It occurred to me the other day that during the long life of this blog I have never spotlighted TrailsandSails, a calendar of dedicated events and openings throughout Essex County in September organized by the Essex National Heritage Area. I feel remiss; I have friends and former students who work for EssexHeritage, and I myself am a commissioner! These folks know what heritage is and are able to discern it from tourism, and so they connect and cast light on institutions and areas which represent this region’s cultural and material legacy in meaningful ways. Trails and Sails is a 10-day extravaganza of free events throughout our region, beginning next weekend. I’ve picked my events, and my participation will pretty much revolve around visiting old buildings, but don’t let my game plan (mis-) inform yours: there are plenty of events that involve much more outside action like walking, paddling, biking, apple-picking, cider-making, birding, and even “forest bathing” (whatever that is) right here in Salem. So go to the website, or download the digital guide, and chart your course. Note that many (but not all) events and openings are recurring and some require reservations.
Saturday, September17: I’ve got to get into the glorious Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, so that will be my first stop. I’ve wanted to see this hall for about five years. From Lynn, I’ll drive over to Danvers to tour the 1670 Judge Samuel Holten House, another building which I’ve long admired and never been inside. Same with the Platts-Bradstreet House in Rowley, so that’s next, then back to Salem for a walking tour of Charlotte’s (Forten) Salem by HistoryAlive, Inc.
Lynn’s GAR Hall, two seventeenth-century houses, and Charlotte Forten about to lead us around Salem!
Sunday, September 18: I know that I will have to do some lecture and presentation prep on this day but I am still going to the Open House at the Rocks Village Handtub Building and Toll House Museum on the Merrimack as I love that building and (again) have never been inside. I might as well go to the Brocklebank Museum on Georgetown as it’s on the way home.
Rocks Village,Georgetown, and the Jackman-Willet House in Newbury.
The following week, unfortunately, is super busy and I have my own presentation on Saturday the 24th, so that leaves Sunday the 25th, when I’ll go up to Newbury and see the seventeenth-century Jackman-Willet House and anything else that is happening in that part of the county. I feel like I’m missing out on some great events, particularly Fletcher Steele and Frederick Law Olmsted tours and a view of Gloucester from its grandiose city hall. But there’s always next year: Trails and Sails is an established tradition. As I was looking at the schedule, thinking about where I would like to go, and reflecting upon my past summer, it was just houses, houses, houses! I love visiting old open houses, but I think I must be an outlier among heritage tourists today. I’ve been talking to a few museum professionals over the summer, and they all tell me that house museums just aren’t as popular as they used to be. This might explain why so many in Salem are closed, including all of the Peabody Essex Museum’s houses save the Ropes Mansion and Salem Maritime’s Derby House (well, save the ell). But everywhere I have gone this summer—in New York, and all the New England states—there have been good-sized parties touring houses with me so it makes me feel like there are still some old-house afficionados out there! An anecdotal view, I know, but a hopeful one. Perhaps I should finally admit, however, that my essential childhood bedside book, Samuel Chamberlain’s Open House in New England, might have been a bit odd.
The Peabody Essex Museum has opened a new integrated exhibit of items from its American and Native American collections entitled On This Ground: Being and Belonging in America and I made my first visit last weekend. This is an “ongoing” exhibition, which I guess means permanent, and I’m glad it is going to be on view for some time as it offers quite a lot to take in and think about: there are new things to see but even familiar items are cast in a new light through their arrangement. While the exhibition explores various themes relating to “being and belonging in America” its overall curation is what captivated me on this first viewing: it seemed as if there were a succession of cascading vignettes crafted from the artful juxtaposition of both like and unlike objects. Juxtaposition is a powerful way to engage and to teach: I use contrast and comparison quite a bit in class but I wouldn’t call my efforts artful. In contrast, On This Ground’s presentations cross genres and time very fluidly, right from the beginning when a video featuring Elizabeth Solomon, a member of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, is contrasted with the original Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1628-29 through which King Charles I claimed the land of her ancestors (I have to say that the Charter actually belongs to the Salem Athenaeum, which placed it in storage at the Essex Institute long ago; the PEM seemed to develop an interest in exhibiting the Charter only when the Athenaeum was seriously considering selling it in 2006, so it’s great to see it as one of the opening exhibits of this important new exhibition.)
The juxtapositions are not always so jarring: each culture gets the opportunity to tell its own stories as they cycle through history, as exhibit text proclaims that “history is not linear” repeatedly. Then there is convergence, but there are intra-cultural juxtapositions too: I particularly liked the contrast of proximity between the works of two of Salem’s most well-known sculptors, William Wetmore Story (Marguerite) and Louise Lander (Evangeline), as the latter was explicitly slandered by the former. And the Hawthornes are in close proximity, as they also shut their doors to Miss Lander. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a work of Salem’s even more famous “people’s sculptor,” John Rogers, in real life (clay), so it was great to see The Wounded Scout: its sentimentality was a good match for what I think is a new acquisition by the PEM (in honor of recently-retired curator Dean Lahikainen), Tompkins Harrison Matteson’s The Pillory Scene from The Scarlet Letter (chap. 12, p. 185-188), 1860.
But there are also some starker contrasts which are illuminating: with context but also aesthetically, including two “political teapots” placed side by side (“Stamp Act Repeal’d, 1760s & Nuclear Nuts Teapot Variation #13 by Richard T. Notkin, 2001), a very fancy dressing table paired with some equally fancy boots, and so many aligned portraits. The internal “windows” of the gallery space open up some interesting juxtapositions as well.
There were two aspects of the exhibition that remain rather “unsettled” in my mind, one very general and the other very particular. So of course I have to go back and settle them! It seemed to me as if the Native American objects came from a much broader geographic region, but that just might be my parochial perspective. And once again (for the 99,000th time) I am troubled by the Salem Witch Trials. I was really excited when I read the thematic label for the “Heroes & Histories” section of the exhibit, especially the opening line if the same stories are repeatedly told, whose stories are we missing? That’s Salem in a nutshell: we just keep telling the same story! So I kept going, and there’s the same old story of the Salem Witch Trials in (very familiar; TOO familiar) images, objects and texts. I just don’t understand how a(nother) Tompkins Harrison Matteson painting represents a “new way of looking at the past.” The most recent historiography of the Salem Witch Trials has focused on Salem as a “frontier” society: wouldn’t this be a relevant perspective to explore here?
