Tag Archives: holidays

A Soldier of the Massachusetts Line

I don’t think Revolutionary War soldiers get the attention they deserve in terms of commemoration–on Memorial Day and every day. There is insufficient or nonexistent appreciation of their suffering and their sacrifice, certainly here in Salem, where our most prominent statues pay tribute to a “planter”, a diplomat, a temperance leader, Hawthorne, and a fictional television witch. There are monuments to those who served in the Civil War and World War I and II, but I’ve always wondered why the Salem men who served in the Revolutionary War have received so little recognition–beyond their individual graves, most of which do not even reference their service. Maybe that’s why. These were men who served and then came back home with little fanfare and recognition: quiet, anonymous men for the most part, with the exception of the perplexing Timothy Pickering and dashing privateers like Jonathan Haraden. Both Pickering and Haraden are buried in the Broad Street Cemetery behind my house, and I walked over there very early this morning to look upon their graves, as well as those of their comrades. By all accounts, there are nine veterans of the Revolutionary War buried in the Broad Street Cemetery, but only Pickering’s and Haraden’s graves are marked with flags.

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Memorial Day 7

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Memorial Day 9

Memorial Day 6

Not far from the Pickering graves is a single dark stone marking the grave of Joshua Cross, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and his wife Lydia Derby Cross, both of whom died on May 24: he in 1829 and she in 1837. I have long appreciated this marker: it stands alone, in excellent condition, and it does refer to his service (but still no flag: I have planted one in past years and will this year too). According to his pension application, Cross served in the “Massachusetts Line” for only one year–from January 1776 until January 1777–and did not rise above the rank of Private, but the details of his service indicate that he might have seen some action! Here is his story, in his own words:

I, Joshua Cross of Salem in the County of Essex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts on solemn oath declare that I enlisted into the service of the late United Colonies, in the Revolutionary War, on the Continental establishment, in the month of January in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy six as a private soldier in the Company then under the command of Ensign Gould and called General Lee’s life guard, said company belonging to the____ Regiment of the Massachusetts line, under the command of Col. Little that I continued in the service of the said United Colonies until the month of January in the year seventeen hundred and seventy seven, when my term of service expired, and returned home–I have no recollection of having received my discharge in writing, and believe it was not usual at that time to give such discharges–and further declare aforesaid that from reduced circumstances I need the assistance of my country for support.

This statement gives us enough information to place Cross in Colonel Moses Little’s 12th Continental Regiment, which saw action in the Siege of Boston, on Long Island,  and at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton during his service. It’s a bit confusing, because I think our Joshua has been confused with a “Joseph Cross” in Volume 4 of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. A Compilation from the Archives (1898), and I know that this particular “life guard” of  General [Charles] Lee under the command of Ensign [Benjamin] Gould made it to New York but I’m not quite sure about New Jersey. But it’s quite possible that our humble Salem housewright, with no flag by his grave, served at Trenton and Princeton alongside General Washington. But you think he would have mentioned that!

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Broad Street Cemetery, Salem, Memorial Day Weekend 2016


May Flowers for Mother’s Day

Yesterday I went searching for some May flowers for Mother’s Day and it was a more difficult task than you might think on May 7. Our cold and wet (well, this last week at least) weather has pushed flowering back quite a bit here in Salem. I checked out my three most dependable spots for flower shots: the Derby House garden, the Ropes Mansion garden, and my own garden. I did not yield too many flowers as you will see below: a few bulbs at Derby, just one fringed Bleeding Heart at Ropes, and my beloved and dependable lungworts are the only spots of color out back (except for my neighbor’s newly-red shed). This is not surprising for a week in which my radiators were radiating every single morning when I woke up and every single evening when I came home. The flowering trees are especially far behind: my dogwoods are barely opening although I see spots of color across the street in the Chestnut Street park. Lady’s Mantle–a particularly appropriate plant for Mother’s Day–needs no flower, especially when it’s wet, as its velvety leaves catch and turn raindrops into diamonds.

Mothers Day

Mothers Day Narbonne

Mothers Day Derby House

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Mothers Day Derby

Mothers Day Ropes

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Mothers Day lungwort home

Mothers Day Derby Lungwort

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Flowering in Salem, May 7, 2016.


