Frank Cousins & the Phillips Library

Salem’s Phillips Library is still in Rowley. However, we can be happy at the moment that at least the Peabody Essex Museum is finally making an effort at digitization. Yesterday, the library’s vast collection of photographs by Salem photographer Frank Cousins (1851-1925) became available on the Digital Commonwealth. These images are invaluable to anyone who researches Salem’s built environment, and to anyone who just plain loves the city. There are many photographs that represent our only remaining opportunity to see Salem buildings and features that no longer exist due to fire, neglect, or development. It’s truly a treasure trove of visual information, and a collection that should always be openly accessible.

My friends and fellow historians Donna Seger and Jen Ratliff challenged themselves to pick their 10 favorite photos from the collection to post on their blogs, and I couldn’t resist joining in the fun ! Here are my picks, which sadly are incredibly predictable if you know me at all :)

1) Because I can’t resist a good church interior:

“Interior detail, altar, Church of the Immaculate Conception, (1856)”

“Interior detail, altar, Church of the Immaculate Conception, (1856)”

2) Because it’s my favorite stone in Charter Street Cemetery, and that of a Mather to boot !

“Monuments, Nathaniel Mather grave, Salem, Charter Street Cemetery”

“Monuments, Nathaniel Mather grave, Salem, Charter Street Cemetery”

3) Because Hawthorne:

“Salem, 27 Union Street, birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne”

“Salem, 27 Union Street, birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne”

4) Because Hawthorne, again, and because this photo was not taken too terribly long after Hawthorne wrote the Scarlet Letter here in the late 1840s. The view must be incredibly similar to what he saw walking home during those fraught years:

“Salem, 14 Mall Street, Hawthorne house where "Scarlet Letter" was written”

“Salem, 14 Mall Street, Hawthorne house where "Scarlet Letter" was written”

5) More Hawthorne, and because the pre-Colonial Revival-ized House of the Seven Gables looking like any other ordinary Salem residence is itself extraordinary (hashtag three gables):

“Salem, 54 Turner Street, Captain John Turner house”

“Salem, 54 Turner Street, Captain John Turner house”

6) Still Hawthorne (noticing a theme ?), and also because this unassuming spot full of ancient timber is one of my favorite sights in Salem:

“Salem, 54 Turner Street, John Turner house, "House of Seven Gables", Holgrave studio”

“Salem, 54 Turner Street, John Turner house, "House of Seven Gables", Holgrave studio”

7) Because it looks basically the same today, and also I couldn’t resist the movement in this image and the Edwardian clothing:

“Salem, Derby Square, Market House”

“Salem, Derby Square, Market House”

8) Because the harbor is where I feel most connected to Salem’s history, and I wish those buildings were still on Derby Wharf:

“Salem, Derby Wharf, views”

“Salem, Derby Wharf, views”

9) Because I would do literally anything to go back in time and save Salem Depot:

“Salem, Norman and Washington Street junction, Boston Maine Railroad depot, erected 1847”

“Salem, Norman and Washington Street junction, Boston Maine Railroad depot, erected 1847”

10) Because the seventeenth-century Hunt House is one of the lost houses of Salem that breaks my heart the most. Also, horse !

“Salem, Washington Street Corner Lynde Street”

“Salem, Washington Street Corner Lynde Street”

A Beautiful Tomb

The Phillips Library in 1998, at the tail end of its days as a living, breathing institution in downtown Salem (thanks to Mike Vitka for this image !)

The Phillips Library in 1998, at the tail end of its days as a living, breathing institution in downtown Salem (thanks to Mike Vitka for this image !)

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the new PEM Collections Center/Phillips Library in Rowley. While I sincerely thank the PEM for the opportunity to view the facility, my feelings on the matter at hand have not changed much.

The facility itself is beautiful; I admit that I am not trained in collections and/or archives, and I do not have much practical knowledge in that realm, but as far as I could tell, the manuscripts, books, and museum collections are being cared for and preserved to the highest degree of professional standards. Everything is organized and cataloged, with plenty of space for the collection to grow. It is a facility that I imagine most curators and archivists in America (and maybe the world) would envy.

