Tag Archives: Photography

Fossil Factories

For me, the most haunted place in Salem is not a cemetery or anything to do with the Witch Trials (though it is quite near Harmony Grove Cemetery and Gallows Hill): it is Blubber Hollow, a site of intensive manufacturing and industrial activities from the seventeenth century until the later twentieth. The center of Salem’s bustling leather industry in the later nineteenth century, this was where the Great Salem Fire started in June of 1914, in a factory producing patent leather shows on the site of the present-day Walgreens on Boston Street (behind which is is Proctor’s Ledge, now confirmed as the execution site of the victims of 1692). Its name indicates that it was also associated with the production of whale oil, but for me it always conjures up an image of frenzied commercial activity, candles burning at both ends or oil lamps burning all night. No longer: those factories that survived the 1914 fire, or were built after, are empty for the most part, and coming down soon, as Blubber Hollow transitions from ghost town into residential neighborhood: one large apartment building has already been built and there are more to come. As you walk down Grove Street towards Goodhue, past the still-busy Moose Lodge and marijuana dispensary, the sense of imminent transformation is palpable but ghosts are still present.

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Relic smokestack.

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North River Canal

Texture at one of the former Salem Oil and Grease buildings, and the North River Canal.

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No one will be sorry to see Flynntan go.

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Blubber Hollow Hose House

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Past and Future: Blubber Hollow in its heyday and “Hose House” No. 4 in its midst, from Fred A. Gannon’s Old Salem Scrapbook, #6 (1900); North River Luxury Apartmentst @ 28 Goodhue Street.


What to do with my Stereoviews?

I’ve been a collector of sorts for much of my life but I never collected historic photographic images until I started this blog: I quickly realized their power to tell stories and provide context in this, our digital age. So I started buying some Salem images, mostly stereoviews, which were produced in vast quantities in the later nineteenth century. There were about six or seven major publishers of stereoviews here in Salem at that time, but I’ve focused almost all my collecting efforts on images associated with Frank Cousins, as either photographer or publisher. I just completed my collection of his sentimental “Salem in 1876” views, encompassing nearly every corner of central Salem. Now I’ve got a (shoe) box of stereoviews and I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

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Steroview Chestnut Street Cousins

Frank Cousins published views taken both up and down Chestnut Street and all over the city, documenting “Salem in 1876”.

Stereoviews are relatively easy to acquire, especially of a city like Salem which has been selling its image, in one way or another, for quite some time. They turn up online very frequently and I always find them at the larger flea markets and paper shows. My collection is pretty focused on Cousins, but it also has a few views that I have never seen anywhere else, including a great (though completely unattributed and undated) view of Front Street from Washington Street and a rather unusual (forested!) view of the South Church that stood across Chestnut Street from my house for nearly a century. This McIntire masterpiece burned down in 1803: I’m trying to gather as many images of it so I can glean its impact from every possible perspective. My verdant view is contrasted with a more typical image of the church, from the best source for digitized stereoviews: the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library (where you can make “stereogranimators”).

Stereoview Front Street Salem

Stereoview Second Church Tilton

Stereo South Church Salem NYPL

(Stereo)view of Front Street, ?date, ?photographer); the South Church on Chestnut by Peabody & Tilton, c. 1875 and Guy & Brothers, c. 1884, Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

Obviously I have a predilection for streetscapes but I like some (not all; some are creepy) of the more intimate, “up close and personal” stereoviews too. I’ve seen quite a few of people just standing outside their houses, being captured for posterity. A double dose of daily life. I love this image of a Salem Willows summer cottage with its residents, all ready for summer. This is not mine, unfortunately, but from another great source of stereoviews: the Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Libraries.

Stereoview Juniper Point UMASS Lowell SP

“View at Juniper Point, Salem Neck, Mass.”, n.d., Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries (the original Willows cottages were built for Lowell residents who wanted to summer on the coast).

So again, what to do with those stereoviews that I do possess? Ultimately I will leave them all to the Salem State University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, because what Salem needs is a Center for Salem History there, as the Peabody Essex Museum ceased its historical-society function long ago. But in the meantime, I’d like to find a more clever and creative way to preserve and display them. I’d like to get them out of the box! I guess I could frame them in some interesting combinations and create a gallery wall, but that’s about the extent of my creativity. Brass floating frames? Display them with a special “twinscope” at hand like this cool exhibit from just last year, Syracuse in 3-D (1860-1910)? I’m open to suggestions, because I do think there is something very engaging–both aesthetically and historically– about images in multiples. As evidence, I give you this beautiful invitation to the Pickering House’s annual garden party by Salem artist Racket Shreve, paired with Cousins’ stereoview, of course.