This was just one discordant corner of this sweeping exhibition, which otherwise struck a pitch-perfect balance of the familiar and the new for me. The two paintings which captured my attention for the longest time were one which I was quite familiar with (Alvan Fisher’s Salem from Gallows Hill, 1818) and one which was brand-new to me (Bahareh and Farzaneh Safarani’s Twilight Reincarnation, 2018). I like to orient myself in the past through the former, while the latter simply delighted me with its fleeting window shadows, so much so that I forgot to contextualize the painting altogether.
On This Ground: Being and Belonging in America: ongoing at the Peabody Essex Museum.
This weekend is the annual commemoration/celebration of Leslie’s Retreat, a pre-Revolutionary event which could have marked the beginning of the American Revolution, if not for the patience, restraint, and diplomacy of participants on both sides, and one man in particular. On February 26, 1775, British Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie and 240 soldiers of the 64th Regiment, acting upon the orders of General Thomas Gage, landed in Marblehead and began marching to Salem in pursuit of a rumored store of cannon. This was a Sunday, and thus “the Sabbath was disturbed” in both Marblehead and Salem, as patriots from the former town rode ahead and warned residents of the latter. When the British arrived, a stand-off ensued between the assembled crowd and the soldiers, during which the drawbridge across the North River was raised, enabling the not-so-secret cannon on the other side to be carried on field carriages out of town. A frustrated Colonel Leslie was allowed to march his troops across the bridge after the cannon had left the scene, therefore fulfilling his orders from General Gage. Then he and his troops retreated back to Marblehead and their ship, and sailed back to Boston. Things were a little hotter than I am depicting in this brief summary, but fortunately cooler heads prevailed, among them that of the Reverend Thomas Barnard Jr., the minister of Salem’s North Church, which was very much in the thick of things. I’m going to let Edwin Monroe Bacon, author of Historic Pilgrimages in New England (1898) set the scene.
A profile portrait of the Reverend Thomas Barnard Jr. (1748-1814) which looks quite similar to that of his father, the Reverend Thomas Barnard Sr. (1716-1776), above, Skinner Auctions.
I like this description because it conveys a sense of place. Just three years earlier, the North Church had separated from Salem’s First Church and constructed its first meeting house on the corner of Lynde and North Streets, not far from the river and the bridge (and the cannon). Reverend Barnard Jr., the peacemaker of “Leslie’s Retreat,” was actually the cause of the schism: his appointment following his father’s illness divided the congregation. As we can read above, the British soldiers marched past the “old First Church” in Town House Square towards the North Church, where a large crowd had assembled along with their young pastor, whose “counsel prevailed” that late afternoon. This North Church was ephemeral, only in service until 1835 when the congregation built a new and fashionable Gothic Revival meeting house on Essex Street, which became the present First Church after the schism was ended in 1923. The annual commemorations of Leslie’s Retreat take place in and around this church, with good reason, but I wish the old North Church was still standing: its clearly Colonial stature could lend some contemporary ambiance to the proceedings. But it is long gone, replaced first by a grand Victorian house, and then by the parking lot of the adjacent Methodist Church. But what happened to its clock?
“First Meeting House of North Church” by Thomas Davidson (not sure of source, likely the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I found it in the November 23, 1942 issue of Life Magazine); George Francis Dow, Old Wood Engravings, Views and Buildings of Essex County (1908): with caption: “The North Meeting House, Salem, Built in 1772 at what is now the Corner of North and Lynde Streets, Abandoned for Religious Purposes in 1835 and taken down about 1860. Engraved in 1873 after a Drawing made by Dr. George A. Perkins.” Frank Cousins photograph of Lynde and North Streets, 1890s, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum via Digital Commonwealth.
BELOW: Before Salem became Witch-central, Leslie’s Retreat was THE big historic story, especially for children, so there’s several YA books which feature it. I was trying to get that sense of place, running-through-the-snow-on-a- cold-winter-afternoon-through-close-Colonial-streets perspective in this post, and these illustrations by Lynn Ward from Jean Fritz’s Early Thunder (1967) come close. My favorite contemporary account of Leslie’s Retreat is actually from a boy, Samuel Gray, which is recounted in this post from J.L. Bell’s wonderful blog, Boston 1775. While you’re there, you should read all of Bell’s posts on Leslie’s Retreat as he is the absolute authority (and he doesn’t quite trust all of Gray’s details).
Illustrations by Lynn Ward from Jean Fritz’s Early Thunder (1967), set in Salem in 1774-1775.
In my sweetest dreams Salem is Candy Land rather than Witch City, and it certainly has the heritage to claim that title (although Candy Land was a Milton Bradley game rather than a Parker Brothers production.) There are of course the famous Gibralters and Black Jacks, still sold at the Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company on Derby Street, America’s oldest candy company. Mrs. Spencer sold her hard candy from a horse-driven carriage, and her primary competition seems to have been the stationary confectioner John Simon, whose shop was stocked with a variety of syrups and sweets, everything from anise drops to peppermint. He was always announcing his “removal” to Boston but somehow never made the move. Before the later nineteenth century, however, most confectionary item were not sold by single confectioners, but rather by grocers and apothecaries, and their lists of available sweets became longer and longer with every decade. Nourse’s Fruit Store on Washington Street sold “calves foot jelly candy, strawberry jelly candy, sherbet candy, gum jelly drops, and “East India Red Rock Candy” and all sorts of candies made with the New England’s favorite ingredient, molasses. Confections got a bit softer in the later nineteenth century, when cream candies became popular, and then comes Chocolate!
The Theodore Metcalf Company, one of Boston’s most successful apothecaries, published a beautiful pamphlet on gibralters and black jacks but these were SALEM candies; Nourse’s advertisement, Salem Observer 4 November 1865; Trade cards illustrate the softer trend in confectionary consumption.