A Tale of Two Salem Patriots

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), who rose to serve successively as Colonel of the Essex County Militia to Washington’s Adjutant General, Quartermaster General, and Secretary of War and President Adams’ Secretary of State is probably Salem’s best-known “Patriot”, but during the Battles of Lexington and Concord (commemorated in Massachusetts and Maine as Patriots’ Day on the third Monday of April) he was, shall we say unengaged, while another Salem man died in the bloodiest skirmish of the day. This was Benjamin Peirce, a baker by profession, 37 years old, who fought alongside men from Danvers, Beverly, Lynn and several other communities in their effort to halt (or at least hinder) the British retreat back to Boston. As far as I can tell, he died in the violent “Battle of Menotomy”(Arlington) in and around the still bullet-riddled Jason Russell House with Pickering yet to arrive on the scene (having stopped at not one but two taverns for refreshments). And when the Colonel with his 300+ Essex County militiamen finally arrived in the area, another decision was made to disengage, enabling the British to reach Boston. I know Pickering’s actions (or lack thereof) on April 19, 1775 have been debated almost from that very date, but from a parochial perspective he clearly pales in comparison with Peirce, the only Salem militiaman to die on that fateful day. Peirce’s heroism was recognized at the time by the entrepreneurial Salem printer Ezekiel Russell, who published Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops; of the Runaway Fight of the Regulars just a few days later.

Bloody Butcheryp

Russell House Whitefield

BLOODY BUTCHERY, BY THE BRITISH TROOPS; OR THE RUNAWAY FIGHT OF THE REGULARS, with Peirce’s identified coffin in the second row, second from right, published in The Salem Gazette, from E. RUSSELL’S Salem Gazette, or Newbury and Marblehead Advertiser, Friday, April 21, 1775; the Russell House–where Peirce died–from Edwin Whitefields’s
Homes of our Forefathers (1879).

There was also an individual elegy for Peirce penned by Russell:  We sore regret poor Peirce’s death,  A stroke to Salem known, Where tears did flow from every brow, When the sad tidings come. There was, however, no coffin: Peirce was buried in a mass grave in Arlington along with some of his compatriots, excepting the Danvers martyrs who were returned to that town. No one from Salem came for Benjamin, so he is still there, in the Old Burying Ground behind the First Parish Unitarian Church on Massachusetts Avenue. I cannot find any reference (or sign) of a monument to this native son in Salem until the erection of a bicentennial plaque (under a liberty tree which appears to have not survived) by Historic Salem, Inc., in a rather odd spot–adjacent to a parking lot on Church Street.

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Three plaques for Peirce in Arlington–one in Salem, below,  adjacent to parking lot: while fictional Samantha gets an entire (very visible) square to herself!

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Leaping Ladies on the Loose

On this quadrennial February 29, a follow-up post to one from the last leap year. I don’t have any radical new insights into the public perception of this occasion in the past, but I do see some connections and characterizations of which I was previously unaware. As before, and as usual, it was the Victorians who cemented the idea of women “leaping” outside of their conventional role at this time by proposing to their prospective spouses, beginning with Victoria herself. It was widely known that the young Queen proposed to her beloved Alfred in 1839 (not a leap year but she was Queen), and their marriage did occur in the following bissextile year. Apparently it was fine for Victoria, but such assertiveness among mere mortal women was not quite so tolerated, as Leap Year depictions became more cutting and critical in several ways as the nineteenth century progressed. Postcards were used to depict mismatched marriages: the woman is too rich, too old, too large. The “tall bride” is a consistent trope, and I think the very popular Raphael Tuck & Sons Leap Year postcard of a bride towering over her royal groom is a reference to the sensational marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. In addition to images of brides buying their grooms, Leap Year postcards from the peak period of 1896-1916 depict women who are pushing against the constraints of their gender: women who “scorch” the streets on a bicycle or ask for the vote, women who sought to “wear the pants” not only on February 29 every four years, but on every day in every year. Ladies are pictured hunting, trapping, and hooking men in Leap Year post and trade cards up until the teens, after which milder messages predominate, most likely because of the twin forces of the First World War and women’s suffrage.

