Tag Archives: History

An Eventful 1851 in Salem

The media—exclusively newspapers—looked back at the year’s events at its end in the nineteenth century just as it does today. This accounting was traditionally presented in the first few days of January by the Salem Observer, and it’s interesting to read what was considered “notable” and worthy of inclusion and what was not (although it would take some research to determine what was not and I’m not doing that now—researching “the negative” is incredibly difficult at the local level). The January 3, 1852 report on the “Events in Salem and Vicinity during the year 1851” prepared for the Salem Observer is below, and below that are my observations of what seems particularly notable (or just interesting): so we have two filters of newsworthiness at work here.

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Weather notations are always interesting: sudden changes in January, a “violent” snow storm in March, a big storm, including flooding, in April, hail in July, the first snowfall on October 27, a “great fall of snow” just before Christmas and very cold weather after.

Crime: always achieves notice. A gang of burglars strikes in January! A particularly crime-ridden May, with a strange attack that sounds like 17th century lithobolia on a house in Danvers, some female counterfeiters in Marblehead, and a stabbing in the street in Salem.

Fire: the partner of crime in notoriety. The Atlantic House in Beverly burned down in January and a Marblehead house in February, the same month in which Benjamin Lang’s house on Lafayette Street in Salem was severely damaged by fire. This is a reference to 49 Lafayette Street, the boyhood home of Benjamin Johnson Lang, who was an extremely famous organist and choral conductor in the later nineteenth century. The house was rebuilt, and both Benjamin Lang Sr. and Benjamin Johnson Lang Jr. held music lessons there before the latter’s departure for Boston and greater things in 1855.

Deaths: it is in the reporting of deaths that you can really perceive how restricted “notability” was as obviously many more people died in Salem and its environs in 1851 than are reported here. One does wonder about the “highly esteemed” young Deborah Howard, however, who died as a result of injuries sustained from a tragic carriage accident in July. I can understand why Captain Nathaniel West’s death (at aged 95) was included, as he was one of the great golden age Salem sea captains. He apparently bequeathed Derby Wharf to the Salem Marine Society in his will, and also left funds for the establishment of a school of navigation—I wonder what happened to that?

Lyceum Lectures: lots of lectures at both the Mechanic Lyceum and the Salem Lyceum and other regional venues as this is the heyday of the Lyceum movement. Most of the lectures seem pretty apolitical: the great abolitionist Lucy Stone spoke before the Salem Anti-Slavery Society rather than at either Lyceum. As we know, things will heat up, but in 1851 Lyceum audiences were hearing about “The American Mind”, “Character”, “New England and Her Institutions” and both women and men by both women and men speakers.

Salem Harbor: is dead. Hawthorne’s characterization is certainly confirmed here, as only one Salem ship is referenced, the barque Dragon, and it reports to Boston Harbor rather than Salem! But there was a regatta in July: wish we could resurrect this event.

Appendix: the “Shadrach” riot reference deserves its own post. On February 21, “Colored Barber” Alexander H. Burton of Salem was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the uproar following the arrest of the runaway Virginia slave Shadrach Minkins under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Burton was released because he had an alibi–but I’d like to know more about his arrest and the connections between Salem’s and Boston’s abolitionist movements.


My Top Ten Books for 2018

I don’t believe that I’ve posted on books that I’ve read, or am reading, or want to read in quite some time: it seems like this whole past year has been consumed by the dislocation of our local history rather than more pleasurable pursuits! In years past, I always rounded up what I read–even before I started blogging—as a form of reflection, and December is obviously the best time for that. This year was odd not only because of the PEM problem, but also because I’ve been on sabbatical this fall and am writing my own book—so I’ve been reading primary sources and very specialized scholarly texts for the most part, not the sort of books that are going to rate inclusion in a top ten list aimed at a general audience. On weekends and at night I worked through a more entertaining stack by my bedside. I’ve always been a content reader even when I’m not reading for work: some history outside my period, lots of natural history, all sorts of books about books, and books about art and various types of design. I like to read about food in historical or cultural contexts, but I don’t really like to cook. I like to read about beverages in historical and cultural context as well, and I do like to mix drinks (and drink them). Not much fiction, and the occasional guide depending on what’s going on in my life. The first three books on this list intersect with my professional and private interests a bit, the rest are just representative of my varied interests, and the last book is a work of fiction, and one of the best books I read all year.

Books Pasta

Books Hawfinch

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Books

My book is actually based on Renaissance handbooks, but not handbooks as specialized, and as beautiful, as the one reproduced, in its first English translation, in Pasta for Nightingales, an Italian orinthological study by Pietro Olina produced in 1622 with watercolor illustrations produced for the Paper Museum” of the Roman collector and scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo. The text features all sorts of charming contemporary ways to relate to birds, including a chickpea pasta recipe for nightingales. This is just the kind of intersection—of folklore and emerging “science”— that I’m hoping to capture in my book. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, by Edward Wilson-Lee, tells the story of Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando Colón, and his thirty-year quest to assemble–and organize–the largest private library in Europe, a collection that sadly went to waste after his death. It’s not just Colón’s constant purchasing of books from all over Europe that makes this book interesting, but also his efforts to catalog them: their problem looks slight in comparison to ours, but Renaissance Europeans actually suffered (a bit) from “information overload” in the first decades of print. I’ve always learned a lot from Theodore Rabb—in graduate school and throughout my career–and the essays in Why Does Michelangelo Matter? address one of my key teaching goals: the integration of the visual arts into historical analysis. Jumping back and then forward in time: ancient history is not my favorite era, much less the horrible twentieth century, but I love Mary Beard and I wanted to read something about the Great War in this centennial year of its end, so I’ve got The Roman Triumph and Jörn Leonhard’s Pandora’s BoxA History of the First World War on my list.

Book Collage

I am including Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, about the devastating destruction by fire of the Los Angeles Angeles Public Library in 1986 in particular and the impact of libraries on public and private lives in general, on my list even though I haven’t read it. It just seems appropriate for this year when I was obsessed with the loss of a library (and she is such a good writer): it’s nearing the top of my bedside stack. My food book this year (so far) is Dan Stone’s The Food Explorer, which is really about a botanist bureaucrat who transformed the American diet through his discoveries in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On to drink: I’m including a mixology book because it’s been a difficult year: gin is my spirit of choice and I’m always looking for the perfect gin and lemon drink, and Gin Made me Do It helped me to refine one. I really am a material girl at heart, and an anglophile, and I live in a townhouse, so Ros Byam Shaw’s’s Perfect English Townhouse, showcasing 14 stunning homes, is perfect for me. Finally, my last pick: Francis Spufford’s amazing novel of colonial New York City: Golden Hill. Rarely do I read fiction, even rarer still, historical fiction: essentially I have to know the author to indulge in that genre. But, much like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, this book just submerged me into into its time and setting. I devoured it: you will too, I bet.

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Golden Hill


My Salem Museum

The Peabody Essex Museum has made an additional concession in the mitigation dialogue following their admission to the relocation of Salem’s historical archives to a “Collection Center” in Rowley: a presentation/exhibition on the “Salem (Historical?) Experience” to be permanently installed in Plummer Hall. This could be good news—-like everything else the devil will be in the details—but it in no way compensates for the removal of historical materials left in good faith to the care of the PEM’s predecessors by scores of Salem families. Still, Salem has always needed a proper Salem Museum, with texts, objects, and interpretations of key events and themes in its history presented in an installation that is both contextual and chronological. This could be an opportunity to have some semblance of that, as the PEM has wonderful curators and resources, but the institutional reluctance to actually showcase authentic Salem items—combined with the word “experience”—leaves me a bit worried that all we’re going to get is some sort of virtual presentation. Nevertheless I was inspired to put together my own Salem Museum, and here are its key components.

Salem Worlds: I would prefer a thematic presentation to a chronological one, but after teaching history for 20+ years I know that chronology is important—-people want to get the facts straight and in order. So I think I would use a “worlds” approach in which Salem expands from a tiny little settlement into one which is an important part of the entire world, and then create various other worlds which represent different aspects of Salem’s history. Worlds are a way to combine themes and chronology: we need to know about Salem’s experience as a colonial outpost of the expanding British Empire, its role in a world of Revolution, and its preeminence in a world of global exchange, but also about the worlds of ideas, work, and association which flourished within its borders. I’d like to flesh out the isolated world of seventeenth-century Salem and its environs that served as the setting for the witchcraft accusations of 1692 as much as possible, but also trace the legacy of the Trials through the evolution of the “world(s) of Witch City” from its first expressions until today. We need to peer into the worlds of Salem’s many activists—whether they were working for abolition, temperance, social reforms, or suffrage in the nineteenth century, or striking for more job security at Pequot Mills in 1933. I’d like to recreate Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Salem world with texts and images, and also that of one (or more) of the lesser-known diarists whose memorials are locked in the Phillips Library. Different worlds could be explored in keeping with the PEM’s programming (I guess I have to make that concession).

Virtual is fine, but we need objects and texts too: I’ve been to quite a few city history museums (but unfortunately none on this list) and it seems to me that the mix is best. There’s always some sort of “orienting” video, so that might be the best way to deal with the chronology: I love the Museum of the City of New York’s Timescapes in particular. The only way we can create some semblance of seventeenth-century Salem is through cgi, and I cannot watch Pudding lane Productions’ deep dive into seventeenth-century London enough (and my students love it).

My Museum Timescapes

In this era of immersive make-believe, people crave authenticity, so we need to see real stuff too: personally, I’d love to see the 1623 Sheffield Patent, which granted rights to Cape Ann to several members of the Plymouth Colony and was contested by a representative of the Dorchester Company. This is a connecting link between Plymouth and the North Shore, and between Plymouth and Salem: as Cape Ann didn’t quite work out at that time the old planters migrated down the shore. Later in the seventeenth century, let’s widen the circle of persecution a bit by showing items that illustrate the struggles of Thomas Maule and Philip English—what an Atlantic world the latter represents! The widening world of eighteenth-century Salem could be explored through periodicals, ephemera, and any and all expressions of “trade port culture”, which the PEM loves (as long as the port in question is not Salem). Craftsmanship (or simply work), consumption, and activism are themes and worlds that can take us (or Salem) from the eighteenth century through the nineteenth century and all the way up to today.

SHeffield Patent

My Museum Maule

My Museum Handkerchief PEMThe Sheffield Patent, 1623, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum; Title page of Thomas Maule’s New England Pesecutors Mauld, 1697; The Poor Slave (Dedicated to the Friends of Humanity), ca. 1834, copperplate-printed cotton, Boston Chemical Printing Company, The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum (Also in the Phillips Library). 

Art+History=Culture+Connections: The past five months—this entire semester!—has been like a Museum Studies course for me as I have been reading and exploring museums and historical societies around the world to see if I could come up with some compensation for the cultural deficit we have here in Salem, where the institution with most of the historical collections has withdrawn, leaving behind an infrastructure of largely commodified historical interpretation. There are many historical museums doing amazing things, but I’ve been particularly impressed by what I’ve seen (only online) at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. I spent a summer in Santa Cruz years ago on an NEH grant, so I have a fondness for that place anyway, but I love how this particular museum merges art, history, and community engagement into a mission that stresses relevance and region. It is an institution that is governed by the same “connections” mission that PEM references all the time, but their much stronger emphasis on place (in part through history) must make the pursuit of those connections more attainable and meaningful. As I haven’t been there, I’m not sure exactly how SCMAH presents the past, but my Salem History Museum would not recognize divisions between art and history, or material and textual culture. I’d have both, together, and a very particular emphasis on architecture. Lots of McIntire drawings, a whole gallery wall of Frank Cousins photographs, and some modern representations of Salem buildings to illustrate their (ever-) lasting impact. I would certainly have some of John Willand’s houses on a wall of my museum as I already have one on a wall of my house: each one is amazing, and I know he prefers a collective display. I would also feature some of the wonderful photographs of Salem captured by Salem instagrammers: more posts than #pem, just count the hashtags.

My Museum Little collage

My Museum collage

My Museum 30 Chestnut

Willand Gallery

Two sides of Salem artist Philip Little (1857-1942) from the PEM’s own collection: “Submarine Baseball” and A Relic of History, Old Derby Wharf, Salem, c. 1915; A Frank Cousins (18501927) portfolio; John Willand’s 30 Chestnut Street and Chestnut Street “Gallery”.


Stolen Identities

I hate tumblr. I link my posts to it, because it is automatic and they display beautifully, but I never go there. I know that pretty much all I will find is lifted: unsourced, uncredited, without any context whatsoever. Of course, the internet is an anarchical wild west, but tumblr is still the worst outlaw: thoroughly unaccountable. It’s clearly cool not to credit on tumblr, so I know that if I go there I will be very, very annoyed: I might find a beautiful picture, but I will never, never find its source. The other day I was searching for some more information about someone who lived in my house 150 years ago: Willard Peele Phillips. I check up on him occasionally, because he was a pretty active entrepreneur and abolitionist and new sources are digitized all the time. I wound up on tumblr, where I found a very familiar photograph, and some very, very familiar text on a blog entitled The Civil War Parlor, whose author claims that “every effort is taken to remember the men and women of the Union and Confederacy equally with dignity and respect”.

Below is the picture, lifted and lightened from my post Remembering the 54th Regiment. Instead of copying my accreditation, she copies my text above, almost word for word. “Her” text is first (in red!) followed by my original words, in bold.

