SALEM — By the time the Great Salem Fire began in the early afternoon of June 25, 1914, tragedy had already come to the St. Pierre home on Congress Street.
Jeanette Marie St. Pierre, the youngest child of Adelard and Delphine St. Pierre, had died days earlier at the age of 11/2. Her body lay in a casket inside the apartment, where the family was holding her wake in the close-knit neighborhood of French-Canadian immigrants.
Then, the fire struck, and what was meant to be a time of mourning turned into a frantic two days of escape, loss piled upon loss, and then a discovery amid the rubble that to this day symbolizes the devastating impact of the fire on a family and its city.
Adelard St. Pierre and the former Delphine Gagnon grew up in small towns in Quebec. Like many other French-Canadians, their families had been drawn to Salem around the turn of the century by the promise of jobs in the Pequot Mills textile plant.
The couple met and married in Salem and settled into a life that revolved around family, work and the Catholic church. Delphine stayed home to raise their 12 children, while Adelard worked a variety of jobs to support his growing family — including a part-time job as a call firefighter for the Salem Fire Department.
When the fire broke out on June 25, 1914, Adelard was called into action. The blaze started on Boston Street in the leather-manufacturing district known as Blubber Hollow and quickly began to spread.
Less than 2 miles away, Delphine was left to deal with the situation herself. She was pregnant, with five children in the house ranging in age from 3 to 11 and her dead daughter lying in a casket in the front room.
Delphine did not want to leave the house without the casket, so she got in touch with Orville Boucher, an undertaker who was also Adelard’s cousin.