August 14, 2017

Postcards to Mollie - Salem, Massachusetts


Postcards were the texts and emails of the early 20th century. Messages written on postcards were not private, but postage was only a penny and they quickly caught on.

This collection of postcards, written between a set of cousins, is a snapshot of life in Salem in 1912 and contains some fun (and occasionally sassy) interactions between family members.

Mary “Mollie” Decker was born in October 1849 in Ipswich. Her family later moved to Margin St. in Salem. On April 15, 1885, at the age of 35, Mollie married Thomas H. Williamson Jr., a local shoecutter, and they lived with her family on Margin St. before moving to Beverly.


Until her marriage, Mollie lived with her family in this home at the corner of Margin and Summer Streets.The Gothic Revival structure is still a private residence now known as the William H. Farnham House. 

By 1900, the couple moved to New Hampshire, where Thomas was a farmer. Mollie appears to have kept in constant contact with her younger cousins Abbie, Alice, and Ellen, three sisters who lived on Gardner Street in Salem.

 


On this postcard Mollie’s cousin Abbie writes to update Mollie on the health of the family. Can you spot the X on the postcard image? Abbie placed this X to illustrate to Mollie where her new office was. Most likely, Abbie worked in that building as a clerk or secretary.


The Witch House, often incorrectly referred to as the Roger Williams House, was a common image on postcards in the early 20th century as the Witch Trials history became popular following the 1892 bicentennial. The house is known as the Witch House due to its connection to Judge Jonathan Corwin who lived in the home during the trials.

Alice wrote to Mollie “Dear Cousin Mollie, I read about you, think about you, dream about you and do everything but see you. With love to all lovingly Alice”




Alice wrote to Abbie during her stay with Mollie in New Hampshire. Alice joked about how late their
sister Ellen had stayed out the night before, saying “tell Cousin Frank, Ellen got in at 10:45. What is he going to do about it?” [sic] Alice also suggested "Abbie should stop in at the Dancing Casino at Salem Willows (pictured on the postcard) for a dance when she gets back, stating “it will be handy to you and you will enjoying it.”



“Is it hot enough for you. It don’t take quite so much heat to bake me, I hear you are going to have
company soon gee but I guess your glad. Cousin Frank took me in the auto to Ipswich the 4th saw the
president in [Beverly], and coming back saw a parade in [North Beverly] and it was fine, and then for a treat at number 4. Makes a fellow feel better. Cheer up you will hear the tooting soon. With lots of love Ellen”

Ellen is referring to President William Howard Taft, who split his summers as president between two
estates in Beverly. Like many people, the Taft family sought relief from the city heat by summering on the North Shore coast. President Taft was known for being social during his stays in Beverly, often found on the local golf courses or participating in parades and events.


Although this collection of postcards provide incredible insight in to the life of Mollie Williamson and her family, we are still left with a lot of questions.

What did Mollie look like?

Did she have the same sense of humor as her cousins?

What was her day to day life like in New Hampshire?
These questions might be answered by further research, but for now Mollie remains a mystery. 



*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which all postcard images belong.
Edited by Emily A. Murphy, Ph.D. 

July 31, 2017

Asiatic Building - Salem, Massachusetts

125 Washington Street, Asiatic Block
The Asiatic Building was initially built for the Asiatic Bank in 1855, when it moved from a smaller location in the East India Marine Building (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum). The building was designed by William H. Emmerton and Joseph C. Foster and was built partially on land originally belonging to the First Church and the Higginson Family.


Stereoeview of  Asiatic Building
The Asiatic Building housed multiple banks and financial institutions and was nicknamed “The Bank Block.” Residents included: Naumkeag National Bank, Merchants Bank, Salem Marine Insurance Company, and most notably The Salem Savings Bank. The Odd Fellows Hall was also located on the top floor, and their name adorned the facade of the building.
Around 1855, Washington Street was renumbered; 125 Washington Street until this time was 28 Washington Street. In the 1851 Salem Atlas, a structure appears where 125 Washington Street now stands and in the 1853 Salem Directory it is listed as being the home of Joseph Gardner, Jr. a carpenter.
125 Washington Street was remodeled in the early 20th century by architect Arthur E. French in the Colonial Revival style. The remodel included the removal of the top floor and the construction of a new fa├žade.

