Tag Archives: Local History

Pristine Postcards

There are so many people interested in Salem’s history now that it gives me hope for the future and tempers some of my anxiety about the ongoing erection of dreadful buildings downtown: as our streetscape becomes less distinct at least our distinguished heritage is appreciated! It does seem to me that there’s more interest, and more intense interest, in the past now but I suppose that has always been the case—-Salem’s history is engaging, after all, and there have been a succession of historical “ambassadors”, for lack of a better term, over the decades and even the centuries. Once I decided I wanted to learn more about Salem’s history, after I had developed all of my medieval and early modern courses, learned to teach them a few times, and been granted tenure, I looked around for some guides and found them in published chroniclers and researchers like the Reverend William Bentley and Sidney Perley, but also in friends and neighbors. There were two lovely men in particular, my Chestnut Street neighbors Babe Dube and Russell Weston, who really piqued my interest with their tales of very material Salem history, and some great postcards. I seem to recall Babe (whose real name was the spectacular Borromee) giving me a stack of old Salem postcards after I oohed and aahed over them—but they must have been Russell’s, as he had amassed quite the collection. They are both gone now so I can’t ask, but I still have the postcards: lovely numbered Essex Institute “Albertype” postcards from the teens and twenties I believe, preserving images of Salem houses (and one Marblehead mansion) in pristine condition, whether they still stand or were swept away.

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Salem Prints Downing HOUSE PC Essex Institute

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Restoration and Renewal

I was going to show you a beautiful Federal house today, with sweeping views and lavish details (and Zuber & Cie wallpaper!), but that will have to wait for the weekend, as I want to acknowledge, and celebrate, the recognition that the #newpem is indeed the new Peabody Essex Museum, an institution which now seems as much grounded in its local heritage as it is focused on its global perspectives. I thought #newpem was just a marketing campaign designed to focus all of our attention on the opening of the new wing, but I was wrong: the “new” in the hashtag is more directly, and substantively, a reference to the venerable museum’s new regime, which began in July when Dr. Brian Kennedy began his tenure as Director and CEO. As all of you know, I’ve been obsessed with the previous director’s decision to remove all of the PEM’s textual collections held in the Phillips Library to a clinical Collection Center in Rowley,  a decision that was not even formally announced to Salem residents, but rather issued in the form of an admission in December of 2017, well after this course of action had been implemented. For me, this was nothing short of the removal of Salem’s primary historical archive. When Dr. Kennedy arrived this summer, I began hoping for some kind of course correction; I perceived his references to Salem’s heritage and the Museum’s founders as hopeful hints and began to hold my breath. Then the Anchor returned to the front of the original Peabody Museum building, East India Hall, and I let it out a little bit. This morning, when I awoke to a summary of his speech before the North Shore Chamber of Commerce in the Salem News I let it out completely, right after I read this particular quote:

“I just have to come out and say that to you,” he said. “It was not done well. It was not done transparently. I don’t know why we thought we couldn’t share it much, much earlier that the buildings we had couldn’t contain this level of material. But they can contain material, and they will. So I pledge that to you, but I just ask you, you have to give me time.”

Yes, the old Plummer and Daland buildings, constituting the former Essex Institute and Phillips Library can contain material, and they will! That’s it: that’s all we need, that’s all Salem needs. What a striking contrast to previous Director Dan Monroe’s assertion, repeated time and time again, that it was IMPOSSIBLE for these buildings to contain anything other than bound volumes of the Essex Institute Historical Collections, which are readily available at the other end of Essex Street in the Salem Public Library. I believe Dr. Kennedy (and will hold him to his pledge, albeit with great liberality).

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20191031_142607N.C. Wyeth’s Peace, Prosperity, and Progress (1923) in one of the atriums of the new Peabody Essex Museum; the anchor returned in September, and in yesterday’s speech Dr. Kennedy also pledged to engage in some Halloween programming—-“Here’s people, Go get them, they are right there”. Now that should be interesting!


