Little Folks - Salem, Massachusetts

Little Folks Magazine Subscription (c. 1914-1928)

Subscriptions to magazines published by Salem's Cassino publishing company were popular gifts, especially for children. S.E. Cassino Co. was a Salem and Boston based publishing company, operated by Salemite Samuel Edison Cassino and his daughter Margherita Cassino Osborne.

The two branches of the S.E. Cassino Co. focused on vastly different topics. The Boston branch, which was run by Samuel, focused on naturalist topics; the Salem division, which was edited and operated by Margherita and her husband Frank Wellman Osborne, concentrated on the more profitable sector of children’s magazines and books. One particularly popular publication was Little Folks, which was a children’s magazine published in Salem from 1914-1928.

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

Ghost Signs of Salem, Massachusetts

Newmark's Ghost Sign on Essex Street c. 1970

The term "ghost signs" refers to now weathered, hand painted brick advertisements that were popular during the late 19th and early 20th century. In the days before digital marketing, this form of advertising was used by a variety of local and national businesses to promote their locations and products. Remnants of these signs can be seen throughout the city of Salem, Massachusetts. Though multiple ghost signs remain, many have been lost over the last century to revitalization projects, rezoning and demolition. 
Pillsbury Ghost Sign on Endicott Street
The most famous of these advertising signs are for Coca-Cola, many of which are still visible throughout North America. Between 1890 and 1920, an estimated 16,000 murals were painted across the United States. In 1910, a quarter of Coca-Cola's advertising budget was used solely for the creation of wall murals. 

Lost Coca-Cola Advertisement on Boston Street c. 1930

Recently, Coca-Cola launched a ghost sign revitalization project, where the company employs artists to restore their ghost signs. The project has already breathed new life into over two dozen murals, across fifteen states. 

Almy, Bigelow & Washburn Ghost Sign on New Derby Street
Beeman's Pepsin Ghost Sign on Peabody Street

Harry Houdini - Salem, Massachusetts

Courtesy: Salem Patch
Courtesy: Hawthorne Hotel
In April 1906, Harry Houdini visited Salem while on tour. For three consecutive nights he performed sold out shows at the Salem Theatre on Essex Street. During his stay, he was challenged by the skeptical chief of police to escape a locked cell in Salem’s police station, at the time located on Front Street. It is said that Houdini, stripped of his clothes, was placed in three sets of handcuffs and two pairs of leg irons, in the jail’s middle cell. In a reported 13 minutes, Houdini had freed himself and opened the neighboring cell, where his clothes were being held. He then proceeded to unlock all of the remaining cells and handcuffed himself to a fellow prisoner. Fully clothed, prisoner in-tow, he walked outside and mockingly stood in the window where the police chief was waiting.

Courtesy: Salem Memories II -
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.
Harry Houdini died in Detroit, Michigan on October 31, 1926 after days of suffering complications of a ruptured appendix. Following a large funeral of over 2,000 mourners, he was laid to rest in Queens, New York.
On October 30, 1990, a séance was held in the grand ballroom of Salem’s Hawthorne Hotel in the hopes of summonsing the spirit of Harry Houdini on the 64th anniversary of his death. Despite being unsuccessful, this séance helped lead to the introduction of the annual Halloween Party, which premiered in 1991.

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

The Witch House - Salem, Massachusetts

The Jonathan Corwin House, more commonly known as The Witch House, is located at the corner of Essex and North Streets and built in the early 17th century. It was believed that Roger Williams lived in this home in 1630 and until the mid-20th century the house was named after him. Research and modern technology later dated the house to post-1640; however the time frame is still heavily debated.

In 1675, the home was purchased by Judge Jonathan Corwin. He would go on to gain infamy when he was called upon in 1692 to investigate accusations of witchcraft in Salem. He served on the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which sentenced nineteen people to be hanged, despite their claims of innocence. One additional victim, Giles Corey, was crushed by stones for "standing mute" and not offering a plea of guilty or not guilty. Contrary to popular lore, there is no documentation that Judge Corwin used his own home to interrogate those accused during the 1692 hysteria. Judge Corwin died in 1718 and the home remained in his family until the mid-nineteenth century.

This first period home has undergone extensive changes over its nearly 400 year lifespan. In 1856 it was purchased by George Farrington who attached a storefront to the home. For nearly 100 years the space operated as a pharmacy, gift shop, and museum entrance. Farrington was one of the early Salem business owners to embrace the nickname “Witch City.” In a time predating Daniel Low’s souvenir witch spoons, Farrington was already including witches in his marketing. He shifted the focus of the house’s interpretation from Roger Williams to Jonathan Corwin and renamed it the Witch House. A large number of postcards were created, popularizing the house and Salem as a tourist destination for dark history.
In the 1940s, the Witch House and neighboring Bowditch House were slated for demolition in an effort to widen North Street for automobile traffic. The formation of Historic Salem Inc. saved the structures and preservation of the Witch House was overseen by Gordon Robb, a Boston architect. The shop was detached and the home was moved 35 feet back from its previous location. The Witch House was renovated to reflect how it was thought to have appeared in the 17th century and gables were rebuilt. In 1948, the Witch House opened as a city run museum and continues to operate as such.

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

Dating the Past - Civil War Revenue Stamps

Courtesy: Salem State University Archives & Special Collections

During the American Civil War many soldiers took with them mementos from home, including photographs of loved ones. Photography had improved dramatically over the previous decade leading up to the war, both in quality and accessibility. This created a boom in portrait photography during antebellum that still continues.

In order to finance the war, the Union government instituted the Revenue Act of 1862, which taxed luxury items. Photographers were required to collect tax for each image and to show the tax was paid by affixing a stamp to the back and cancelling it with their initials and date. Although photographs were one of the most taxed items, photography did not have its own stamp. Often stamps for telegraphs and playing cards were used. 

On August 1, 1866 the tax on photography was repealed, making these revenue stamps indicative of the Civil War era. They do not appear on images prior to or after the war, making them easy to date. 

This particular image was taken in the heart of downtown Salem, Massachusetts by Essex Street photographer, D.W. Bowdoin. The 3 cent stamp attached to the back indicates the keepsake was purchased for between 25 cents and 50 cents.