Tag Archives: Library of Congress

Political Poplars?

I suspect that most of my colleagues who teach American history dislike Thomas Jefferson. I don’t really get into it with them; I prefer to play naive and impressionistic when it comes to American history (because I am), but I have heard and seen disparaging words and glances on more than one occasion. Their opinion was shared by Salem’s Federalists over two centuries ago, who cast Jefferson as a licentious Jacobin even before the disastrous Embargo Act of 1807. But there was one Jeffersonian “policy” that was popular in Salem, at least for a while: the planting of (Lombardy) Poplar trees on the Common and along several streets. Jefferson loved these stately trees, and had them planted not only at Monticello but also in Washington, along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. His poplar advocacy spread north, and in one of my favorite Salem paintings (actually it’s everyone’s favorite Salem painting), George Ropes’ Salem Common on Training Day, the newly-planted poplars are very prominent. Apparently they were also planted along the Newburyport “turnpike”, now Highland Avenue, and a few other new streets.

Washington 1800 LC

Poplars Washington

Poplars Porter MFA

SALEMCOMMONTRAININGA

Poplars lining Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., early nineteenth century, Library of Congress; Poplars in Rufus Porter’s “Boston Harbor” wall mural from the Prescott Tavern in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; George Ropes, Jr., Salem Common on Training Day, 1808, Peabody Essex Museum. 

As attractive as they were (or as Ropes made them), the Common poplars would soon be gone, replaced by maples and elms and more pedestrian trees. Was their disappearance due to nature (the “Great September Gale” of 1815 or their unsuitability to Salem’s climate and/or soil) or politics? I ask this question because of a provocative little passage in one of Sidney Perley’s early articles in the Essex Antiquarian (1911): Political feeling was so strong in the old Jeffersonian days that these poplars were condemned by the Federalists on account of Jefferson having been instrumental in producing them. Some of the Republicans planted these trees in front of their residences to show their allegiance to Jeffersonian principles, and the enraged Federalists were guilty of injuring and destroying them. This was true in Salem in 1801 in several instances, the mischief being of course done under cover of darkness. Captain Samuel Very, who lived at Buffum’s Corner, offered a reward of twenty dollars for the conviction of the person or persons who injured the trees before his house. Very interesting! It sounds like poplars were conspicuous targets, and the grove on the Common must have been offensive to Salem’s Federalists: did they mount an attack? To answer this question, I turned to one of Perley’s contemporaries and the authority on horticultural Salem a century ago, John Robinson, who wrote a great little book on Salem’s trees titled Our trees : a popular account of the trees in the streets and gardens of Salem, and of the native trees of Essex County, Massachusetts : with the location of trees, and historical and botanical notes (1891). A man of science, Robinson discounts political explanations for the disappearance of Salem’s poplars in favor of botanical ones: The stiff Lombardy Poplar (Populus dilatata) once grown everywhere, is now but rarely seen except in a state of decay. Our Common was originally planted with these trees in 1802 from nurseries on the northern side, in the vicinity of Winter Street. But, fifteen years later, the trees were found to be of little value for ornament and they were replaced by elms. There are wrecks of Lombardy poplars on Loring Avenue, beyond the Marblehead branch railroad crossing, near the Willows, and on the Newburyport turnpike in various places……….it turns out that Lombardy Poplars just didn’t “take” in Salem’s soil. There are certainly no Poplar “wrecks” on the Common today, but I think I found a few relics in the Howard Street cemetery, still standing guard.

20160415_160607_HDR~2[1]

20160415_160600_HDR~2[1]

20160415_165155_HDR~3[1]

Apparently NOT a poplar, but an upright English oak!