But what struck me the most as I walked through stacks filled with family papers, letters, diaries, and ship logs, as I breathed in the intoxicating smell of old books, and as the tour guide stopped to point out Samuel McIntire’s original Salem Common arch sitting in one of the museum collections rooms, is how sad it is that these items are in storage and not being seen and engaged with by the Salem Community.  

Let’s get one thing out of the way; the Essex Institute was Salem’s historical society. Between the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, every city in Essex County (with the exception of Amesbury) created a historical society, but Salem did not; we had the Essex Institute. Sure the collection was and is wider than just Salem, with papers, books, and items relevant to cities all over Essex County and even the wider world. But the foundation of that collection has always been Salem, the seat, the capital, the heart of Essex County, and much of what the museum holds that can be described as “global” is tied inextricably to the history of Salem as a formidable maritime power. Salem’s history is global.

Since the Essex Institute merged with the Peabody Museum in 1992 to form the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem story has been sidelined and the institution has made the undoubtedly conscious transition to “art museum”. No one can deny that this was a smart financial decision on the part of the Peabody Essex board, and that what they’ve built is an economic and cultural boon for Salem. But our history, the number one reason why tourists visit Salem and the number one reason why residents love living in Salem, slipped through the cracks and was utterly lost.  

So while I congratulate the PEM on its state-of-the-art facility and high standards of preservation that will undoubtedly ensure that the library and museum collections survive for centuries to come, I implore the community not to fall for the false dichotomy of preservation vs. accessibility and engagement. We preserve our past in order to interpret it and learn from it, not simply to lock it away in a beautiful tomb.

And I implore the PEM to create a “Salem History Center” in Plummer Hall & Daland house, to install a permanent and comprehensive exhibit on Salem’s history, to create a space for a rotating exhibit on Salem’s History, to staff the Salem reading room and make it the main point of access for the Phillips library (the reading room in the new facility leaves much to be desired), and to please make good on your ten-year-old promise to digitize the archives.

Please resurrect our incredible history.     

Phillips Library Reading Room in Salem, 2008, before being shuttered in 2011 with promises of a 2013 reopening

Phillips Library Reading Room in Salem, 2008, before being shuttered in 2011 with promises of a 2013 reopening

New Phillips Library Reading Room at the PEM Collections Center in Rowley, 2018 (Photo by Paul Bilodeau)

New Phillips Library Reading Room at the PEM Collections Center in Rowley, 2018 (Photo by Paul Bilodeau)

Does the Salem Historical Commission Have Jurisdiction Over the Phillips Library Collection ?

In 2015, the City of Salem issued a long-overdue update to its 1991 Historic Preservation Master Plan. The 2015 document spells out the role of the Salem Historical Commission (SHC) in a section labeled "Salem's Municipal Agencies and Private Organizations Engaged in Historic Preservation Activities." According to the Preservation Plan Update, "the SHC is one of the few municipal agencies in the Commonwealth that serves a dual role as both an historical commission (MGL Ch. 40 Sec. 8D) and an historic district commission (MGL Ch. 40C.)"

The Massachusetts statute regarding historical commissions cited in the quotation above, MGL Ch. 40 Sec. 8D, states the following: "A city or town which accepts this section may establish an historical commission, hereinafter called the commission, for the preservation, protection and development of the historical or archaeological assets of such city or town."

The Phillips Library collection is certainly one of the city's premier historical assets. The Salem Historical Commission must help us protect it from being placed permanently in Rowley. 

In Rowley. 

In Rowley. 

Exploitation or Denial

The Peabody Essex Museum is, without a doubt, an institution that Salem can and should be proud of. From its stellar collections and exhibits, to its engaging public programming, there is no denying that it's a world-class museum. Still, there's one accolade that the PEM regularly receives that drives me absolutely bananas: the Peabody Essex Museum is a great alternative to Salem's "witch stuff." I want to know why the Peabody Essex Museum is not THE venue for Salem locals and visitors who are interested in the Salem Witch Trials ?   

The Witch Hunt in Scotland artifact display,   National Museum of Scotland  , Edinburgh, UK. 

The Witch Hunt in Scotland artifact display, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK. 

