule of associated offerings. The tour is on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon, and there are tie-in events (including a food tour, wine-tasting, meet-up of Salem history buffs, lectures on Hawthorne’s Utopian experience and the long history of celebrating Christmas) throughout the weekend. This tour is always a wonderful event for so many reasons: it supports preservation efforts and advocacy, does not exploit the witch trials in any way, and represents true collaboration between Salem’s heritage organizations. It’s a seasonal reminder of just how many beautiful old houses survive in Salem, and a great opportunity for decoration inspiration. I always emerge from the weekend full of empathetic gratitude for those generous homeowners who open their doors to hundreds of people during one of the busiest times of the year: I’ve been there, and done that (twice) and it is always quite the effort!

Hawthorne Poster

I like the theme of this particular tour as it harkens back to a time when Salem’s heritage identity was much more civic and civil, more diffuse, and much less commodified and concentrated on 1692. The neighborhood—and Hawthorne himself—are legacies of all of Salem’s history, dark and bright. Salem’s history and landscape gave Hawthorne his material: he always acknowledged his debt to his native city even as he distanced himself from it with obvious determination. In 1860, the Essex Institute had sustained a significant debt from moving their library (cabinet) into its permanent location (well, until the Peabody Essex Museum relocated it out of Salem) in Plummer Hall on Essex Street, and organized a fair to raise funds to pay off the debt. Hawthorne was asked for a story to contribute to the fair’s newsletter, The WealLeaf, and he acquiesced promptly, offering up an intense topographical memory rather than a story as his narrative inclinations had deserted him for the moment and he did not wish to be “entirely wanting to the occasion”. The relationship between the Essex Institute and Nathaniel Hawthorne was forged through moments like these, along with the deposit of Hawthorne family papers and the acquisition of additional papers and editions of all of Hawthorne’s works by the Institute, including The Spectator, his self-published (as a teenager!) newsletter.

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As Hawthorne evolved into a truly national figure following his death, the Essex Institute enhanced its reputation through its Hawthorne collections, most particularly during the centennial anniversary of his birth in 1904, for which the Institute organized a series of summer events: as this most American of authors was born on the fourth of July. National headlines all summer long focused on the author and Salem, and most particularly on the “ancient” houses associated with Hawthorne, in accordance with the form of heritage tourism that was popular at the time: the literary pilgrimage. Even a century later, the collections of the Essex Institute, now absorbed into the greater Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), were the focus of the bicentennial commemoration of Hawthorne’s birthday: consequently it’s not very difficult to imagine an open Phillips Library in an open Plummer Hall, and an exhibition of Hawthorne texts and papers assembled as a complementary and contextual feature of this weekend’s house tour. But we can only imagine such a scene, as Plummer Hall has been closed since 2011, and the Phillips collections, encompassing nearly all of Salem’s archival history, have been relocated to a vast Collection (not plural–specificity is discouraged) Center in Rowley. Nathaniel Hawthorne is gone.

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Hawthorne at Salem NYPLBoston Herald, May 1904; New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Sorry—–digression into a rant: the anniversary of PEM’s reluctant admission to the permanent relocation (dislocation) of the Phillips collections approaches (December 6) and so this momentous move is on my mind. I fear that each and every historical occasion in Salem will be impacted by the withdrawal of its archives and the historical disengagement of such a large cultural force in the city. I’m trying to focus on what remains, and this tour provides a great opportunity to do that. The Salem houses in which Nathaniel Hawthorne lived, worked, and was inspired by remain, as well as organizations like Historic Salem, Inc., the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and the House of the Seven Gables, which are devoted to their preservation—and his memory. We also have more than a century of scholarship on Hawthorne in physical context—and his memorial statue of course, a stark contrast to that dreadful marker to Salem’s other claim to “fame” on the other side of town.

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SAAM-S0001933The emphasis on Hawthorne’s “Homes and Haunts” begins with the Prang publication of William Baxter Palmer Closson’s portfolio in 1886 and continues today! Salem: Place, Myth and Memory was edited by my colleagues at Salem State University and includes a great chapter on Hawthorne by Nancy Lusignan Schultz. I haven’t read Milder’s Hawthorne’s Habitations yet, but it sounds like it is more focused on his time in England and Italy. The Smithsonian photograph above, of the newly-installed statue in front of the newly-built Hawthorne Hotel in 1925, was taken by Salem’s great horticulturist and planner Harlan Kelsey.