Lafayette, We are Here

Over this past weekend I caught many references to the storied phrase “Lafayette, we are here” on my twitter feed and the radio, so many that I woke up on Monday morning with it ringing in my ears! I can appreciate the American-Lafayette connection, after all I live right next to Hamilton Hall, where a “Lafayette Room” memorializes the Marquis’s visit to Salem in 1824 and walk to work on Lafayette Street every day, but I wasn’t quite sure about the complete context of the phrase. I think I always assumed that General John. J. Pershing uttered it when he arrived in France with the first American forces in the summer of 1917, but it was actually one of his aides, Colonel Charles E. Stanton, when both he and Pershing visited Lafayette’s tomb after a triumphant parade through the streets of Paris on July 4, 1917. Apparently the Colonel was much more eloquent than the General, and often called to come up with appropriate remarks, though he was very humble about this role during and well after the war. You can easily understand Stanton’s inspiration when you consider other contemporary American references to Lafayette: a Lafayette U.S. dollar minted in 1899, the work of the Lafayette Memorial Commission which was charged with raising funds for the installation of a Lafayette statue at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, the Lafayette Fund established in 1914 to aid France once the war began, and of course the famous Lafayette Escadrille with its daring American volunteer flyers. With the predominant mood of isolationism in the U.S. prior (and even after) 1914, entry into this European war had to be justified by an American interest–and “paying back” Lafayette became one. Either Stanton’s words really struck a chord in 1917, or the government promoted this sentiment to increase popular support for the war. Maybe a bit of both?

Lafayette and Washington sheet music

Lafayette Stantion NYT Jan 18 1931 Framed

Lafayette-We-Are-Here

Lafayette Calling LC 1918

Lafayette We are Going Over LC 1917

Lafayette We are Here Sheet Museic

Lafayette We are Herd 1919 LC

Lafayette were here 1918 LC

Lafayette Rebuild LOC 1918

Lafayette Paid Debt LC 1919

Washington-Pershing song sheet, 1917, Cornell University; the story of Stanton’s phrase in the New York Times, January 18, 1931; “Lafayette, We are Here” poster, Lafayette University; the progress of the war from the American-Lafayette perspective in song sheets from the Library of Congress; below, post-war Washington-Lafayette-Handkerchief from the Boston Athenaeum exhibition: Over There: World War One Posters from Around the World.

Lafayette Handkerchief Boston Athenaeum


Lessons in Legerdemain

A by-product of the scholarly research that I’m doing on wonder and science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been my exposure to texts on more practical magic that creates “artificial conclusions”, to use the words of a seventeenth-century scribe. I’m really not sure what to do with these texts–especially the more modern ones that fall well outside my period–but they certainly are interesting, and entirely suitable for a blog post or two! Books on magic tricks, conjuring, sleight of hand, legerdemain, are first published in the mid-seventeenth century (at least in England) right up through the 20th, and the classics are very valuable–deemed so most especially by the magical community. The first English book on practical magic, appropriately authored by Hocus Pocus Junior was The Anatomie of Legerdemain, first published in 1634 and reprinted throughout the seventeenth century: the Library of Congress has the second edition which was bequeathed by Harry Houdini himself in 1927. Both that edition and one from 1638 in the library of St. John’s College at Oxford University have been completely digitized, so you can learn all these tricks for yourself. The 1654 edition below sold at a 2009 Sotheby’s auction for £37, 250, so I suppose we’ll have to make do with the digital editions.

PicMonkey Collage

Legerdemain 1638

Hocus Pocus 1654 ed

This is a charming little book. The anonymous author, “Hocus Pocus Junior”, whom many presume to be one William Vincent, who received a license “to exercise the art of Legerdemaine in any Townes within the Realm of England and Ireland” and was described as “alias Hocus Pocus” on several occasions, begins the preface with the question: Courteous Reader, doe you not wonder? and proceeds to define his art: Legerdomaine is an operation, whereby one may seem to worke wonderfull, impossible, and incredible things by agility, nimblenesse, and slightnesse of hand. The partes of this Arte are principally two. The first is in the conveyance of Balls, Cards, Dice, Money &tc…The Second is Confederacie (tricks performed in partnership, essentially). So we learn all the old (now newly-exposed for the first time!) cup and card tricks, along with special maneuvers like How to seeme to pull a rope through your nose and How to seeme to cut off a mans head..called the decollation of John Baptist, as well as “how to seem to eat a knife” and “breathe fire”. For some reason, the “strangest” trick is how to “seeme to cut a piece of Tape into four partes, and make it whole again with words”–and this takes quite a bit of detailed description. All the tricks do, really: in addition to being quite the magician, Hocus Pocus Junior was an exceptional technical writer.