The decline of hard candy and the rise of chocolate seems to be a major trend, but candy customers still loved variety. The most successful, and very long-running, confectionary business in twentieth-century Salem was the “Palace of Sweets” on Essex Street, from which the Moustakis Brothers sold their “mastermade” (a patented term) confections. This business was in operation from 1905 until 1968, and after the Taft Summer White House in Beverly placed a series of larger orders it received—and marketed—the presidential seal of approval.
Moustakis Brothers’ Menu from the digital archives of the Culinary Institute of Technology.
Salem is still candy central, in fact two confectionary shops opened up just this past year: Curly Girl Candy Shop on Washington Street and the Chocolate Pantry on Derby, not far from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company further down the street. And then there is the venerable and amazing HarborSweets, the manufacturers of my very favorite candy, Sweet Sloops. I don’t even really have a sweet tooth, and if I am going to indulge I prefer jelly beans to chocolates, but bring a box of Sweet Sloops into the house and I will not rest until they are gone!
The House of the Seven Gables and Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company sponsored the ice sculpture of Mrs. Spencer’s horse and carriage for the Salem’s So Sweet festival this past weekend: its position made it difficult to photograph but it’s much bigger than it appears in this photo! My beloved Sweet Sloops, available at HarborSweets on Leavitt Street in Salem as well as lots of other retailers.
I’m giving a talk at the end of the month on the impact of the Reformation on the theology of death and practice of mourning, on both sides of the Atlantic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I’ve got the former down, but I’m a bit confused by the latter, and particularly by the rise of large, elaborate funerals from the later seventeenth century. Puritans in both old and New England modeled their mourning on the Calvinist disdain for the Catholic culture of death, with its emphasis on transcendent saints, purgatory, prayers, rituals, and material remembrance. As there was nothing that the living could do to facilitate the passage of the deceased into heaven, funerals should be short and simple, and excessive monuments could easily trespass into the territory of idolatry. That’s the ideal, but was it the reality? The most straightforward directive for funerals, the Directory of Publick Worship (1647) of the Westminster Assembly charged with reforming the Church in the midst of the English Revolution, asserted that because the custom of kneeling down, and praying by or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies before it be carried to burial, are superstitious; and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living; therefore let all such things be laid aside on the one hand, and on the other that the Christian friends, which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publick burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion and that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty. Meditations? I get that, but conferences could clearly be held in the pub after the burial. The Directory’s final say on funerals, that this shall not extend to deny any civil respects or deferences at the burial, suitable to the rank and condition of the party deceased, while he was living relays what happened: as the religious significance of the funeral was lessened, their social roles increased, as an expression of the deceased (and their families) status in society. Monument comes to mean something a little more…..mobile.
Every little detail of the funeral of Robert Devereux, the 3rd Earl of Essex and first General and Commander of the Parliamentarian Army, is included in this 1646 broadside.
Essentially what happened is that funerals became more for the living than for the dead. Perhaps they always were, to some extent, but the Reformation extended that extent considerably. Over the course of the seventeenth century, we can see this consequence in print, in broadsides publishing funeral sermons and elegies, as well as the new funeral custom: the issuing of funeral “tickets”.
A Selection of Funeral Tickets from the British Museum.
Across the pond in British America, there weren’t many funeral tickets, but there were lots of printed elegies, and lots of gifts dispersed to the (presumably invited) mourners by the family of the deceased: the traditional ring, the occasional “scarf”, and gloves, so many gloves. The custom of gifting the minister and pallbearers with white gloves seems to have been extended to include everyone who attended the funerals of former members of wealthy New England families in the first half of the eighteenth century: the family of Andrew Faneuil dispensed 4000 pairs of gloves to mourners in 1738! This custom was burdensome to many families, obviously, and the Massachusetts General Court passed “An Act to Retrench the Extraordinary Expence in Funerals” in 1742, ordering that “no scarves, gloves (except six pair to the Bearers, and one pair to each Minister of the Church or Congregation where any deceased person belongs), wine, rum, rings shall be allowed at any Funeral, upon the Penalty of Fifty Pounds,” an extravagant fine for extravagant funerals! As you can see below, Charles Apthorp’s Boston funeral reverted to past practice in 1758 after the act ran out, as his family distributed 95 pairs of gloves to attendant mourners. The attempts of local and provincial governments to regulate “excessive mourning” in the eighteenth century illustrate another consequence of the Reformation: the so-called “secularization of the parish”: it was the state, or the assembly, or the town, which regulated funeral practices, not the Church. In his multi-volume History of Salem, Massachusetts (1924), Sidney Perley reports that in 1697, the town’s selectmen established rules about both the ringing of bells and the order of processions for funerals: ministers had no say.
Major Thomas Leonard’s funeral elegy, Library of Congress; a mourning ring for Edward Kitchen of Salem, Yale University Art Gallery; Announcement of the 1742 Act; Charles Apthorp portrait by Robert Feke (Cleveland Museum of Art) and a list of the 95 gloves dispensed by his family on the occasion of his 1737 funeral, King’sChapel.
I had no idea that “excessive mourning” was such a conspicuous issue in colonial British America, so was particularly surprised to see the First Continental Congress address it by including elaborate funerals with other forms of “expensive” diversions” which were prohibited: just a black ribbon or crepe armband or necklace, and no funeral gifts of scarfs and gloves. After the Revolution, elaborate funerals must have returned, and so did the penalty system: the selectmen of Boston and Salem issued very detailed and stern warnings against excessive funeral gifts and dress in 1788 in an attempt to encourage an “economical plan of mourning.” By this time, I think the era of elaborate funerals was coming to an end, only to be revived and extended by the Victorians, of course. When Mary Ball Washington died in the following year, newspapers across the new country lauded the first President’s restrained mourning for his mother, as “the heart that mourns need no external sign to speak the agony that preys within.”
The size and customs of funerals are just one avenue into this big topic, but I’m wondering if these showy funerals represent the triumph of a a transatlantic Anglicanism over Puritanism, among other themes and trends. On a more material level, I’m also wondering if coffins became more common in North America, land of a million forests, than still-shrouding Britain in this period! Fortunately I’m giving this talk with my colleague Tad Baker, an expert on colonial material culture (as well as the Witch Trials and myriad other topics), so he can speak to the issue and other details of the built landscape of the Old Burying Point on Charter Street in Salem, the sponsor of our event. I’ve got some things to say about early modern European cemeteries, but he has a lot more expertise in this realm.
And here are some great resources—I’ve got to continue brushing up on this topic myself so I welcome more suggestions!
Craig M. Koslofsky, The Reformation of the Dead: Death and Ritual in early modern Germany, 1450-1700.
Thomas W. Laqueur, The Work of the Dead. A Cultural History of Mortal Remains.
Peter Marshall,Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England
Steven C. Bullock, “Often Concerned in Funerals:” Ritual, Material Culture, and the Large Funeral in the Age of Samuel Sewall” New Views of New England: Studies in Material and Visual Culture, 1680-1830, eds. Martha J. McNamara and Georgia Barnhill (2012: available here).
Steven C. Bullock and Sheila McIntyre, “The Handsome Tokens of a Funeral: Glove-Giving and the Large Funeral in Eighteenth-Century New England,” William and Mary Quarterly 69 (April 2012).
Salem has a brand new cookbook out just in time for the holiday season: Salem’sCookin‘, the Official Chamber of Commerce Cookbook. I kind of wish it had more historical recipes, as Salem has quite a few culinary claims to fame, but I’m sure I’m the only person with this wish as it features a range of recipes for dishes served at the city’s most popular restaurants and offerings from other establishments and individuals which seem surprisingly doable. It’s a very practical cookbook as well a showcase of Salem’s culinary landscape. Still, I’d rather read about food than attempt to make it so I thought I would mark the occasion with a survey of Salem cookbooks, beginning with the serious and mysterious The American Matron; or Practical and Scientific Cookery published in 1851 by an anonymous “housekeeper” who lived in Salem. This housekeeper was quite the cook, quite the chemist really, and quite the writer, and I’ve been trying to find out who she was for quite some time, with no success.
As its title implies, The American Matron is a very practical cookbook as well, so practical that it often seems as concerned with preventing food spoilage and consequential poisoning as offering up recipes that are easy to make and pleasant to eat. The instructions for pickle storage below are very representative of its author’s tone throughout: warning her readers not to keep their pickles in pottery or metal containers due to arsenic and acid, she concludes that One may not be instantly poisoned after eating pickles prepared or kept in such vessels; but if constantly used, a deleterious influence must be operated on the health from this cause, even when lest suspected. This is a text which begins with the proper storage of water and reads more like a public health manual than a cookbook in places, but it also includes scores of recipes for both traditional New England dishes as well as more exotic concoctions featuring ingredients from around the globe, highlighting Salem’s continuous seaport status. There are a lot of interesting seafood recipes in particular, all stressing the necessity of using just-off-the-boat ingredients. It is also a manual for housekeeping, containing instructions for dyes, cleaning agents, and pest control that one might see in the more random printed recipe collections of the early modern era: my favorite is her very nineteenth-century prescription for how to remove the black Dye left on the skin from wearing mourning in hot weather. That’s a predicament I never considered before reading this book!
I can’t find any Salem cookbooks from the later nineteenth century, so I guess that brings us to a collection of historical recipes gathered together under the title What Salem Dames Cooked and published as a fundraiser for the Esther Mack Industrial School in 1910. Like many Salem creations of this particular time, this little volume expresses a Colonial Revival view of the past with its yeolde type and terms, and it was reissued about a decade ago in a glossy reprint so it is widely available. Moving forward another half century, the Hamilton Hall Cook Book was published by the Chestnut Street Associates as a fundraiser for Hamilton Hall just after World War II. Its recipes are quite minimalist, but as it contains both the iconic 1907 photo of Hall caterer EdwardCassell and a lovely illustration of the Hall’s RumfordRoaster I think it must be my favorite Salem cookbook. Old copies turn up on ebay rather regularly but I think Hamilton Hall should reprint it!
A Mary Harrod Northend photograph of the students at the Esther C. Mack School, Historic New England; Mr. Cassell making his deliveries in front of the Peirce-Nichols House.
I am sure there must be more later twentieth-century Salem cookbooks: perhaps issued by ladies’ committees of a church or the Hospital? But the only one I have in my possession is Served in Salem, published in 1981 by the Ladies Committee of the Essex Institute. Both the Hamilton Hall Cook Book and Served in Salem feature lots of recipes with ready-made, canned and frozen ingredients, in stark contrast to The American Matron: twentieth-century cooks didn’t have to worry about preservation and were apparently interested in as many shortcuts as possible. Served in Salem emphasizes entertaining: there are many “party” dishes and featured table settings which showcase the Essex Institute’s collections. Like its Chestnut Street predecessor, however, Served in Salem also features several nods to the past, including a letter from Sally Ropes Orne to her brother Nathaniel which reveals in great detail the Christmas dinner she served to her guests in the family mansion in 1848. It’s so great, and brings us back to the time of of The American Matron, though Sally writes from the perspective of a gracious hostess rather than a practical housekeeper. The dinner began with a toast with sherry, Maderia and hock (which she disdains as too expensive for the taste), then came in the oyster soup, followed by boiled chickens and a ham with caper sauce, mashed potatoes and squash. The next course featured a “noble turkey” accompanied by gravy and liver sauce and more mashed potatoes, this time “browned on top and marked off in diamonds,” which was followed by deserts: plum pudding with hard sauce, mince pies, and cream pudding. Everything was then removed, including the white tablecloth, and the meal was completed with Baldwin apples, grapes, nuts and raisins, along with more sherry. She concludes that “every article was charmingly cooked” and assures her brother that the day went off finely.
Christmas Dinner Service in the Ropes Mansion, from Served in Salem (1981).