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Stereo Pickering

Stereoview Pickering House Cousins 1876

Scene from the interactive “Syracuse in 3-D” exhibit by Colleen Woolpert (+ more here); Racket Shreve’s quatre-Pickering House invitation; Frank Cousins’ “Salem in 1876” stereoview of the Pickering House.


Hooked on Hawksmoor

Well, I am very late to this party but I became absolutely obsessed with the works of British Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) on my recent trip to London. Hawksmoor’s professional reputation was overshadowed in his own time–and long afterwards–by his association with two more prominent “gentlemen” architects, Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh, but in the last few decades he seems to have emerged from their shadow. His oeuvre is impressive: under Wren he worked on St. Paul’s Cathedral, the naval buildings at Greenwich, several buildings at Oxford University, Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces and Westminster Abbey, the west towers of which were constructed according to his own design during his tenure as Surveyor General, and he collaborated with Vanbrugh on both Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. I’ve been to all of these places, but I never associated any of them with Hawksmoor, or thought about Hawksmoor at all, until I saw his Christ Church, Spitalfields, early last week. From that point on the week belonged to Hawksmoor: I scouted out his six surviving London “Queen Anne” churches commissioned by the New Churches in London and Westminster Act of 1710, really looked at the Abbey’s west towers for the first time, and looked on the stately buildings of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich with a new appreciation.

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Christ Church Spitalfields 1950s

Christ Church Spitalfields 1909

21. Christ Church, Spitalfields, London: by Nicholas Hawksmoor 1964 by John Piper 1903-1992

Christ Church, Spitalfields, shining like a beacon at the end of very busy Brushfield Street, afternoon and early evening (after its long restoration, completed in 2004), and in the 1950s and 1909; John Piper, Christ Church, Spitalfields, London: by Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1964, Presented by Curwen Studio through the Institute of Contemporary Prints, Tate Britain.

I just can’t stop looking at Christ Church! And I’m not alone: it has inspired scores of artists and photographers, and authors such as Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, and Alan Moore. In the poem Lud Heat (1975), which inspired Ackroyd’s (crime? suspense? mystery? not sure how to categorize it) novel Hawksmoor (1985), Sinclair envisions a “psychogeographical” alignment between all of the Hawksmoor churches, and later calls them “eternal” as opposed to the “shimmering trash” of the Docklands (in this great video). Sinclair is absolutely right; these churches do stand out, all of them, not just because of their stature and their distinctive spires but also because they present a rather odd combination of classical austerity and weight.You also have the sense that Hawksmoor was building temples rather than churches: these houses of worship don’t look precisely Christian! One of his six surviving London churches, St. George’s, Bloomsbury, is essentially a classical temple with a steeple on the side rather than the center, at the top of which is not Saint George but King George (I–in Roman dress, presumably he is the Saint), accompanied by a lion and a unicorn. It’s no wonder that our modern secular age admires Hawksmoor, the architect and the Freemason.

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Hawksmoor’s St. George’s Bloomsbury, completed in 1730; restoration completed in 2006.

Well, I do believe St. George’s was Hawksmoor’s last London church; his earlier ones do appear a bit more traditional/ecclesiastical but still display that distinctive Hawksmoor edge of composition and detail. Here are the rest of his churches, plus two more that he collaborated on with John James: St. Luke’s Old Street in Islington (which features an obelisk steeple!) and St. John’s Horsleydown in Bermondsey, which was demolished after sustaining bomb damage during World War II.

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St. Annes Limehouse

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St. Alfege Church, Greenwich, 1712-1714 (with window details); St. Anne’s Limehouse, 1714-27 (on the grounds of which there is a pyramid); St. George in the East, Wapping, 1714-1729 (I did not have time to make it out to Wapping, so I have “borrowed” a picture from here and a drawing of the facade from the George III topographical collection at the British Library. Next time!); St. Mary Woolnoth, 1716-27, right in the center of the City of London (very wide and narrow steeple); Two collaborations with John James, 1727-33: St. Luke’s, Old Street and St. John’s Horsleydown, demolished after World War II (from the Collections of the Metropolitan Archives of London). Similar fluted spires, but St. John’s had a comet on top!