Land of the Livingstons

This past weekend I toured six “country seats” built by various members of the venerable and prominent Livingston family of the Hudson River Valley in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: most privately-owned, one owned by the state of New York. My brother and brother-in-law live in Rhinebeck, so I have visited this region quite a bit, but I find new old houses every single time I return, and this time was no exception. When we started off, I was thinking only 6 houses? we’ll be done in a flash and $60 for six houses! as our Christmas in Salem tour features more houses and a lower ticket price but it took us most of the day and was well worth it: I had an urban house tour in my mind where you just walk from place to place but these are rural county seats situated on vast acres of land—-mostly waterfront. The scale of both houses and land was much larger than your average house tour, and the tour was a bargain: I’m alway happy to support historic preservation in any case, and in this case it was Hudson River Heritage. I’m going to present the tour in the very order that we saw these houses and give you my impressions of each along the way: no interior photography was allowed except in the state-owned property, Clermont, but as one of the houses is currently for sale and others are included in the amazing (again, expensive but worth it) newly-published book by Pieter Estersohn titled Life Along the Hudson. The Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family and other publications I can show you some interior views.

You will notice it getting progressively brighter; the day started out pretty dreary and ended with sun. Still all houses shone.

RICHMOND HILL, built in 1808

This federal—-no I think proper Palladian is more accurate–house was simply stunning: beautiful proportions and details. It is the most formal farmhouse I have ever seen as it sits in the midst of 58 acres and many outbuildings, including a period Dutch barn, also unlike anything I have ever seen (I’m such a New Englander!). It has not been lived in for some time and is currently for sale: the photographs on the real estate site (I’m including the west bedroom and basement kitchen below–there’s a modern kitchen too!) are not really doing it justice in terms of the details: one of the mantles had a pinecone design which (again) I have never seen before. 

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CHIDDINGSTONE, Built in 1860

This is a “Bracketed Italianate” house which has recently been restored and redecorated with 15-foot ceilings and a stunning river view. The interior is all about height over width: the rooms were not all that large in terms of size but those high ceilings, along with the floor-to-ceiling windows and furnishings, made them seem positively grand.

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The front parlor photographed by Pieter Estersohn

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CLERMONT, Built from 1779-82

Then it was on to the oldest Livingston house, Clermont, which was built in the 1730s but burned mostly to the ground by the British during the Revolutionary War and rebuilt between 1779 and 1782. Clermont is a state historic site with an informative visitors’ center and extensive grounds along the river. Here we had a proper (essentially genealogical) tour and were able to take photographs: the interiors are furnished in the Colonial Revival style adopted by the last Livingstons to live at Clermont in the 1930s.

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MIDWOOD, built in 1888

Midwood is a sprawling Colonial Revival house situated on 87 acres along the Hudson: it made quite the contrast from Clermont as it is a very much lived-in and lively house, furnished in an eclectic style that must reflect the spirit of its owner and felt very “Bloomsbury” to me: we spent quite some time there just because there was so much to see and we were not alone. You can take your own tour here, and I’m sharing two interior views below.

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Side Parlors photographed by Christopher Baker

 

CLARKSON CHAPEL, built c. 1860

One of many board and batten Carpenter Gothic structures in the region, the Clarkson Chapel was built following a dispute–a schism, I suppose– at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in nearby Tivoli. Here we met a wonderful guide/steward who had made her own chart of the division of the original Livingston Manor. This was very helpful, and another informative source is here.

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EDGEWATER, Built in 1825

Our last stop was at Edgewater, a magnificent Greek Revival mansion perched on the Hudson shore in Barrytown, the long-time home of Richard Jenrette, who died earlier this year. My first house was a Greek Revival, and so I studied and bought everything I could about this iconic architectural style, and Mr. Jenrette’s Adventures with Old Houses (1995) became a bible of sorts: my copy is coffee-cup stained, page-marked, and well-worn. Edgewater is preserved, polished, and furnished to perfection, and signs of Mr. Jenrette were all around within: notes, cards, the lift on the magnificent stairs, the program to his memorial service. Of course the whole house is a memorial to him, as is the foundation which now owns Edgewater and his other homes: the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. I had pored over pictures of Edgewater so many times that when I finally found myself inside, I felt like I was returning to it, which is the first time I’ve had that experience. That said, it’s even more beautiful than its photographs and is a very real, much-loved house indeed.

