Connected \\ August 19, 2020

Stories of Salem, From A to Z

People all over the world know of Salem, Massachusetts, because of the horrific injustice that transpired here in 1692. It is the Witch City, after all, where a broom-riding mascot adorns the city’s fleet of police cruisers. Salem Stories, a new exhibition opening September 26, seeks to present a more multifaceted view of this vibrant and unique city on the sea.

Organized by the architecture of the alphabet, the exhibition presents 26 vignettes about the people, places and events that made Salem the city it is today. Fun facts abound. Did you know Alexander Graham Bell completed the first successful long-distance telephone call from Salem in 1877, or that Parker Brothers manufactured Monopoly here for many years? The city is also officially recognized as the birthplace of the United States National Guard thanks to legislation signed by President Obama in 2013.

Monopoly, about 1940, Paper, paperboard and wood.

G is for Game On! For more than a century, Parker Brothers, Inc. spread the name of Salem, Massachusetts throughout the world. The company's best sellers included Monopoly, Clue Risk and Trivial Pursuit. Parker Brothers, Inc., Monopoly, about 1940, Paper, paperboard and wood. Gift of the North Shore Children’s Hospital Thrift Shop, 1984. 136184. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

“Salem is truly a fascinating city filled with many stories of local, national and international significance,” says Karina Corrigan, Associate Director – Collections, and The H.A. Crosby Forbes Curator of Asian Export Art. “This is a local story told by locals. The large team of curators who collaborated to create this exhibition have more than 150 years of experience working at PEM. Several of us, including myself, have also called the city home for many years. But even we learned new things about our city! Whether you are from Essex Street or Estonia, I think you are going to discover something new about Salem in this show.”

Salem Stories begins with “A is for Always Indigenous” to acknowledge the Native communities who have lived for millennia on the land where the museum now sits. It ends with “Z is for Zoology” and coincides with the return to the galleries of a leatherback turtle specimen captured in 1885, a favorite of longtime visitors.

a Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), 1885. Collected off Rockport, Massachusetts. Donated by Mr. Parsons, 1885. FIC2012.929.1.

Z is for Zoology. The museum no longer collects specimens, but zoology is part of PEM's institutional DNA. The natural history collections contribute to our understanding and appreciation of Essex County. Here, Jane Winchell, Director of PEM's Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center, stands beside a Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), 1885. Collected off Rockport, Massachusetts. Donated by Mr. Parsons, 1885. FIC2012.929.1. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Using selections from PEM’s vast permanent collection, Salem Stories features more than 100 works that speak to Salem’s past, present and future, including paintings, sculpture, textiles, decorative arts, photographs, natural history specimens, manuscripts and books from the Phillips Library, posters, and even a murder weapon (found under “S is for Scandal”). The A–Z structure creates an accessible and entertaining way to engage with the city’s history, and even entice people to guess ahead as to what the next letters might be.

There are some obvious choices like “M is for Samuel McIntire.” As an architect, woodcarver and furniture designer, McIntire played the seminal role in making Salem one of the most beautiful towns in early America. On view is his carved portrait of George Washington, which was once displayed on an arch on Salem Common. Meanwhile, “E is for East India Marine Society,” the original founders of PEM in 1799. The curators are reinstalling one of the museum’s original cases to showcase the diversity of works brought back by Salem ship captains.

Portrait of George Washington. Carved 1805. Wood, paint. White carving in an oval on a black background.

M is for Samuel McIntire. The architect, woodcarver and furniture designer left a legacy of design excellence that has lasted well beyond his death in 1811. Samuel McIntire, Portrait medallion of George Washington, once displayed on an arch on Salem Common, 1805. Painted pine. Gift of the City of Salem Committee of Public Property, 1891. 110728. Peabody Essex Museum.

And there are some creative surprises. “C is for Caring for our Community” and chronicles how the city has come together in times of crisis, from the outpouring of support after the Great Salem fire of 1914, to the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. “H is for Sophia Hawthorne,” the wife of Nathaniel, a talented artist and writer whose contributions can be overshadowed by her famous husband. “X is for XO, Love from the Willows” and features a vintage kiss-o-meter game on loan from the owners of the Salem Arcade. The city park’s namesake willow trees, still popular today, were planted in 1801 to provide a shady refuge for patients recuperating at a nearby smallpox hospital.

A large mural painted on the side of a building at Punto Urban Art Museum.

U is for Urban Art Museum. The open-air museum is the work of the North Shore Community Development Coalition and features more than 75 large-scale murals within a three-block radius in the city's Point neighborhood. The nonprofit seeks to use public art to break down an invisible barrier that exists between the predominantly Latino neighborhood and the rest of the city. Picture is a work by Chor Boogie, Love Child, 2017, Spray paint. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

Salem has long been a place of opportunity for immigrants, with every wave of arrivals bringing new ideas, culinary traditions, and values, expanding the city’s cultural richness, and bolstering its economy. “I is for Immigrants” celebrates that long history, from the Polish, Irish and French-speaking Canadian immigrants in the 19th century to the more recent arrivals from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations who now call the city home. “R is for Remond Family” introduces visitors to the story of John Remond, who came to Salem in 1798 as a young boy from the Caribbean island of Curaçao aboard the Salem ship Six Brothers. Remond would become the patriarch of one of the most influential free Black families in early 19th century New England. All members of his family belonged to local and national anti-slavery societies, and his children Sarah Parker Remond and Charles Lenox Remond became renowned international abolitionist orators.

Corrigan stresses that the exhibition will continue to evolve, just like the city itself, and new Salem stories will be added along the way. In fact, “Y is for You” features a mirror to reinforce this idea, inviting the community to share their own unique stories of the city. There are far more than 26, of course. And we are eager to hear them.

The PEM curatorial team extends thanks to the community advisors who helped shape this exhibition: Rachel Allen (Nez Perce), Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Jim McAllister, Jennifer Toler and Rosario Ubiera-Minaya.

TOP IMAGE: Artist in the United States, Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill, Salem, about 1850. Oil on canvas. Gift of American History Textile Museum Collection. 2017.9.1.

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