Interior of Salem Savings Bank, Asiatic Building

Interior of Salem Savings Bank, Asiatic Building

Asiatic Building from Town House Square

Asiatic Building and Washington Street


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections

June 26, 2017

Restaurant Row - Salem, Massachusetts


Real photo postcard showing Restaurant Row. c. 1920s
In 1858, 35 acres of waterfront on Salem’s Neck was designated a public park. The park was named Salem Willows due to the white willow trees that had been planted in that area in 1801. The trees originally offered shade to smallpox patients as they were treated by a hospital for contagious disease, which stood nearby. When the hospital closed, the trees and waterfront created a great escape from the city’s summer heat, for locals and tourists alike. The park steadily grew as a destination with the Naumkeag Street Railway offering frequent horse-drawn trolley rides from Salem’s downtown. With this success, an amusement park was built on an adjacent lot, which opened in June 1880. Attractions included a skating rink, restaurants, and a theater.
Visitors arrive at Salem Willows by trolley. c. 1920s
Starting In the 1870s, a group of restaurants opened along the Willow’s north shore. This stretch would become known as Restaurant Row and gained notoriety for “shore dinners” which were featured. Restaurant Row was anchored by Chase House, Swenbeck’s, and Ebsen’s, all of which specialized in seafood and ocean views. After nearly eighty years in operation these restaurants began closing their doors in the 1940s. On July 15, 1952, a fire consumed Chase House, the first in a series of fires and storms that ultimately destroyed Restaurant Row.

Dining room of Swenbeck's Park Cafe. c. 1920s


Chase House on Restaurant Row menu. 

Chase House on Restaurant Row. c. 1920s



*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 


June 12, 2017

Hello Day - Salem, Massachusetts



In 1971, Mayor of Salem Samuel E. Zoll proclaimed Saturday, May 1st to be “Hello Day.” The event was one in a series of month-long initiatives to celebrate the inauguration of new Salem State College president, Frank Keegan. The event was conceived by artist Donald Burgy of Bradford Junior College with the intention to revive kindness in Salem and help acquaint citizens with their fellow neighbors. Zoll and Burgy saw a wane in neighborliness with the rise of mass media and automobile travel and hoped “Hello Day” would better unite the community and possibly spawn future events. The two also requested that photographers capture the occasion and submit their images for multiple displays around town. 
At noon on May 1st, fire stations rang their bells and residents gathered in the streets. On Salem Common a rock band performed while a plane circled to take photos. High school student Marian Sonier reported to the Salem News that the event was one of the “best times [she] had in months.”



"Hello Day" celebrations on Salem Common.


Keegan and Zoll, seated, being interviewed by news outlets on Salem Common.

"Hello Day" celebrators gather on Salem Common for an interview with Channel 5 news.
Keegan and Zoll can be seen, seated.

A group of kids gathered on Salem Common for "Hello Day."
Pedestrians wave hello to each other in celebration of "Hello Day" on Essex Street.


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

April 19, 2017

The War of 1812

Correspondence from Boston to Salem Selectmen
When the War of 1812 broke out in June of that year, Salem's once bustling seaport and maritime industry had been waning for close to a decade. Following acts such as Jefferson's Embargo of 1807, Salem's once vibrant waterfront was forced into a decline. With more restrictions placed on foreign trade, and the growing war between Britain and France threatening all maritime travel, many once prominent mariners were now without an income.

Contrary to popular belief, the War of 1812, lasted almost three years. In April 1814, the U.S.S. Constitution was being pursued by two British vessels, HM frigates Tenedos and Junon. After being chased out of Boston Harbor, the Constitution sought refuge in Marblehead Harbor. The Tenedos and Junon continued their pursuit and anchored just outside the harbor, trapping the Constitution. Unsure of Marblehead's Fort Sewall's strength against the two well armed British frigates, the Constitution's only choice was to escape Marblehead Harbor and flee to Salem. Which it narrowly did. After about a week, the frigates abandoned their pursuit and the Constitution was able to return safely to Boston.