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Photographs of the Music Room and Dining Room by Dorothy Hong for the Wall Street Journal (above); the Edgewater guesthouse (below) was built in 1996.

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A Converted Convent

Disclosure of shameless showcasing of husband’s work! On a beautiful Indian Summer day, with the sun streaming in through the large windows throughout, I toured the former Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame on Federal Street yesterday with my husband, the architect responsible for its conversion into eight residential units. The convent was built in 1878 for the Sisters, who joined St. James Parish in 1864 and served as instructors in the large parochial school next door. Ten years later, a regional Catholic directory records 14 sisters living in the building, with their Mother Superior, Sister Mary Felicitas, and the school office on the first floor (the Sisters were real educational heroines, who opened parochial schools all over the state, but particularly in its industrial cities: they arrived in Salem in 1854 to join the Parish of Immaculate Conception right in the midst of the Know-Nothing frenzy and then later came over to St. James—you can read much more about the Massachusetts Sisters here). I honestly don’t know how long the building has been vacant, but it is part of a large complex on Federal Street built because of the initiatives of Father John J. Gray, including his Italianate rectory across the street (also converted to residences), and the school and “new” (1891) church next door. The St. James Parish, Salem’s second Catholic parish, has now been merged with its first, Immaculate Conception, as Mary, Queen of the Apostles. The sale and conversion of archdiocesan buildings is a huge trend here in Eastern Massachusetts: this is my husband’s second convent conversion in Salem. With sensitive architectural adaptations we can all continue to enjoy these well-built buildings for quite some time. As you can see from the photos I ran around snapping, this particular building is BIG, with wide, long corridors and very high ceilings on both the first and second floors, but there are nooks and crannies as well (particularly on the third floor) and a finished basement. In back, there is a HUGE parking lot (very precious in Salem) right next to the brand-new new Community Life Center on Bridge Street. As the building was restored with Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, the units will be rented for a period of five years and then converted to condominiums.

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Convent 8Looking out these windows to the east and west, you see Old Salem in the form of the parochial school, which will also be converted into residences, and New Salem in the form of the Community Life Center and River Rock housing development beyond.


The Older Andover

About forty minutes inland from Salem to the northwest are the towns of Andover and North Andover, both early settlements and bustling towns today. Due to the anniversary of the last executions of the Salem Witch Trials on Friday, I had Samuel Wardwell—who hailed from Andover, along with several other victims—on my mind, so I decided to drive there and see if I could find the location of his farm, which is always referred to as lying in the “southern” part of what was then one big Andover. That was my goal, but I got waylaid and distracted by the other Andover, the North Parish, which became North Andover in 1855. I hadn’t realized that North Andover was actually the first settlement: whenever I see North or South or East or West I assume that that designated location was settled after the adjoining town without the geographical adjective (is there are word for that?) But in the case of the Andovers, this assumption is incorrect. And because I assumed North Andover was later, I had always given it short shrift and driven through or around or by it—but this Saturday, the weather was fine and I had time so I drove into it, and spent a considerable amount of time in the vicinity of its perfectly pristine center village, in which a striking Gothic Revival Church overlooks one of the prettiest commons I have ever seen. It was the first day of Fall, and the North Andover Fall Festival was in full swing, so I parked the car and walked all around the old town center.

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All of the houses above surround the large Common, and bordering it is the little building built for the North Andover Hay Scales Company, established in 1819, which Walter Muir Whitehill refers to as “a rustic corporation of twenty-five proprietors who not only missioned a public utility but had a good sociable time doing so”. (Old-Time New England, October 1948). And down the road apiece is the Trustees of Reservations’ Stevens-Coolidge estate, with its extensive gardens, and this intriguing brick double house.

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On the other side of the Common, I walked past the North Andover Historical Society, a rather stately Greek Revival house and two “Salem Federals”, which really do have the air of displaced Salem houses, especially the Kittredge Mansion (1784), which looks just like the Peirce-Nichols House! Apparently its design is attributed to Samuel McIntire, which is complete news to me—must find out much more about this house.

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Kittredge House

Kittredge House 2The Kittredge Mansion & gate in HABS photographs from 1940-41, Library of Congress.

Finally I came to the beautiful Parson Barnard House (1715), which was long believed to be the home of Simon and Anne Bradstreet and has been owned and maintained by the North Andover Historical Society since 1950. It is perfectly situated and colored for early fall reveries, and I could have sat there looking at it for quite some time, but Wardwell business was pressing, so I retrieved my car, drove over the other Andover, and took a really cool virtual tour of its downtown courtesy of the Andover Center for History and Culture.

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It Happened on Salem Common

Increasing concern that the City might locate a commercial carnival on Salem Common during Haunted Happenings has brought me out of my seventeenth-century reverie: the present interrupts the past! The Common has been the site of concessions and children’s activities for quite some time, but the carnival, adopted over a decade ago to enhance the family-friendliness of Salem’s long Halloween season, was situated on a vacant lot on Derby Street. This lot is presently in the process of being transformed into a waterside park, so the hunt is on for a new location. This first came to the public attention just last month: I think many people in Salem–myself included—simply assumed that we were done with the carnival but apparently that is not the case. As with everything else related to Haunted Happenings, commercial concessions and “attractions” are somehow translated into a public good, and this is the rationale for the location of a private enterprise in a very public place: the beautiful Salem Common.

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Common 1863Salem Common in 1836 and 1863: Historical Collections of Massachusetts by John Warner Barber; Fitz Hugh Lane for Moore’s Lithography, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

It’s not a done deal yet: there is actually a municipal ordinance specifically prohibiting mechanical rides or amusements, including carnivals and circuses on the Common, as well as general guidelines stating that that activities on the Common should not interfere or disturb the peace and enjoyment of all the citizens of the city and protecting it from adverse wear and tear. Of course having a carnival on the Common runs contrary to all of these codes, but the necessities of Haunted Happenings are paramount, and the City Council can waive these restrictions. There was a public hearing last week which I could not attend, but from what I’ve heard there was considerable resistance but also support for the idea. Those in the latter camp make a consistent argument that the Common has always been a busy place, and they are correct: just a casual glance at the historical record reveals a succession of military drills, pageants, rallies, baseball games and bicycle races, as well as balloon ascensions, firemen’s musters, and concerts—with some events drawing very large crowds. Every year about this time there were huge festivals marking the end of the playground season during which children from all of the neighborhood parks in the city would gather, compete and perform: I’m wondering when this tradition ended? The Common was a refuge for those displaced by the Great Salem Fire in 1914, the venue for the 700-cast-strong pageant performed for the Salem Tercentenary celebrations in 1926, and the scene of many triumphs–and also a few tragedies.

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Common 1961All newspaper articles from the Boston Globe: playground festivals in 1916 and 1923, a film for the troops in 1918, a farmer’s market in 1920 (Historic New England), the celebration of the opening of the Hawthorne Hotel in 1925 and the stage for the Tercentenary pageant in 1926, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections; a protest against the processing tax during the Depression, and an unfortunate death on Salem Common.

There is one thing that these very diverse events have in common: they were all public events. I’ve heard tales of sad circuses in more recent days, but for the most part Common events were held for the common good or were an expression of the common will. Even without taking into account the potential damage to the Common, or the noise, or the length of time involved (3 weeks?) it’s hard to see how a private carnival meets this criteria, but then again there is that very public portrayal of Haunted Happenings.  Another way of examining the civic perception of the Common is to look at projects, events and/or installations which were declined, and my favorite example of these is a statue proposed for the Common by millionaire Fred E. Ayer in tribute to his Southwick ancestors, who were persecuted intensely by Salem Puritans for their Quaker beliefs. In 1903 Ayer commissioned the very prominent sculptor J. Massey Rhind (who would later craft the statue of Joseph Hodges Choate at the corner of Essex and Boston Streets), who came up with a model depicting a Tiger, representing voracious Puritanism, about to devour his Quaker victims. After several years of deliberation, Salem’s Council said NO to the statue’s placement on the Common, the most treasured plot of ground in Salem, in the words of Alderman Alden P. White.

Salem Common 1906


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