So we have all sorts of classical elements, combined with more whimsical ones: columns, pyramids, obelisks, unicorns, comets. Mathematical precision and clocks. I don’t think this adds up to anything particularly pagan, much less sinister (somehow Hawksmoor acquired the moniker “the Devil’s Architect”–I’m not sure if this is a creation of his time or ours): I just think he was a man of his time, which was of course the Enlightenment. Quite a modern man, who ascended to the heights of a gentleman’s profession on his merits alone and worked primarily for institutions rather than patrons. He was impressive and his work remains impressive. I’m not precisely sure what his creative contributions were relative to those of his mentor, Christopher Wren, but I really felt Hawksmoor’s presence at Greenwich, almost as much as Christ Church, Spitalfields: maybe I’m getting a bit “psychogeographical” myself! Unfortunately we don’t seem to have this particular field of inquiry in the States: we’re just not that attached to our built environment to get that introspective about it.

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So now I’m home, with only a few Hawksmoor books to sustain me. I need more: so now I’m going about collecting more texts, and some images that rival, or at least capture, the magnificence of Hawkmoor’s buildings. I really like the work of Andrew Ingamells, who has rendered several of Hawksmoor’s churches in aquatint etchings, and I would almost kill for Pablo Bronstein’s Four Alternate Designs for a Lighthouse in the Style of Nicholas Hawksmoor (Bronstein also designed and commissioned the construction of an actual Hawksmoor beach hut in the form of a lighthouse at  Folkestone, which you can see here).

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Aquatint etchings of Hawksmoor churches by Andrew Ingamells, from a selection here; Pablo Bronstein’s “Four Alternate Designs”, Herald Street Gallery;  Architectural and historical analysis from Owen Hopkins and Mohsen Mostafavi and beautiful black and white photographs by Hélène Binet; just finishing up Ackroyd’s engaging Hawksmoor this morning!


Hawthorne’s Homes and Haunts

In the later nineteenth century there emerged a particular genre of topical nonfiction writing which focused on literary “shrines”, and Nathaniel Hawthorne received lots of attention from its practitioners. There were several periodical articles and books published with variant titles in the “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” realm, exploring the role of environment on his works with varying degrees of depth. As he was a native son, obviously Salem plays a central role in these analyses, generally as an urban and conversely puritanical place from which he wanted to escape to Concord and pastoral points west. No doubt all these authors were inspired by Hawthorne himself, not just his works but also his (quite self-conscious) words, written in 1840 about a garret room in his uncle’s house on Herbert Street where he spent quite a bit of time: Here I sit in my old accustomed chamber, where I used to sit in days gone by….Here I have written many tales–many that have been burned to ashes, many, doubtless, that deserved the same fate….If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed.  All of the Hawthorne biographers did indeed make their way to the stark Herbert Street house (which Hawthorne later described as “Castle Dismal”) and it is interesting to see its comparative depictions. Winfield S. Nevins calls it a “severely plain”, common, though tidy, tenement house in his 1894 article in The New England Magazine, while Helen Archibald Clarke goes much more negative in her 1926 book, Hawthorne’s Country: It is now a tenement house, into which one does not care to intrude farther than the yard, so untidy that no amount of enthusiasm for shrines can blind one to it. When asking the way to the house, one is apt to be met by the reply: ‘I cannot speak English’. It is a comfort to remember that in Hawthorne’s day the district was not so closely built up [YES IT WAS],and was at least quiet and clean, and that however unlovely the lines of the house, the beach and boundless ocean were not far off.  Well, you can tell that she is going to prefer Concord to Salem!

Hawthorne Collage

Sepia drawings of Hawthorne’s birthplace, then on Union Street, now on the campus of the House of the Seven Gables, and the adjacent rear window of 10 Herbert Street from  W.B. Closson’s Homes and Haunts of the Poets, a series of etchings issued by Prang in 1886, and a photograph of the same buildings from Winfield S. Nevins’ “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” from New England Magazine (15) 1894.

Both authors include lots of illustrations in their works, including drawings, prints and photographs, but Nevins wants to portray a past Salem for the most part, devoid of people, while Clarke lets us see some 1926 inhabitants in the Witch City: children are prominently placed on Gallows Hill, even though it is not exactly clear what this site has to do with Hawthorne. The time span between the two texts affords us to see the restoration (or creation) of the House of the Seven Gables, never the home of Hawthorne but perpetually his most conspicuous Salem “haunt”.

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Gables collage

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Photographs of Hawthorne’s Dearborn and Chestnut Street residences, along with the Turner-Ingersoll House before its transformation into the House of the Seven Gables (on the left above) from Winfield S. Nevins’ 1894 article, “The Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne”; photographs of the Mall Street house, the Customs House, a view towards Washington Square, the “Sockets” of Gallows Hill, and the House of the Seven Gables from Helen Archibald Clarke’s Hawthorne’s Country (1926).


Ever in Transition

The tensions between public and private interests, commercial and residential concerns, and historic preservation and economic growth are nothing new to Salem, which has always been a dynamic city proud of its past and poised for the future. Some eras are more dynamic than others, however, and I think we’re in a particularly dynamic period now, but any city or town or settlement is always in transition, of course. When I hunt for historic photographs I’m always on the lookout for the mix of “ancient” and “modern”, residential and industrial, small-scale and larger, dirt roads and railroad tracks. My very favorite visual chronicler of Salem, Frank Cousins, who was himself living through a very dynamic age, was clearly attracted to that mix as well, as one of the photographs that he submitted as part of Salem’s exhibition at the 1893 Columbian Exposition was that of a divided Derby Street doorway labelled “modern” and “colonial” (A subtle distinction for our modern eyes).

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Frank Cousins photograph of a Derby Street doorway, c. 1892, courtesy of Duke University’s digital Urban Landscape collection.

More illustrative of the city in transition, as opposed to a co-joined household, are the many pictures of Town House Square that date from the 1880s to about 1910. There you see predominantly brick multi-story commercial buildings, but if you look closer, there are still some surviving wooden residential structures (although they are probably serving a multitude of uses). For several years, I have had in my possession a stereoview of a building labeled “Ward-Goldthwaite & Co. Salem” which I thought might be one of these structures, only to realize that I had made a rookie historian’s mistake (not questioning a label): the Ward-Goldthwaite Company was located in Chicago, not Salem (even though it was published by the Moulton firm of Salem). Nevertheless, it’s a great image of a city in transition: you know that house isn’t going to last long.

In Transition Cousins Town House Square 1892 LOC

In Transition 1906 LOC

Stereoview Ward Golthwaite Co Salem

Town House Square at the intersection of Essex and Washington Streets, Salem, (Library of Congress) and a stereoview of the Ward Goldthwaite & Company in Chicago published by J.W. and J.S. Moulton of Salem as part of their “American Views” series.

The idea of zoning starts to catch on in Salem after 1900, and it was definitely accelerated by the Great Salem Fire of 1914. But before this momentous event, factories and residences co-existed in close proximity in the Point, Blubber Hollow and even the more residential North Salem, where the large Locke Regulator Company bordered the North River and a line of colonial houses on North Street. Some of the houses are still there, serving mixed uses as they did a century ago, while the Locke factory has been replaced by a junkyard and a car wash. The streets along Salem Harbor have always been among the most densely settled in Salem, but the 1903 photograph seems to show structures which are primarily residential–I’m not sure of the precise vantage point, but I’m assuming these buildings were all swept away by the Fire. The last photograph, from the PEM’s Phillips Library, shows fire bystanders watching the conflagration on Lafayette Street from the roof of a building on Highland Avenue: a view of mixed-used zoning with the new High School, the factory, and residences all in close proximity to one another. Highland Avenue became a preferred location for commercial development over the twentieth century, but as this photograph indicates, residences were built along it as well–and a few older structures, drastically transformed–still stand among the big box stores.

In Transition North Bridge 1890s

Salem 1903 Locomotive's Journal

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Looking north along North Street from the old bridge, 1890s, Boston Public Library; A Perspective on Salem Harbor, 1903, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal, September 1903; Watching the Great Salem Fire from Highland Avenue, 1914, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum


The Wayfaring Chapel

To stick with cinema for just a bit, I’ve always believed that those in Salem who favor the maritime over the witchcraft in terms of tourism focus are handicapped a bit because Salem was not a whaling port like New Bedford. Merchants are simply not as dashing and courageous as whalers; there is no Hawthornian equivalent of Moby Dick. When I think of the latter, I must admit that images from the 1956 film come to mind much more quickly and vividly than detailed passages from the 1851 book, and the very first image that comes to mind is the passionate preaching of Father Mapple (Orson Welles) from that amazing pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship in a seamen’s chapel, or Bethel, packed with mariners. Both the preacher and the place were based on reality; in the case of the former, the “Mariner’s Preacher” of the Boston Bethel, Edward Thompson Taylor, and the Bethel was based on that of New Bedford, which is still standing (its original pulpit was not the elaborate one depicted in the film, but a similar one constructed to satisfy the tourists who made their way to New Bedford in increasing numbers due to the popularity of the film–a version of Salem’s Samantha statue).

