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Archive for the ‘collections’ Category

Jubilee Year

Commemorative plate for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, 1887. Peabody Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Lyman Osborn, 1912

With the celebrations in Britain these past few days of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, it’s hard not to make comparisons to another influential Queen of England, Queen Victoria (1819-1902). Queen Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch in British history. From her accession in June of 1837 to her death in January of 1901 she reigned for almost 64 years. She died at the age of eighty-one. Yet Queen Elizabeth II has surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest-living monarch, having turned eighty-six in April. Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria both celebrated their Diamond Jubilees in the sixtieth year of their reigns.

George Peabody was South Danvers’s most famous son, for whom the town was renamed in 1868. He moved to London in 1837, the same year that Queen Victoria ascended the throne. In London Peabody became a successful banker and philanthropist. When he donated over $2 million to create housing for the working poor of London, Queen Victoria wished to find a way to thank Peabody. Because he was an American citizen, she couldn’t offer him knighthood. Instead, she commissioned her court artist, Frederick Arnaud Tilt, to paint a miniature portrait on enamel of the Queen. It arrived at the Library on Sept. 22, 1866, along with the Queen’s autographed letter, thanking Peabody for his generosity to the poor of London. Peabody’s legacy to the working poor of London still exists to this day. The Peabody Trust in London recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. This past March staff and members of the Peabody Historical Society traveled to London at the invitation of the Peabody Trust to participate in the celebrations, including a mass at Westminister Abbey.

Portrait miniature of Queen Victoria by Frederick Arnaud Tilt in the collection of the Peabody Institute Library

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Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth (1837-1861)



In a recent post about the Civil War, we used an image from our collection to illustrate a letter written by John W. Stevens of South Danvers. The image is a photograph taken of a lithograph or sketch of a young soldier, cut into an oval shape and pasted onto a piece of cardboard. On the reverse was written simply “Ellsworth.” Now we know who he is. A recent Facebook post by our colleague Camille Breeze of Museum Textile Services reveals that he is Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth. Ellsworth was the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War. A member of the New York Zouaves, he was killed on May 24, 1861 while attempting to remove a Rebel flag from atop the Marshall House hotel in Alexandria, VA. The hotel’s proprietor, a staunch secessionist, shot him. Ellsworth’s death prompted thousands of men in the North to enlist in the Civil War.


Ellsworth is currently the subject of three different exhibitions: “Col. Elmer Ellsworth and The Marshall House Incident” at the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site in Alexandria displays most of one blood-stained star taken from the flag Ellsworth was removing when he was shot. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. presents “The Ellsworth Incident” as part of a larger exhibition commemorating the start of the Civil War. The New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY, displays most of the rest of the Rebel flag, which was cut up for souvenirs after his death. Also on display is the uniform Ellsworth was wearing when he was killed. It still bears the large bullet hole where the slug entered his chest. Click here for more information on the exhibits commemorating Col. Ellsworth.


Souvenirs bearing Ellsworth’s image were largely reproduced in the North to commemorate the first Union martyr of the Civil War. No doubt it was a patriotic soul in Peabody who had acquired this photograph, which is why it is today part of the Peabody Historical Society’s collection.

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Poke Bonnet, ca. 1830s-1850s



“I consider that without hats, an intrinsic part of fashion, we would have no civilization.” – Christian Dior


Hats Off to History and Art is a collaboration between the Peabody Historical Society and the Peabody Art Association. PAA artists were invited to create art based on historic and vintage hats in the collection of the Peabody Historical Society. The show features a variety of period hats, ranging from poke bonnets to pillboxes to straw hats, all from the Society’s collection. The hats date from the mid-19th century up to the 1970s and traces the evolution of headwear. “Poke bonnets” (above) were so-called because the wearer could poke up all of her hair beneath it. By contrast, cloche hats of the 1920s (below) were fitted close to the head – perfect for the short, bobbed hairstyles women sported during that decade. The show also features a large selection of vintage hats from the 1950s and 60s, an era of glamor and sophistication in which a woman wasn’t considered properly dressed for leaving the house unless she wore a hat and gloves. The show also includes a selection of men’s hats, including military hats.


