, Salem, MA

May 17, 2013

Heard Around Town: The story behind the St. Joseph statue discovery


---- — SALEM — Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear: Friday, May 3.

Construction crews are working hard at the former St. Joseph Church site, digging the foundation for a four-story apartment building that will be erected where the old church parking lot used to be.

The construction bosses were told a year ago that a giant statue of St. Joseph, believed to weigh 6 tons and stand taller than 12 feet, may be under the parking lot, but they have pretty much given up hope of finding anything as they dig the final footing for the building.

Over the months, out of the goodness of their hearts, they actually dug individual holes where parishioners said the statue rested, only to come up empty each time. They also used radar in their search, to no avail.

But on this day, with the statue the furthest thing from their minds, an excavator operator from Fall River uncovers what appears to be ledge. Or could it be a giant boulder? He scoops under it with his excavator and — voila! — up pops a huge, white statue in the bucket of his purring machine.

“I dug up Jesus,” the man yells. “I dug up Jesus.”

A construction boss, who is across the yard, starts running toward the excavator, fearful the statue will be dropped or tossed into a waiting dump truck. He yells for the man to “stop!.”

He also informs the startled heavy-equipment operator that the statue is not of Jesus, but St. Joseph.

From across a large construction site, all eyes turn toward the white statue cradled in the “arms” of an excavator, a statue that had been buried and unseen for more than 60 years.

Four days later, as we now know, the statue was reburied on site following a ceremony with prayers and brief remarks.

And that, just for the record, is how St. Joseph was saved.

Let bygones...

Historic Salem, Inc., presented a lifetime achievement award this week to Attorney John Carr, who served on the Historical Commission for several decades, notably during its early and formative years, and who has waged countless battles, often on a pro-bono basis, on behalf of historic houses, crumbling carriage houses, old trees and hopeless causes.

As deserving as the award may be, it certainly was magnanimous of HSI to honor Carr, who had harsh words for the preservation organization last year after it dropped its appeal of the St. Joseph Church demolition project — a fight Carr was leading.

Remember what an agitated Carr said of HSI at the time?

“They folded like a cheap suit.”

First meeting

Speaking of the Historical Commission, Wednesday night’s meeting was the first for new member Jane Turiel, the wife of City Councilor Josh Turiel.

Imagine that. Two city officials under one roof.

Let’s hope a Ward 5 resident doesn’t decide to paint his historic house neon pink and look to his ward councilor for support. Could lead to some interesting conversations over breakfast at the Turiel homestead.

Power of pink

Congratulations to Salem Academy Charter School.

Its Destination Imagination team, The Pink Ladies, made it through local and regional competitions all the way to the national finals in Knoxville, Tenn., next week.

If you’re not familiar with it, DI is a competition that tests creativity, teamwork and problem solving.

Salem connection

There was a news report this week about Sebastian Freddura, a hip-hop artist from Cambridge who was one of the oldest friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Freddura, the report said, was a student at Salem State from 2008 to 2010 and rented an apartment here. Tsarnaev, according to the article, often drove up to Salem for weekend parties.

In one of those chilling and random links, those are roughly the same years that Sean Collier, the MIT police officer allegedly shot and killed by Tsarnaev and his brother, was a student at Salem State.

Collier, who was honored this week by the college, graduated in 2009.

Open house

If you don’t know about Sail Salem, you should. The nonprofit sailing program has put more than 1,000 children, many from low-income families, out on the water in the past six years.

In addition to youth programs, it offers adult classes and a family sail. It also provides financial aid.

To find out more, go to their open house Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Winter Island function hall, or visit their website at

‘Idol’ chatter

We know that Angie Miller’s reign on “American Idol” is over, but can we add one little footnote?

Did you watch her hometown visit to Beverly?

Did you see her riding in a limo from Boston to the North Shore and hear her comment about how great it was to be back home as they passed an “Entering Beverly” sign? And, right after that, did you see Angie jump out of the car and say, “Here’s my favorite coffee shop.”

Do you know what coffee shop that was?

That was Jaho, right here on Pickering Wharf.

Yup, Angie’s favorite Beverly coffee shop is in Salem. Now, it’s not her fault. It was those Fox TV folks who confused the two cities.

Jaho, by the way, is also her dad’s favorite. Guy Miller is pastor of Remix Church, which holds services at the Bentley School every Sunday. Before the service, they hold a reception with hot coffee straight from Jaho.

Weekend tip

Great event Sunday from 1-3 at The House of the Seven Gables — Viva!, The Colors and Sounds of the Caribbean.

The Ricardo Monzón Orchestra will perform live as teens from Express Yourself dance up a storm. That’s the local group that appeared recently at the City Performing Arts Center in Boston.

Free admission.

Get together ... 54 years later

A lot of folks are in town this weekend for 50th reunions at St. John’s Prep and Bishop Fenwick.

Somebody had the great idea of organizing a reunion of the Class of 1959 from St. James Grammar School, since so many from the school are here for high school reunions. So the Peabody Marriott will host a breakfast tomorrow of St. James classmates from all over the country, most of whom haven’t seen each other for decades.

It was organized by Carol Cawley Frasier, who tracked classmates down from her home in Maryland.

National honor

Emily Fabre, a 13-year-old from Salem who is home-schooled, was honored this month in the nation’s capital as one of the country’s 100 top youth volunteers.

Emily was impressed that the Salem Council on Aging gave her grandmother free rides to chemotherapy treatments. After her grandmother died, Emily decided to give something back by collecting recyclable bottles and cans. Along with her sister and Essex County 4-H, she raised $1,500, which has been used to buy new tires for the council’s vans.

“When I see my grandma’s picture, I feel good,” Emily said. “I know she would want me to help people and work hard.”

In a ceremony at the Smithsonian, Emily received $1,000 and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix.

Grand tour

That was a nice moment last Friday when former Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, who was in a wheelchair, toured the new Salem State University library, which has been named the Frederick E. Berry Library and Learning Commons.

Berry, in his quiet, unsung way, has always been a real champion for Salem State.

Tom Dalton can be reached at