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March 23, 2012

A winter to remember — or maybe forget

SALEM — This is one of the driest winters on record. It has been dry almost everywhere.

Everywhere, that is, except the Hawthorne Hotel.

On Feb. 27, the historic hotel had one doozy of a flood. During a bathroom remodeling project, a pipe burst in the attic, dumping an estimated 2,500 gallons of water down six floors and all the way to the tavern on the ground floor.

How much water is that? Think above-ground pool.

How bad was it?

Pretty bad. It knocked almost 50 rooms out of commission and caused more than $1 million in damage.

Fortunately, the hotel has insurance. And, fortuitously, this event of near-biblical proportions happened during the low point in the tourism season, when most of the animals are off the ark.

Incredibly, the hotel did not close.

It shifted a few events around and lost some business, but it stayed open. It still had more than 40 rooms available for guests.

Four weeks later, the hotel is still making repairs and drying out. Those ServiceMaster trucks you see parked outside have been pumping in hot air to dry out a few of the walls.

The 89-room hotel is coming back slowly but surely, with more rooms becoming available almost daily.

"We're getting close," general manager Juli Lederhaus said. "By the time we get into our high-demand time, we should be back online."

Landmark lecture

The Hamilton Hall Lecture Series, one of the best public forums around, made a little history yesterday.

Dr. Geoffrey T.H. Kemp, an expert on the Middle East, delivered the final lecture of the season — which, incredibly, was his 40th speaking appearance at Hamilton Hall.

Do you know how long he's been coming here? Since 1971. That's so long ago that only women attended in those days. Now the packed house is a mix of men and women.

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