Hats off to History and Art is on view through August 31st at the Peabody Historical Society’s Osborn Salata House, 33 Washington Street in Peabody. For more information visit www.peabodyhistorical.org.


Cloche from the 1920s

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The following is an excerpt from a letter written by John W. Stevens of South Danvers. He was an Orderly with the Fifth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, Company C., under the command of Captain Robert S. Daniels, Jr. Stevens wrote this letter while stationed at Camp Pierson in Newbern, North Carolina. The letter is dated February 14th, 1863. In it Stevens talks of his daily routine at camp while waiting to be called to battle, but he also maintains an interest in the goings-on at home, such as his father’s business, and the welfare of a neighbor’s horse. Stevens survived the war and returned home to South Danvers. This letter was presented by Mrs. James Buxton of Peabody for the “Century Box,” a time capsule deposited in the Peabody Institute in 1902 and opened in 2002.

“Dear Father,

I was much pleased in receiving a letter from you and a good long one it was. I was glad to learn that you had to get to doing a little something in the yard again. I presume after you get started fairly you will not find any trouble in getting hides to tan or to buy some. Don’t it come hard to commence business again after laying by for so long a time! Don’t despair – a better day is coming. We must look ahead and hope for better times.

I understand that business is very good at home now. I should think that help would be scarce after so many have gone to war. Never mind, we will arrive in time to relieve some of our young men that are so very patriotic at home, and give them a chance to see the Elephant*, I think most of the boys that are here, will not be likely to take a second peep at him. It seems to be the general expression among officers and soldiers that after finishing their term of service will not again enlist. I presume it is the opinion of those at home that the soldiers here and other departments are very well contented with their lot.

I haven’t seen yet so hard times as I pictured in my imagination before enlisting although we have done our share since we came out here but are comfortably situated in camp now, and flatter ourselves that we shall not be called away from here again until our time expires. Yet we may be ordered away in a day for we don’t get much notice when we are wanted.

It is after taps now but I shall try to finish this letter tonight. Capt. Daniels is officer of the day and I am going the grand rounds with him tonight at 12-1/2 o’clock. As Sergt. of the same I go with him every time he is on. My duty is to answer the sentinel when he challenges us at 10 paces, and orders halt. “Who comes there.”! Answer: “Grand rounds advance Sergt. of the rounds and give the countersigned.” I advance to the point of his bayonet and whisper the countersign to him over the point of the bayonet. If correct, he says, “Advance rounds.”

Tell Mother that our Company is not in quite so bad a state of demoralization as is represented to her at home. There is some few who may be figuring pretty fine the days and hours of our time of service, but it doesn’t amount to anything. For one I would not accept of my discharge until our time has expired and go home honorably feeling that I have done all the government required of me.

I shall not be able to answer Charley’s letter this mail. Give my love to him and Susie. Also to Mother and Louisa and tell them to write often. Remember me to Uncle Ben and all inquiring friends. Tell Mr. Porter not to let the little mare get too lazy and too big a belly on her. Write often.

From your affectionate son,
John W. Stevens.”

* “Seeing the Elephant” was a euphemism for seeing active warfare and participating in a battle.

Portrait of unidentified soldier, c. 1861-1865. Collection of the Peabody Historical Society.

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James Daugherty

D-204. Designed by James Daugherty, American. Ca. 1977-1980. Gift of Joan Needham, 1994



This dress of red crepe polyester, circa 1977-1980, has an air of elegance that evokes the sophistication of gowns of the Fifties and early Sixties while still remaining contemporary. It was designed by James Daugherty. Daugherty was an African-American fashion designer based in New York. His fashions were featured often in Ebony and Jet magazines. Eunice Walker Johnson, co-founder and publisher of Ebony and Jet, founded the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1956. The Fashion Fair was an annual traveling fashion show held as a fundraiser to benefit charities. It used only African American models wearing haute couture clothing from many of the great American and European designers. Walker was the first African American to import designer clothing from Europe. The last Fashion Fair was scheduled for 2009 but was abruptly cancelled due to the poor economy. Walker died in 2010 at the age of 93.

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