, Salem, MA

Local News

March 29, 2013

Heard Around Town: The search for a long-lost work of art

SALEM — This is a story about the discovery of lost art. No, not the stolen paintings from the Gardner Museum, but lost art nonetheless.

Almost 30 years ago, Trish Cahill sat in her little apartment on Essex Street across from Bowman’s Bakery painting a picture with 77 faces from downtown Salem. She called it “The Spirit of Salem.”

It was a big painting — maybe 4 feet by 4 feet — and included everyone from Mayor Tony Salvo to “Sailor Bill,” a local character. Cahill, the daughter of late Harbormaster Jim Cahill, knew just about everyone and decided to capture them in one huge canvas — policemen, firefighters, bank tellers and even historian Jim McAllister’s old dog, Scrub Brush.

She made 100 prints, which she sold, and left the original to the city.

A few months ago, someone posted one of the prints on Facebook and asked if anyone knew who any of the people were. When Cahill — now Patricia Cahill Taft of Rhode Island — learned of it, she started her own quest to find the original.

Paul Ryan, an old friend, heard it might be at the police station, but that proved a dead end. They had a painting, but one of the copies. Soon, he was at City Hall, asking around and getting a lot of blank stares. It had not been seen for years. There were fears that it might have been tossed out during a building makeover.

Finally, someone remembered it. City Clerk Cheryl LaPointe said there was a chance it was in a locked basement room at City Hall. So a key was found, and there, indeed, it was — “The Spirit of Salem” safe and sound in a subterranean cave.

It was an emotional reunion for the artist, who drove back to Salem to take part in the hunt.

“I almost started crying,” she said. “... There was my dad and uncle Bob (former Sheriff Bob Cahill), and all these people who occupy a large portion of my heart. They were looking straight at me with the old faces I remember.”

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