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), located here in Salem, deserves considerable credit for engaging in and with the history of the city’s trademark event, the Salem Witch Trials, in a series of exhibitions featuring authentic documents and objects beginning last year and continuing this year with The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming. For several decades prior, the PEM ignored the trials, and by association, the flocks of tourists who converged upon Salem because of their escalating exploitation. During this time, I always hoped that the PEM would offer some sort of exhibition to counter the commodified interpretations of the trials (or some essence thereof) which reign in Salem, and it has. Last year’s exhibition, The Salem Witch Trials 1692, was a little spare, but the authenticity of its items and the straightforward manner in which the story was told was striking, especially in the context of schlocky October Salem. But this year’s exhibition is……much more murky: I simply don’t understand what I’m supposed to take away from it, both in terms of “reckoning” and “reclaiming,” especially the former. Connecting the past to the present is a complex task, or maybe I’m just missing the links made, so I thought I would “write it out”.
Judge Jonathan Corwin’s Trunk: Corwin was a justice on the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which presided over the Salem Witch Trials, and his Salem house is now known as the “Witch House”.
I briefly visited this exhibition shortly after it opened in September, and returned yesterday with several students in my freshman seminar on the Trials: they are going to be writing reviews for our class, so we’ll see if they have grasped it better than I! There are three parts to Reckoning and Reclaiming. You enter into the world of seventeenth-century Salem, armed only with a map and a very brief panel introduction to the trials, and represented by objects or “material manifestations” belonging to people swept up in the trials: Judge Corwin’s trunk (above), victim John Proctor’s sundial, a loom belonging to one of the members of the accusing Putnam family, embellished with symbols of counter-magic, as well as documents related to the legal process of the Trials. The second part/room takes you, via a timeline on the wall and more primary-source documents, through the more focused prosecution of victim Elizabeth Howe of Ipswich and into the present, represented by a glittery black dress from her descendant Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2007 collection entitled “In the Memory Of Elizabeth How, Salem 1692.” Still in the present, you (we) move on to the last part of the exhibition: photographs of modern witches by Frances F. Denny, who is also a descendant of a Trial participant, Judge Samuel Sewall, as well as a woman prosecuted for witchcraft in Boston in 1674, from her series Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America.
Edward Payson’s Testimony on behalf of Elizabeth How(e).
All the constituent parts of this exhibition are interesting and well worth your time, but how are they connected? And who is doing the reckoning and the reclaiming? The exhibition, or us? I discern responses on the part of descendants McQueen and Denny but I always though reckoning and reclaiming were a bit more intensive activities. I looked up both words in the Oxford English Dictionary in order to get some guidance.
Reckoning: The action or an act of giving or being required to give an account of something, esp. one’s conduct or actions; an account or statement so given. Also: an occasion of giving or being required to give such a statement; a calling to account. A calling to account! That’s it: so who is being called to account in this exhibition? The afflicted girls, the judges, the people of Salem? Nope, no reckoning on their parts is in evidence. Survivor Philip English’s 1710 statement “What a great Sufferer I have been in my Estate by reason of the Severe prosecution of me & my wife in that Dark Time”, as well as the 1712 petition for compensation by the daughters of victim Elizabeth Howe are included in the exhibition, but not the apologies issued by accuser Ann Putnam, members of the jury, and Judge Samuel Sewall. We can read the poignant testimonies of those who spoke up for the accused (and these are my favorite objects of the exhibition) but the swift, even jarring, movement into the present makes it seem as if redemption is not possible in the past. Before I saw this exhibition, the use of the word “reckoning” in its title was enticing to me as I thought we were going to be presented with an historical view of how people who lived through the Salem Witch Trials wrestled with what they had experienced in its aftermath, but we are not presented with a full accounting.
Reclaiming: Wow, this is a word that has many meanings and forms! Everything from falconry to recycling. I think the meaning that is relevant here is this one: To reassert a relationship or connection with, or a moral right to; (now frequently) to re-evaluate or reinterpret (a term, concept, etc., esp. one relating to one’s own demographic group) in a more positive or suitable way; to reappropriate. Clearly the exhibition is emphasizing the reappropriation of the word “witch” in our time through the creations of Alexander McQueen and the photographs of Frances F. Denny (along with the words of Denny’s subjects, who are all very expressive and assertive). But what does this reappropriation have to do with the victims of 1692 who were not, of course, witches? Again, the shift from past to present seems jarring, and the connective thread very thin, essentially McQueen’s and Denny’s lineage (and there about a million descendants of Witch Trial victims out there). Denny’s portraits are compelling for sure, so much so that they seem to constitute another, separate exhibition, tied to the first only through a word (and a dress?).
The Salem WitchTrials: Reckoning and Reclaiming is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum until March 20.
I think this might be the first time I’ve written up a “things to do” in Salem for Halloween, a holiday that lasts for at least two months here and seems to be on the way to becoming a year-long “celebration” with perhaps a month break for Christmas. I’m the ultimate Halloween Scrooge, I’ll never be able to get past the opportunistic exploitation of tragedy issue, and Salem has enough boosters already. BUT, this year is a bit different as I am teaching the Salem Witch Trials for the very first time, in a couple of seminars for freshmen designed not only the explore the historical event and its impact but also to introduce them to the requisite skills of critical thinking and effective discourse. None of my students are from Salem, so I want to introduce them to the city as well. They are excited to be here and the last thing they need is a Halloween Scrooge: every Thursday after our last class of the week they ask for weekend recommendations and it would terribly wrong for me to simply say LEAVE. They should form their own impressions about Salem in general and Salem in October, so here is my guide to helping them do that. It’s not just for students and those new to Salem: I get emails about October every year so I’m trying to address general queries as well.
Get the story straight and the lay of the land. Where to go for general orientation when there is no Salem Museum? The only option is the Salem Visitor Center on Essex Street, right in the midst of the sprawling Peabody Essex Museum campus. The Center is a collaboration between the National Park Service and Essex Heritage: at present there’s not much there besides flyers, books for sale, banners, and restrooms, but you can purchase tickets and view the best introduction to the trials: Salem Witch Hunt: Examine the Evidence. We’ve spent the last month in class doing just that, but I still recommend this documentary to my students and anyone visiting Salem with the goal of learning more about the trials.
