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."
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.
Kemp, by the way, is a director at the Nixon Center in Washington, D.C., and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan for national security affairs.
He spoke yesterday on "The Arab Awakening and the New Middle East."
Running for Rose
Tanya Grocki is running the Boston Marathon on April 16 in memory of her mother, Rose, who died last year and was buried on Marathon Monday.
Rose, only 58, was a well-known local labor leader and an active member of the Ward Two Social Club. She died just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
Tanya had to take a little time off from her training this winter when her dad, Jim, suffered a heart attack. While he was at Salem Hospital, doctors discovered a benign tumor.
"We really had the year from hell," Tanya said.
The 31-year-old teacher is raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
"Cancer can happen to anybody," she said. "We never thought it would happen to us, and it did, so any awareness I can raise for it and any money I can put toward cancer research, it's really become a passion of mine."
To contribute to the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge or to support a runner, go online to www.RunDFMC.org or contact the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge office at 617-632-1970 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was a devastating explosion early this month at a munitions depot in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo in Africa. More than 200 people were killed, more than 2,000 injured and thousands left homeless.
It was felt all the way to Salem.
"Even our house was burned down," said Cedric Okinga, a senior at Salem State University. "There is nothing left."
Okinga also lost a cousin, who died with her two young children.
A few days ago, Okinga spoke about the tragedy at a college dinner. So far from home and so shaken, he is trying to reach out in any way he can.
There may be a new brewery in town.
A guy over on Nichols Street wants to open a microbrewery. We heard he wants to call it Witchcraft Beer Works, or something like that.
Although we heard there may be a few issues with neighbors, he seems to have found a good spot. Ward 4 is beer country.
A gentle soul
Christine Miaskiewicz died last weekend with her sister by her side.
Christine and Theresa Miaskiewicz come from a large, tight-knit Polish-American family.
Both sisters were foreign language teachers at Salem High. When Theresa was elected to the School Committee, Christine was a constant presence at meetings, sitting silently in the audience.
They were always together, side by side.
That's how they stood last fall when they buried their beloved older brother, "Mashie," who was shot down over the former Yugoslavia in World War II. Last summer, an archaeological team discovered his lost remains on a remote hillside in Bosnia.
The sisters gave DNA samples, met with Army officials and helped arrange for the return of their brother, whom everyone mistakenly thought had been buried years ago in a Long Island cemetery.
It was an emotional and difficult time that the sisters handled with grace. Their brother, they said, was finally home.
Christine was buried this week near her brother in the family plot at St. Mary's Cemetery.