Leap Year Life 1896 Cover

Leap Year Vanderbilt Marlborough Wedding

Leap Year Gauntlet Tuck 1911-12

Leap Year Raphael Tuck

Leap Year Tuck Collage

Leap Year Brill Collage

Leap Year Card Collage

Leap Year 1908 BPL

Leap Year Text 1904p

Life Magazine February Leap Year Cover, 1896, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Raphael Tuck & Sons Oilette Leap Year Cards, 1904-1912, from a selection here; “Cupid’s Coffin” illustration of the Vanderbilt-Marlborough Wedding by Charles Dana Gibson for Life, sourced here; George Reiter Brill Cards, Playles; Trade card and Postcards from the Boston Public Library and Smithsonian Institution.


What I want now: George Washington

I have no intention of discussing current politics on my blog which is supposed to be a break from reality for me and my readers (I hope), but the rhetoric and reality of this election is really depressing me; I’ve got to get out from under its weight in the only way I know how: by going back. We need a hero! And since today is the birthday of one (the real birthday, as opposed to last week’s more generic “Presidents’ Day”), let us focus on George Washington. Now remember, I am not an American historian so I have a rather romantic view of our first president, which suits my purpose of historical escapism. My glasses are not quite as rose-colored as those of Parson Weems and his fellow hagiographers of the nineteenth-century, but I still want to see the General and the President in vivid twentieth-century color, as an example of someone who was truthful, moderate, restrained and resigned, heroic yet humble, selfless yet self-conscious, never-seeking but always-serving, and predisposed more towards action than words. Here are some twentieth-century images, in color, which capture those qualities.

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Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable, 1939, Amon Carter Museum of American Art; (I do believe Washington was truthful, but the cherry tree story is still a fable created by Parson Weems–this is an amazing HISTORICAL painting). Below, the cherry tree story is integral to Washington’s depiction by Rosalind Thornycroft in Herbert and Eleanor Farjeon’s Heroes and Heroines (1933).

George Washington Thornycroft 1933

George Washington 1910 Penfield NYPLDC picture

Washington Lithograph 1930 poster

George Washinton Schuker 1920s

Washington War Bond WW

Washington Morality Poster 1974 Smithsonian

Washington from the 1910s through the 1970s: leaving Mount Vernon by Edwin Penfield, the popular General by Charles Schucker, the standard of civic duty and morality. New York Public Library Digital Gallery and Smithsonian Institution.


Epiphany Eclipsed

Why do we “celebrate” Christmas so spectacularly and ignore its closing act, Epiphany? How did Christmas come to overshadow Epiphany so completely? Well of course we know the answer to this question: crass commercial consumerism, beginning in the Victorian era. But before that, it was all about Epiphany, one of the earliest Christian feast days. Consider this beautiful painting by Hieronymus Bosch of the Adoration of the Magi, one of thousands of Renaissance paintings depicting this moment when the world, represented by the Three Magi/Kings/Wise Men, came to view the Christ child in his humble birthplace. Here we see nothing less than the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through his Son, Jesus Christ, before the Kings and the world. It’s a really big moment, and one that medieval and early modern Christians wanted to think about, hear about, and see time and time again. I like this particular painting not only for its aesthetic qualities but also the familiarity and intimacy of its setting: Italian Renaissance painters like Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio made this moment even more familiar and intimate by painting themselves and their patrons right into the scene!

Adoration of the Magi

Botticelli_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi_(Zanobi_Altar)_-_Uffizi

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Spedale_degli_Innocenti

Hieronymus Bosch, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1475; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1475, Uffizi Gallery (with Botticelli in the right lower calendar and all of the Medici clan present); Domenico Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1485-88, Spedale degli Innocenti (with Domenico facing us in the midst of his patrons, on left).

It’s quite possible that the underestimation of Epiphany is apparent only from my western (American) Protestant perspective, but apart from its theological importance, there are many customs and traditions associated with Epiphany and Twelfth Night, its more secular incarnation, that would seem to lend this holiday towards more popular celebration (or exploitation): elaborate feasting, including a variety of Kings’ Cakes, containing beans, slips of paper, or Baby Jesus charms, wassailing, frolicking, dancing, gift-giving, marking homes with blessed chalk. Many of these Twelfth Night activities have been appropriated by Christmas in the modern era, especially here in the United States, where Santa Claus seems to have vanquished St. Nicholas, the Three Kings, and even the Italian “Christmas Witch”, la Befana, who delivers presents (or coal) to children on Epiphany Eve rather than December 24. Although given her identity rather than her occupation, I suppose it is only a matter of time before she finds her way to the Witch City.

