, Salem, MA


September 28, 2013

Letter: Considering Salem’s legacy, in black and white

To the editor:

The last delivery of coal to the power plant in Salem last week prompted me to consider Salem’s past legacy, present reality and future potential. Within John Endicott’s sermon, probably delivered from the ship Arbella in Salem Harbor in 1631, he first spoke of establishing a “shining city on the hill,” a phrase that would later be co-opted by Ronald Reagan.

The port that had attracted Endicott and others was to achieve success during the early 1800s by becoming the greatest black pepper transshipment port in the world. The ship Union, which wrecked on Baker’s Island in 1817, was carrying 250,000 pounds of black pepper from Sumatra.

About one hundred years later, the black commodity that was to become the economic engine of the Salem waterfront was coal transshipment, the development for which began the transformation of the site of what became the Salem Harbor Station power plant in the 1950s. This coal promise never really played out.

Coal was still king, however, at that power plant. The largest collier (coal ship) ever built, the Consolidation Coal (state-of-the-art when built at Quincy, Mass., and ironically the last ship to have been built at the Fore River Shipyard) spent its lifetime delivering coal to the Salem power plant.

As an engine for the future of Salem, it is proposed that part of the site, which is no longer needed for coal delivery, become a destination for the cruise ship industry. Ironically, when one thinks of the color of cruise ships, one only thinks of white.

The draw for many tourists aboard these cruise ships visiting Salem will be their personal investigation of the witch hysteria from Salem’s past. When one thinks of witches, one thinks of the color black, and when one thinks about the witch hysteria, one does not attach to it the values of a “shining city on the hill.” Hopefully, the cruise ship era will have more of the flair of a White Knight.

Robert T. Leavens


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