Monthly Archives: March 2014

Go west, young PEM!

All the leaves are brown.  And the sky is gray.  In the midst of this so-called “spring,” we’re “California Dreamin” along with the Mamas and the Papas.  Unfortunately for us, California is 3,000 miles (a 4-day drive or a 6 hour plane ride) away.  Or is it?

DSC_0162The Peabody Essex Museum’s newest exhibit, California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way (on view March 29-July 6)brings the West Coast right to us.  The exhibit, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), captures the essence of California in the mid-20th century – glamorous, modern, bright, relaxed, sleek, and functional.

It is the first major exhibition study of modern California design and influence and features a diverse collection of textiles, clothing, furniture, home decor, jewelry, toys, film and television clips, and so much more.

In the early 20th century, California experienced a huge economic boom.  Bolstered by the movie industry and post-WWII population boom (and development of surburbia), California became a hub of innovation and experimentation: it was a mecca for creativity and modernism.


Aerial view of intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax Boulevards, Los Angeles, 1922 (left) and 1930 (right). Population/economic boom, indeed!


En route to the party, someone left their 1964 Studebaker Avanti parked in the atrium…

Walking through the exhibit, you feel as though you’ve been invited to a mid-century Hollywood dream soiree.  You’re now in with the “in” crowd and surrounded by designer clothes and jewelry, modern furniture, retro home decor, and the obligatory film clips and Oscar statuette (hey, it’s a Hollywood party, after all!).  As you meander, you pass famous faces, such as Walt Disney, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Esther Williams, and Barbie.  All that’s missing are cocktails, canapes, and David Niven (because we’re pretty sure he was at every Hollywood party ever).

And like a dream, you can look and admire, but not touch (or take.  We asked).

For more information on this exhibit, visit


Academy Award of Merit statuette, 1927-28


R.M. (Rudolph Michael) Schindler. Armchair and Ottoman from the Shep commission, Silver Lake, 1934-38.


Barbir #1, Barbie Teen Age Fashion Model (1959) and Ken doll (1961)


Margit Fellegi, Cole of California. Woman’s swimsuit (1950-51). Replica of Esther Williams’ “Million Dollar Mermaid” swimsuit – made as a promotional item.

***As a quick fun fact, many of the items in this exhibit – the film clips, “Million Dollar Mermaid” swimsuit, Oscar, Adrian gowns, etc., tie back to MGM Studios.  Studio head, Louis B. Mayer (aka, the second MGM “M”) got his start in the film industry operating a chain of theaters in Haverhill.  In a way, part of this exhibit started in the North of Boston region – so, it’s only fitting that its final showing is here as well.***




“X” Marks the Spot

As we’ve written before, the North of Boston region has a colorful history full of literature, axes, sea monsters, music, circus folk, and an imperative need to keep deer informed.  The region also has an especially rich maritime history, so it may not come as a surprise to hear that pirate treasure may be buried here.  That’s what they say anyway…

ESSEX HERITAGE_Trail to Saugus Iron Works by Gregg Mazzotta

Note: Leaving notes today will not get you any tools or supplies. No matter how much silver you promise.
(Photo by Gregg Mazzotta)

The late 17th century was a bumpy one in the region.  30-some odd years before the witch hysteria hit Salem, Lynn had its own dash of widespread paranoia.  And within good reason for, in 1658, a large, dark ship loomed into Lynn Harbor.  It was not identified by any flags and word quickly spread around town that it was a pirate ship.  A small rowboat, carrying two women and two oarsmen, was lowered from the ship and landed somewhere near the Saugus Iron Works.  They made their camp near the Saugus river at a location now known as “Pirates Glen.”  Iron works workers found a note nailed to the door the next day politely asking if the “pirates” could purchase tools and supplies from them and sent to a secret location.  The workers obliged and, as they had done with the note, the “pirates” left some silver for them as payment.  No pillaging or swashbuckling: just a cordial purchase.


Pictured: Nefarious pirate deeds

The people of Lynn, however, were still spooked by the mysterious ship and their interest piqued at the group’s request for tools – the group must be up to some nefarious pirate deed!  British soldiers (mind you, these were the days before the Revolution) were also interested in the “pirates” and did the logical thing and captured them.  The two women and one of the oarsmen were hanged but one man, Thomas Veal, managed to escape…with the group’s pirate treasure.  Our sources aren’t clear, but apparently (it was rumored)  the group had found some sort of treasure.  This could explain the soliders’ interest in the group.

Veal and his treasure sought refuge in a cave in Lynn Woods and, as time went by, became Lynn’s favorite cave-dweller.  We suppose the soldiers lost interest in their elusive captive as they never seemed to go after Veal (even though his location was well-known).  Or, perhaps, they did not believe the rumor about the treasure and left the poor guy alone.  Veal fixed shoes for the townspeople and seemed to generally enjoy being “cave guy.”

Safety warning: caves do not make the best homes.  An earthquake hit Lynn, causing rocks to tumble and block off the cave opening.  Veal was either crushed to death or died of starvation or asphyxiation. Townspeople, with their newly-mended shoes, probably shrugged and moved on with their lives.

Hiking & Biking Trails - Lynn Woods Reseervation - Darlene Foley

Lynn Woods. Photo by Darlene Foley

Attempts were made in the 1830s to blow open the cave, now known as Dungeon Rock (we hope not as a nod to it being Veal’s “dungeon,” as that’s just cruel), but they were failures and ruined the cave opening.  Neither Veal nor his supposed treasure were found.  In 1852, a man named Hiram Marble was eager to explore Dungeon Rock.  A member of the Spiritualist Church (which held the belief that members could talk to the dead), Marble believed that the ghost of Veal told him that if he went to Dungeon Rock, he would find the treasure and be a rich man.  Marble purchased the area around the rock and started digging away.

After years of digging, Marble found nothing.  He died in 1868 and his son, Edwin, continued the quest until his death in 1880.  Nothing, in the way of pirate treasure, has ever been found.  However, the Marble family did find a sort of “treasure” of their own – they grew to love the beautiful piece of land they had purchased and envisioned it becoming a park for the people of Lynn to enjoy.  After Edwin’s death, the land was purchased by the citizens of Lynn to establish such a park, Lynn Woods.


Dungeon Rock

Sources:  Dungeon Rock – Friends of Lynn Woods

Weird Massachusetts: Your Travel Guide to Massachusetts’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets


North of Boston Historical Figures – The Circus Queen


Gert Swasey’s Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame plaque.

Long before the days of television and motion picture stars, circus performers were among the celebrities of the day.  Circuses were popular, being a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, and there was a mysterious and off-beat glamour surrounding the performers.  One of the brightest circus stars of the 19th century was Helen “Gert” Swasey, the Big Top Queen, whose bareback riding and skill in training horses brought her fame and fortune when she traveled with Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Swasey was born in Haverhill in 1855.  As a young girl, she practiced riding her horse on her family’s spacious lawn and was often seen, atop her horse, galloping around town.  She attended Bradford Academy, but grew bored and began to hate school.  Apparently, simply quitting school was not a possibility, so Gert Swasey read up on the school rules and found an obscure one stating that married students would be expelled.  Well, that was good enough for her and she found herself a man.

Neither the school nor Mr. and Mrs. Swasey took kindly to the 16 year old’s marriage.  It’s not terribly clear from our research, but it seems as though the Swasey’s had their daughter’s marriage annulled and she was sent to live with an aunt in Illinois.

Still not satisfied with her lot in life, Swasey managed to do what most of us have threatened our parents we’d do – she ran off and joined the circus.  Swasey found an ad in the newspaper looking for circus performers and moved to Chicago to join up with them.

Gert Swasey’s past experience with horses paid off in the circus.  She was an expert bareback rider and would even train her horses to jump through rings of fire.  Within a few years, she was a star, touring with the “Greatest Show on Earth” and earning $20,000 per year (a great sum for the late 1800’s – a little over $500,000 in today’s money).

Whoever said that “all good things must come to an end” must have known Gert Swasey personally.  As the beautiful, glamorous star aged, her career began to taper off.  Younger performers were coming into the circus and Swasey found herself being pushed out.  She left the “biz” to care for her dying father and legal matters regarding his estate seemed to have drained her fortune.  We can’t help but assume that, like many people who suddenly find themselves “in the money,” Swasey was a little careless and indulged herself in expensive clothes, jewelry, parties, etc.  Once her circus career ended and the money stopped coming in, she soon found herself flat broke.

With no income and her fortune gone, Swasey took any job she could find, including scrubbing floors.  She adopted a small family of alley cats and disheveled dogs and made the newspapers again in the 1920s when she was sued for $90 in back rent and facing eviction.  She was saved by a friend’s generosity and continued to live in obscure poverty until her death in 1934.

With seemingly no family to take care of her funeral, the city of Haverhill paid for the burial costs and buried Gert with her parents in Linwood Cemetery.  Poet Winfield Townley Scott immortalized her in the poem “Gert Swasey” – “To travel like a gypsy/ To dress like a queen/ To see all the world that she’d never seen/ That was never the world where she had been.”

Sources: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – February 1, 1926

St. Petersburg Evening Independent – April 21, 1934

Legendary Locals of Haverhill


North of Boston and the Mystery of the Peabody Dino


This photo was apparently worth 311 words.

They say that “a picture is worth a thousand words” – never has that been more true.

Yesterday, on our Facebook page, we posted a mystery photo we had found on Pinterest.  Research (aka, Google) offered no insight as to why there was a giant T-Rex at the North Shore Shopping Centre in Peabody in the 1960s.  It’s a strange sight indeed – perhaps made stranger by the fact that we really couldn’t find any other photos of the giant dino.  One would think that such a sight would have been better-documented.

After ruling out a few possibilities with some of our Facebook followers, we ruled out that this dino was the one from the Museum of Science or mini-golf course on Route 1 in Saugus (although it looks very similar to the Museum’s).  So, what’s the story?




dinoland01 COVERThe Sinclair Oil Company made these life-size dinosaurs (there were more than just the T-Rex in the photo) for their Dinoland exhibit at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York.  The exhibit featured realistic fiberglass dinosaurs their “natural” habitat.  It was sort of an inanimate (and much safer) “Jurassic Park.”

The exhibit was a huge hit and the dinosaurs made an appearance in the 1966  Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and went on tour to 38 major US cities.




The map is a little hard to read, but one of these stops is marked “Boston.”  We don’t know if the dinosaurs visited Boston itself or if they just stopped in the nearby Peabody (the space at the North Shore Shopping Centre, now the North Shore Mall, would have been more accommodating for the gigantic dinos), but nonetheless, they made an exciting trip to the North of Boston region.

So where is this mammoth T-Rex today?  As far as we could find, he’s at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas.

Sources and photos: