, Salem, MA

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.”

Today, the large painting is back home with Cahill in Rhode Island.

“It’s not hanging yet,” she said. “It’s standing in my living room. I have to make space for it. ... It’s a funny thing, I’m glad I have it back.”

Readers can go online to to see the painting and a key identifying the people in it.

With love, Bailey

Jillian Malionek is our nominee for good kid of the week.

In fact, let’s extend the honor to Jillian and all the friends who came to her 13th birthday party. Instead of presents, they brought gifts for the Northeast Animal Shelter, ranging from pet food and toys to handmade fleece blankets and cash.

It was all done in memory of Bailey, the Malionek family’s beloved 8-year-old golden retriever, who died this past Christmas of cancer.

Madame secretary

We’ve lost count, but it sure seems like Gail Kucker has been the principal’s secretary at Salem High since Horace Mann was in short pants.

She has been secretary to something like the last 12 principals at Salem High. She was even the secretary for Johnny Vann. Does anyone remember Johnny Vann?

Kucker, come to think of it, is the Shirley Cervoni of Willson Street. (For you newcomers, Shirley was secretary to every Salem mayor from Leverett Saltonstall (1836-37) to Stanley Usovicz (1998-2005) and was spotted just a few days ago livin’ it up at John Keenan’s St. Paddy’s Party.)

Wonder what she eats for breakfast?

Death by soda

Harvard researchers just announced that soda pop kills 25,000 people every year in the United States.

Were these the same Harvard guys who said the Salem power plant kills 53 people a year?

Where do they get these numbers?

Perfect priest

Father Dan Riley, the new pastor for the Salem collaborative, should get a warm welcome when he arrives in June.

Not only is he one-quarter Irish, he’s half French-Canadian. That should cover about 80 percent of the Catholics in the city.

If Pere Riley decides to run for office, Mayor Kim Driscoll would have a fight on her hands.

Old Man Keenan

There was something strange in state Rep. John Keenan’s announcement last week that he is considering a run for higher office. Listen to what he said:

“When I first ran, (my wife) and I agreed that if the people of Salem would have me for a decade, we’d take a look at what’s next. By the end of this term, I will also be almost 50 and approaching the back nine of my professional career.”

The back nine?

That may not have been the wisest thing to say for a man who counts on the senior vote. If he’s on the back nine, where are his silver-haired constituents — on the 19th hole ordering their last beer?

Beware sports metaphors.

Magic woman

Don’t know if you caught the “Today” show on Monday morning, but three young magicians performed live for uber-magician David Copperfield, who was there to choose the best of America’s aspiring prestidigitationists. (That’s fancy talk for magician).

He picked Kayla Drescher, a part-time bartender who did this amazing trick with bottle caps. As the mesmerized “Today” crew watched, she magically switched Bud Light, Sam Adams and Heineken caps right in front of them.

We are telling you all this because there is a Salem connection.

Drescher is a member of the The Society of American Magicians, Salem Chapter No. 104.

Yes, there is such a group, and they meet once a month at the First Baptist Church on Lafayette Street.

She also is a fill-in bartender at a hotel in Peabody, where she worked out the bottle cap trick.

“A bar is one of the best places to try out a new trick,” she said. No kidding, the audience is slap-happy and losing vision rapidly.

Weekend tip

Spring is here. Want proof?

The sixth annual Salem Spring Fling is tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m. at Old Town Hall. Some of the proceeds benefit Salem Children’s Charity.

There will be food from the city’s best restaurants, music, art and alcohol — not necessarily in that order. And also goddesses, satyrs and nymphs. (Sounds like Moose Lodge on free beer night).

And wear a toga — really.

Tom Dalton can be reached at