July 1814, Fort Sullivan in Maine (then part of Massachusetts) was conquered by British ships. Forts across New England began intense fortification, including the construction of a new fort in Boston, with a certainty that an attack on the city was imminent. Multiple cities along the eastern coast were attacked by British forces, including Orleans on Cape Cod. However, British cannonballs fell short of land and the town remained undamaged.

The signing of the Treaty of Ghent marked the end of the war as an impasse on December 24, 1814. However, news of the treaty took close to a month to reach all naval forces. Additional warfare ensued until February 1815 with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by President James Madison and the U.S. Senate.


*Written and researched by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem Historical Society.

January 20, 2017

The Smiling Widow - Salem, Massachusetts



Crowd outside a Salem courthouse during the trial of Jessie Costello, 1933.

In February 1933, Nellie Ayers, a door-to-door saleswoman, peddling fudge was welcomed into the Peabody home of Jessie Costello, her husband William, and their children. After a few minutes of speaking with Nellie, Jessie agreed to buy a pound of fudge and excused herself to retrieve her purse. Moments later Jessie returned to where Nellie was waiting, hysterically screaming that her husband was dead on the bathroom floor. Jessie sent Nellie away without payment, stating that she was unable to think of sweets at such a difficult time. 
An autopsy performed on William after his embalmment revealed the presence of cyanide in his system. On March 17, 1933, Jessie Costello was arrested for the murder of her husband. Thus beginning one of the most captivating trials the pre-television world would ever see.  
  An all-male jury was selected and the trial of Jessie Costello began in Salem with little recognition. Reporters lined up to cover the latest court cases and quickly became enamored with Jessie, who was dubbed “the smiling widow.” Many newspapers referred to her good looks and charm, describing her as a “glamorous siren” and “buxom prima donna.” 
Inside the courtroom, Jessie dismissed accusations of guilt with a nonchalance uncommon to trials of murder. A pharmacist claimed to have sold Jessie cyanide, the day of her husband’s death, stating that he warned her about the deadly poison. She replied “you call that poison?” going on to state that she used the substance to clean her stove. Jessie cited her husband’s ailing health and constant indigestion for causing him to commit suicide. The prosecution came back with evidence that Jessie had also purchased empty capsules, similar to what was found in her husband’s stomach. 
Following newspaper reports, the court house became surrounded by onlookers, hoping to catch a glimpse of the newest celebrity. Jessie received over 500 love letters daily as well as a dozen roses from the trials bailiff. The all-male jury pooled their money to buy “the smiling widow” a box of chocolates.
  However, Jessie already had an admirer. A married, police officer, named Ed McMahon. McMahon described an affair he had with Jessie Costello prior to William’s death. He implied Jesse was an outgoing, flapper, trapped as a housewife in a dull marriage and told of their affair in detail. Newspapers refused to print McMahon’s testimony as they thought it too crude but printed it in little red booklets which immediately sold out. Ed McMahon became dubbed “the kiss and tell cop” and became the villain of the trial. Jessie admittedly denied the affair, saying that any relationship she did have with McMahon was purely spiritual. 
  Despite mounting evidence against her, Jessie Costello was acquitted of the murder. Edmund Pearson, a journalist at the time, was quoted as saying “[the jury was] as helpless as twelve rabbits under the influence of those glittering ophidian eyes.”

Jessie Costello leaving for New York. 1934

  Jessie’s celebrity however, did not end with the court proceedings. She quickly was offered contracts on Broadway, and began receiving requests to tell her life story. She hired a theatrical agent and was asked to perform screen tests for Hollywood studios. During this time, she turned down a $20,000 contract to appear in a 10-week burlesque show, believing it was beneath her. She purchased new clothes and vacationed as a celebrity. Her short-lived fame would end however when Hollywood censors opposed her benefiting off of the death of her husband. Studios begrudgingly followed suit and withdrew all offers to work with Jessie. In a last attempt to maintain status, she approached the burlesque houses that she had previously turned down but found that they were no longer interested. 
  Unable to find work, Jessie became a hostess at a Boston tavern and later moved with her children to New Hampshire. She remained certain she would find fame again. Jessie Costello died on March 15, 1971. Her funeral was attended by nearly 200 mourners.


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.