I got out of the library archive and into the museum the past couple of days. Yesterday, thanks to a wonderful curator at the Peabody Essex Museum, I was got a quick tour of the East India Marine Hall and saw a handful of the original EIMS collection that is on display currently. She even took me back to a storage building and showed me the palanquin. It was covered in plastic but I could imagine it being carried down the streets of Salem. I went back today and took some pictures of the items on display to help me think about what folks might have run into when they entered the museum in the 1820s.
Back in the library, I spent yesterday going through old catalogs and manuscripts trying to find out what items were in the museum when and who donated them. I’m realizing that there was a good bit of stuff from Hindu religious culture in the museum, but that there was a lot of other stuff too.
Today, I looked at a bunch of lists of toasts given at the societies anniversary dinners, some scrapbooks, and some guest books. The toasts were useful because they revealed how nationalistic and commercially minded the society was. It was all about an amazing virtuous America built upon strong commercial enterprise. The toasts are like early American tweets–little bursts of thought that crystallized ideas floating in the culture. Going the guest books was tedious but interesting. I knew I’d find John Quincy Adams and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I also knew I’d find a spot where Andrew Jackson had had his signature clipped out in an act of pro-Whig vandalism by two young girls. But I didn’t know I’d find Lyman and Harriet Beecher or Franklin Pierce. I also didn’t know I’d find visitors from as far away as Mississippi, Charleston, Kentucky, and Alabama. Seems like the museum was the thing to do when you visited Salem (maybe even Boston) in the early nineteenth century.
Tomorrow is the last day. Time to finish with the guest books and head back to Atlanta.