Just One Remond Triumph in Salem

I’ve been collecting all sorts of information and anecdotes about the Remonds of Salem, an African-American family who are in the center of many movements and activities in mid-nineteenth-century Salem: they were zealous pursuers of the abolition of slavery and the desegregation of schools and transportation and every aspect of daily life and work, but they also advocated for other forms of social justice in their day, including women’s suffrage and the abolition of capital punishment. They were extremely entrepreneurial: the parents, John and Nancy Remond, served as the resident caterers of Hamilton Hall right, while also operating a number of sideline businesses until well in their seventies, and their children followed suit, pursuing advocacy work and building up successful businesses in the fields that were open to them. I’ve been fascinated with the Remonds—all of the Remonds—for quite some time, I guess ever since I moved into this house, right next door to what was their base of operations at Hamilton Hall, almost twenty years ago. I posted about them several years ago when Salem announced it would be naming a new park after the prominent abolitionists Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond, but I know a lot more now. The Board of Hamilton Hall secured a grant last year to prepare educational materials on the Remonds, and I supervised a Salem State intern named Katherine Stone to help with the research: she uncovered some great family history, I kept going this summer, and I’ll be offering a general presentation of the family’s activities and networks on September 24 and 29 at Hamilton Hall as part of Essex Heritage’s annual Trails and Sails programming.

20190914_205430Some of my Remond files; for some reason I’ve been keeping all of the genealogical information in a notebook I bought in Portugal.

There’s a lot to say about this family: and that’s my central theme, that they worked together as a family, and as part of network of African-American families, both in Salem and up and along the northeastern coast, who all worked together to improve their lives and the lives of other African-Americans at a contentious but somehow still-hopeful time. At least it seems that way to me; I’m not trained in American history so my knowledge is impressionistic. The Remonds are kind of like my window into this time, and they are so gung-ho, I’m like, let’s go! But certainly they had their share of disappointments: they left Salem from 1837 to 1842 after Salem’s schools were re-segregated, transferring all of their energy, entrepreneurialism, and activism to Newport, Rhode Island, and poor Charles Lenox Remond, intrepid agent of the Massachusetts and American Anti-Slavery Societies, was always appealing for reimbursement of his expenses. The networks are so amazing: it’s no accident that Charlotte Forten, now herself the namesake of a Salem park, ended up with the Remonds when they returned and Salem’s schools were desegregated yet again, as well as another famous future educator, Maritcha Remond Lyons.

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Dinner 8Signatures of Susan, Nancy, and Maritcha Remond on a petition to abolish the death penalty, 1850, Harvard Antislavery Petitions Dataverse; Trade card from the Remond Family Papers, courtesy of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum at Rowley, Massachusetts. The Library staff made lovely reproductions of several Remond items for me, and Hamilton Hall, and we’ll be using these in our educational materials.

There’s so much to say that I’m worried that my presentation will not have enough focus: it’s always easier to explain the importance of someone or something if you focus. I wish I could give an entire talk on just one of the Remond’s big dinners—and there were many: for the Marquis de Lafayette, for Chief Justice Joseph Story, for Nathaniel Bowditch, for President John Quincy Adams, and more. But I think the biggest dinner happened TOMORROW in 1828, a feast for the 200th anniversary of the arrival of John Endicott in Salem. It’s probably just because I have more sources for this particular dinner, but it seems to have been a very big deal. The Phillips Library has two menus for the dinner, a clean version and an annotated one: John Remond contracted for a fixed price with the owners of Hamilton Hall for these dinners, but if the number of attendants rose above the agreed-upon number he was paid more. He was not just the cook (in fact, I think Nancy was doing most of the cooking, with his elder daughters Nancy and Susan as they came of age–not for this dinner) he was very much the event planner: and no detail was overlooked. The newspapers recorded every detail of this dinner: all the attendees, all the speeches, and decorations, including “pictures of our distinguished forefathers, and of individuals of more recent date, whose characters, and whose services, were not forgotten in the libations of gratitude poured out upon this joyous occasion.” The article in The Salem Observer also noted “the tables loaded with the richest viandes, and the most delicious wines and fruits served up in elegant style by Mr. Remond. In the centre of the Hall, stood the identical table which belonged to Governor Endicott, and covered with a profusion of pears recently gathered from the tree which he planted.” [Where is that Endicott table?]

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Courtesy Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

And then we have another, anonymous, account of a visitor who was in town for the big anniversary celebration and dinner. It was quite a day, a “grand celebration” in which it “seemed as if all Boston had moved to Salem. Many great men there beside myself.” This observer is constantly remarking upon the festivity of the day and wondering what the Puritan people of Endicott’s day would think of it: at the North Church for the anniversary program, he finds “the house blazing with beauty and fashion. Contrasted ladies with Puritan mothers. Imagined good dames of 1628 coming into assembly, and finding daughters decked out in such trim. Guessed they’d make fine havoc of laced veils, flounced petticoats, love-locks (???) and whole alphabet of sinful finery.” By the time that dinner rolls around in the later afternoon, however, our anonymous observer has forgotten 1628 and is completely in the culinary moment.

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Turk's Caps Book of Cakes

Salem Observer, September 27, 1828; turn-of-the-century Turk’s Caps from the Book of Cakes (1903) by T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley.

Tables loaded with dainties of all climes…..went through the whole bill of fare from oyster-patties to transmogrified pigeon. Thought Remond best cook in the universe. I guess he still has 1628 on his mind a bit (before he gets into the champagne), as he “wonders what Pilgrim Dads would have said to such a carnival.” This is a colorful illustration of the authority that Mr. Remond (he is generally referred to as Mr., though also by just his last name) held throughout his career, and it is very clear from all the references I have collected that this is an authority that extended to his family, and that came not only from their professional achievements but also their role in the community, in Salem. So I just have to establish this is my presentation in the most succinct, but yet revealing and representative, way. And regarding this menu: it looks impressive and exotic to us, but these are some pretty conventional dishes for the early 19th century, with recipes that can be found in a succession of European and American cookbooks. I explored Pigeons Transmogrified here, Green Turtle soup is everywhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and teals are small ducks. Molded jellies are also very popular in this time, and a “Turk’s Cap” was a tubed and scalloped mold used primarily for cakes: in Remond’s time they look like pottery versions of a bundt-cake mold, but later on they were made of cast iron and resemble muffin tins. The use of the plural in the menu suggests individual little cakes to me, and Nancy Remond was by all account a spectacular baker well-ahead of her time–but I’m not sure her Turk’s Caps would have been quite as “Victorian” as those above. So here you have the other challenge before me: not letting the delicious little details get in the way of the big picture.


Losing our History? Two Years Later……Where are We with the PEM?

Two years ago tomorrow,  the temporary location of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum shut down rather abruptly with a succinct notice of when it would be reopening but no reference to where. As the Library is the primary repository of documents relating to Salem’s history, there were concerns among scholars (including a friend of mine who was writing her dissertation based on materials in the Phillips and was quite suddenly shut out), but I don’t think the general public was too concerned: increasing inaccessibility in terms of hours–and then location—had been the trend for about a decade. I had never really depended on the Phillips for research or teaching (only this blog) so this was a big wake-up call for me:  I started thinking, what if it is not coming back? And then a few months later, in early December: the big non-announcement at a meeting of the Salem Historical Commission. The Phillips Library of Salem was no more: all of its holdings would be deposited in a giant Collection Center in Rowley, a half hour to the north. The special library—consolidated from collections of both the Peabody Museum and Essex Institute and housed in the spectacular purpose-built Plummer Hall on Essex Street—would now be part of a much larger modern warehouse of texts and objects located on a commercial strip of Route One. An Indiana Jones image formed in my mind, and the contrast between the genteel, accessible Plummer Hall and the post-modern former toy factory seemed too cruel, even discounting the distance factor.

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Early 2018 was all about resistance and defense: there was a very dramatic public forum at the Museum during which then-PEM CEO Dan Monroe justified his decision according to the priority of preservation: it was impossible to house these materials in Salem due to the deficiencies of the Plummer and adjoining Daland buildings and there was no other sufficient space in the city.  The “preservation vs. location” argument is still authoritative: with no discussion of why the PEM did not use the substantial monies donated to it for the library to improve and expand these facilities in Salem. Also still with us is the conflation of objects and texts, justifying the move to the Rowley storage center; the Phillips Library literally gets lost in this configuration. There was lots of press coverage in January, 2018: in both the Salem News and the Boston Globe, where a front-page story included the quote below from Mr. Monroe of which I just can’t let go. A “Friends of the Phillips Library” group, established right after the December 2017 Historical Commission meeting, expanded its presence on Facebook and eventually launched its own website, which remains the essential archive of this story.

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The official way forward seemed to be through a “working group” established by the Mayor of Salem, Kimberley Driscoll, and Mr. Monroe and including members of the city’s heritage organizations, most of which (with the exception of Historic Salem, Inc. and the Salem Athenaeum) were silent during the uproar and remain so. Almost immediately the PEM announced a compromise: a reading room would be reinstated in Plummer Hall (although what would actually be in this reading room is still unknown), a Salem history exhibit installed next door, and rotating exhibits of Phillips Library materials would be installed in the main museum buildings down and across Essex Street. I don’t think we’ve really moved much beyond this agreement, but there were also discussions about digitization, as the focus on the historical collections revealed just how far behind the PEM was in such initiatives, despite misleading news stories to the contrary. Once the library collections were moved to Rowley, digitization of some of the Phillips’ most popular items began, and consequently we can now see Frank Cousins’ photographs of Salem in the 1890s at the Digital Commonwealth and a variety of interesting texts at the Internet Archive. I give all credit for this ongoing development to Collections chief and Library Director John D. Childs, as I remember him stating that digitization was a priority at the January 2018 forum, while Dan Monroe would only offer that it was “expensive”.

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Witch of New EnglandEntrance to the George Peabody Estate, “Kernwood”, in North Salem, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives at the Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth; just one Phillips text at the Internet Archive.

And that brings us to the biggest development in these two years: the retirement of Dan Monroe, effective this past July. The new director of the PEM, Brian Kennedy, is not only an experienced museum administrator, but also a scholar, who began his first day at the Museum with a staff meeting in East India Hall referencing the vision of the founders of the Essex Institute and Peabody Museum. This was encouraging to those of us on the outside, as the founders were overwhelmingly Salem men who believed that they were contributing to a repository of Salem history and culture, but we must remember that Mr. Kennedy is learning the lay of the land and that only one trustee on the PEM’s Board is a resident of Salem. The will of the founders—and successive donors—has always been the most pressing factor in my mind: I asked Mr. Monroe about “donor intent” at the January 2018 forum but he expressed no concerns. However, I’ve heard many, many, many concerns here (and in emails) from many of you. Both founder and donor intent can rise to the level of legal action, of course, and are administered within the purview of the office of the Attorney General. Very soon after the “non-announcement” of the move, we found the Essex Institute’s incorporation charter from 1821, which asserted specifically that its “cabinet” be situated in Salem. We assumed that this article was made null and void years ago, or at the very least through the merger of the Institute and Peabody Museum in 1992, but apparently that is not the case.

Essex Institute Incorporation

And so at the invitation of Mr. Michael Harrington, former Congressman and present owner of the Hawthorne Hotel who has taken a very active interest in this “case”, a group of concerned citizens, heritage professionals, and local political leaders met with Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff this past eventful July. It was a great meeting to which I was privileged to be invited. Ms. Healey listened intently to us over several hours, and explained the process by which the PEM has to petition the court to be released from the above article, a process that is overseen by her office. Apparently the PEM has not initiated this process (at least formally) yet, but can at any time, and presumably will (although they haven’t indicated that they were bound by any restrictions to date, so I’m wondering if things will just continue as they are). I voiced all of the concerns I’ve written about and heard here at this meeting, as well as my belief that the removal of the Phillips Library will cause economic harm to Salem over the long run, as the city has no professional historical society or museum to take its place. When history is only for sale, money determines everything: the topic, the take, the truth.

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I’m not sure what will happen now; obviously the Attorney General’s office is invested in this issue but it has been for some time. The Peabody Essex Museum is focused, with good reason, on opening its brand new wing at the end of September and branding itself as the #newpem. No doubt Mr. Kennedy is preoccupied with that, and with learning all about his new institution. Not only has the new wing been completed recently but substantive renovations to both the interiors and exteriors of the Plummer and Daland buildings are ongoing: the 1960s “stacks” addition has been shorn off, and many wonder where the Phillips materials could be housed if they were returned to Salem. The PEM had a viable plan for the expansion of the Phillips Library in these buildings and in Salem, but that plan was abandoned in favor of the new wing and Collection Center in Rowley.

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So I think that’s where we are, but any good summary should also include what remains to be seen, or what I still don’t understand. After two years of immersion in this very singular issue: these are the concerns, problems, and questions that still linger in my mind:

  1. I don’t understand why the City didn’t try harder to retain our history. It’s been dawning on me for some time that this entire proceeding reveals more about the City of Salem than the Peabody Essex Museum. Recently I’ve heard that the City’s tourism office, Destination Salem, plans to focus on genealogy or “roots” tourism over the next few years. This makes sense on one level, as this is the most dynamic trend in the tourism industry currently and Salem is Ellis Island for many Anglo-Americans, but it makes no sense on another, as Salem has no genealogical records because they are all in Rowley.
  2. I don’t understand how the Phillips Library is going to survive as a library in Rowley: a real library, with regular patrons, events, talks, exhibits and a sense of community. I can understand how it will exist as a repository, but not a library. Every research library I’ve ever worked in–the Folger, Houghton, the Massachusetts Historical Society—is an active gathering place, but I can’t see people gathering at that sterile place in Rowley. It’s a professional operation to be sure, and researchers will go there to do their research, but that’s about it. I guess that’s what the PEM wants, as the promise to offer exhibitions of Phillips collections is being kept, with a Hawthorne exhibition opening next month in the new wing, in Salem.
  3. Speaking of comparable research libraries, I don’t understand why a “Harvard Depository” system cannot be utilized with the Phillips Library, retaining the offsite Collection Center as a storage facility from which materials can be retrieved and brought to the MAIN Library, which could be reinstated in the Plummer and Daland buildings on Essex Street in Salem. This would solve the storage issue and retain the traditional space, place, and role of the Phillips Library, and it could be operated as an accessible facility that would serve researchers and the general (curious) public. I’m sure there’s a reason why this can’t happen, but I wish I knew what it was, as it seems like the reasonable solution to a layperson like me, and one which would benefit all parties: the PEM, the City of Salem, and the Phillips Library itself.

The Architecture of Memory

I suppose it’s a bit melancholy to be dwelling on cemeteries in the midst of a golden August but the community conversation around the proposed closure of Salem’s oldest cemetery, the Old Burying Point on Charter Street, during October when it is besieged by crowds, has my head spinning in several directions. I’m thinking about preservation, education, memory, and reverence, public history and family history. Cemeteries are more complicated than I thought, but generations past valued these spaces in ways worthy of revisiting, and to do so I started searching through some old photographs of Charter Street, most by Frank Cousins, whose large collection of glass plate negatives has recently been digitized by the Peabody Essex Museum and Digital Commonwealth. There are no people in Cousins’ photographs of Salem cemeteries in the 1890s and 1910s, so they don’t shed any light on social practices, but the fact that he made so many photographs of both graveyards and gravestones is a testament to their perceived value in the urban landscape. I always thought of Cousins as primarily an architectural photographer, but of course cemeteries are a form of architecture, and he was also a contemporary of Harriette Merrifield Forbes (1856-1951), whose Early New England Gravestones and the Men who Made Them, 1653-1800 (1927) was a groundbreaking work on colonial funerary art. Forbes included Charter Street gravestones in her work, and I think every single regional guidebook from this fledgling age of heritage tourism drew Salem visitors to the Old Burying Point in general and the graves of Bradstreet, Mather, Lindall, Hathorne, McIntire, More (and more) in particular.

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Charter Street LindallIt seems as if Timothy Lindall’s gravestone has always been in the spotlight.

Cousins photographed all of Salem’s cemeteries–the “newer” ones, Greenlawn and Harmony Grove as well as the Colonial grounds, Broad, Howard, and Boston Streets—but he really focused on Charter Street, in more ways than one. We see all the details of the individual stones as well as the big picture, including a built context which is very different now. The photographs are just beautiful, and important, as he captured fragile objects for all time.

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The fragility of these memorials is very apparent when we compare Cousins’ photographs to their condition today (though I am not the photographer that Cousins was obviously and I think black-and-white really serves cemetery photography better). Of course time wears everything down, and the competing demands of Salem’s rich material heritage necessitate prioritization: as I said in my last post, I think the City should be commended for its preservation initiatives of recent years. But we really need to remember that these memorials are going to deteriorate under the best of conditions, and the intense crowds of every October are the worst of conditions.

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Charter Cousins Mores Collage

pixlr-4I feel particularly bad for Mr. and Mrs. Nutting, put to rest in a lovely calm neighborhood and now in the midst of the Salem Witch Village! And I really wish that Cousins had photographed my very favorite Charter Street gravestone: that of Mr. Ebenezer Bowditch. What are those carvings? Does anyone know?

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When our descendants look at photographs of the Old Burying Point in our time a century from now, what will they see? I really hope it’s these weathered but still-stately stones, and not the props I saw when I searched through several social media sites with the hashtag #salemcemetery. This is just a sampling, I’m sorry to say.

pixlr-5Old Burying Point Cemetery, Charter Street, Salem, October 2017 & 2018.


