, Salem, MA

March 25, 2013

McAllister: A look into the past through the YMCA

Essex County Chronicles
Jim McAllister

---- — This Thursday, the Salem YMCA is kicking off its annual fundraising campaign with a cocktail party reception and live entertainment at the Salem Five Savings Bank Community Room. Last year’s campaign generated tens of thousands of dollars so eligible families could take part in various programs and services offered by the Y.

Two weeks ago, I gave a lecture on life in Salem as seen through the eyes and diaries of longtime Salemite Frank Fabens. The following excerpts from his diaries from the years 1903-1917 (with occasional commentary) provide a unique glimpse at the broad spectrum of physical, cultural and education programs offered by the YMCA in its early years on upper Essex Street.

“In the evening I went to the Y.M.C.A. to watch a bowling match between our team and Beverly’s.” (April 24, 1914)

Earlier in the day, Fabens had been to the Y for gym class, handball and a dip in “the tank.” The diarist took swimming and lifesaving lessons at the Y when well into his 40s.

“Went to the gym in the afternoon. We had a baked bean supper in Ames Hall, followed by a talk by Mr. Alfred Putnam on the Thousand Islands and the Lower St. Lawrence. Very good pictures.” (March 26, 1913)

“I went to the Y.M.C.A. in the evening at Rob Mahoney’s invitation to see some wrestling matches between Technology and Y.M.C.A. teams. Y.M.C.A. won 4 out of 5 matches.” (Jan. 13, 1912)

The following day, Fabens was back at the Y for the philharmonic concert in Ames Hall. These concerts were held annually for many years in the winter months and featured members of Jean Missud’s Salem Cadet Band.

“Went to the Kneisel Quartette and Carmen Melis Concert at Ames Hall this evening. Great success. About 700 tickets sold at $2.00. Object was for the Boys’ Branch to raise money for the Memorial Fireplace for Mr. William Whipple, its founder.” (April 15, 1913)

The Kneisel Quartette was one of the premier quartettes in America, Carmen Melis a world-renowned opera singer from Italy.

“Went to the first of the French Conversation Classes this evening. There were 10 in all besides Festus Rousseau the teacher. It was held in a room at the Y.M.C.A.” (Nov. 12, 1913)

The Canadian-born Rousseau moved into the Y after being hired to teach art at Salem High School, a post he would hold for nearly a half-century. Rousseau continued to live at the Y until getting married around 1922, but turned the French conversation class over to a French priest who was still running it in 1917.

“Rob and I went to the Y.M.C.A this eve and took some postal cards and photographs to test the new reflectoscope.” (March 28, 1915)

The reflectoscope was a machine that operated somewhat like a slide projector, making it possible to project enlarged positive images on a screen. It was also in Ames Hall that Fabens and friends got their introductions to the Victorola.

“Went to hear Alfred Noyes read some of his own poetry this evening at Ames Hall.” (Oct. 15, 1915)

A few weeks later, Fabens was back at Ames Hall for a lecture on “The Economic Basis of Democracy.”

“Went to the Y.M.C.A. and saw some of the pictures Harlan Kelsey was showing on the screen — Appalachian Reservation and Southampton Institute views.” (February 27, 1916)

Harlan Kelsey was a a long-time Salem resident, owner of a Boxford nursery, and a landscape architect-conservationist who would later be involved in the creation of national parks and a number of major landscape engineering in the American south. Kelsey was the catalyst for the creation of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and a frequent lecturer at the YMCA.

“Heard Capt. Ian Hay Barth lecture in the evening at Ames Hall on “The Human Side of Life in the Trenches.” (March 12, 1917).

Fabens and company would return to the YMCA frequently over the next few months for other lectures related to the war in Europe. One, by David Little of Salem, noted Fabens focused on “what men of our age (late 40s) could do in the present crisis, if war came.”

“Went to the Billiard Club in the afternoon and in the evening too, after having been to a Christian Science lecture in Ames Hall.” (Dec. 14, 1903).

At least Fabens made an attempt to be well-rounded!


Salem historian Jim McAllister writes a regular column for The Salem News.