 Three little known Salem men with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment: Willard Peele Phillips, a prominent Salem businessman served on Governor Andrew’s recruiting committee for the regiment, Luis Fenollosa Emilio was a young captain in the Regiment, and later served as acting commander after he became the only officer to survive Fort Wagner, and Francis H. Fletcher, a clerk in a Salem printing office, enlisted in the Regiment and fought until the end of the war. Those are the bare facts, but the involvement of these three men runs deeper.  Phillips raised money, not only men, for the Regiment, Emilio later became the historian of the Regiment with the 1891 publication of The Brave Black Regiment.  The History of the 54th Massachusetts, 1863-65, and Fletcher protested the army’s unequal (or nonexistent!) pay system while still in service.

Less well-known, in varying degrees, is the involvement of three Salem men with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment: Willard Peele Phillips, a prominent Salem businessman (who happened to live in my house at the time, or I live in his now) served on Governor Andrew’s recruiting committee for the regiment, Luis Fenollosa Emilio was a young captain in the Regiment, and later served as acting commander after he became the only officer to survive Fort Wagner, and Francis H. Fletcher, a clerk in a Salem printing office, enlisted in the Regiment and fought until the end of the war. Those are the bare facts, but the involvement of these three men runs deeper.  Phillips raised money, not only men, for the Regiment, Emilio later became the historian of the Regiment with the 1891 publication of The Brave Black Regiment.  The History of the 54th Massachusetts, 1863-65, and Fletcher protested the army’s unequal (or nonexistent!) pay system while still in service.

She not only left out the all-important first line (does this woman not know how to cut and paste?) and Francis Fletcher’s letter, but linked this text to the picture without my accreditation: Capts. Tomlinson and Emilio (center) with Lt. Speer, all of Company C of the Massachusetts 54th, May 1863, Library of Congress, Letter of Francis H. Fletcher to Jacob C. Safford, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Consequently Captain Emilio, in the center, is the only proper identification in this picture: his fellow officers, Capt. Tomlinson on his right and Lieutenant Speer on his left, are literally left out of the picture by Miss Civil War Parlor, who, let me remind you, is dedicated to taking every effort to remember the men and women of the Union and Confederacy”.

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AGAIN: Unknown Photographer, Second Lieutenant Ezekiel G. Tomlinson, Captain Luis F. Emilio, and Second Lieutenant Daniel Spear, October 12, 1863, tintype, 3 1/4 x 2 7/16 in. (8.6 x 6.5 cm.), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. All three survived the War, but only Emilio was from Salem: Tomlinson was from Radnor, Pennsylvania, and Spear was from Boston.

 


Bewitching Beauty

Enough of the Witch Trials, on to Witch City.  For the past century or so, rather then obscuring Salem’s association with the trials, the city fathers celebrated it, creating the present-day “Witch City”.  I’ve wrote about this development in numerous posts, but the essential beginning can be found here, with Daniel Low’s witch spoon.  Shortly after this successful turn-of-the century marketing campaign, other Salem businesses jumped on the witchcraft train, and it really took off.  Another example of a nationally-marketed Salem product was the “Witch Cream” manufactured by the C.H. and J. Price Pharmacy of Essex Street.

These advertisements can be found in all sorts of publications in the later 1890s; clearly “Witch Cream” captured the public’s attention.  This was a boon period for skin lotions and face creams (often called “vanishing creams” because they melted into the skin, unlike cold creams, which are ancient), following the success of the Pond’s Company and the discovery of new, less-irritating (than lead!) recipes.  While early modern women were often criticized for indulging their vanities and layering on too much cream and “paint” (the two women preoccupied with their faces below are clearly vulnerable to the wiles of the Devil), existing recipes for “precious” ointments and waters confirm that they whipped up their own moisturizers.  But the late Victorian era, in characteristic fashion, initiated a profitable cosmetics industry.

Daniel Hopfer, Death and the Devil Surprise Two Women (1520 etching, late 17th century print). Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Price Pharmacy in Salem advertised several products, including “homeopathic tinctures”, a “hygienic wine” (a strengthening tonic for nervous protestation, dyspepsia, etc…), and New England Tooth Drops, but they definitely showcased their Witch Cream, which they sold by mail-order and also distributed to other apothecaries.

I’m not sure what was actually in Witch Cream, although if it’s anything like other contemporary concoctions on the market, it was probably made of cucumber, rose and/or elder flower oils, essences that go way back to the Elizabethan era, and probably beyond.  Like so many modern products, it was probably a case of the wizardry of words rather than ingredients.


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