Parachuting Perspectives

Every day this summer, I have seen relatively large groups of tourists right next door at Hamilton Hall, and heard their tour guides telling them stories—the same old stories every day, which of course are new to these tourists, but not so to me. I think there is a proclivity for historical narratives in Salem, established in large part by the Witch Trials which are understood best through the prism of personal relationships. Local history is necessarily an exercise in “truffle-hunting” to use the analogy of the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, who famously divided all historians into camps of truffle-hunters, searching every little detail out in the archives, and parachutists, who summarized all those details into the big picture, exposing trends and patterns. But both truffle-hunters and parachutists aim to discover, not just tread over the same territory again and again. There’s a tendency to tread over familiar ground in Salem, but the Salem story looks different if it is viewed as only part of a much larger picture. In my academic work, I always try to balance the anecdotal and the general, but blogging definitely favors the former—so every once in a while I take a deep dive into some texts hoping to broaden my frame of reference: after all, I started this blog not only to indulge my curiosity about Salem’s history, but also to learn some American history, which I last “studied” as a teenager!  This summer, I have been slowly working through a pile of recently-published books which offer wider, comparative perspectives on colonial history: most offer the perspective of an Anglo-Atlantic world, in which Salem played a role, but not always a large one. These parachuting perspectives are not from very high up (as the Atlantic World was hardly exclusively Anglo, after all), but just high enough so we can see some things that are not apparent on the ground.

Slavery

Sean D. Moore’s Slavery and the Making of Early American Libraries is an astonishing book, forging connections between the histories of the slave trade and the book trade over a century, and drawing upon the records of the Salem Athenaeum. The impact of the slave trade is multi-dimensional, and here we see its cultural impact, from both transatlantic and local perspectives.

 

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Atlantic history can be very tangible as these recent offerings in the robust field of Anglo-American material cultural demonstrate. I picked up Zara Anishanslin’s extraordinary Portrait of a Woman in Silk earlier this year when I wanted to find some context for the portraits of the silken-garbed Lynde ladies of Salem; the collection of essays in A Material World include two with a Salem focus: by Emily Murphy, Curator at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and Patricia Johnston, formerly my colleague at Salem State and now at Holy Cross. Even more expansive views of the material Atlantic world, in terms of topics, time, and places, are Building the British Atlantic World, an anthology edited by Daniel Maudlin and Bernard L. Herman, and Robert DuPlessis’s The Material Atlantic.

 

Books Inn Civility

Well obviously Inn Civility is one of the best titles ever! I haven’t read this book yet, but anyone with only the slightest knowledge of the American Revolution (such as myself) knows that taverns played a key role, and I’ve always been fascinated with Salem’s many taverns, so I’m looking forward to delving in.

 

Books winship-m_hot-protestants

Another great title, but more importantly a much-needed transatlantic history of Puritanism (I see that David Hall has another Atlantic history of Puritanism coming out in the fall, but Winship was first). I’m going to use this book in my Reformation courses, and I wish everyone in Salem would read it, because the general view of Puritanism here is strictly simplistic and stereotypical. In our secular society, it’s not easy (or particularly pleasant) to get into the mind of a Puritan, but you’ve got to try if you want to understand seventeenth-century Salem society.

 

Climate change

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And finally, views that are somewhat removed—though elemental– and closer at hand: climate and comparative history. Environmental history has always been an underlying theme in my teaching, as the “Medieval Warm Period” and “Little Ice Age” are key factors in medieval and early modern European history: I haven’t read any American environmental history so thought I would start with Anya Zilberstein’s A Temperate Empire. And Mark Peterson’s City-State of Boston has been by my bedside ever since it came out for a very parochial reason: everyone knows that Boston’s rise is Salem’s fall.


There is Light

A large part of the frustration many in Salem felt at the removal of Salem’s archival heritage contained in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in 2017 was due to the fact that so little of these materials had been digitized: a tiny fraction, with no guarantees of more to come. I do think it was surprising to many just how far behind comparable institutions the PEM was in the process of increasing access to its collections, and this vulnerability certainly made it easy for nattering nabobs like me to criticize their complete, non-compensated removal. But a few months ago we began to hear of some major digitization initiatives, and yesterday was a truly joyous day, as the PEM uploaded its newly-digitized collection of glass plate negatives by the Salem photographer Frank Cousins (1851-1925) to the Digital Commonwealth site, enabling access to thousands of historic images of streets, houses, objects and people in Salem and other towns and cities from c. 1890-1920, just like that. I’ve been waiting for these images for a decade, browsing the printed catalog of negatives regularly, knowing exactly what was there, and what I could not see, what we all could not see. And then suddenly we could.

Cousins TeamThe Frank Cousins “Team”/ Employees’ carriage in the Columbus Day parade in Salem, 1892, Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum: Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives via Digital Commonwealth.

It was a little overwhelming going through these images, which include several cities (lots of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and quite a few New England towns—Cousins was a publisher of both books and photographs with his own art company as well as his retail store, the Bee-Hive, on Essex Street, and he was also an early preservation consultant), but of course I was only interested in the Salem images. Oddly, I became a bit……anxious, even tearful, going through them, both because it was so amazing to see structures and streets I had only imagined, and then I realized what we had lost: both to the Great Salem Fire of 1914 (on this very day!) and later “redevelopment”. My friend, former student, and fellow blogger Jen Ratliff, a fierce archivist who is just as invested in all of this as I am, was a bit overwhelmed as well, so we decided to conduct a little cross-blogging experiment so that we could focus: we each chose our top ten Cousins images and are linking to each other’s posts: so you (and I!) can see her picks at History by the SeaI’m very curious to see if we have some common choices–or completely divergent ones! [update: they are totally different]

So here are my top ten Frank Cousins images from the Phillips Library Collection of his glass plate negatives, accessed through Digital Commonwealth (I’m not counting the Cousins Team above, that’s a freebie):

One. Lost houses and a lost street, named after a lost creek, with a lost church (the South Church on Chestnut Street, which burned down in 1903) in the background:  Creek Street, c. 1890.

Cousins_00461 Creek Street

 

Two. Norman Street, a street which has been obliterated by redevelopment and traffic—what is left of it is still being obliterated by the latter now. This is an astonishing image if you are familiar with the present-day Norman Street.

Cousins_00805 Norman Street

 

Three. The amazing Doyle House at 33 Summer Street, right next to Samuel McIntire’s house, both destroyed for the horrible Holyoke Mutual Building that was built in the 1930s and still stands on the block that extends from Norman to Gedney along Summer Streets. Look at how many additions this house had! Love the plank walks and garden layout too.

Cousins_02453 33 Summer Street

 

Four. The Pease and Price Bakery at 13 High Street, which was destroyed by fire on June 25, 1914, along with over 1300 other structures. This marks an important fire boundary—all the structures on the other side of High Street were saved: it’s very apparent when you walk down this street today.

Cousins_00463 13 High Street Pease and Price Bakery

 

Five. Photographs of lower Federal Street are hard to find: love these houses at 13-15, long gone. Their site is a parking lot now, of course.

Cousins 13 Federal

 

Six. A storefront window of Cousins’ own shop, the Bee-Hive, on Essex Street. I zoomed in a bit (this is another freebie, not #7!) so you could see what was for sale: shirtwaists and more, the Great Sale of Ladies Cotton! The Essex House, also long-gone, was right next door.

Cousins_00881 Store

Cousins Close Up

 

Seven. A Jacobean Monk table and chair. (plus unidentified man). Cousins photographed the collections of the Essex Institute and Peabody Museum as well: for the former, furniture was dragged out to the street where I presume there was better light. I love all of these “posing furniture” shots.

Cousins_03011 Jacobean Monk Table and Chair

 

Eight. 51 Boston Street, “The Senate”. The people, the signs, the cobblestone streets……another lost building, this time to the Fire, as it was situated just about at the center of its outbreak.

Cousins_01258 51 Boston Street the Senate

 

Nine. The Clifford Crowninshield House on lower Essex Street (on the left)–my only survivor among these images! This house has been a favorite of mine for quite some time, and it’s a bit run-down, so it’s nice to see it in better condition. I knew there must have been a window in that center entrance gable!

Cousins_00147 Clifford Crowninshield House

 

Ten. Laying the cornerstone for St. James Church on Federal Street, August 31, 1892. Just a great shot: Cousins was more of a documentarian than an artistic photographer but this image has both qualities.

Cousins St. James Church laying cornerstone

 

It was very tough to limit my choices to ten, but I’m sure more photographs from this amazing and now-accessible collection will work their way into my blog in the future: now go over to Jen’s blog for her picks!

Update: Now we also have the top ten Cousins picks of another friend, former student, and fellow Salem blogger, Alyssa Conary.


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