The Salem Armory Visitor Center and the Peabody Essex Museum’s Plummer Hall and Daland House adjacent: empty in the midst of much activity!
Choose your tour carefully.Walking tours are the best way, and really the only means, for the student/visitor to get both the lay of the land and the Salem story, but it’s important to know which Salem story you want to hear. I have no idea how many walking tours are offered now: I was walking down Charter Street the other afternoon (a relatively short street) and I encountered six, encompassing amplified guides each surrounded by 30+ tourists. It felt like a gauntlet. It’s impossible not to hear what guides are saying as you walk down the street, and they are spinning very different tales. So this is an opportunity for consumer research. Use the crowd-sourced tourism review sites: they are very illuminating. I’m taking my seminar students on their own walking tour in November, but I’m sure many of them want to go on ghost tours now and are are too afraid to ask for recommendations from me: I have none, so I would just tell them (and any visitor so-inclined) to do their research. There are a few below-the-radar historical and architectural tours that I’d like to mention here, however. Dr. Donald Friary, the former executive director of Historic Deerfield who now lives in Salem, is giving two focused tours of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site sponsored by Essex Heritage, and you can also book tours with him (and other guides) here. Two other tour companies which seem to be offering more intimate and focused (cultural and architectural) experiences are here and here.
In addition to Dr. Friary’s tours, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site offers several audio and digital tours of their site; The tour group in Derby Square above is about the average Salem size in October: this particular guide was doing a great job explaining the changing coastline of Salem while keeping their rapt attention: I’m sure I couldn’t do that!
Salem museums are not created equal.Salem has only two museums which are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, whose core standards are available here: the Peabody Essex Museum and Historic New England’s Phillips and Gedney Houses. Actually the small museum administered by Essex Heritage out at BakersIsland is also accredited, but I doubt that very many October visitors are going to make it out there and it is closed for the season. The word museum is used very loosely in Salem, so beware: this is another realm for which online reviews will be helpful. Last year, the Peabody Essex Museum decided to engage with the Witch Trials by offering its first exhibition on the events of 1692 in quite some time, and it was truly wonderful to see objects and texts which I had only read about for the first time. This year, the PEM is continuing its engagement with TheSalemWitchTrials: Reckoning and Reclaiming. I’m a bit confused by this exhibition so I’m going to go back again myself as well as with my students, but I will say that, once again, the authenticity of the objects and texts is striking when contrasted with so much faux in Salem, and I know from reading all these reviews that authenticity is something that very many Salem visitors are seeking. Historic New England offers a bit of specialty programming for both of its Salem properties in October: just the other day I went to a stirring presentation of Poe poems at the Gedney House, and the Phillips House is presenting WickedWednesdays for children.
Poe at Gedney House by TheaterintheOpen: these performance are over but remember, remember for next year. They use the house really well.
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial and Charter Street Cemetery. A big change here in terms of stewardship, so I can recommend a visit to these important, sacred sites. In past years, they were both overrun, but a partnership between the Peabody Essex Museum and the City of Salem has created a more protected and interpretive environment, based at the adjacent first-period Pickman House. The cemetery has been restored very carefully, and it’s really one of the most poignant places in Salem. Unfortunately the tackiest attractions in Salem are adjacent, literally blowing smoke into the cemetery, but that’s the reality of Salem in October: poignant and tacky.
Films. There are many opportunities to see timely films in Salem during October: on the Common, at the recently-revived CinemaSalem, on the patio of the East Regiment Beer Company. I’m looking forward to a screening of the animated House of the Seven Gables at Cinema Salem on the 28th in an evening sponsored by the Gables which will also feature a Q and A with the creator/director, Ben Wickey.
Just walk around: I suspect that my students just want to walk around in the midst of the packed Instagram crush that is downtown Salem, although a few of them did express concerns about the density of the crowds last weekend. So for them, and any visitor seeking a bit more space, I would recommend just walking around the neighborhoods: in the McIntire District, adjacent to the Common, along and off Derby Street. There’s lots of beautiful houses to see, many decorated for the season, and lovely gardens behind the Ropes Mansion and Derby House. I’m hearing that the Haunted Happenings Marketplace, now on Salem Common, is a bit more carefully curated than in years past, so I might even venture over there today (a Saturday!) on foot, of course: opinions may differ about the character and impact of Salem’s Halloween, but the one thing everyone agrees on is the need to discourage driving dramatically: traffic and parking are just too scary.
Derby and Ropes Gardens, Federal Court, and WAY further afield on Lafayette Street.
I learned about Juneteenth ridiculously late, from a student! It was about five or six years ago (only!) and I was talking about Salem’s Black Picnic, an old tradition recently revived, with a brilliant African-American student and she said “that sounds like Juneteenth” and that was that. I don’t remember whether I feigned acknowledgement out of embarrassment or not but inwardly I was mortified by my ignorance. Yes, I was trained in European history, but I’m an American too! Since that time, I’ve used my focus on local history here to learn more about African-American history in Salem: I’m still lacking the big picture but fortunately I have wonderful colleagues at Salem State who help me with context and filling in the blanks. I started putting together my own African-American history tour of Salem about three years ago, and it began (and ended) with Hamilton Hall, where the Remond family lived and worked for decades. This was more familiar territory for me, and the Hall remains my main window/entry/initiation and orientation point for Salem’s African-American history; its centrality is particularly marked this year because of a special exhibition on view all summer long: Unmasking & Evolution of Negro Election Day and the Black Vote. The creation of Salem United, Inc., the organization that revived the Black Picnic at Salem Willows in 2014, the exhibition draws connections between the colonial traditions of Negro Election Day, nineteenth-century African-American parades and picnics, and the Civil Rights struggles of the twentieth century. Salem, United Inc. President Doreen Wade’s enthusiasm for this history is so infectious that her history is transformed into ours.
Scenes from the exhibition: our host and guide Doreen Wade, reproduction dress for Negro Election Day royalty & the jelly bean test for voting from the 1960s, the Brick Hearth Room, very much the center of the Remonds’ activity in the Hall.
For me, this exhibition was about the power of place: I was really moved by the exhibits in the Brick Hearth Room (last photo above), where the Remonds, who struggled for personal, professional, racial, and citizenship recognition for so long, worked, adjacent to where they first lived. The connection between past and present also felt appropriate to me: the distinguished historian of slavery Ira Berlin asserted that Negro Election Day “established a framework for the development of black politics” and who am I to argue with that? It was a special day at the end of May, recognized in twenty or more cities throughout the northeast from the mid-eighteenth century, on which resident African-Americans celebrated, made merry and wore dress clothes (sometimes belonging to their masters), elected notable “kings” or “governors” from among their own, and enjoyed a brief interlude of freedom and agency. To me, it looks like the medieval and early modern festivals of Europe, where everything was turned upside down for a day and peasants elected a “Lord of Misrule,” but it had African roots: I guess the drive for those on the bottom to live like those on the top for just a brief spell is universal. Negro Election Day is well-documented in Salem by most of its famous diarists. In 1741 Judge Benjamin Lynde identified May 27 as a day of “fair weather” and “Election: Negro’s hallowday here at Salem; gave Scip 5s. and Wm 2s. 6d.” indicating both recognition and a form of engagement, and William Pynchon seems to have had a similar attitude in 1788 when he went “to election at Primus’s flag,” indulged in the ale and pies offered at the festivities, and watched the dances. In 1817, the Reverend William Bentley noted “the still bewitching influence of what they call election” in his diary, but by the nineteenth century Election Day seems on the wane, replaced by more formal organizations like the Sons of the African Society in Salem with its dignified meetings and parades, and eventually by the Black Picnic at Salem Willows from 1880. While eighteenth-century white observers seem to be bemused by Negro Election Day, the nineteenth-century perspective seems more mocking, as you can see in the political commentary below: like a negro election King to-day but back again to-morrow. Besides the juxtaposition of objects in the Remond space, the most poignant exhibit in the Unmasking & Evolution exhibit for me was a photograph of a minstrel show at Salem Willows: apparently while the Black Picnic was happening, white Salem residents actually organized a performance with children in blackface to mock them. It’s quite an image on its own, but I think we need a bit more information about it. I can’t unsee it, and it reproduces badly here, so you should see it for yourself.
A minstrel show at Salem Willows—the exhibit caption says 1885 but it looks quite a bit later than that?
Obviously there is some rich history—American and African-American, both, together— encased in Hamilton Hall, in general and in particular this summer, so it’s the perfect place to start a Juneteenth tour. Some other suggestions: 8 High Street, where Clarissa Lawrence, fierce educator and abolitionist, lived among a small community of African-Americans, Aborn Street, where Salem’s first African-American teacher, Charlotte Forten, taught, at the former Epes School at number 21R, Oak Street, where Charlotte lived with Caroline Remond Putnam, daughter of John and Nancy Remond and an extremely active entrepreneur, abolitionist, and later suffragist, Higginson/Derby Squares, where the Remonds and other African-Americans had a succession of profitable businesses, and finally Harmony Grove Cemetery, where you can see the very striking and solitary grave of John Remond. And then to the Willows, of course.
Mrs. Nancy Remond was known for her Election Day cakes, which she offered not only during election week (last week of May) but all year long, Salem Gazette; John Remond’s grave stone in Harmony Grove Cemetery; more information about Salem United and the Black Picnic in Salem Willows is here.
So this is going to be one of those posts in which I ask a lot of questions and have no answers (I think; maybe I will get to some). I’m trying to work out my own thoughts about a particular place and what it means: writing is one way to do that, as is solicitating the views of others, so blogging is a means to get to meaning. The place in question is PioneerVillage: Salem in 1630, a cluster of structures situated in Forest River Park which was built under the auspices of “architect-antiquarian” George Francis Dow as a representation of first-settlement Salem for the Massachusetts Tercentenary of 1630. The very engaged agricultural entrepreneur, Harlan P. Kelsey, a strong advocate for more energetic urban planning in Salem, undertook the landscape design. There was a grand historical pageant performed at the village, and then another recreation, of the ship Arbella of the Winthrop fleet, set sail for Boston. Pioneer Village was supposed to be a temporary installation, but it was such a popular regional attraction that it became a more permanent one, at the vanguard of outdoor “living history” museums in the United States: its claim to be thefirst of such museums is based more on interpretive practice than date, as Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village opened up in 1929 and the Storrowtown Village Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts also dates to 1930. Over the next few decades, a succession of outdoor history museums opened up across the country, including Colonial Williamsburg and Old Salem in North Carolina (1932 & 1950, respectively) and three additional institutions in Massachusetts alone: Old Sturbridge Village (1947), Historic Deerfield (1952) and Plimoth Plantation (1957; now Plimoth Patuxet Museums).
Pioneer Village today and in its heyday, in the 1930s and 1940s, Historic New England and Digital Commonwealth photographs.
So if you have visited any of these museums as well as Pioneer Village you will immediately notice a dramatic difference in terms of size, scale, and apparent resources and mission. The former are all administered as foundations or corporations with large staffs and budgets; Pioneer Village has for the most part been a municipal initiative run by the City of Salem’s Park and Recreation Commission with the exception of recent brief periods when it was administered by several collaborations of local history and preservation professionals, the House of the Seven Gables, and a local college (not Salem State University, which is located nearby, but rather Gordon College in Wenham). Judging from the succession of newspaper stories dating from the 1930s into the 1960s, Pioneer Village might have been able to sustain itself on proceeds from the gate: it was quite a busy place. But as the popularity and practice of “living history” interpretation began to decline in the later 1970s, it lost its base, perhaps even its rationale. As it has always been a seasonal attraction, the Village has been vulnerable to deterioration and destruction by neglect, weather, fire and vandalism: I believe only about half of the original structures are still standing. The Arbella (which returned to its home “port” after the Boston celebrations) was severely damaged by a hurricane in 1954 and the only period structure, the Ruck House, was destroyed by fire in the 1960s. In 1985, the Park and Recreation Commission voted to dismantle the Village, but the first of a series of restoration and reactivation efforts reopened the site in 1988. From that point on, it has been a case of good intentions but insufficient resources, and now the City has proposed a rather radical plan to “save” Pioneer Village by exchanging its site with that of the turn-of-the-century tuberculosis Camp Naumkeag at Salem Willows. The rationale behind this proposed move is sound on paper—the Salem Willows is on the trolley route and the ballpark and other recreational spaces at Forest River are definitely expansive—but I am wondering if a Salem Willows Pioneer Village will still be Pioneer Village. And I am also wondering what Pioneer Village is. As I said at the outset, I’ve got a lot of questions, but these are the big three:
What is the historical and cultural significance of Pioneer Village?