Hocus Pocus 16353

Hocus Pocus 16354

Hocus Pocus String

Pages from Hocus Pocus Junior. The Anatomie of Legerdemain, Or, The art of jugling set forth in his proper colours, fully, plainly, and exactly, so that an ignorant person may thereby learn the full perfection of the same, after a little practise (1635 edition, Library of Congress).


Paper Shadows

When I found the hand shadow trade card for Salem furrier T.N. Covell below I thought I had stumbled onto something unique, but it turns out that shadowgraphy, ombromanie, or “Ombres Chinoises” was just another Victorian fad, like phrenology, penny farthings, and mesmerism. It didn’t take long to find other examples, and other “animals”: the seal led to search for other shadow cards made in Boston and elsewhere, and the offerings of John Bufford, who was a very serious lithographer and businessman. So here we have a late nineteenth-century variation on the silhouette: more whimsical than documentary and more commercial than personal. An ephemeral art, as (electric) light was already too bright when it appeared, and very reflective of a much simpler time!

Paper Shadows

Paper Shadows 2

Paper Shadows 3

Paper Shadows 4 Chatterbox

PicMonkey Collage

Victorian hand shadow trade cards and the December 15, 1869 edition of Chatterbox, Library of Congress; Illustrations from the Ombres chinoises, guignol, marionnettes, par Émile Lagarde , 1900, Bibliothèque nationale de France


So Many Gables

It would be fine with me if the House of the Seven Gables was the iconic symbol of Salem rather than the witch: it seems to me that these two images were competing for that role in the earlier part of the twentieth century, but the witch definitely won out in the second half. I can’t tell you how many House of the Seven Gables postcards I have–maybe 50 different images, some only slightly different–and I have seen Gables puzzles, plates, patches, pens, pillows and all sorts of other items that don’t begin with the letter P.  Such souvenirs are pretty common, so I’m a bit more interested in artistic representations of the house and the book. There are many of these as well: illustrations from the multiple editions of the latter (which never seems to go out of print) and drawings, prints, etchings, and paintings of the former. I’m always looking for works by some of Salem’s renown early twentieth-century artists–Frank Benson, Philip Little, Ross Turner–but they don’t seem to have been inspired by the house (although there is a nice etching by Little’s friend and studio-mate Philip Kappel), which is understandable, given the fact that our Gables is not their Gables. What we call the House of the Seven Gables was known as the old Turner Mansion (or more formally the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in their time, and before preservationist/philanthropist Caroline Emmerton transformed it and adjoining buildings (some of which she made adjoining buildings) into the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association after 1908, the old house really didn’t look that inspirational. This was a pretty run-down neighborhood, and part of Emmerton’s mission was to change all that, with a rather romantically “restored” mansion at its center. And so the old Turner mansion acquired several more gables and became the House of the Seven Gables.

The Making of the House of the Seven Gables, 1908-1915

House of the Seven Gables 1890s

Gables and Seamen's Bethel

House of the Seven Gables 1910s

The Turner-Ingersoll House in the 1890s and 1910s, after Mrs. Emmerton bought the house and established the Settlement Association. The middle picture, dating from around 1914, shows the house from the other side and the developing museum “neighborhood” and its vicinity, including the Seaman’s Bethel on the water, which Mrs. Emmerton later removed to Turner Street. Photographs from the Library of Congress and National Park Service.

With time–and long after Mrs. Emmerton’s death–the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association not only cleaned up, but cleared out, its previously “derelict” neighborhood, and now there is a large parking lot to the left of those hanging sheets below. But that’s another story. A succession of artists from the 1920s on did indeed find the revitalized mansion inspirational, beginning with two female artists who occasionally came down from their Cape Ann summer homes to capture old Salem on canvas:  Felicie Waldo Howell (1897-1968) and Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002). Two very different visions, as you can see, followed by the equally variant views of Dorothy Lake Gregory, Frederic Coulton Waugh, and the contemporary artists Jim Leggitt, Philip Eames, and Matthew Benedict. Just a few images that appealed to me, among many, many Gables out there.