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Orson Welles in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956); The New Bedford Bethel or “Whaleman’s Chapel”, exterior and interior.

Like nearly every seaport of a certain size, Salem had a Seamen’s Bethel too, but it was a wandering one. It clearly existed in the early part of the nineteenth century (there is an extant sign, and several references to a chapel at the head of Phillips Wharf), but was reincarnated later on. The French Catholic parish, St. Joseph’s, purchased an old Bethel on Herbert Street in 1873, and then it turns up in two locations on Turner Street: first right on the water in the House of the Seven Gables’ front yard, and then alongside it on the street. A large bequest by Captain Henry Barr funded the construction of this later building in 1890-91, but a decade later newspapers across the country were commenting on Salem’s fading maritime glory, testified to by the fact there were simply not enough sailors in Salem to attend services in this new Bethel; consequently the YMCA took over the building in 1911. By the 1920s it was moved to another location on Turner Street to accommodate the expanding House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, and by the 1930s it was gone. The last picture of the Bethel below, taken by the Boston-based architectural photographer Leon Abdalian in 1929, was probably more notable for the blimp than the Bethel at the time!

Seamen's Bethel Salem on Water

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The Salem Seamen’s Bethel, 1914 and 1929, Boston Public Library.


The Most Poignant Epitaph Ever

The Old Burying Point is a sacred site best visited in the winter, or the summer, or the spring, or anytime other than October when costume-clad tourists are not draped over the graves taking pictures of each other. I prefer winter, because the very gnarly trees are bare, and nothing other than these same trees competes with the graves themselves. I was walking by the other day, thinking about the very recent death of a young scholar whom I knew, when I remembered a famous epitaph on a seventeenth-century grave of another young scholar: Nathanael Mather, son of Increase, and brother of Cotton. Nathanael died in Salem in 1688 at aged 19 and his grave is located on the western perimeter of the cemetery, just behind the Peabody/”Grimshawe” house. I went through the gate, turned right, and there he was, there it was, the most poignant epitaph ever.

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An Aged person/ that had seen but Nineteen Winters in the World.

An Aged person that had seen but Nineteen Winters in the World is a sentiment that is immediately and universally affective, and timeless: as moving now as it was when it was inscribed in 1688 (or later? see below). There are testimonies to these words that date back to the early nineteenth century; no doubt there are far more that I am aware of. Hawthorne incorporated a similar epitaph into his first novel Fanshawe for the title character (one imagines him sneaking out back before or after he visited his future wife Sophia at the Grimshawe house) and Lovecraft referenced it a century later. In between, my favorite photographer Frank Cousins gave it pride of place in a portfolio of Salem images which he marketed nationally.

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The Grave in the 1890s

And what of Nathanael, the inspiration for this memorable epitaph? By all accounts he was a young man feverish with the desire to learn, both for his own sake and as way to know and glorify God, and this “fever” ultimately killed him. His “unusual industry” drove him to enter Harvard University at age 12, and during his time there he mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and wrote several books. His “pious education” continued after his graduation, and he followed a disciplined regime of constant study and prayer which rendered him a virtual shut-in. Real fevers set in, and “distemper”, and ultimately he was sent to Salem as a patient of Dr. John Swinnerton, at whose home he eventually died. His elder brother Cotton Mather, who apparently “closed his dying eyes” wrote later that it may be truly written on his Grave, Study kill’d him. In his Diary, Samuel Sewall recounts visiting Nathaneal at Dr. Swinnerton’s and, quite perplexingly, an alternative epitaph: the Ashes of a hard Student, a good Scholar, and a great Christian, which is also asserted in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana. So now we have an epitaph mystery: are both Sewall and Mather mistaken, or do we have an instance of an “enlightened” epitaph substitution at some later date?

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