In 1992, the Peabody Museum of Salem merged with Salem's de facto historical society, the Essex Institute, to become the Peabody Essex Museum. This newly formed institution became the steward of Salem's documentary and material history, including manuscripts and artifacts related to the Salem Witch Trials. Here's a list of items that the PEM owns (or at least owned at one point) relating to the trials and people involved in the trials:

Documents: 
Examination of Martha Corey March 21, 1691/2
Indictment #1 of Abigail Hobbs Sept 10, 1692
Complaint v. George Burroughs August 3, 1692
Indictment #4 of George Burroughs August 3, 1692
Indictment v. Mary Parker Sept 16, 1692
Nehemiah Abbot Sr. v. Elizabeth Howe June 30, 1692
John Andrew v. Sarah Wilds June 30, 1692
Joseph Andrew v. Sarah Wilds June 30, 1692
Thomas Dorman v. Sarah Wilds July 2, 1692
Humphrey Clark v. Sarah Wilds July 2, 1692
Nathaniel Ingersoll v. Sarah Wilds April 22, 1692
Ann Putnam Jr. v. Sarah Wilds April 22, 1692
Mary Wolcott v. Sarah Wilds April 22, 1692
John Gould v. Sarah Wilds July 2, 1692
Zacheus Perkins v. Sarah Wilds July 2, 1692
Elizabeth Symonds v. Sarah Wilds July 2, 1692
Indictment of Sarah Wilds June 30, 1692
Account of Jail Keeper, William Dounlon 1692
Daniel Andrew for Rebecca Nurse March 24, 1692
Peter Cloyse for Rebecca Nurse March 24, 1692
Elizabeth Porter for Rebecca Nurse March 24, 1692
Israel Porter for Rebecca Nurse March 24, 1692
Complaint v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Elizabeth Hubert v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Mercy Lewis v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Ann Putnam v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Susannah Sheldon v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Mary Walcott v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Abigail Williams v. George Burroughs April 30, 1692
Nathaniel Ingersoll v. Elizabeth Proctor April 4, 1692
Samuel Parris v. Elizabeth Proctor April 4, 1692
Thomas Putnam v. Elizabeth Proctor April 4, 1692
Elizabeth Fuller v. John Lee undated
Joseph Pope v. John Proctor April 11, 1692
John Hale v. Sarah Wilds July 2, 1692
Ann Putnam Sr. v. Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse March 24, 1692
Indictment #2 of Abigail Hobbs Sept 10, 1692
Examination of Ann Foster July 21, 1692
Examination of Mary Lacey, Sr. July 22, 1692
Examination of Mary Lacey, Jr. July 22, 1692
Examination of Richard Carrier July 22, 1692
Examination of Andrew Carrier July 22, 1692
Examination of Mary Toothaker July 30, 1692
Examination of Sarah Carrier Sept 2, 1692
Examination of Thomas Carrier, Jr. Sept 2, 1692
Examination of Hannah Post August 25, 1692
Examination of Sarah Bridges August 25, 1692
Examination of Mary Marston August 30, 1692
Examination of Mary Barker August 19, 1692
Examination of Elizabeth Johnson, Jr. August 11, 1692
Confession of Sarah Wardwell Sept 2, 1692
Examination of Sarah Hawks Sept 1, 1692
Examination of Mary Wardwell Sept 1, 1692
Examination of Johanna Tyler Sept 16, 1692
Examination of William Barker, Jr. Sept 1, 1692
Examination of Stephen Johnson Sept 1, 1692
John Putnam Sr. v. George Burroughs May 9, 1692
Rebecca Putnam v. George Burroughs May 9, 1692
Testimony of William Rayment Jr. for Elizabeth Proctor August 5, 1692
Indictment #2 of Elizabeth How June 29, 1692
Second Examination of Rebecca Eames August 31, 1692
Samuel Sibley v. Sarah Good June 29, 1692
Indictment of Mary Lacey Sr. Sept 14, 1692

(In addition to the documents listed above, owned by the museum, the PEM also holds the Essex County Court Archives, Salem Witchcraft Papers, a collection deposited at the Essex Institute in December 1980) 

Artifacts:
Sampler by Mary Hollingsworth English (accused & imprisoned)
Two canes owned by George Jacobs (executed)
Sundial owned by John Proctor (executed)
Chair owned by Philip English (accused & imprisoned)
Trunk owned by Judge Jonathan Corwin
Valuables Cabinet owned by Bathsheba Pope (accuser)

Art: 
Judge Samuel Sewall portrait, painted by John Smibert
The Witch House, painted by Samuel Bartoll, 1819
Examination of a Witch, painted by T. H. Matteson, 1853
The Trial of George Jacobs, painted by T. H. Matteson, 1855

The current situation regarding the Phillips Library collection reflects Salem's fraught relationship with its own history.  The institution that should be taking the lead on witch trials interpretation for locals and visitors, one that owns witch trials documents and artifacts, as well as houses that stood in Salem in 1692 (including one that stood across the street from the jail in the seventeenth century), is instead removing remnants of this history from our city entirely. This approach is reminiscent of the "collective amnesia"*** toward the trials that characterized the community from the time of Governor Phips’ publication ban on witch trials literature, up until the day that someone realized they could make a buck off of a witch spoon.  

This abdication of responsibility by the PEM has contributed to a local public history fiasco: Salem Witch Trials education is largely the domain of downtown’s for-profit tourism machine, an industry that has little incentive to educate properly as long as hordes of visitors are coming through the doors. And so, with a few notable exceptions (History Alive!, the Witch House, a few of the year-round walking tour companies, and the National Park Service’s great documentary come to mind), Salem’s establishments offer the tourist or local interested in one of the most well-known episodes in American history one of two options: exploitation or denial. 

We deserve better. Our visitors deserve better. This history deserves better. How can we do better ? 

*** Read more about this in Dr. Emerson Baker's book, A Storm of Witchcraft

 

Magic, etc.

Hello all !

So. Here's what's up:

Over the past two months or so, I've been thinking seriously about research for my Master's thesis. I've known since I started grad school that my thesis would have something to do with witchcraft history (because, obviously). But my plan took an interesting turn into an area where witchcraft history, folklore, architecture, and archaeology intersect. I'm going to write my thesis on counter-magic, or "apotropaic" magic, specifically the type that can be found carved onto timber in seventeenth and eighteenth-century vernacular buildings in New England. 

Anyone who follows me on Instagram has probably gathered that I'm obsessed with markings scratched onto old wood. I can remember the moment when I became fascinated with them. Ryan, David, and I were giving Dr. Baker a quick tour of The Gables before a lecture he was giving there back in 2015. He saw some markings on the wood in the attic and asked if we had checked the house for "witch marks" or "hex marks," symbols carved onto timber to ward off witchcraft. My brain went "HOLY CRAP THAT'S A THING ?!" And I've been obsessively checking wood in early New England houses ever since. 

Apotropaic magic and protective markings have been fairly widely studied and written about in Britain since the seventies and eighties (I would be remiss in not mentioning Timothy Easton, the pioneer in the area of ritual marks on timber), but they are newer territory here in the States. Still, when I compare what I've found here with what has been documented in England, much of it is very similar. And that needs to be explored. 

Photo by me in 2015. An elaborate hexafoil carved onto timber in the attic of  Historic New England's Jackson House , c. 1664, Portsmouth, NH.  

Photo by me in 2015. An elaborate hexafoil carved onto timber in the attic of Historic New England's Jackson House, c. 1664, Portsmouth, NH.  

The use of counter-magic by Protestants in early New England fascinates me because, right off the bat, it presents two huge issues: first of all, they shouldn't have believed in the effectiveness of magic; and secondly, if they did believe in it, it was still definitely not ok to practice it. But the innate (?) human belief in magic persisted and orthodoxy was disregarded. People were so afraid that they risked upsetting God.    

I have so much more hunting to do before I can start writing this thing next year. But I'm very optimistic. And I hope my findings and my research can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of our forebears.

In the meantime, if you live in a seventeenth, eighteenth, or even nineteenth-century house and have noticed any unusual markings on timber, email me !!

If you want to learn more about apotropaiac magic, visit my friend Brian Hoggard's website at http://www.apotropaios.co.uk/ 

Brian is a veteran in the counter-magic field in the UK and he has been very generously helping me get my bearings ! 

Until next time. 

 

Hello !

Hello to all 2 people looking at my website (Jen & my mother) ! I'm still trying to figure out what I want this site to be, and what I want out of it, etc. So bear with me as I work this thing out ! In the meantime, here's one of the happiest moments of my life: 

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