Is Pioneer Village worth “saving”?
If Pioneer Village, such as it is, is moved to another site, will it still be Pioneer Village, whatever that is?
Significance: To tell you the truth, I’ve never given Pioneer Village much thought. I teach seventeenth-century history, and this site has been in walking distance from my classrooms over my entire career: have or would I ever use it as a teaching resource? No. It was seldom consistently accessible and never in very good shape, and now I have all of the digital teaching tools that I need. I always thought that the Village represented a moment in place and time, and that moment was Salem 1930 rather than Salem 1630. As someone who has dabbled in Salem history here over that last decade or so, Pioneer Village looks to me like the culmination of a long period of overtly sentimental celebration of Salem, commencing with the Centennial of 1876. Generally it is seen as an expression of Colonial Revival culture, and I agree with that, but I also see it as an example of civic pride. Before Salem became Witch City, its leadership and residents were much more focused on productivity than infamy, and I think the Village still represents the former for those who wish the “Salem story” was a bit less focused on the Witch Trials. I like the terms “architectural museum” and “restoration village” used by the architectural historian Edward N. Kaufman, who traces the origins and inspiration for Pioneer Village and its successors to the big nationalist expositions of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, commencing with the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris International Exposition of 1867: the latter had several recreated villages, like the “Austrian” and “Russian Peasant” Villages below. Like Pioneer Village, these were exhibits built for a specific event. Unlike Pioneer Village, they were dismantled after that event. Americans, including residents of Salem and its region, wanted their “history” stay around for longer.
Austrian and Russian Villages, International Exposition of 1867, Paris.
When you look at Pioneer Village as something that was built (and rebuilt) as an expression of civic pride it takes on the cast of a monument rather than a historical resource, at least for me. Another perspective relates to the history of preservation (or preservation technology in particular), one in which I had never explored before in relation to Pioneer Village. Apparently it was very consequential in demolishing the “Log Cabin Myth” which held that every seventeenth-century European arrival lived in a log cabin à la Lincoln. In his classic book of the same name, Howard Shurtleff observed that the myth was “an American belief that is both deep-seated and tenacious” and credited Dow for refuting it: Mr. Dow included in his reconstructed Salem a number of small framed cottages, each provided with a brick or “catted” chimney, and roofed with thatch. Some were walled with weatherboarding, sheathed with material boards, and the intervening space filled with “nogging”—clay, chopped straw and refuse bricks; others were walled with wattle and daub. This “Salem Pioneer Village” still stands (in 1939, when Shurtleff was writing and 20 years later, when his landmark book was reissued) and has proved far more effective than books in refuting the Log Cabin Myth. All of the contemporary commenters on Pioneer Village really emphasized its traditional, “authentic” construction, and this became another point of civic pride as Salem businesses made comparisons between their own productivity and that of their colonial predecessors in annual programs such as “Early American industries portrayed at the Pioneer’s Village, Salem, Mass.” In 1936, the Hygrade-Sylvania company presented an exhibit on early illumination, while the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company sponsored a demonstration of flax weaving and culture and local druggist John E. Heffernan highlighted seventeenth-century herbal medicines. The theme was very much see how far we have come in the midst of the Depression. The national Chronicle of Early American Industries, founded in 1933 and still in print, referenced Pioneer Village in nearly every issue.
Ok, now I’ve hit academic cruise control and could go on for quite some time: but this isn’t a journal article, it’s a blog post. So I’m going to start wrapping up in relation to my questions.
Significance conclusions: clearly Pioneer Village was significant in its time (1930) and for at least two decades thereafter. I think it’s still significant as an example of how a city uses its history, but I do not think it is an educational resource (bear in mind, I teach college students; early childhood educators might have a different opinion). I really think it’s a monument, like the Bewitched statue downtown, but much, much better in the sense that it seeks to highlight achievement and industry rather than exploit tragedy. I don’t have enough information to comment on its current state of repair and whether the original 1930 buildings could even make the move: because the City of Salem has “preserved” the Village it is now an historic artifact and will be subject to review by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. If the move is undertaken, I hope an expert in preservation technology and/or an architectural historian is consulted.
Should it be saved: yes, but with a clear understanding of what it is and what is it supposed to do. I only see logistical rationales for the move in the public discourse.
Will it still be Pioneer Village in Salem Willows? No. It will be something else entirely: a new Pioneer Village. It could be a hybrid Salem: 1630 and Salem: 2026 if the construction integrity of the original structures is preserved through the move, and new structures built utilizing the evidence and knowledge we have gained over the intervening century. The new Village could be a testament to both the Tercentenary spirit of 1930 and the Salem Quadricentenary spirit of 2026. If that was the aim, it would be nice to have Salem craftsmen, architects, and landscape architects involved in creating (rather than recreating) the new Pioneer Village: successors to George Francis Dow and Harlan Kelsey.
What Salem really needs: not a new Pioneer Village, but a new Salem Museum, which would integrate, interpret, and document ALL of Salem’s history: first settlement, Witch Trials, American and Industrial Revolutions, the experience of the Civil and World Wars, native American, African-American, Irish American, Polish American, French Canadian and American, and everything and everyone between. Enough of this “siloed history!” This of course would be the ultimate Quadricentennial achievement and expression.