No heavy lifting/posting for me this week, although I did want to offer up something celebratory for the Fourth, so I went through some of my digital files and favorite pictorial resources (MagazineArt.org and the Magazine Rack at the Internet Archive) to come up with a portfolio of July covers from the “Golden Age” of American illustration. It’s interesting to me how different types of magazines use patriotic themes and tropes to fashion images for their particular audiences: just the colors and perhaps a few artfully-placed stars and stripes can be evocative of the holiday without adding Uncle Sam and George Washington. For the most part, I’ve avoided the very literal in favor of the suggestive, although I can’t resist some of the “playing with fire” images which are pretty striking before World War One: the Comfort lady below looks quite uncomfortable, and like she is quite literally blowing off her hand with firecrackers, but the Puck lady seems quite happy to be ablaze. Some of the most illustrative Fourth of July images from this era can be found in children’s magazines (Harper’s Round Table and John Martin’sBook), but women’s and shelter magazines also signaled the holiday in style.
July magazine covers 1896-1937: from the Digital Commonwealth (Harper’sRoundTable), the Library of Congress (Lippincott’sand Puck), CuriousBookShop@Etsy (HouseBeautiful, 1933) and the great site MagazineArt.org.
A dreamy Fourth for me as I was up half the night before due to random fireworks going off across the street. I was half asleep when I woke up and for most of the day. I missed the 9:00 reading of the Declaration of Independence on Salem Common (which was apparently moved to the ballroom of the Hawthorne Hotel because of our morning rain), but I did make the Horribles Parade in the Willows. Horribles parades are old New England traditions, still very much alive in the towns and cities north of Boston: here in Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, and Gloucester–maybe more. The original idea behind the parades–which date back to the middle of the nineteenth century–was to mock inflated public figures, so politicians get a lot of play, along with anyone else in the news too much.
On the eve of the Fourth, all was quiet and peaceful on Chestnut Street (before the fireworks started) so I took a few pictures of flag-bearing houses. I was particularly impressed by the efforts of my neighbors (in the blue house below), who are away: they had someone come over merely to put their flag out while I was snapping away. I went a little crazy with our house this year; as the apartment is empty I draped my veteran ancestor’s coffin flag from its roof.
A completely different scene in the Willows the following morning as crowds came out for the Horribles Parade, which was a little heavy on the Penn State scandal so I’m not going to show you too many pictures. The residents of the Willows really embrace the holiday and the parade, so nearly every cottage is decorated for viewing parties.
We were all hot and tired after the parade, so it was back home to rest and watch old patriotic movies on TCM (Drums along the Mohawk is my absolute favorite, followed by 1776, not so much), have our own little barbecue, and then head back to the other side of town as it was our idea (not mine, actually) to take a flotilla of kayaks out into the middle of Salem Harbor to watch the fireworks. After much preparation, and a drink at our camp on the island, we did this, and it was an invigorating experience. Unfortunately, none of my pictures came out, so I’ll have to give you a verbal picture: we’re in the middle of the harbor, surrounded by a panorama of light: threatening lightening, the fireworks on Derby Wharf in Salem, Marblehead fireworks to the east, Beverly fireworks to the north, those of some Cape Ann town to the far north, and several other towns to the south. Then a strange, full, red moon rose, right in the middle of all this man-made light! The heavens opened up, the rain poured down, and we went in, for one more drink and home. A happy, busy, sleepy Fourth.
Before there were fireworks, there were bonfires, BIG bonfires.
The Fourth of July has always been celebrated enthusiastically in Salem, both in the present and in the past. This very year, Salem’s Independence Day celebration made a national top ten list of best fireworks with recognition as “best historical fun”. But before fireworks marked the Fourth in Salem, it was all about bonfires, reflecting English commemoration culture (ironically), as well as John Adams’ prescient remark that the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence would forever be celebrated as a “great anniversary festival” with “Pomp and Parade … Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other” (of course he was talking about July 2nd). From at least the 1890s, as far as I can tell, Salem had the reputation for the biggest and most patriotic bonfire in the region, and its annual conflagrations received national coverage as late as 1950.
This is a charming picture of a small bonfire on Salem Harbor in the 1890s, but in no way representative of Salem’s major bonfire, which was always held at Gallows Hill at midnight. Rather than the five or six tiers you see here, the Gallows Hill bonfires featured as many as forty, and were quite elaborately “wired” (but they still had the American flag at the top; I’m not sure why burning the American flag wasn’t a bit more controversial). The best description I could find of the Gallows Hill bonfires is in a little article by the Reverend James L. Hill, in a compilation entitled Holy–daysandholidays: atreasuryofhistorical material, sermonsinfullandinbrief, suggestivethoughts, andpoetry, relatingtoholydaysandholidays by Edward Mark Deems, published in several editions in the 1890s and after. In a 1908 edition, Reverend Hill writes: Come to Salem, all of you who lament the absence of great gatherings with noise and music and banners on Independence Day and believe that pure clean patriotism is no longer powerful enough to give us the ardent celebrations which were once the joy and glory of our nation’s natal morning. Just as the clock is striking twelve, thus adding another year to the era of American independence, your eyes will be drawn irresistibly to a towering monument of hogsheads and barrels and casks that raises its huge form 135 feet high and bulks against the midnight sky. This topgallant monticle is stacked as symmetrically as a church steeple.
The best images I could find of this cathedralesque creation date from nearly a half-century later, as part of a Life magazine article on the Gallows Hill Bonfire Association and its patriotic work published in 1949. This was the last era of the Gallows Hill bonfires, which seem to have tapered out in the 1960s. The images create a picture of serious effort, a big bonfire, and a huge crowd in attendance: just like the fireworks display occurring tonight.