, Salem, MA

November 16, 2012

Heard Around Town: Two of country’s worst fires have Salem link


---- — SALEM — This month is the anniversary of two fires that are among the worst in U.S. history.

Both have Salem connections.

The Boston Police Department has just released the transcripts of interviews with survivors of the Cocoanut Grove Fire, the Nov. 28, 1942, nightclub blaze in Boston that killed 492 people. This year is the 70th anniversary.

One of those survivors was Roland Sousa, 45, of Salem.

Here’s what he said to police, according to a published report on the transcripts: “I was just going to sit down and there is a little palm tree in the corner and it started to get aflame, but I didn’t get too excited because I had seen that before and they put it out.”

But this time, the fire spread.

“Yes, started to crawl all around the joint,” he said. “They didn’t stop it. It got ahead of them. So we made for the stairs. The flames were on my heels and crawled right along and spread out and then started smoking.”

Although not as deadly, the Great Boston Fire of 1872 is one of the biggest and most costly in U.S. history. It started on the morning of Nov. 9, 1872, and destroyed 776 buildings and much of the downtown, killing at least 30 people.

Lots of communities helped, including Salem, which sent Engines 1 and 2 and Hose 5 — by rail car.

Tonight, a crew from Salem is headed into Florian Hall in Dorchester for the 100th anniversary banquet of the Box 52 Association, the nation’s oldest fire buff club. The first alarm in 1872 was pulled at Box 52 in downtown Boston.

The Salem delegation includes City Councilor Joe O’Keefe, the former state fire marshal; retired Deputy Chief Tom Brophy; fire dispatcher Jeff Brown; and a bunch of others.

Name that lane

They do a lot of fun things at Bates School, and none funner — that’s not a word, is it? — than the PTO’s “Name the Lane” fundraiser. Students sell $5 raffle tickets for a chance to win a $100 gas card. This year, the event raised a whopping $1,645.

But the best part is the student who sells the winning ticket gets his or her name on a street sign in front of the school for the entire year. They also get a limo ride to school and usually arrive to musical fanfare.

On Tuesday, fifth-grader Marie McCarthy arrived in style wearing a pink boa for the unveiling of “Marie McCarthy Lane.” She was accompanied by her friend Aiyana Lily, who was wrapped in a purple boa, and by her younger brother, Thomas McCarthy, a second-grader.

Election leftover

Wondering why there was such a huge crowd on Election Day at Salem State’s Enterprise Center, which served as a polling place in Ward 7?

There was a get-out-the-vote campaign at Salem State, led by the consumer advocacy group MASSPIRG, that led to 802 students registering to vote before the election. Students also were sent reminder texts and phone calls on Election Day.

Wonder if this is one of the reasons the Democrats did so well.

Z for Zorro

There are 116 kids in the marching band at Salem High, the largest group in the 26 years Cynthia Napierkowski has directed the band.

To put that in perspective, there are only 1,150 students in the high school. So that means that 1 out of 10 students at SHS is in the band.

That’s pretty impressive. Using that formula, if Napierkowski were chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we’d have 31 million Americans serving in the military. And, may we add, a lot less hanky-panky.

Anyway, there are enough band members to make a giant letter “Z” on the field, which is what they plan to do Thanksgiving Day when they play music from the “The Mask of Zorro,” the 1998 movie starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins. Napierkowski has wanted to do that music for years and finally has a band that can play the Latin rhythms and do the difficult brass and percussion parts.

She’s also got some great drum majors — seniors Kim Barzola, Celine Morneau and Aidan Scrimgeour. They are assisted by percussion captain Gary Hanson and color guard captains Hugo Canales and Merllyn Sanchez.

The band, as usual, is really good. It got a gold medal this fall in the New England Scholastic Band Association finals in Lawrence.

Life before Monopoly

A Salem traveler got a mild shock walking through Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport, which is used by American Airlines and Virgin America.

An exhibit caught his eye: “Let’s Play: 100 Years of Board Games.”

There was lots of stuff about Salem, Parker Brothers and Monopoly.

But did you know that Salem was the game capital of the U.S. long before Monopoly? Here’s a blurb from the airport Web page:

“In 1843, W. & S.B. Ives of Salem, Mass., first published The Mansion of Happiness, which was based on an earlier British model. The goal was to reach the seat of happiness in the center. It became one of the first widely successful, mass-produced board games in the United States. Players advanced by landing on spaces such as piety, honesty and humility, and regressed when landing on vices such as cruelty, immodesty and ingratitude.”

It’s been a long time since anyone in this city has landed on piety, honesty and humility.

Green movies

CinemaSalem is doing all it can to shrink its carbon footprint.

After showing “Cape Spin” on the Cape Wind project last weekend, it will screen “Deep Green” at 10 a.m. on Sunday. This award-winning, 50-minute documentary focuses on “solutions to man-made global warming.”

The free film is presented by the Green Salem Business Challenge, which has a series of events planned over the next few months.

Get there early — the first 50 people get free coffee.

Fair-trade coffee, no doubt.

Tip for tonight

Give the good folks at Witchcraft Heights Elementary School high marks for dedication.

Tonight is the 30th annual Turkey Shoot, a really great event that has raised thousands of dollars for the school. If you like tons of raffles and you’re feeling lucky, this is the place to be. They raffle everything from turkeys to hotel stays.

And speaking of turkeys, School Committee member Nate Bryant will announce the winning raffle tickets as he has for the past decade. (That’s a joke, big guy).

“It wouldn’t be the same without him,” Principal Mark Higgins said.

Get there early. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

One more tip

For those of you not watching the Patriots on Sunday — you know who you are — there is a really interesting event at 4 p.m. at Hamilton Hall.

Arthur Liverant, founder of the Antiques Dealers Association of America, is speaking about early American furniture and bringing along several rare examples, including a desk made by a Salem cabinetmaker between 1785-1810.

Admission is $50, or $60 at the door, and includes a reception for Liverant. For tickets, visit or call 978-744-0805.

Oh yeah, the money goes to the preservation of Hamilton Hall, a city treasure.

Tom Dalton can be reached at