Portraying the House of the Seven Gables, 1921-2010

Gables Howell 1923

House of Seven Gables 1940s Theresa Bernstein

Gables Gregory

Gables Frederic Coulton Waugh

House of Seven Gables Legget

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gables Benedict 1998


Fenced In

While taking a twilight stroll around Salem the other day/night, it seemed to me as if the street-fronting fences were straining to contain the abundant shrubs, flowers and vines within. September is such an abundant time–even in the city. Salem has some great fences, although it once had many more: when I look through pictures from a century ago I am always struck first by the elaborate fences that lined its streets. Most of the wrought iron ones have survived, many of the wooden ones have not. I think commercialization is the main enemy of the elaborate wooden fence–and a great case in point is the “Dr. Phippen House” on the Common (misidentified by the Historic American Building Survey at the Library of Congress as located on Chestnut Street):  pictured below in 1938 and the other day. It is now a funeral home with no fence in front, and a chain-link fence along its side yard.

Fence Phippen House Salem

Fence Phippen House Salem MA

Fences 021

Most definitely a loss, as this house occupies a prominent position on the Common. But there are similar fences throughout Salem that survive, primarily, but not exclusively, in the McIntire Historic District.  Iron fences are sturdier survivals, and can be found all over downtown Salem, in varying states of repair. For those who read my post last year about the sad state of the Salem Common fence, I have great news:  it is being repaired and restored. We all benefit when a city, or any property owner, puts their best fence forward.

Fences 015

Fences 018

More examples of front fences from my (increasingly-dark) walk around town, ending up at the Ropes Mansion garden, which is really stunning at this time of year–definitely worth a trip from near or far.

Fences 008

Fences 030

Fences 033

Fences 035

Fences 037

Fences 010

Fences 048

Fences 047


Orphans and Multiples

A photographic essay in the Huffington Post from a few days ago entitled “10 Orphan Row Houses So Lonely You’ll Want To Take Them Home With You” did indeed make me sad. A sampling of photographer Ben Marcin’s work, the photographs feature single surviving rowhouses (I prefer the one-word spelling) in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Camden, New Jersey, the heartland of mid-Atlantic urban architecture. I love rowhouses: I actually live in one, although it’s just a double, and I went to college in Baltimore and briefly lived in Washington, D.C., another great rowhouse city. You just know that these still-strident orphans were once part of a strong streetscape, and want to know the story behind their abandonment–and survival.

rowhouse  Ben Marcin Baltimore

Rowhouse Ben Marcin Baltimoreblue

Rowhouses Ben Marcin Philadelphia

Rowhouses in Baltimore and Philadelphia by photographer Ben Marcin, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore.

I got happier when I started reading about some rowhouse renovations, and took a leisurely late-afternoon walk to see some of Salem’s rowhouses. We don’t really have rowhouse blocks like larger cities, but we do have several rows of triple and quadruple semi-detached houses just in my neighborhood,  and a few more around  town. Before the great fire of 1914, there was a “Tontine Block” of four houses in Salem built in 1805, no doubt inspired by Charles Bulfinch’s Tontine Crescent in Boston, one of the first American residential urban planning projects. The Boston Tontine was built in 1794-95 and unfortunately demolished in 1858, the victim of encroaching commercial construction.

Rowhouses Tontine Crescent

Rowhouses 1850s franklin tontine crescent bpl

Bulfinch’s Tontine Plan, 1794, and the Tontine Crescent shortly before its demolition in 1858, Library of Congress and Boston Public Library.

Here in Salem, the triple house on Chestnut Street, fortunately very much still standing, and the lost 1805 Tontine block on nearby Warren Street testified to Bulfinch’s influence; the latter was rebuilt after the fire with some charming Craftsman details, inside and out. The other Salem rowhouses are clearly not Federal in inspiration: dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, they are wooden structures built in a more vernacular Victorian style. Each and every one is enhanced by the presence of its neighbors.

Rowhouse Salem Chestnut

Rowhouses Salem 2

Rowhouses Salem 3

Rowhouses Salem 4

Salem rowhouses on Chestnut, Warren, North Pine, and Broad Streets.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,174 other followers

%d bloggers like this: