Today is Halloween; today is Reformation Day, the day that Martin Luther posted—or otherwise “published”— his Ninety-five Theses, a scathing and immediately-accessible critique of the abuses of the Catholic Church which launched a Reformation that would divide and alter western Christendom in myriad ways, changes which are still ongoing today. I live in Reformation Land all year long as most of the courses I teach are centered on this era: it’s either in the foreground or the background, a trigger, a factor, a cause or a culmination. But I also live in Salem, which is increasingly Halloween Land all year long. Usually I dwell in the former and shut out the latter as much as possible until the big night, but on October 31 I think I should be able to “celebrate” both, and when a former student sent me an image of Ninety-five Reeses the other day I realized I could!
Frederick Kemmelmeyer’s portrait of Luther, National Gallery of Art+the carved pumpkins on my neighbor’s front stoop; Frederick the Wise’s Dream and the beginning of the Reformation, October 31, 1517, Library of Congress; Cranach’s Schlosskirche in Wittenberg; the viral meme that inspired me: 95 Reeses!
Well obviously there have been a succession of trick-or-treating/ Wittenberg memes in social media circulation over the last decade or so, but I found this one particularly inspirating, so much so, I even made my own: of individual Reese’s cups. History and candy: the perfect combination.
At the center of Raleigh is the North Carolina Capitol building, in the midst of Capitol Square, surrounded by more than a dozen monuments to the memory of statesmen and soldiers. The most recent installation (1990) is the North Carolina Veterans Monument, while the tallest memorial is the monument erected “to our Confederate dead” in 1892, and the only monument referencing women is the 1914 statue honoring the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy. The Raleigh-Durham area has seen several intense protests against Confederate monuments over the past several years, resulting in the toppling of the Robert E. Lee and “Silent Sam” statues in Durham and Chapel Hill, but this past August the special “Confederate Monuments Study Committee” of the North Carolina Historical Commission voted that the Capitol monuments should stay in place, despite the request for removal from North Carolina governor Roy Cooper and the Committee’s own opinion that the statues are “an over-representation and over-memorialization of a difficult era in NC history.”
I would have to agree with that characterization, particularly of the Women of the Confederacy statue, which depicts a woman as a mother-historian, reading the heroic tales (I presume) of war to her sword-bearing son. The towering Confederate Dead statue nearby (which was very difficult to photograph) features anonymous soldiers and a rather simple message of honoring the dead, and so is perhaps not as confrontational as a statue of an individual and identified Civil War soldier, though there is also a monument to Henry Lawson Wyatt, purported to be the first Confederate soldier killed in action, on the Capitol grounds. In announcing its decision to let these statues stand, the state Commission called for additional interpretation, “to provide a balanced context and accounting of the monuments’ erection in their time in political history” as well as the erection of additional monuments honoring the contributions of North Carolina’s African-American citizens. I did not see such context, nor equal monumental representation, but we are less than a year out from this ruling and a long-term effort to establish an adjacent “Freedom Park,” designed by architect Phil Freelon, the leader of the design team for the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture, appears to have accelerated over the past year.
Plan for the proposed “Freedom Park” and monument in Raleigh.
As I wandered around Capitol Square this past weekend looking at all of its installations with my historical and decidedly northern (even more decidedly Massachusetts) perspective, I had the most visceral reaction to a monument which wasn’t even mentioned in the recent debate over Confederate memorials in North Carolina: that dedicated to Samuel A’Court Ashe in 1940. Ashe obviously lived a full life and was revered by many in his native state, but all I could see when I read this plaque was heroic defender of Fort Wagner. Just a few weeks before I was wandering another hallowed ground, Salem’s Harmony Grove Cemetery, where I saw the graves of several men who served with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first Civil War military unit comprised of African-American soldiers to be raised in the North. The soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th distinguished themselves during the assault on strategic Fort Wagner, which guarded the entrance to Charleston Harbor, at great cost, losing 281 men on July 18, 1863: 54 confirmed casualties (including commanding officer Robert Gould Shaw), 179 wounded, 48 simply lost, while the Confederate troops inside were reportedly “maddened and infuriated at the sight of Negro troops.” Their sacrifice confirmed their promise of hope and glory, in the words of Massachusetts Governor John Andrew, and was memorialized later by the Augustus Saint-Gaudens monument on Boston Common (1897), Robert Lowell’s poem “For the Union Dead”, and the 1989 film Glory. Ashe, the defender of Fort Wagner, has much to say about the war and its commemoration, as his long post-war career was characterized by prolific writing (and Confederate commemoration advocacy) both as a newspaper editor and historian. In his History of North Carolina, he makes no mention of the Massachusetts 54th at Fort Wagner, but only of “the splendid heroism and devotion of the North Carolina troops”, and his “historical” analysis of the causes of the Civil War focuses almost exclusively on the policies of an “unpatriotic” Abraham Lincoln, whom he never refers to as President: it is not true, as Lincoln said, that without slavery there would have been no secession. It was the absence of the spirit of compromise on the part of Lincoln and his party that brought about secession in 1861….Secession would have been averted if Lincoln had copied the example of his patriotic predecessors. But he made his anti-slavery feeling his ‘paramount object’ instead of his desire to save the Union. He was revered as “that stainless leader of the Lost Cause” in the 1940 address given at the dedication of his monument. Frankly, I don’t want to read anything more about or by Mr. Ashe, and the next time I am in Raleigh I will give his memorial a very wide berth.
The monument dedicated to Samuel A’Court Ashe in Raleigh’s Capitol Square and one of his telling titles; the Boston Common monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th by Augustus Saint-Gaudens: two memorials which reference Fort Wagner, and the Civil War, in very different ways. The grave of Salem native of Luis Fenollosa Emilio, a Captain of the Mass. 54th who survived Fort Wagner and lived to tell their tale in ABraveBlackRegiment (1894).
I was out and about in Lexington and Concord last week as my favorite nurseries are in that area, and between bouts of perusing plants I walked around Lexington Green and along the Battle Road at the Minute Man National Historic Park. In both locales you will see eighteenth-century “witness houses” which overlooked the opening acts of the Revolutionary War and now stand as physical reminders. The National Park Service also utilizes “witness trees” to enhance historical interpretation, particularly at Civil War sites. Certainly both the houses and the trees add to the ambiance of these historic landscapes, but their roles are much more important than that. The trees might bear scars, the houses might have served as refuges or makeshift hospitals: every physical remainder is a reference point or a touchstone. One can grasp their landmark status immediately by glancing at photographic records like Alexander Gardner’s photographic sketchbooks of the Civil War, which documented the contemporary significance of the Matthews House in Manassas and the Burnside Bridge in Antietam among other structures: the house still stands as does the sycamore tree by the bridge, connecting us to the past with their very presence.
Pages from Gardner’s Sketchbook, Volume One at Duke University Library’s Digital Repository; the Stone House and Burnside Bridge at Manassas National Battlefield Park and Antietam National Battlefield.
The importance of place—both in general and in many specific instances—can also be gleaned from accounts of the long process of reconciliation and remembrance following the Civil War. The grave of Calvin Townes, a Salem shoemaker who fought and was wounded with the valiant 1st Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery at Spotsylvania, drew me into the heady history of memorialization for and by these men, who lost 55 of their comrades at the “engagement” at Harris Farm on May 19, 1864, and 484 men during the entire war. The surviving members of the Regiment met annually after the war, and raised funds for a monument on the battlefield near the farmhouse which was the focus of so much of their collective remembrance. The monument was dedicated in 1901; it endures but unfortunately Harris Farm does not, despite its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places: it was purchased by a developer in 2014 and rather promptly demolished.
Calvin Townes of the First Regiment; the surviving Regiment at Salem Willows, 1890; Memorials at Spotsylvania and in the Essex Institute, from the History of the First Regiment of Heavy Artillery, Massachusetts Volunteers, formerly the Fourteenth Regiment of Infantry, 1861-1865 (1917); the demolished Harris Farm.
Revolutionary remembrance does not seem as intense, or we don’t have as much evidence of its expressions. Nor do we have opportunities for dramatic photographic contrasts, but the witness houses of Lexington and Concord remind us that these 1775 battles took place within a very human context—-settlements, not barren battlefields. And they also played their roles within the narrative of events. In Lexington Center the houses are privately-owned, and located around the Green; along the Battle Road they are part of the public park.
The Munroe House on Lexington Green (which is presently for sale); the Smith House, Hartwell hearth and Tavern, Minute Man National Historic Park.
The term “witness” implies to something: an act or an event. Salem’s historic structures witnessed many events: the arrival of precious cargoes, military maneuvers, political parades, the progress of transportation technology, fires, men going off to war, hordes of Halloween revelers. But of course one event looms large over Salem’s long history: the Salem Witch Trials. There is only one surviving structure which “witnessed” that tragedy: the Jonathan Corwin House, better-known (unfortunately) as the Witch House. Despite Salem’s (unfortunate) dependence on the witch trade, it bears remembering that the Corwin house was not saved and restored by the City, but rather by Historic Salem, Inc., which was founded in 1944 for the purposes of saving the storied house (and its neighbor, the Bowditch House) from demolition due to the widening of Route 114, one of Salem’s major entrance corridors. After its slight relocation and restoration (or recreation? or creation?) by the Boston architect Gordon Robb, the Witch House opened to the public in 1948. Historic Salem, Inc. went on to play key roles in preventing full-scale urban redevelopment in the later 1960s and early 1970s and advocating for both preservation and sensitive redevelopment for decades—a particularly pressing responsibility now. This year marks its 75th anniversary, a notable achievement which will be celebrated this very weekend with an eventat the Hawthorne Hotel. Come one and all, and congratulations to HSI!
The Jonathan Corwin (Witch) House, in all of its incarnations in an early 20th century postcard, Historic New England; in 1947 as restored by Gordon Robb and Historic Salem, Inc., and photographed by Harry Sampson, and in the tourist attraction in the 1950s, Arthur Griffin via Digital Commonwealth.
So many materials, locked away in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, undigitized, unheralded, unshared, undervalued and underutilized. Perhaps the digitized catalog will bring scholars to Rowley but they will have to be on the hunt: the Museum clearly does not have the inclination to blaze the trail. This was not always the case: a century and more ago, both of the PEM’s predecessors, the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum, were determined to share the stories of their collections to as wide an audience as was then possible. This week, like many historically-minded people in Massachusetts, I’m thinking about the insurgent American Revolution: that’s what mid-April is all about here. We have the 382nd Annual Muster on Salem Common this weekend along with a Glover’s Regiment encampment over in Marblehead, and then all the events associated with Patriots Day in Lexington and Concord on Monday. As has become my habit, I looked through the catalog of the Phillips to see what I am missing–what all of us are missing— about the historical significance of this time. The diaries always catch my attention (the Phillips is particularly rich in diaries) and one looked really interesting: that of William Russell of Boston, a Tea Partier and later clerk to the dashing privateer Captain John Manley, commander of the Continental ship Jason, which was captured in 1779. He then became a prisoner of war and recorded conditions as such in the Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England during the duration of the war. There is a list of his fellow prisoners as well as the ships from whence they came, and additional notes and annotations by his grandson James Kimball, a Salem resident who published the diary and presented his manuscript copy to the Essex Institute, where Ralph Paine mined it for several chapters in his 1908 book The Ships and Sailors of Old Salem; the Record of a Brilliant Era of American Achievement, calling it “by far the most complete and entertaining account of the experience of the Revolutionary privateersmen and naval seamen who suffered capture that has been preserved”. Here we have an example where (I think–I stand ready to be corrected by historians of the Revolution) an antiquarian and annotated copy has been more influential than the original source, which is part of the Boston Public Library’s collection of American Revolutionary War Manuscripts.
The opening page of William Russell’s wartime diary & the warrant for his arrest in December of 1779, Boston Public Library; woodcut broadside illustration of the famous Captain Manley of Marblehead, Peabody Essex Museum.
If this is true, it will not be so for much longer: the Boston Public Library is committed to digitization, collective transcription and open access while the PEM clearly is not (yet, we have hopes), so the primary source will eclipse the copy if it has not already. I’m drawn to the PEM Russell diary because it speaks to the activities and inclinations of his grandson, James Kimball, almost as much as it does to William Russell himself, and also to the role played by the Essex Institute in later nineteenth-century Salem. Around the time of the Centennial, James Kimball, a former Salem shoemaker and current county commissioner, clearly devoted himself to the chronicling of the Revolutionary activities of his grandfather, giving public talks at both the Salem Lyceum and the Essex Institute and publishing several papers in the Historical Collections of the latter, and ultimately the annotated prison diary. The Essex Institute gave him a genealogical and historical forum, and created a far more lively public discourse of Salem’s past and the American past than seems possible now.
History is as much about the remembrance of things past as the past, but I don’t want the former to take precedence over the latter, especially as we approach Patriots Day and should be mindful of the heroism and the sacrifices of our Revolutionary forebears. Russell was clearly heroic, but his sacrifices were overwhelming–maybe that’s what motivated his grandson a century later. He was in captivity at the Old Mill Prison for two and a-half years, when he was exchanged, but only 20 days after his liberation he was imprisoned again, this time in the horrible, hulking British prisoner ship Jersey, anchored off New York. And there he remained until the end of the war, after which he returned to Boston (actually Cambridge) to resume his civilian and family life, but “with health shattered by reason of his years of hardship as a prisoner of war…consumption gripped him and he died in the following year on March 7, 1784 at the age of thirty-five. He had given the best years of his life to his country and he died for its cause with as much indomitable heroism and self-sacrificing devotion as though musket ball or boarding pike had slain him” in the 1908 words of Ralph Paine. And the story doesn’t even end there: Russell’s son and namesake (and Kimball’s uncle) grew up to be a master mariner, and was taken captive by the British during the War of 1812 and imprisoned in……Old Mill Prison! Russell Jr. suffered a much shorter confinement than his father, but still: think about the sacrifices of two generations of a family, and the devotion of a third.
The national discussion over Confederate war memorials is centered on the implicit question: who owns history? Often that is a question that is difficult to answer because in fact everyone owns history. Interpreted in a material way, however, it’s possible to be more literal: in terms of sources, for example, it is quite apparent that the Peabody Essex Museum owns Salem’s history. The PEM’s Phillips Library, the third largest museum library in the United States, is the largest repository of historical records of Salem and Essex County by far: its holdings encompass the papers and records of innumerable Salem families and organizations, the definitive collection of Hawthorniana, all sorts of records relating to Salem’s China Trade, including logbooks, customs records, merchant account books, hand-colored plates of ships, maps, and the Frederick Townsend Ward collection, one of the world’s largest collections of Western-language materials on Imperial China. The Library holds a million historic photographs, including rare nineteenth-century views of Asia, the archives of Edwin Hale Lincoln, Frank Cousins and Samuel Chamberlain, and the complete North American Indian portfolio of Edward S. Curtis. The Edward Sylvester Morse collection of Japanese language books is just one small part of a 400,000-volume collection which began in 1799. The physical size of the entire collection is best expressed by numbers: 5000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 1000 linear feet of archives, 3,000 linear feet of newspapers, 135 linear feet of ephemera and nearly 5000 reels of microforms. The bulk of this collection was compiled when the Phillips Library was part of the Essex Institute (established in 1848), which merged with the Peabody Museum to form the new Peabody Essex Museum in 1992. As part of a new, ever-expanding museum which privileges the global and the sensational over the local and the historical, the Phillips Library’s mission has clearly changed: to what I do not know. But more importantly, it has become increasingly restrictive and inaccessible, and absent: it was closed for renovations in 2011 and its collections were moved to a facility in Peabody and now it is moving on to another (temporary?) facility even further away, in Rowley. According to one succinct statement regarding this move, and supposedly to facilitate it, all access to collections will be suspended from September 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018.
Gentlemen in the Phillips c. 1885, and ladies outside Plummer Hall on Essex Street, which housed the Library for over a century; Logbook from the ship Horace, first decade of the 19th century. All images in this post (except those from the Essex Institute Historical Collections Volume 113, no. 3 below) are from the Library’s social media accounts: Twitter and Instagram. The Library’s wonderful blog, Conversant, has been shut down, but you can still see some of the images it featured on Pinterest.
The lingering detachment of the Phillips Library has been nothing short of tragic for Salem, as it long served, in purpose and in effect, as the city’s historical society. While other towns in Essex County developed historical societies and museums over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Salem did not, because it already had one: a vast repository of private (and public) records right in its midst. You can see–and read—Salem citizens engaging with the Essex Institute and the Phillips Library (with their history) in the pages of the long-running (and thankfully digitized) Essex Institute Historical Collections, which is full of recollections and memorials as well as historical analyses of materials in the Library’s collection. Given Salem’s dynamic past, the lack of an accessible and engaging repository of its heritage has resulted in historical interpretations that are entrepreneurial at best, and crassly commercial for the most part: is it any wonder that we have a statue to a television character in our central public square?
One of my very favorite volumes of the EIHC from July 1977: focused on a coincidental exhibition at the Essex Institute on the life and times of the Salem’s famous diarist, the Reverend William Bentley. It’s full of insights and images, including: a plan of South Salem Bridge and Lafayette Street, c. 1806, a certificate for the Salem Iron Factory, c. 1800, and a print and portrait of Salem printer Thomas C. Cushing, c. 1806 and 1816. Along with social media, these volumes might be our only avenue of access into the Phillips Library for a while…..
There are many curious, engaged and energetic people in Salem who clearly crave a closer, more introspective connection to the city’s complex past but I wonder how this can be achieved when we have so little access to our material heritage? That’s the big question, but I have so many more. Why haven’t more of the Library’s collections been digitized? That seemed to be the intent several years ago, but I only see a few digitized collections on the Museum’s website (volumes of The American Neptune, images of the Great Salem Fire, ocean liner ephemera, vintage valentines, the Winthrop family papers): this is a scant amount of material in relation to the Library’s entire collection and in comparison with the efforts of other comparable libraries. What about public records? The Phillips holds the major legal records of the Salem Witch Trials, the Essex County Court Archives, which were deposited at the Essex Institute by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1980, as well as the records of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County. These records have been transcribed, printed, and digitized (at the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project) but don’t we still have a legal right to access the actual documents? I would imagine that the representatives of all those Salem families and institutions (the Appletons, the Crowninshields, the Derbys, the Peabodys, the Active Fire Club, the Salem Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction of the Poor, the Salem Female Charitable Society, the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association, the Salem Marine Society……I could go on and on and on…..) assumed that when they placed their records in the safe-keeping and under the stewardship of the Phillips Library that they would form part of a public archive for posterity: otherwise what is the point? And finally, I am thinking–and wondering–about my Americanist colleagues and how they’re going to conduct their research come tomorrow, when I will have more tools and materials at my disposal as an English historian here in Salem than they will.
More random treasures from the Phillips Library: a 1687 deed conveying Rumney Marsh to Colonel and Mrs. Paige; a reward of merit bestowed upon Elizabeth S. McKinstry; a plate from Robert Manwaring’s Cabinet and Chair-Maker’s Real Friend and Companions (1765); just two broadsides; George Peabody’s letterbooks; a Frank Cousins photograph of the entrance to the Andrew Safford House. These tweets and posts from @pemlibrary are lifelines!
It’s a rare week in Salem that the Witch Trials are the focus of commemoration rather than commerce, and this week is just such a time: the combination of the 325th anniversary of 1692 and the completion of the new memorial marking the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge is creating a perfect storm of remembrance. Maybe I’m a bit more focused on it than the average person because I’m also teaching a graduate institute on early modern witch-hunting all week and moderating a panel on Proctor’s Ledge on Thursday, but I think many people in Salem and its environs will be thinking about the victims of 1692 this particular week. I find the timing very poignant: we had our 325th anniversary symposium on June 10, the date of the execution of the first victim, Bridget Bishop, but on July 19 the Trials intensified with the execution of five women: Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes. Even though more executions were to follow in August and September, July 19 was also a turning point in the village consciousness: if such a venerable and pious woman as Rebecca Nurse could fall prey to accusations of witchcraft, then surely anyone could. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll of Salem will dedicate the Proctor’s Ledge memorial on Wednesday the 19th at noon, the Danvers Alarm List Company, the stewards of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, are hosting a commemorative event that evening, and Governor Charlie Baker has proclaimed the 19th Rebecca Nurse Day.
I went by the new memorial this morning, a glorious Sunday, as I wanted to spend some contemplative time there—it’s a small neighborhood site so I’m sure Wednesday will be a bit more busy. I’m so grateful to both the city and the neighborhood for making this memorial happen, as well as to the Proctor’s Ledge team of historians and geologists and interpreters who were not going to be satisfied with a generic “Gallows Hill” (earlier “Witch Hill”) execution site. Gallows Hill remains a neighborhood, however, and I sure there are those who live there who fear that their community will be overwhelmed by the witch-trial tourism that overruns the city in the fall and has transformed the downtown tricentennial Witch Trial Memorial into some less than sacred space. I hope that doesn’t happen too. I find the two memorials to be very complementary; if fact, when I was looking at the new one this morning I kept thinking about downtown, especially with reference to a poem about the latter by Nicole Cooley, from her 2004 volume of poetry inspired by the victims–and resonance–of 1692, The Afflicted Girls.
The absence she speaks of seems somehow less present at Proctor’s Ledge (if absence can be less present).
The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial in Salem, to be dedicated on July 19, 2017.
I’ve got a lot going on for the rest of this month, so I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to post, except for the easy stuff maybe: gardens and cats, the occasional door. No long historical or architectural ramblings for a while; instead I’ve got to focus on the events and offerings of a new initiative of my university: Summer at Salem State, which encompasses both academic institutes and community events on successive Thursdays in July, all tied to the common theme of social justice in recognition of the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. Here’s the poster for the community events, all of which are going to be held at the Salem Maritime Visitor Center in downtown Salem and are free and open to the public.
The first event, coming up this Thursday, features Salem native and documentary filmmaker Joe Cultrera and Boston Globe Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendes, is focused on the sexual abuse crisis within the Archdiocese of Boston in particular and the process of “uncovering truths” in general. I first met Mr. Cultrera years ago when my department sponsored a screening of his documentary Witch City, about the intensification of witchcraft tourism in Salem coincidentally with the 1992 tercentenary of the trials, and I can testify that he is very adept at uncovering truths. Witch City captured some of the most telling quotes from the two people with the most vested interests in a witchy Salem, Official Witch Laurie Cabot, who claims that the victims of 1692 “died for our freedom”, and Salem Witch Museum owner Biff Michaud, who has quite a lot to say in the film: the witch trials are “the sizzle of the city….I don’t think that we commercialize it at all. We give the people what they want. The witchcraft hysteria of 1692 is no different than the Holocaust in 1942. Is it more important to lose 19 of those lives on Gallows Hill than 6 million in Europe? In any case, they’re dead”. I’m really looking forward to more uncovered truths in Cultrera’s film Hand of God, which will be screened prior to the discussion between the filmmaker and reporter Rezendes, who knows quite a bit about the particular subject matter and the general quest, obviously.
Boston Globe investigative reporter Michael Rezendes and Mark Ruffalo, who played him in the Academy Award-winning best picture for 2016, Spotlight.
Next week is all about witches, or should I say those who were accused of practicing witchcraft, and died after their conviction, and are therefore forever identified as witches. I’m teaching a one-week intensive institute on “Witchcraft in the Atlantic World”, which I’m hoping will emphasize the connected and comparative histories of witch-hunting on both sides of the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Too often the historiography is separate, so I consider this a rather daunting task, especially in the all-day, one-week format. Thank goodness I have some great texts (we’re going to focus on primary sources in general and trial testimony in particular) and help from my friends, particularly Emerson Baker, author of The Storm of Witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience. Dr. Baker is one of the members of the team that verified the Proctor’s Ledge site (below Gallows Hill–long called “Witch Hill” in Salem) as the location of the execution of the victims of 1692, and the dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge Memorial is happening on Wednesday the 19th, followed by our second “Thursdays in July” event on July 20th featuring a panel on the process of verification and memorialization. What a week!
Our last community event, on July 27, focuses on contemporary wrongful convictions. A screening of the film The Exonerated will be followed by a discussion between journalist and Salem Award recipient Anne Driscoll and Sunny Jacobs and Pete Pringle, both of whom were wrongly accused and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and exonerated, later to meet and marry. Theirs is an incredible story, with (again) very particular, personal, and universal resonance.
It was an interesting weekend in Salem, full of events, exuberance and achievements, as well as a bit of contradiction, from my perspective. Salem’s Trials, the symposium that my department organized in collaboration with the Essex National Heritage Area and Salem Award Foundation for the 325th anniversary of the Trials, was on Saturday and then the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary was on Sunday: I came away happy and optimistic from the first event, convinced we had remembered and honored the victims of 1692 in the best possible way, and a bit confused by the second. It was certainly festive and forward-looking, focused on an array of six-word memoirs on the theme of inclusion as well as the recognition of two (extraordinary!) “rising leaders” newly-graduated from Salem High School and Salem Academy, but also on the contributions of the owner of the Salem Witch Museum–who happens to be a major beneficiary of the cumulative tragedy that is the Salem Witch Trials. One day I was sitting on a panel titled “The Making of Witch City” (filmed by C-Span) in which we discussed the unfortunate exploitation of the “witches” of Salem, the next I was observing a very public expression of gratitude offered up to the driver of Haunted Happenings! It was a bit surreal for me but I think I was the only one: one savvy Salem insider observed that he pays for shit in response to my bewilderment. Ah well, the memoirs did look lovely, shimmering in the sun on a beautiful, breezy day.
Like everything, it’s about perspective: ultimately the Salem Award Foundation, whose full name is the SalemAwardFoundationforHumanRightsandSocialJustice, is more focused on the present than the past and needs the resources, network, and flexibility to achieve its goals and mission: I have the luxury of being able to remain laser-focused on the past and the victims. That’s just what we did on Saturday morning, but in the afternoon we shifted to a more layered discussion of how these victims have been remembered, driven as much by the symposium attendees (including several descendants of victims of 1682 who recorded their “testimonies”) as presenters. The keynote address by geographer Ken Foote, “Salem Witchcraft in Landscape and Memory”, was particularly resonant for me. Dr. Foote laid out the full spectrum of “marking” sites of tragedy, from sanctification to obliteration, and viewed Salem in this context. He noted that when he first came to Salem in 1984, no one could really tell him where the victims of 1692 were executed, and now there is not only the 1992 tricentennial Witch Trials Memorial but a new memorial on the site of the recently-confirmed execution site at Proctor’s Ledge (now scheduled to be dedicated on July 19). As I was listening to him, the question that kept running through my mind was: what if the sacredness of a site is challenged–or not even recognized? as that seems to be what happens to the downtown Witch Trials Memorial every October when Haunted Happenings is in full swing and it is transformed into a convenient place to eat fried dough. It seems like contradictory commemoration will remain in force in Salem until the sanctification of that site can be realized, and I don’t know if that will (can) ever happen.
Just one weekend in Salem: The Salem Award Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Celebration and Salem’s Trials Symposium. Below, the Witch Trials Memorial off Charter Street, yesterday: for much less contemplative times, click here.
I’ve been thinking a lot about memorialization lately: the process and purpose, as well as its vehicles. Like most historians, I’ve always found public/collective memory fascinating (mostly in terms of what is remembered and what is not) but I think the combination of the pulling down of Confederate statues and our upcoming symposium on the Salem Witch Trials as well as the imminent dedication of the new Proctor’s Ledge memorial site to its victims has shifted my interest into overdrive at this moment. Given my penchant for the built landscape, it should be no surprise that my favorite (this word seems odd in this context) memorials are artistic and architectural: images of the Korean War Memorial in Washington and the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” ceramic poppies installation at the The Tower of London in 2014 are forever etched in my mind. But last year, there was an even more moving memorial in Britain which piqued my interest in “living” memorials: the “we’re here because we’re here” commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 2016, during which thousands of volunteers played the part of “ghost soldiers” in remembrance of the 19,240 men killed on just that first day of the battle.
‘we are here because we are here’, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Topher McGrilli.
The Great War inspired (again, the word seems wrong) all sorts of memorialization on this side of the Atlantic, primarily in its immediate aftermath and into the 1920s. I don’t see Americans yearning for a poignant remembrance of the doughboys now, but maybe next year? In any case, one of the most national initiatives of remembrance following World War I was the planting of trees, another form of “living” memorial. Across the United States, from 1918 over the next decade or so, communities planted trees inmemoriam of their lost loved ones. This was not a spontaneous movement, but rather one that was vigorously encouraged by the American Forestry Association, which asserted that the The Memorial Tree, “the tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray”, has become the tribute of the people of the nation to those who offered their lives to their country in the Great War for Civilization” and placed the article below in a parade of papers in January 1919.
Maybe there was some spontaneity in this campaign, or at the very least it catered to ingrained instincts; trees had long been symbols of personal mourning in American culture—think of Andrew Jackson’s White House magnolias, planted for his beloved wife Rachel, and all those weeping willow samplers. But I think World War I marks a moment when tree memorials became something more collective and more public. In Europe, trees had been utilized as memorials of collective achievement, not loss: the French were so inspired by Boston’s Liberty Tree (later stump) that they planted their own, “perpetuating the memory of Liberty” in 1789.