Twelfth Night Feast 1662

Epiphany Coles 1888

Epiphany Le Petite Journal 1914

REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Twelfth Night Feast by Jan Havicksz. Steen, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Epiphany. Illustration from Holy Seasons of the Church by E Beatrice Coles (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1888); a Spanish Epiphany custom illustrated in Le Petite Journal, 1914; the famous “Befana Regatta” held every January 6 in Venice.


The Charm of Chimney Sweeps

It is somewhat difficult to comprehend how chimney sweeps–soot-covered, often very young boys who were virtually enslaved to climb up and down narrow flues, brush in hand–could be transformed into good luck charms in the later nineteenth century, but if you examine more than a handful of vintage New Year’s postcards, especially those from central and northern Europe, you will see them there, along with four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, mushrooms, pigs, and occasionally cats. Only in the British and American traditions do you see Father Time, and the infant new year, and numbers, and because Germany was so dominant in the greeting card industry at the turn of the last century their Schornsteinfeger turn up on cards made for those markets as well.  I understand the whole sweeping out the old year message, as well as the basic assurance of a clean chimney (especially now, with my new ones rising!) but that’s about all. The dissonance between the grim reality of one of the dirtiest jobs anywhere, anytime and its artistic representation on greeting cards from the 1880s onward is pretty glaring, as sweeps are depicted in elegant art nouveau compositions, as well as more commercial creations, as laughing, clean children of both genders. And then of course there is the sexy chimney sweep, again of either gender, with the masculine variety usually corrupting (dirtying) some naive chambermaid, and the feminine variety distinguished by her (lack of, form-fitting) dress. The only things that identify all these sweeps as such are their ever-present ladders and/or brushes.

Chimney Sweep Art Nouveau Card

Chimney Sweep MFA Card

Chimney Sweep Gnomes Card

Chimney Sweep MFA 1Card

Austrian New Year’s Postcards, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

As you can see from the images below, the angelic (whitewashed) little chimney sweeper sweeping in the New Year became a bit standardized in the 1910s and 1920s, and if the text message wasn’t enough, the addition of other good luck symbols–and even the very American champagne bottle–drove home the message. The very distinctive red-and-white-spotted “red fly” mushrooms (amanita muscaria) are ever-present on New Year’s postcards, even those that don’t feature chimney sweeps, and once again, I’m not precisely sure why. This species of mushroom is credited with both poisonous and hallucinogenic qualities, neither of which translate into good luck (or maybe it is good luck if you don’t eat them), but they were also used as insecticides in some parts of Europe I believe, so maybe there is another “clearing out” connection. Later in the twentieth century, both the chimney sweeps and the toadstools get a bit more abstract and a bit less cute, but they’re still there.

Chimney Sweeps Postcards

Chimney Sweep Skating Scenep

Chimney Sweep Estonian 1960 Playles Card

A Selection of New Year’s Postcards from the teens and 1920s available here; Skating scene sourced here; an Estonian card from the later 1950s from here.

The Lucky Chimney Sweep tradition varies quite a bit as you move westward in Europe: I couldn’t really find much of a trace in France and in Great Britain it is more associated with the occasion of weddings than the New Year. I have found several sweep motifs among the New Year’s postcards of Britain’s most prolific publisher, Raphael Tuck & Sons, but they were manufactured in Austria:  I imagine a somewhat confused British audience. Given all the horrific stories about the “climbing boys” in Britain, including the well-publicized death of a 12-year-old boy named George Brewster in 1875 which led to the passage of a Parliamentary bill prohibiting the use of such “apprentices” in the same year, it’s hard to see how chimney sweeps could be considered charmed or charming (even with the innocuous images below). John Leighton’s depiction of a shivering and suffering sweep (perhaps from the dreaded Chimney Sweeps’ cancer or “soot wart” though that generally appeared later in life) on a doctor’s doorstep, packaged with what can only be the sarcastic greeting A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, is a more realistic sign of the times.

Chimney Sweep Tuck

Chimney Sweep Cat Tuck

Raphael Tuck & Sons postcards at TuckDB; John Leighton’s Chimney Sweep, c. 1850, at Wellcome Library Images.


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