Tag Archives: Witch House

Stereo Scenes of Salem, 1897-1947

Browsing through the vast collections of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) last week,  I came across a haunting image of the Corwin or “Witch House” in Salem. It was a stereo image taken by photographer Harry L. Sampson in 1947, so I assumed it was an artistic composition as that is very late for a stereoview, but it is deceptive: it’s not a stereoview or card but rather a dual image on a contact sheet, and part of of the Keystone-Mast collection of 350,000 images at the California Museum of Photography located at the University of California, Riverside. About twenty percent of this collection  (with more to come) can be accessed digitally via the portal Calisphere, which is linked to the DPLA. The Keystone-Mast Collection is the archive of the Keystone View Company of Meadville, PA, which was active from 1892 to 1963,  and constitutes a major source of visual documentation of the twentieth-century world. I’ve seen some of these images before, but not all, and I’m grateful for the context and source information as so many Salem images are floating out there without either.

Witch House 1947

Witch House 1926 Keystone-Mast Henry Peabody

Witch House 1920 Keystone Mast Henry PeabodyViews of the Jonathan Corwin “Witch House” in 1947, 1926, and 1920 by Harry L. Sampson and Henry Peabody, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Hawthornes House 1926 Keystone Mast

Keystone-Mast Underwood and Underwood

Pioneer Village 2 Keystone-Mast

Pioneer Village KeystoneNathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location in 1926 and 1897 (Underwood & Underwood); the newly-built Pioneer Village in 1930, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography.

Old Custom House 1926 Henry Peabody Keystone-Mast

Gables Keystone-Mast 1926

Conant Statue Keystone-MastThree 1926 images: the entrance to the Old Custom House, the House of the Seven Gables, and the Roger Conant Statue, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography.

While I’m discussing visual sources, repositories, digitization and access, I’m going to make a (-nother) little plea to the Peabody Essex Museum and Phillips Library: according to the 1925 Catalogue of Negatives in the Essex Institute Collections, the museum has among its collections thousands of negatives representing every single street in Salem (and many of towns and cities) in the early twentieth century: could some (many, all) these be digitized and shared via the DPLA, please? Such an initiative would be an amazing compensatory gesture on behalf of the PEM.

Negatives collageJust a few negatives listed in the 1925 Catalogue of Negatives in the Essex Institute Collections, which is available here


First-Period Fantasy

I’ve been obsessed with the Downing-Bradstreet house (which once occupied the site of another current obsession, the Phillips Library) for quite some time: consequently I took advantage of some extra time during this past spring break to dig a little deeper into its history. Actually, the history is easy: it’s the projection that is difficult. We know that this “mansion house” was built by 1640 and demolished more than a century later, but our only image of it was created by a man who was born after its demolition and whose source is unknown:  did it really look like this?

Oldest House Bradstreet-Downing

Wow: that’s a big house with a lot of windows, gables, glass, and finials. What in the world are those “flanking towers reminiscent of feudal days”, in the words of Frank Cousins? Are they made of glass? Indeed they were according to Robert Rantoul’s 1888 essay on the “New Domain” of the Essex Institute, which describes what preceded its buildings on “Downing Block”: it had two massive sets of chimneys and also two transparent, hollow columns of lead sash and diamond glass, great lanthorns (?????), one of either side of the front door, for lighting up the ample grounds in front, and these rose from the foundation to the roof and contained a cupboard-door at each floor of the house for inserting candles or other illuminating appliances on occasion of festivity or other need of light. Wow again. All of this illumination, combined with the scale and detail of the house, makes it appear more like a romantic fantasy of a seventeenth-century house than an actual seventeenth-century structure, especially as it was situated in frontier Salem. This “grate” house, either real or embellished, was built by London barrister Emmanuel Downing, the brother-in-law of Governor John Winthrop, who eventually returned to England leaving the mansion to his daughter Ann as part of the dowry for her marriage to Captain Joseph Gardner, who was killed in the Great Swamp Fight of King Philip’s War in December of 1675. In the following year, the Widow Gardner married Simon Bradstreet, the last Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, whose first wife Anne, America’s first published poet, had died in 1672. Bradstreet returned to Salem (his port of entry to the New World) and took up residence in the Mansion until his death in 1697. Both he and Ann are buried in the Old Burying Ground on Charter Street. The now-Bradstreet House was passed down in the Ropes family for a few generations, but ultimately it was transformed into a tavern (the Globe), divided, and demolished in 1753. The artist of its iconic image, Marblehead painter and muralist Samuel Bartoll (1765-1835) created both the painting above and a similar one of the Corwin (Roger William House in the 19th century; “Witch House” in the 20th) in 1819-1820: what was the basis of his conception?

Bradstreet collage

Bradstreet Witch House BartollFrank Cousins photograph of the Bartoll painting; 1930 Port of Salem map, Boston Public Library & illustration from Lossing’s History of the United States of America (1913); Samuel Bartoll’s Corwin House, Peabody Essex Museum.

I have no answers to the questions I am asking, but it’s still important to ask them, as these idealized (?) images guided so many restoration projects later on. Nathaniel Hawthorne likely saw the Bartoll paintings in Salem: they influenced his vision in the House of the Seven Gables, which later inspired the material transformation of the Turner-Ingersoll mansion into the more “picturesque” House of the Seven Gables by Caroline Emmerton and Joseph Everett Chandler in 1908-1910. Later in the twentieth century, the Corwin House underwent a similar transformation—back (or forward) to the Bartoll vision, with a few less finials.

Bradstreet Bartoll Chairs Julia Auctions

Bartoll Landing of the Pilgrims 1825More idealized American imagery from Samuel Bartoll: Painted Hitchcock Chairs, James D. Julia Auctions; and a Fireboard Depicting the Landing of the Pilgrims, 1825, Peabody Essex Museum.


Dark Etchings

Though he is primarily identified as a New York artist, the German émigré etcher Charles Frederick William Mielatz (1864-1919) also produced many New England images: port scenes, a few pastoral landscapes and many more urban streetscapes, and detailed depictions of structures. When in Salem, he apparently ignored the wharves (which seem to have captivated him in Nantucket and Boston) in favor of an old house–which he calls the “Witch House”, but it doesn’t really look like the Witch House would have looked in 1903, the year in which the etchings below were made. This makes sense in context: Salem’s harbor must have looked rather dreary at the turn of the last century and its Witch City identity was forming, a decade after the commemoration of the bicentennial anniversary of the Trials with all its commercial tie-ins. Mielatz’s Witch Houses are dark indeed, in contrast to his most of his urban scenes, which include some rather pioneering colored etchings. As if he could not resist, he does give us a pop of contrasting red in the second Witch House etching, which emphasizes the darkness of this mystical olde Salem house.

Witch House 1903 CW Mielatz

Witches House 1903 CF Mielatz

Witch House Pencil Drawing Mielatz

Mielatz Houston Street Door

Mieletz State Street NYC

Charles Frederick William Mielatz, Witch House etchings, 1903, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Bonhams Auctions; Pencil Sketch for the same and Houston Street, NYC door, both also 1903, Kramer Fine Arts & Prints, Inc.; “No. 7 State Street”, NYC, 1908, Skinner Auctions.


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