England’s Memorial of the Glorious Revolution, or of ” its Wonderfull deliverance, from French tirany and Popish oppression. Performed Through Allmighty Gods infinite goodness and Mercy By His Highness, William Henry of Nassau The High & Mighty Prince of Orange 1688′, British Museum; The French Liberty Tree, Lesueur Brothers, (18th century); French. Medium: gouache on paper. Date: 18th Century. Perpetuating the memory of Liberty; plantation d’un arbre de la liberte; Provenance: Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France / Giraudon.
And back across the Atlantic we go, a century and more later. President Warren G. Harding responded to the Memorial Tree campaign with a statement in May of 1919, in which he offered his approval and encouragement (“I can hardly think of a more fitting testimonial of our gratitude and affection than this”) and noted that these plantings were “one of the useful and beautiful ideas which our soldiers brought back from France. The splendid avenues of France have been among the great delights and attractions to travelers there, and a similar development would equally add to the beauty and attraction of our country”. And so it began: judging by the photographs at the Library of Congress, Mrs. Harding (Florence) spent a lot of time planting trees, as did both Coolidges after her.
Memorial Tree planting, 1919-1920: Boy Scouts, Mrs. Harding (2), President Coolidge, Mrs. Coolidge and Girl Scouts, Library of Congress.
As you can see very clearly in the Calvin Coolidge photograph, memorial trees were supposed to be registered with the American Forestry Association and have tags attached, but this didn’t happen everywhere and all the time: consequently there are memorial trees out there–“silent sentinels” in the words of the National Park Service–which are not recognized as memorials. Maybe someone remembers when they look at one of these tag-less trees, but a family memory does not a monument make!
American Forestry Association tree badge, Library of Congress.
I don’t know if any World War I memorial trees were planted here in Salem, but both memorials to the victims of 1692, the tercentenary memorial downtown and the soon-to-be-dedicated (I think July 19?) Proctor’s Ledge Memorial feature trees as integral features of their design and symbolism: black locust trees (on which the accused witches were purportedly hanged) for the tercentenary memorial and a single oak tree at Proctor’s Ledge. These trees are marked and will not be forgotten–nor will those they represent.
The registration for the one-day symposium organized in recognition of the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials is now open: Salem’s Trials: Lessons and Legacy of 1692 is co-sponsored by the SSU History Department, the Essex National Heritage Area, and the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and SocialJustice , and will be held on June 10 (the execution date of the Trials’ first victim, Bridget Bishop) at Marsh Hall on the campus of Salem State University. All are welcome: we are hoping that the symposium will be both academic and accessible, introductory and interactive.
We’ve been fine-tuning the program for quite a while, and I think it now has the perfect balance of perspective, time, and place. I don’t want to speak for all of my committee members, but to me the title of the symposium, Salem’s Trials, refers not only to the Trials of 1692 but also to their continuing legacy: Salem seems to want to replay this event over and over and over again, for redemption and for profit. We will have a trio of Salem experts on hand, including my colleague Tad Baker, Margo Burns, and Marilynne K. Roach, as well as people with expertise in other areas and disciplines to broaden the cultural context of 1692. There will be a panel on teaching the trials led by my colleague Brad Austin featuring area educators, and another colleague, Andrew Darien, will be enabling descendants to record their oral testimonies (I think descendants of “perpetrators” too, although we should use another word—accusers is better). Because the symposium is happening close to the dedication of the Proctor’s Ledge memorial, the recently-verified site of the executions, we really wanted to focus on space almost as much as time, and consequently we chose a geographer to give our keynote: Kenneth Foote, the author of Shadowed Ground. America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy.
There will also be a plenary panel on “The Making of Witch City” which we envisioned as historical but will likely veer into the present with audience participation. It seems like the present always bears on the past in any consideration of the Salem Witch Trials, a tendency that was definitely cemented by the observances of its last big anniversary, the Tercentenary of 1992. That year, Arthur Miller and Elie Wiesel were present at the dedication of the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial, and the very first Salem Award was given to actor Gregory Allan Williams, who rescued a victim of mob violence in the midst of the “Rodney King” race riots in Los Angeles. All week long, I’ve been hearing anniversary reflections on these riots on the radio, and just last night the Salem Award Foundation awarded a new commendation, the Salem Advocate for Social Justice Award, to musician-activist John Legend at a packed event at Salem State University. Everything comes around again.